Imagine walking into a room with the aroma of freshly baked bread floating on the air mingling with crackling 50’s music and the anticipation of a story. Various bits of sewing paraphernalia are sprinkled on tables like tiny hints that taunt the mind. An Irish harp sits in the corner promising music and newly sewn dresses stand silent on manikins, laden with the tale.
An old man begins to speak in a heavy accent from a time long lost about Cork, Ireland post World War II and the troubles of the times. He says that many people moved away from Ireland in order to get work. ‘A lot of them went to America of course… to America… to America…’ and the music begins with an upbeat tune and the story of a family torn apart by the desire for new opportunities and the love of one’s home.
This is Sheelin, a group that uses music to tell the stories of ordinary people with extraordinary experiences. Singer/songwriter and graduate of Queen’s University, Fionnuala Fagan uses a technique based on ‘Verbatem Theater,’ which uses people’s dialogue to construct a piece, to compose her songs. ‘Homebird’ is the story of Fionnuala’s grandmother, Maire de Baroid, whose family immigrated to California to seek out a new life leaving her behind in Cork. They use folk and contemporary Irish music to integrate the stories of the past and the present moment. The Irish harp, guitar, violin and vocals create an excellent atmosphere.
Every word of the songs comes directly from interviews about Maire’s experiences, thoughts and emotions. The songs are beautifully suited to tell the story from the family’s departure ‘aboard the Queen Mary’ ship and Maire’s decision to stay behind, through her feelings of loneliness and fear of never seeing them again, to her beginning her new life with a husband and family of her own. For a glimpse into Maire’s experience please see the video above.
I felt Maire’s story and Fionnuala’s music both invited me to share her emotions from the past and evoked very modern feelings about being abroad myself. This combination of a multi-sensory performance style, the perfect preservation of a personal narrative, and beautifully composed music is a perfect way to keep the history alive and within the public mind and a wonderful example of the creative genius of Ireland’s musicians.
Many thanks to Fionnuala Fagan on guitar, Lucy Kerr on Irish harp and Clare Galway on violin for this excellent musical experience! Visit Sheelin’s website for more music.
Please stay tuned for more ‘Singing Stories’, ‘Sailortown’ is coming soon!