The Hardy Sons of Dan
Football, hunting and other traditional songs from around Lough Erne’s shore
Musical Traditions MTCD329-0; 2 CDs; 136 minutes; 2004
Let me first admit a bias. I was very privileged to be involved in the latter stages of the production of this double album of songs from Fermanagh and some of its neighbouring counties, such as Cavan and Leitrim, checking place names and verifying the transcription of the lyrics of the thirty-seven songs presented here. Having been fully immersed in the songs for some time, therefore, a proper review is impossible and I would direct anyone interested in reading such a piece to head directly to the Musical Traditions site at www.mustrad.org.uk where I am certain one will appear shortly.
However, I can say, unequivocally, that this is one of the most important and valuable collections of songs to have been issued in recent years. The songs were collected by Keith Summers, mainly around Upper Lough Erne and just across the border in Belturbet, while he was working in Fermanagh during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Only one of the singers, Maggie Murphy, is likely to be known to a wide audience, as a result of her having been recorded for the BBC in 1952 and her Veteran label CD Linkin´o’er the Lea. The names of most of the other singers will be unfamiliar, but do not let that be a deterrent.
Despite the album’s title (itself a football song) and its subtitle, there is a wide variety of subject matter on offer here. A few of the songs (such as Marrowbones and Barbara Allen) may be well-known, but many of the others only had a local currency (indeed it was impossible to track some of the songs down through the Irish Traditional Music Archive).
All of the singers were recorded unaccompanied (and, for the most part, the sound quality is exceptionally high), but, these are snapshots of a world which might not be that far away in time, but is still long gone, as Michael Hicks points out in a note about the current state of the song tradition:
But pubs change management, the new generation regard evening visitors or pub singers as an unwelcome interruption to the essential television, and if the old ways continue somewhere, I have lost contact and grown into a miserable old sod who prefers to stay at home in the evenings...
The discs come in a DVD-style case, together with a forty-page booklet, including four pages of photographs, and featuring all the songs’ lyrics and source information plus a detailed account by Keith of his travels and experiences in making these recordings.
16th March 2004
Additionally, here is a short piece on the album by the editor of Musical Traditions, Rod Stradling.
I know it was rather stupid of me but, although I was aware that one or two of Keith Summers' recordings on Voice of the People came from Co Fermanagh, I didn't really know that he'd done much recording there. So it came a something of a shock when he sent me two C60 cassettes of the stuff as an indicator of how he wanted his new double CD project to end up.
Even more of a shock was the sheer quality of what was on offer! Anyone who was impressed by Seán Corcoran's Here is a Health cassette will be sure to enjoy what Keith has put together from his six years of intermittent working in the north of Ireland: 1977-1983 recordings of 14 singers from Fermanagh and surrounding areas. It includes the likes of Maggie Murphy, Phil McDermott, James and Paddy Halpin, Mary Ann Connolly, Big John Maguire ... and is titled The Hardy Sons of Dan - football, hunting and other traditional songs from around Lough Erne's shore
I would hasten to assure more sensitive souls that it is the 'other traditional songs' which comprise the great majority of the 37 tracks, and that there are only two football and four hunting songs included - but all are excellent examples of the genre. (The 'Hardy Sons' were the ‘Drumlane Sons of O'Connell’ a Gaelic Football team, formed in 1886, and named after Daniel O’Connell [1775-1847] the Kerry-born politician known as ‘The Liberator’ who founded the Catholic Association in 1823, aiming to secure Catholic Emancipation in Ireland.)
The package is available for £16 (including UK p&p – shipping extra for overseas purchases) from Musical Traditions, 1 Castle St, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL5 2HP, UK – www.mtrecords.co.uk.