Surfing the Archives

There’s really valuable history to be found on the internet! Here’s an example… the very first post we published after we moved to Nead an Iolair a whole lot of years ago mentioned a concert we attended in Abbeystrewry Church, Skibbereen which honoured a Rector of that church who was also Professor of Irish in Trinity College Dublin: Canon James Goodman, who lived from 1828 to 1896. He was also an uilleann piper and collector of traditional music. I wrote about him in more detail the following year, Some of you may remember a story I often tell about the Canon’s grave in Creagh Burial Ground, on the way to Baltimore. It was his wish that his pipes be buried with him, and so they were. Finola and I would visit the atmospheric site at Creagh and listen out for the haunting tones of the Canon’s pipes playing away there.

Header picture – a bronze statue at the entrance to Abbeystrewery Church in Skibbereen shows Canon Goodman playing his uilleann pipes. Above – Creagh Burial Ground and the Canon’s grave

I’m sorry to disappoint, but there’s an update to the story about the Canon and his buried pipes. I have been surfing the archives of Ireland’s principle media outlet, Raidió Teilifís Éireann, and it’s a wonderful resource! When you click on the links, you may find that some of the material is preceded by short advertisements: sorry, they are built in to the archive site – to help fund it no doubt. That’s a worthwhile cause, anyway. Now, have a look at this:

Mícheál Ó Riabhaigh being interviewed on RTE in 1966. He became the owner of Canon Goodman’s pipes and they have since passed to his son, Eoin O Riabhaig, player and pipemaker from Cork city

. . . When Canon Goodman died he wished for his pipes to be buried with him and his good friend Alderman Phair made sure that this happened. However, Alderman Phair thought it a pity that such a set of pipes would just lie in a grave so just days after Goodman’s burial the pipes were taken out of his grave. The pipes remained in Alderman Phair’s possession for six or seven years before being passed on to Mícheál Ó Riabhaigh. The pipes were made by master craftsman Willie Taylor . . . (from the RTE Archive notes 1966)

Before leaving that subject behind for today, here’s a YouTube video of Mícheál playing the Canon’s Taylor pipes; it dates from 1963:

Remembering my recent post on the Irish drum, or Bodhran, I was delighted to find some ‘old footage’ on the RTE Archives on the instrument:

This link is also footage from 1966:

. . . Sonny Canavan tells Ted Nealon about taking part in the Wren Boy activities and as Captain not being able to have a drink.  79 year old John (Jack) Duggan talks about his plans to go out with the Wren Boys this forthcoming Saint Stephen’s Day. Jack has been involved with the Wren Boys since he was twelve and played the concertina.  John is also a bodhrán maker and describes in detail how to go about it using a sieve from a barrel for the rim and the skin of a goat . . . (from the RTE Archive notes 1966)

Sonny Canavan is interviewed again in 1977 (above):

. . . Sonny Canavan raises goats to provide the skin for his instruments and he gave this particular man a goat so he too could make a bodhrán. The man explains that after he shot and skinned the goat, the skin was buried for nine days it was then dug up and putting in on the bodhrán rim . . . (from the RTE Archive notes 1977)

And this piece is of additional interest because it shows Listowel playwright and writer John B Keane visiting Sonny to talk about bodhráns. J B Keane wrote The Bodhran Makers, which was published in 1986. The writer died in 2002.

Here’s another RTE piece showing concertina maestro Noel Hill, from Clare. I wrote about that instrument in The Clare Trumpet.

. . . Iarla Ó Lionáird introduces Noel Hill who plays a concertina made in the 1860′s. Noel Hill describes this concertina as having a special tone and an unusual key. From Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in Monkstown, Co. Dublin, Noel Hill performs two reels, ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’ and ‘Trip to Durrow’. . . (from the RTE Archive notes 1988)

We have never written about traditional Irish dancing – there’s a good subject! A post for another day, perhaps: it’s certainly thriving in Ireland. It enjoyed a great revival of popularity with the River Dance shows, but that was professional and polished (and impressive!) – but I like to see the raw version: people young and old dancing for personal enjoyment and entertainment in their kitchens or at the scoriachts. So, to finish for today (although I haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s on offer in the RTE archives), here are two pieces: The Fastest Reel in the West, from 1972, and Door Dancing, from 1981.

. . . Gay Byrne introduces John Conneely from Knock, Kilshamuck, Co. Mayo, who performs a reel in his own unique style to the music of ‘George White’s Favourite’ performed by John Cleary. The remarkable thing about this is that John had previously been hospitalised for months following a fall on a building site in England which left him with a broken back. Ciaran MacMathuna who is sitting in the audience describes John’s unique dance as “the fastest reel in the west”. . . (from the RTE Archive notes 1972)

. . . In Ireland long ago it was customary when groups of people worked together, as a ‘Meitheal’ to dig potatoes or save hay, that they would gather after a day’s work to relax and have a dance. These gatherings took place in traditional Irish cottages with mud floors and flagstones. A door was taken off its hinges to provide a flat surface for dancing. Solo set dancers were asked to dance on the doors as the skill of the dancer is best shown by how well they can produce the variety of steps within the narrow confines of the dance surface. In order to gauge the best dancer amongst a group of solo dancers, they placed four glasses on the corners of the door to help determine the most skilled dancer. The person to spill the least amount of water was the winner of the competition . . . (from the RTE Archive notes 1981)

Tailpiece – from the RTE Stills Library – The Oranmore Céilí Band, 1985:

Man of Music

A page from the manuscript of Canon Goodman - Trinity College Library

A page from the manuscript of Canon Goodman – Trinity College Library

Long-term readers of our posts will have encountered Canon James Goodman already – in our first post after we moved in to Nead an Iolair we covered the 2013 Canon Goodman Concert, an annual affair which takes place in Abbeystrewry Church, Skibbereen. This means we have lived here for exactly one year now, as the 2014 Concert took place last Sunday. In the intervening 12 months I have researched this Skibbereen hero in greater detail, and he deserves a whole post to himself!

Uilleann Pipes Maestro Liam O'Flynn plays Skibbereen

Uilleann Pipes Maestro Liam O’Flynn plays Skibbereen

The Annual Canon Goodman Concert is part of the Arts Festival which Skibbereen hosts every year: Finola has reported fully on this event, which has kept us on our toes for the whole week. Stars of the concert were Liam O’Flynn and Paddy Glackin. I first saw Liam in Exeter back in the 1970s – we’ve both aged a bit since then…

The Canon is remembered particularly for his expertise in playing the Uilleann Pipes – Ireland’s national instrument. If you’ve never seen this played, have a look and a listen to the extract from the Skibbereen concert below: it is a complex instrument, whose component parts include windbag, bellows, a chanter, drones and regulators – also the piper’s apron (sometimes known as a popping strap), which is a cloth placed on the knee of the player to form a seal with the open end of the chanter – as the lifting of the chanter from the knee is one action which can alter the sounding of the pipe between legato and staccato. It’s hard to simply explain the methodology of the pipes – just consider that the player has to keep the bellows moving with one elbow, maintain correct inflation of the bellows with the other (the Irish píobaí uilleann literally means ‘pipes of the elbows’), use the fingers of both hands to form the melody on the chanter, and to lift it from the knee, and use the wrist or fingers (or, as I have seen on occasion, the end of the chanter) to ‘play’ the regulators, forming chords and adding rhythm – not forgetting to make sure the drones are in tune.

James Goodman was born in 1828 in Ventry, County Kerry – then a Gaeltacht area: he was raised as a native Irish speaker, and this stood him in good stead as, in later life, he became Professor of Irish at Trinity. In his youth he was described as ‘…having an attractive personality and was well-liked and popular…’ He took a great interest in traditional life and, particularly, The Music. He learned to play the flute and the pipes while growing up. His father was Rector of Dingle and, after studying at Trinity, James was himself ordained into the Church of Ireland in 1853, moving with his wife Charlotte  to the living of Creagh Parish, between Baltimore and Skibbereen.

The bridge at Creagh

The bridge at Creagh

Creagh: River Ilen

Creagh: River Ilen

In 1860 the Goodman family (by now they had three sons) moved to Ardgroom, also in the Gaeltacht, where he took the post of Curate of Kilaconenagh. While there, he began his collection of Irish traditional melodies, learning hundreds from Tom Kennedy, a blind piper whom he had known back in Ventry. The Goodman Collection is the first great body of Irish traditional music ever to have been gathered: it numbers over 2,300 tunes and songs. For many years these lay dormant in the archives of Trinity College Library and they have only recently been  studied and published. Every year at the Skibbereen concert some of the tunes are included in the programme, allowing us to hear the music of Ireland being played just as it was in town and townlands many generations ago.

A story is told of his time in Ardgroom: one weekend an impressive steam yacht anchored in Castletownbere Harbour; on the Sunday, James Goodman was aghast to be told that a distinguished company, including a well-known historian, was coming ashore to attend morning prayer in his church. He felt very nervous at the thought of having to preach to such important people so he delivered his sermon in Irish, knowing that they would not understand it. Shortly afterwards an article appeared in an English periodical stating that Irish was still so much in use in outlying districts in Ireland that it was Customary for clergymen in some Church of Ireland churches to conduct the service in English and to preach in Irish!

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Enigma: the register in Abbestrewry Church, showing Canon Goodman as Rector in 1857; his inauguration there wasn’t until 1867

James Goodman returned to the environs of Roaringwater Bay when he was made Rector of Skibbereen and Canon of Ross. His church was Abbeystrewry, which now hosts his memorial concerts. He was responsible for the building we have today: he initiated a project to demolish all but the tower of the old building and provide a modern worship area, and he paid for much of it himself. It was in 1879 that Goodman was appointed Professor of Irish in Trinity College Dublin  and combined this position with his clerical duties in Skibbereen, spending half of every year in each location.

The Canon died in 1896 and was buried, at his own request in Creagh – his first living. Finola and I searched out the burial ground and his grave. We had previously glimpsed the four pinnacles of the Church of Ireland tower rising mysteriously among the trees on the banks of the Ilen river: when we walked down the long green trackway that is the only access we were struck by how beautiful and yet how poignant the place is.

Side by side are Catholic and Protestant churches – both in ruins. The gravestones give away which is which: old Irish names  define the former, and the church there has returned almost completely back to nature. The Protestant church still stands, but its windows are uselessly boarded up: there are holes in the roof and the crumbling building is prey to the weather. There is an inescapable air of desolation at the site, yet the nearby newer burial ground beside the water is idyllically located and wonderfully peaceful.

Canon Goodman wrote of his life: …ionnus nach raibh aon nidh dob annsa liomsa óm óige, ná bheith ag éisteacht le seaneachtraighthe agus sgéalta fiannuigheachta; ná ceól ba bhinne am chluais ná ceol sármhilis na hÉirionn.  (…so that there was nothing dearer to me from my youth than to be listening to the old tales of adventure and the stories of Fionn, nor any music sweeter in my ears than the surpassingly sweet music of Ireland). The story goes that James Goodman was buried at Creagh along with his own Uilleann pipes: in the silence of the place we had a good listen…

Playboy...

Playboy…

While Goodman was Professor at Trinity he had a student who became renowned: John Millington Synge. Synge was also an Irish scholar and spent much time in the Gaeltacht – particularly in the Aran Islands. It was there he wrote his most famous work, The Playboy of the Western World. Finola has already mentioned that this was also performed – superbly – during the Skibbereen Arts Festival this year: a treat for us – and for the Canon, perhaps.

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