Maurice O’Keefe’s Irish Life and Lore Volume 1
Maurice O’Keefe’s Irish Life and Lore Volume 2
Jane O’Hea O’Keefe’s The Ancient Barony of Duhallow: Living Voices
Maurice O’Keefe’s Irish Life and Lore Series 2 CD 2: Julia Mary Murphy
Maurice O’Keefe’s Irish Life and Lore Series 2 CD 123: Quinn Sisters & Chris Droney
The Irish Life and Lore Collection of recordings is a celebration of Irish life and culture, of the individual and unique human voice in all its richness and variety, of exceptional musical talent and of the scope and limitless inventiveness of the human mind. As collectors before him including Kuno Mayer, Kevin Danaher, and Peg Mahon have done, O’Keefe has preserved the stories, talk and everyday occurrences of life as well as the music in these areas, making it available on CD form.
Irish Life and Lore Volume 1 and Volume 2 lay out the stall of the Maurice O’Keefe archive. Since 1998 Maurice O’Keefe of Tralee has traveled the highways and byways of the south and west of Ireland, gathering and preserving the unique oral tradition of the counties of Kerry, Cork, Clare, Limerick, and Galway. Some 330 individual recordings of hour long duration, in CD format, have now been produced featuring the folklorists, storytellers, musicians, local historians, and archaeologists of the counties. There are stories of matchmaking and dancing, of storytelling around firesides, of musicians and their wondrous music, of spirituality and old faith, of wakes and funerals, of schooldays and farming traditions, of laughter and gaiety, of sorrow and great grieving. The recordings, made in the undirected format of people sitting and recalling bygone days in their own home places, bring one back to an Ireland which we will not see again, an Ireland rich in a unique oral tradition, now preserved here for generations. Many Irish universities and libraries have taken the Collections and they now form a valuable source of rich oral tradition for study or for pleasurable listening. As guides to a fascinating series of archive recordings and a catalogue of the riches available, these are indispensable.
Likewise as informative is Jane O’Hea O’Keefe’s The Ancient Barony of Duhallow: Living Voices. Again it acts as a guide to a series of 45 recordings on CD dedicated to people living in the Duhallow area, but it also acts as a curtain raiser for an aural glimpse of the traditional heartland of Sliabh Luachra. That mini republic of Irish Music with its unique repertoire and legendary names like Dennis Murphy, Julia Clifford and Padraig O’Keefe is represented by these on location recordings of people past and present. The stories and tales collected deal with everything from music to matchmaking, sports fields to battlefields and back. Generously illustrated with on location photographs, this acts as a mouth-watering introduction to a rich harvest of living folklore.
The two CD recordings under scrutiny feature two very important musical traditions, namely those of Sliabh Luachra and North Clare. The Sliabh Luachra musical traditions are dealt with on other recordings in this series, but here Julia Mary Murphy, with her recollections of her marriage to legendary fiddler Dennis Murphy, puts a human face on a foundational musician. On this CD, when interviewed by Maurice O’Keefe, Julia Mary remembers her early life in rural County Cork and her musician husband, the legendary Sliabh Luachra fiddler Dennis Murphy from Gneevguilla. Hailing from Toureencahill in North Cork, Julia, now 89, shares memories of her early life, meeting her musician husband Dennis and their life and times together. Her recollections are delivered in a rustic North Cork accent and capture the atmosphere of rural Irish life at the time — living on a farm, the crossroad dances and how as a child she milked seven cows every morning before going to school. Tapes of Dennis Murphy’s music played during the interview indicate the devotion extended to her legendary spouse.
The customs, beliefs and musical traditions of North Clare are featured in a recording of The Quinn Sisters and Chris Droney. The Quinn Sisters from Duros, County Clare, are a storehouse of local memories and folklore. Chris Droney from Bellharbour on the Burren is a renowned concertina player and possessor of a wonderful repertoire of music from the local area and outside. Again, spoken word and music work in tandem to provide a fascinating aural documentary on the life and times of a forgotten area in Clare folklore.
In conclusion, The Irish Life and Lore Collection of recordings is a celebration of Irish life and culture, of the individual and unique human voice in all its richness and variety, of exceptional musical talent and of the scope and limitless inventiveness of the human mind. Best of all, it is accessible to the world and is being produced as I write this review — if that is not an example of a living tradition, then I don’t know what is!
(Maurice O’Keefe, 2002)
[Update: The particular collections reviewed here may not still be available in that form, but the huge and growing Irish Life and Lore Collection remains available in various configurations on DVD, MP3, and on USB flash drive sticks.]