‘Willie Week’ to feature illustrated lecture on songs of the War of Independence

Tim Dennehy – one of the many talented contributors to Who Feared Not the Might of the Foe

Forced by Covid to once again become a virtual event, the 49th annual edition of Scoil Samhradh Willie Clancy, features a cornucopia of online classes, concerts and presentations. Among the latter will be Who Feared Not the Might of the Foe: Songs and Poems of the War of Independence – a feature-length video presentation conceived by singer Francy Devine and historian Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc and edited and produced by Séamas Sheils of Fonn Traditional Music and Song.

Devine’s previous illustrated talks at Scoil Samhraidh examined the 1913 Lockout and the 1916 Rising. A similar format is followed this year with songs, tunes and poems from the war. A linking commentary provides each item’s context and details of its author. Contemporary archive footage adds to the atmosphere.

Covid restrictions necessarily imposed significant difficulties in assembling the material for this feature-length video. However, the team demonstrated considerable imagination and technical skill in bringing seventeen pieces into a seamless whole.

Pádraig Ó Nualláin begins with Peadar Kearney’s The Row in the Town while Francy, himself, provides a stunning version of Patrick Galvin’s Where O Where Is Our James Connolly?, accompanied by Highland bagpiper Noel Kelly. Kelly later pays homage to Cork Volunteer, Flor Begley, who played a number of stirring pipe tunes during the Battle of Crossbarry with Let Erin Remember/The Minstrel Boy/Wrap the Green Flag Round Me, Boys. Éibhlís Ní Ríordáin gives a spirited rendition of Phil O’Neill’s The Cumann na mBan while former Lord Mayor of Dublin Mícheál Mac Donncha sings The Bold Black and Tan.

Many of the songs recall specific incidents or figures from the war: Miltown Malbay’s Peadar Cleary sings of The Ambush at Rineen; Aodán Ó Ceallaigh’s delivers a mighty version as Gaeilge of Seán Treacy; Derry’s Vincent Doherty offers a jaunty Johnston’s Motor Car; while the acclaimed Daoirí Farrell gives a powerful rendition of The Valley of Knockanure with his characteristic lyricism and musicality.

To demonstrate the international reaction to the war, Paul Robeson’s recording of Kevin Barry is included. Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc addresses the war’s propaganda element with Seán O’Casey’s The Man From the Daily Mail; Stephen Connor from Belfast sings The Raglan Street Ambush recalling that city’s bloodiest night; while Tim Dennehy delivers Sigerson Clifford’s beautiful classic The Boys of Barr na Sraide. Deirdre Ní Dhorchaí reads the poem At Soloheadbeg a War Began while uilleann piper Mark Redmond’s Lament For Staker Wallace – played on Eamon Ceannt’s set of pipes, becomes a recurring motif throughout the video. John Kelly (fiddle), Aoife Kelly (concertina) and Charlie Le Brun (flute) provide the musical accompaniment for the extensive credits at the end of the video.

Who Feared Not the Might of the Foe is evocative, at times very moving and occasionally satirical. The combination of live recordings with images from the period is not only informative but adds important context to many of the pieces. The performances are of excellent quality with many unique first-time recordings by particular artists. The video presentation will premiere on Saturday July 10 at 3pm – and will be available to view by ticket-holders until Sunday July 18.
Like the other six Scoil Samraidh Willie Clancy presentations, Who Feared Not the Might of the Foe may be accessed online for €10 but you must register at https://eventbrite.ie/e/scoil-samhraidh-willie-clancy-registration-156504833169.

The full Scoil Samraidh programme is available at https://www.scoilsamhraidhwillieclancy.com/online-school.

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