On this day in 1846, the Poet of the Fenians was born in County Westmeath, Ireland. John Keegan Casey was born at the tail end of An Gorta Mor – Ireland’s Great Hunger – so he knew desperation, injustice, and poverty at a very early age. The plight of everyone around him shaped him and ultimately motivated him to use his gift for poetry and song to inspire people to rise up against the English. His voice was heard far and wide and he wrote The Rising of the Moon, one of Ireland’s most popular and enduring “rebel” tunes at the tender age of fifteen.
John Keegan Casey’s words soon spread to all corners of Ireland thanks to The Nation, Ireland’s most popular Nationalist publication. They inspired defiance and rebellion everywhere they were heard. Though he used a nom-de-plume (Leo) while writing for The Nation, his identity was becoming well known anyway. It was further revealed when he chose to publish a book of his collected works, many of which had previously appeared in the publication. Not content to stop with his words, John moved to Dublin shortly after his book was published to put himself squarely in the Fenian movement. He was a prolific Nationalist speaker and a central organizer in Dublin before the Fenian Uprising of 1867.
That uprising failed and John Keegan Casey soon found himself sitting in the notorious Mountjoy prison. The English authorities imprisoned him without trial and clearly hoped that if he was locked away the power of his words would fade. They did not, but John did. He was malnourished and dispirited and his weakened body would trouble him for the rest of his life. He was confined for eight months and one of the conditions of his release was that he would leave Ireland, living in quiet exile in Australia. He opted for living in disguise in Dublin instead. The authorities may have broken his body, but they definitely didn’t break his mind.
Sadly, John Keegan Casey’s failing health meant that he only had a few years left in him. It is thought that he never fully recovered from his stint in Mountjoy and a fall from a cab did him in. He passed away at the young age of twenty-four. Thousands and thousands of mourners turned out to honor the Fenian poet in Dublin and his memorial stone in Glasnevin Cemetery is still visited regularly. It is adorned with nearly every Irish symbol you can imagine, including a wolfhound to symbolize John’s undying loyalty to Ireland. His songs continue to be sung across the island (and the rest of the world) to this day. His life was tragically short, but his words are still going strong over 150 years later.
She could sing like no other. She wrote hushed hymns and wailing battle cries. She hiccuped her way into the hearts of music lovers world-wide and turned a defiant protest song about her homeland into an international hit. Dolores O’Riordan was a force to be reckoned with and one of the most well known voices of Irish music for more than twenty-five years.
Just a quick note to wish all of you well on this New Year’s Eve and send blessings to you and yours for 2019! It has been a long, tough year for me and I’m quite glad to shove it out the door – but I’m looking forward to next with the hope that it will be easier and full of joy for us all.
Traditionally, The Parting Glass was often sung on New Year’s Eve throughout Ireland and Scotland prior to being usurped by Auld Lang Syne. You’ll hear it still in my home to mark the new year. For me it is a song that is about having no regrets, even if you have to leave something or someone behind. It is one of my favorites and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
San Francisco does a lot to stay in touch with its Irish roots and Ireland in general. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in San Francisco is still one of the largest in the country and the Irish community in the Bay celebrates the parade even when it’s six months away. The “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day” weekend party culminates in a gathering at Golden Gate Park in the heart of the city. This park event is also referred to as Robert Emmet day, because the festivities include laying a wreath at the base of his statue, located right in the middle of the park.
The world reacted with horror after English soldiers fired directly into a Derry crowd of peaceful anti-internment protesters, on what came to be known as Bloody Sunday. The soldiers wounded more than twenty and instantly killed thirteen innocent people. (One more died months later as a result of his injuries). On this day in 1972 a fuse was lit and just days after the killings, the English embassy in Dublin burned to the ground while eleven innocent people were buried in Derry.
The last few years have not been kind to many of my musical idols. To be fair, many were older already and had lived full and wild lives so their passing was not necessarily a surprise but when you lose childhood heroes like David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen it still hurts. This week Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries has joined them, which was shocking. O’Riordan was young and she had three children. She was just starting to record again and get back on her feet. I was looking forward to hearing what she was going to do next, as were many others and this terrible news means that we’ll never know.
It’s been a busy few weeks for Irish Americans here in California’s Bay area. There have been shows, commemorations, memorial masses, and more – and another event is coming up this Saturday. This weekend Oakland celebrates the grand opening of its new Irish pub, Sláinte.
San Francisco has its faults – many of them in fact. The sky-high living expenses, lack of good public transportation, and rising eviction rates make living anywhere in the Bay Area a tricky, anxiety-inducing endeavor. Sometimes it is really hard to remember that it has its perks too – and one of those is the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Continue reading →
Many musicians and bands have sung traditional Irish rebel songs throughout the years and one of the most powerful females to do so was Kathleen McCready Largey. She was an amazing songstress and a strong voice both inside and outside of Ireland. Her voice even graced New York’s mighty Carnegie Hall once or twice and audiences on both sides of the ocean loved her.
This one is just for the locals here on the wrong side of the puddle in California. It’s rare that San Francisco gets good rebel music these days – in fact, it’s about to become even more rare. Sean Daly and the Shams are one of the only semi-local Irish rebel bands here and this Saturday night will be their last performance in the bay. They’re going out with a bang and playing with Derek Warfield and the Young Wolfe Tones for one night in San Francisco.