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.
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 was the tear heard around the world. In one split (ahem) second Sinead O’Connor defiantly threw her figurative middle fingers in the air, lost a record amount of fans, and got banned from Saturday Night Live with her protest of the Catholic church. Many of the flock still haven’t forgiven her even now, twenty-five years later.
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.
The true tale about a fairy tale….and the story behind the greatest Christmas song of all time. If you haven’t watched this particular ‘Making of’ there’s no better or more appropriate time than to remedy that than on Christmas eve (babe)… and this is especially true given that the Pogues’ touring manager Frank Murray just passed. Merry holidays to you all, whichever one you celebrate this time of year.
Sinead O’Connor is a polarizing artist. She imploded her own rising career by tearing up a picture of the pope in 1992 and has never been able to reclaim it entirely. She is known for being a bit crazy, somewhat suicidal, and incredibly volatile. She involves herself in meaningless Twitter feuds, and makes wild accusations. She rewrote the Irish National Anthem, and has written numerous incendiary letters to the Irish government. Most recently she is collecting lawsuits after accusing Arsenio Hall of being Prince’s drug dealer. She’s kooky and cantankerous, and I still love her. She’s also missing. Continue reading →
On May 3rd, 1916, Grace Gifford walked into a jewelry store in Dublin. Her eyes were red and she had obviously been crying. She bought her own ring and left with it in hand. Grace was on her way to Kilmainham Gaol to marry Joseph Plunkett, the love of her life. She knew that her family didn’t approve and that she’d be a widow just a few hours after the wedding but she chose to marry him anyway. The executions of the leaders of the Easter Rising had begun that same day. Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke, and Thomas MacDonagh were executed for their roles in the Easter Rising and her beloved would soon join them.
When the universe decided to plant The Big Irish Fair right in the middle of my birthday weekend, it was giving me a gift. The festival may not have the most original name on the planet, but it certainly seems like there’s truth in their advertising. There are 15 different stages for music – everything from Traditional Irish seisiúns and Bagpipe Battles to more modern Irish rock bands, including one of my favorites – the Young Dubliners.
I can’t say I’m sorry to see 2014 go, or that I am naive enough to think that just because it is a new year, things will suddenly be better – but I can say, I’m glad this year is over. Before Auld Lang Sine there was another song that was a popular New Year’s Eve anthem and this year, I will send 2014 off right with a traditional song by one of my favorite non-traditional singers.
Athbhliain faoi mhaise dhaoibh.
May the best days of 2014 be the worst of 2015 for us all. Sláinte!