Dungannon soprano and harpist, Gemma Prince

Dungannon soprano and harpist Gemma Prince performed some of Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies at St Macartan’s Cathedral Clogher. “Sing, Sweet Harp” provided a fine opening to the 25th annual William Carleton Society Summer School. The school director Aidan Fee introduced Gemma, with a talk on Moore. Cathedral organist Diane Whittaker provided the music at the start and finish of the performance.


MARTIN MCGARRELL from Cashel, Annyalla, explained he was acting as spokesperson for the Co. Monaghan landowner group consisting of 115 landowners who were totally opposed to pylons on their lands. This represented 92% of landowners in the area stretching from border at Lemgare to S. Monaghan almost to Cavan border.

As had already been pointed out, 99% of people who attended three open days in Monaghan in May 2013 indicated they had no acceptance of the current project. This remained the case despite the vast amount of money EirGrid had spent trying to infiltrate our communities by way of sponsorship of local radio stations and the GAA.

This advertising in the local media which had been ongoing since the application was lodged in June 2015 and particularly intense since this oral hearing began is prejudicial to a fair outcome and totally contrary to natural justice, not to mention a complete waste of taxpayers’ money.

They may be here to talk but the talk had been of rebuttal, denial, stonewalling, constant changing of evidence, filibustering, legalistic and technical jargon and point blank refusal to supply reasonable information that was requested.

EirGrid say that 25% of the lands have been accessed and surveyed but yet no maps have been produced to prove this. We firmly believe that nowhere near 25% of lands were accessed in Monaghan and if they were then it was done by trespass without the knowledge of the owner.

The landowners are full supportive of the stance taken by both CMAPC and NEPPC when they withdrew from part one of the hearing. Both the Cavan/Meath landowners and Monaghan landowners unanimously endorsed this stance at hugely attended meetings in Navan on Holy Thursday and Aughnamullen on Easter Monday.

What EirGrid was allowed to do by way of submitting maps in the EIS without firstly informing the landowners concerned was a total insult to not only the 25 affected landowners but to all the landowners in general. An insult to one is an insult to all.

To compound this insult the amended maps were delivered some days and indeed weeks later in the case of the first six by courier on Good Friday and Easter Tuesday, after they had been presented to this oral hearing, without any consultation with the landowners whatsoever.

MARIA FITZPATRICK from Lemgare claimed people in Monaghan were not being given the same treatment as the rest of the country where partial undergrounding of electricity lines was being allowed. She expressed concerns about the access route EirGrid proposed to use to get to the proposed pylon site. She said it would bring construction traffic along a laneway lines with hawthorn hedges and it was not suitable for that. She also wanted to know what would happen to the horses she kept when work on the towers was taking place. They would not have access to water if the laneway was blocked. They were also sensitive animals and she was concerned for their safety. She said it would also affect her husband’s business. 

MARTIN TRAYNOR from Lemgare said the power line would have a devastating impact as it would split his farm in two. He would have no choice but to travel under the lines several times daily to carry out his work. His elderly mother lived next door and her residence would be about 44m from the outer conductor of the line. He had a shed that was less than 30m away from the outer conductor of the line.

Mr Traynor claimed that the construction of the foundations for one of the towers had the potential to ruin the spring well from which he drew his water supply. There would be knock-on impacts for his farming enterprise and suckler cow herd, depriving him of earning a living from the land.

PHILIP AND ANNA COLLINS, Lisdrumgormley, had their submission presented by Jim McNally. They had expanded their our poultry house egg production in 2011 to accomodate 32,000 laying hens. However this new poultry house had not been included on the developer’s maps in the planning application.

EirGrid had admitted their property was very highly sensitive in the EIS, but had made no attempt to change the route, or to actively engage with, or accommodate them at any time in a positive or constructive manner. NIE in the North had redirected the line in South Tyrone near the Moy to avoid poultry housing.

No great effort was made by the developer to look at putting this powerline underground using DC technology along national roadways which would have avoided a very high sensitive poultry egg producing unit such as theirs. The omission of the new poultry unit from the EirGrid maps in their view rendered the EIS and the planning application incomplete, given that their poultry business should be classified as “very highly sensitive” in line with EirGrid’s own parameters.

Mr Mc Nally also presented a submission for KATHLEEN HUGHES of Lisdrumgormley. She expressed concerned about the real potential disturbance to the animals on the family farm and the access restrictions to the land in real terms during construction. She was concerned about the ongoing interruption to farming work and the potential for the spread of disease among animals. The access route for proposed pylon 109 was near a bend, off a local road, and would require the removal of wire fencing and hedgerow and bulldozing, to level off high ground and uneven surfaces in the field. No clarification on how each of these issues would be addressed had ever been explained to her.



The first anniversary of my father’s death on 30th December 2014 was marked with a Mass at the house in Dublin. To the right of the celebrant Fr Martin Murnaghan (a regular Christmas visitor over the years) was an empty chair with Dad’s photo and some candles. This is where he worked daily on his laptop and completed the manuscript for a book Stabat Mater, with his own translation of the original Latin poem. The book was published by Gracewing in May (£9.99) and copies can be obtained from them or via the family. IMG_20151231_105801


Eily O'Grady with her husband Frank Patterson (right) and singer Martin Flynn in the USA  Photo: Martin Flynn website

Eily O’Grady with her husband Frank Patterson (right) and singer Martin Flynn in the USA Photo: Martin Flynn website

The death has taken place of the concert pianist Eily O’Grady, widow of Frank Patterson, the acclaimed Irish tenor who died in New York in 2000 aged 61. Born in Dublin in 1937, she is survived by her son Éanan, a violinist, who used to perform with his parents, and three sisters, including the violinist Geraldine O’Grady from Dundrum. Her funeral is taking place tomorrow (Wednesday) at 10.30am in the Church of the Holy Cross, Dundrum, Dublin, followed by burial alongside her husband at St. Patrick’s Cemetery, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.

I remember meeting Frank and Eily during the mid-1970s when they would come over to Birmingham for St Patrick’s Day concerts, performing along with Eily’s relatives, the traditional folk group Na Casaidigh. I recall interviewing them for BBC Radio Birmingham and they were both very friendly and easygoing. Rest in Peace.

An appreciation by Des Keogh appeared in The Irish Times on September 21st 2015.

Frank Patterson achieved international recognition and fame as one of the outstanding tenors of his generation. With a career spanning more than three decades, he was Ireland’s Golden Tenor. Frank attained the pinnacle of his profession and was acclaimed for his artistry in oratorio and in classical song as well as for his Irish and international repertoire.

Frank’s musical career began as a boy soprano in his hometown of Clonmel, County Tipperary. In 1962, the aspiring artist went to Dublin to begin formal vocal studies with Dr. Hans Waldemar Rosen, pursuing at the same time a course of acting at the National Academy of Theater and Allied Arts. After only two years of study, the young performer won all the major awards at Ireland’s national music festival, the Feis Ceoil. Following Frank’s successes, he was in demand for classical recitals around Ireland, but he was particularly noted for his performances in oratorio.

Early in 1966, Frank toured as soloist with Feis Eireann, a group of other young Irish singers and dancers, on an extensive tour of America. The pianist and musical director was Eily O’Grady, an accomplished member of the well-known Dublin musical family. Tenor and pianist fell in love on that tour, which would serve as prelude to a harmonious union and professional partnership. After a three-day honeymoon, the newlyweds left on another four-month tour of the U.S. and Canada. On their return from that tour, Frank and Eily left for London so Frank could continue his vocal studies.

In 1968, Frank was extended an opportunity to study with the famous French soprano Janine Micheau. Seizing that chance, the young couple moved to Paris. The four years in France would have daunted a less committed team but not Frank and Eily, for both believed fervently in his talent. To help finance Frank’s studies during that period, Frank and Eily gave frequent concerts and radio performances. A broadcast of Purcell’s songs on BBC radio brought Frank to the attention of the Phillips Record Company. Recognizing his talent, Phillips quickly placed the gifted tenor under contract, recording six albums within three years; thus began Frank Patterson’s distinguished and celebrated recording career.

From that favorable beginning, Frank recorded more than 40 albums in six languages, including opera, oratorio, and songs by Purcell, Handel, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and Berlioz. A later Phillips classic compilation featured Frank Patterson singing Handel arias and Hugo Wolf songs with Kiri Te Kanawa, José Carreras, Elly Ameling, and Herman Prey. His worldwide popularity expanded, in part because of the success of his crossover albums featuring Irish ballads, Broadway hits, inspirational songs, and modern international favorites. His numerous sales won him platinum, gold, and silver discs, and two of his American releases reached million-dollar status.

As Frank’s reputation grew, so too did the demand for his talent in concert recitals, radio and television broadcasts, and oratorio performances throughout Europe. His performance as the evangelist in the Bach Passions won particular praise. He performed at many of the great musical festivals of Europe, including the Aix-en-Provence where he sang Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis under the baton of Karl Richter. Additionally, he sang at the famous Promenade Concerts in the Royal Albert Hall in London and appeared as soloist with many of the leading European orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Liverpool Philharmonic, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, RAI Symphony, Rome, Basle Kammerorchestrer, Switzerland, and the Irish National Symphony.

In America, he performed with the National Symphony in Washington, DC, as well as with the Colorado, St. Louis, Hartford, Syracuse, Rochester, Utah, and Seattle symphonies. In sold-out performances, Frank sang in New York’s Carnegie Hall, Washington’s Kennedy Center, Boston’s Symphony Hall, and Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall, among others. He was the first Irish artist to have his own show in New York’s famous Radio City Music Hall, selling out its 6,000 seats for six consecutive years. His audiences continued to grow in number and dedication.

His greatest outdoor American performance was at the steps of the Capitol in Washington, DC, when he performed with the National Symphony before an audience of 60,000 enthusiastic listeners. During the centennial celebration of the inauguration of the Statue of Liberty, Frank joined American opera stars Anna Moffo, Simon Estes,and Robert Merrill in a televised performance from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The quartet ended the program with a moving rendition of Irving Berlin’s God Bless America. This song was to become Frank’s favorite for expressing his great love and appreciation for this country and its people.

As the world took note of Frank Patterson’s remarkable talent, Academy-Award-winning director John Huston invited Frank to play a featured role as the fictional tenor, Bartell D’Arcy, in Huston’s last film The Dead, starring Anjelica Huston and Donal McCann. The New Yorker wrote of Frank’s performance: “The whole world seems still while he sings, and for a few seconds after.” Following that pivotal role, Frank was invited to sing Danny Boy in Joel and Ethan Coen’s Miller’s Crossing and to play an Irish tenor in the Neil Jordan movie Michael Collins, starring Liam Neeson, Julia Roberts, Aidan Quinn, and Stephen Rea.

In addition to his big-screen performances, Frank was a veteran television performer. He hosted his own top-rated TV series, Frank Patterson, For Your Pleasure, on RTE (Irish Television) from 1974 to 1984. When Fox Television asked him to perform with Tracy Ullman on an episode of the Tracy Ullman Show, Frank readily agreed because it not only provided him an opportunity to sing and act, but also it allowed him to showcase his comedic skills. This episode, Real Lace, was nominated for an Emmy Award. Frank’s success in commercial television foreshadowed his achievements on public television stations (PBS). Frank became a PBS phenomenon with his three highly successful specials: Ireland’s Golden Tenor-Ireland in Song; Frank Patterson-Songs of Inspiration; and God Bless America, his final filmed salute to this country.

Eily O'Grady and Frank Patterson

Eily O’Grady and Frank Patterson

In 1982, President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan invited Frank and Eily to perform at the White House for them and their distinguished guests. As an Irish-American, President Reagan was proud of Frank’s accomplishments, and as an ex-actor, he appreciated Frank’s talent. On a personal level, President Reagan was pleased that his family also hailed from County Tipperary, only ten miles from Clonmel, Frank’s birthplace. In 1995, Frank and Eily were invited for a return performance to the White House, this time for President and Mrs. Clinton. Éanán, Frank and Eily’s gifted son, joined his parents at their second White House performance, accompanying his father on the violin. Eanan later graduated from the pre-college Juilliard School of Music and Fordham University.

While Frank was honored to perform at the White House, the highlight of his career came in 1979, when he sang at the Papal Mass in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, before a congregation of 1.3 million people and an estimated television audience of 1000 million during Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to Ireland. Frank was privileged to sing for His Holiness a second time when he was chosen as soloist for the Pope’s 1996 visit to New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. On that occasion Frank sang Schubert’s Ave Maria, a performance that was again broadcast on national television.

Of the many awards Frank received, he was proudest of the honor bestowed upon him by His Holiness, Pope John Paul II. In 1984, the Holy Father conferred on Frank the Knighthood of Saint Gregory, the highest honor the Vatican can confer on a layman. Frank was also a Knight of Malta and a Knight Commander of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, two organizations devoted to helping others for more than nine centuries. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island in 1990 as well as an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Manhattan College of New York in 1996.

In 1998, Frank and Eily were awarded the prestigious gold medal of the Eire Society of Boston, joining a distinguished group of past recipients such as John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and John Huston. To be given this award as a couple exemplified the unique partnership that Frank and Eily enjoyed in their professional and personal lives. The honors continued as Frank was awarded The 2000 Norman Vincent Peale Award for Positive Thinking in the Arts. Presented by the Blanton-Peale Institute, this award is given to people “whose lives clearly and inspirationally exemplify the power of thinking positively, with faith, deep caring for people and dedicated commitment to improving our world.”

Although Frank Patterson sang for the Pope and Presidents, performed in the great concert halls throughout the world, and entertained movie and television audiences here and abroad, he found his greatest joy in sharing his gift of song in hundreds of small churches and intimate venues throughout Ireland and America. These charitable events provided both spiritual and financial enrichment to causes that continue to sustain life and promote peace and unity among men.


Open Day at Ballinode Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Open Day at Ballinode Photo: © Michael Fisher

The museum of the late Vincent McAree in Ballinode County Monaghan hosted an open day today (Sunday) from 1.30pm to 5.30 pm. Exhibits included steam and oil driven engines, early tractors, ancient kitchen utensils, old farmhouse furniture, public house artefacts and a door from Monaghan gaol.

Demonstrating the knot-tying machine at Ballinode open day Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Demonstrating the knot-tying machine at Ballinode open day Photo: © Michael Fisher

There was also a book sale (I made some interesting purchases), with funds going to Alzheimer’s Ireland. The afternoon also included live music in the community hall from local star Aidan Clerkin and refreshments. A great day out and everyone was made very welcome.

Open Day at Vincent McAree Museum in Ballinode   Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Open Day at Vincent McAree Museum in Ballinode Photo: © Michael Fisher


Carrickmacross Festival Parade Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Carrickmacross Festival Parade Photo: © Michael Fisher

Festival Fun in Carrickmacross  

Northern Standard Carrickmacross News Thursday 4th June

Despite one of the worst years for weather, the Carrickmacross June Bank Holiday Festival was very enjoyable with a good carnival atmosphere around the town. The opening parade on Friday evening brought colour and excitement to the town as the participants, many of them young people, made their way from Inver College along to the Main Street. The theme this year was the Pirates of the Caribbean.

Carrickmacross Festival Parade Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Carrickmacross Festival Parade Photo: © Michael Fisher

The launch night last Thursday was in aid of the Laura Crossan Trust and was held in the Fiddler’s Elbow. There was live music on the night by local blues legends the Short Fuse Blues, with a number of support acts.

Carrickmacross Festival Parade Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Carrickmacross Festival Parade Photo: © Michael Fisher

Several local bands played at this year’s festival including Black Tie Event, The Flaws, R U 4 Reel, and The Fuzzy Burgers. After Dark featured local man Martin O’Neill on bass and vocals and the Paulo Nutini Tribute featured local drummer Mark Montague. An Lochrann Linn Band and the Steadfast Brass Band both performed over the weekend. Carickmacross Comhaltas presented an afternoon of traditional Irish music, song and dance.

All the Fun of the Fair at Carrickmacross Festival Photo:  © Michael Fisher

All the Fun of the Fair at Carrickmacross Festival Photo: © Michael Fisher

Special thanks to the Phoenix centre team, who helped out by allowing the teddy bears’ picnic to move inside owing to the bad weather on Monday. The raffle which was meant to be held on Monday will be carried out over the next few days. All prize winners will be announced on the festival’s facebook page. The organising committee would like to thank all the sponsors who contributed to making the event a success. Roll on next year!


‘Stabat Mater, The Mystery Hymn,’ by Desmond Fisher, was launched in Donnybrook last week Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015

‘Stabat Mater, The Mystery Hymn,’ by Desmond Fisher, was launched in Donnybrook last week Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015

From a dissolute to a desolate life … a new look at the story of an old hymn

Patrick Comerford

Book launches are always a good opportunity to meet people with shared interests and stories.

Last week, it was a pleasure to be invited by fellow blogger Michael Fisher to the launch in O’Connell’s in Donnybrook of a new book by his late father Desmond Fisher, Stabat Mater, The Mystery Hymn.

The book was launched by former Irish Times colleague and former Senator John Horgan, who is also a former Press Ombudsman. As a young reporter, John Horgan was given a job at the Catholic Herald in London by the editor, Desmond Fisher, who also worked for the Irish Press.

The attendance at the book launch included Wesley Boyd, who has reviewed the book in the ‘Irishman’s Diary’ in The Irish Times this morning [18 May 2015], and many former colleagues from, the world of journalism and broadcasting. But I was also there because of my theological and spiritual interests.

Stabat Mater is a much-loved Lenten hymn among English-speaking Roman Catholics, although it was once been banned by the Council of Trent and later by successive popes.

The title of this sorrowful hymn is an incipit of the first line, Stabat Mater Dolorosa (“The sorrowful mother stood”). The hymn meditates on the sorrows of the Virgin Mary as she stands at the foot of the Cross. It has been set to music by many composers, including Palestrina, Pergolesi, Alessandro Scarlatti and Domenico Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Haydn, Rossini, Dvořák, Karol Szymanowski, Poulenc and Arvo Pärt.

There are many variations in the translation from the original Latin. So, in this new book the late Desmond Fisher seeks to get back to the original meaning of the author who wroteStabat Mater 700 years ago. The hymn was well-known by the end of the 14th century. It was banned by the Council of Trent, but restored to the missal by Pope Benedict XIII in 1727, and was assigned by Pope Pius X in 1913 to the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (15 September).

But who was the author? At times, the hymn has been attributed to a variety of sources, including popes, three Saints and a member of the laity who was jailed and excommunicated.

In this book, Desmond Fisher identifies Jacopone da Todi (1230-1306) as the true author, and tells the story of his amazing life, from a dissolute to a disconsolate and desolate life. His privileged life came to end with the tragic death of his wife, and he eventually joined the Spirituali, an extreme, ascetic faction of Franciscans, before ending up in prison.

With a sympathetic and understanding approach, Desmond Fisher tells an amazing story of mediaeval extremism, but also provides a new translation of the poem, while adhering to the original metre and rhythm and re-presenting its emotions. He compares his own work with other well-known existing English versions – including those by the Irish poet Denis Florence McCarthy (1817-1882) and the English Anglican priest and hymn-writer Edward Caswall (1814-1878), who became a Roman Catholic – and tries to challenge long-accepted preconceptions.

This book was Desmond Fisher’s final achievement before he died on 30 December 2014 at the age of 94. In his final weeks, his manuscript was accepted by Gracewing.

As part of the pre-Reformation heritage of the undivided Church, it deserves to be better known among other traditions, including Anglicans. Even Archbishop Richard Chenevix Trench omitted it from his Sacred Latin Poetry in 1874 because of what he saw as its Mariolatry. Hopefully, Desmond Fisher’s new book will help to redress this.

Stabat Mater

Stabat mater dolorosa
juxta Crucem lacrimosa,
dum pendebat Filius.

Cuius animam gementem,
contristatam et dolentem
pertransivit gladius.

O quam tristis et afflicta
fuit illa benedicta,
mater Unigeniti!

Quae mœrebat et dolebat, pia Mater,

dum videbat nati pœnas inclyti.

Quis est homo qui non fleret,
matrem Christi si videret
in tanto supplicio?

Quis non posset contristari
Christi Matrem contemplari
dolentem cum Filio?

Pro peccatis suæ gentis
vidit Iesum in tormentis,
et flagellis subditum.

Vidit suum dulcem Natum
moriendo desolatum,
dum emisit spiritum.

Eia, Mater, fons amoris
me sentire vim doloris
fac, ut tecum lugeam.

Fac, ut ardeat cor meum
in amando Christum Deum
ut sibi complaceam.

Sancta Mater, istud agas,
crucifixi fige plagas
cordi meo valide.

Tui Nati vulnerati,
tam dignati pro me pati,
pœnas mecum divide.

Fac me tecum pie flere,
crucifixo condolere,
donec ego vixero.

Juxta Crucem tecum stare,
et me tibi sociare
in planctu desidero.

Virgo virginum præclara,
mihi iam non sis amara,
fac me tecum plangere.

Fac, ut portem Christi mortem,
passionis fac consortem,
et plagas recolere.

Fac me plagis vulnerari,
fac me Cruce inebriari,
et cruore Filii.

Flammis ne urar succensus,
per te, Virgo, sim defensus
in die iudicii.

Christe, cum sit hinc exire,
da per Matrem me venire
ad palmam victoriæ.

Quando corpus morietur,
fac, ut animæ donetur
paradisi gloria. Amen.

● Desmond Fisher, Stabat Mater, The Mystery Hymn, Leominster: Gracewing, ISBN 978 085244 862 5, 176 pp, £9.99.


Stabat Mater: Gracewing Publications

Stabat Mater: Gracewing Publications

An Irishman’s Diary on ‘Crazy Jim’ and a famous hymn

‘Stabat Mater Dolorosa’ by Wesley Boyd  The Irish Times Monday 18th May 2015

Known locally as Crazy Jim, he had a habit of crawling on all fours, saddled and bridled like a donkey, around the main square of his native Todi, a hilltop town in Umbria. Yet he was one of the finest Italian poets of the Middle Ages and is considered to be the most likely author of the great Christian hymn, Stabat Mater Dolorosa. Other contenders for the authorship include at least three popes and three saints.

New light on the origin of the work is promised in a book by the distinguished Irish journalist, Desmond Fisher – finished just a few weeks before his death at the age of 95 in Dublin at the end of last year. Desmond, a Derry man, whose journalistic posts included editor of the Catholic Herald, London editor of the Irish Press and deputy head of news at RTÉ, spent the many years of his retirement researching the subject. His book, Stabat Mater, The Mystery Hymn, was published by Gracewing this month.

Stabat Mater Back Cover: with endorsements by John Horgan and Joe Carroll

Stabat Mater Back Cover: with endorsements by John Horgan and Joe Carroll

There are many roads to be following when exploring this haunting hymn to the Virgin Mary. Over the centuries it has been set to music by various composers, including Pergolesi, Haydn, Dvorak, Rossini and Vivaldi. (There was a memorable performance of Pergolesi’s arrangement in the old slate quarry on Valentia Island in 2004, directed by the Cork artist Dorothy Cross, and performed by the Opera Theatre Company from Dublin.) It was banned by the Council of Trent in 1545 but restored to the canon nearly three centuries later by Pope Benedict XIII to mark the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15th. But interesting as the history of the hymn itself is it is less fascinating than that of its putative author, Jacopone Benedetti, Crazy Jim himself.

He was born into an aristocratic family in Todi around 1230, a time of war, plague and turbulence. He was sent to Bologna to study law and returned to Todi to pursue his career as an advocate, some say unscrupulously. After years of dissolute philandering at the age of 37 he married Vanna, the daughter of a local count. He did little to moderate his way of life but Vanna remained faithful. Then tragedy struck. There was a feast day in Todi and the local gentry assembled on a raised platform to watch the parade. The platform collapsed and Vanna was crushed to death. Jacopone tried to revive his young wife and he discovered that under her fine robes she was wearing a shift of coarse, hairy cloth. Shocked by her death and stunned by the revelation that she had been secretly doing penance for his misdeeds, Jacopone changed his lifestyle.

He gave up his comfortable career as a lawyer and took to to the streets and roadways of Umbria as a mendicant wanderer dressed in shabby robes.

After a decade on the roads he became a lay brother in the Franciscan Order in his native town but continued in his eccentric behaviour.

Invited to a wedding in his brother’s house he turned up naked, tarred and feathered from head to toe. Jacopone had a poem for it: “A wise and courteous choice he’d make/Who’d be a fool for the dear Lord’s sake.”

Within the Franciscans there was a minority group who wished to follow a more austere and frugal way of life. They were dubbed the Spirituals and not unsurprisingly Jacopone, always attracted by extremes, joined their company. They petitioned the new pope, Celestine V, for permission to establish their own order.

Celestine favoured their cause but under the strain of having to deal with warring Christian states and church intrigues and scandals he resigned in 1294 after only five months in office. He was succeeded by Boniface VIII who promptly locked up Celestine and ordered the recalcitrant friars to return to the jurisdiction of their regular superiors. There was a history of enmity between Boniface and Jacopone, dating from the time when Boniface got a plum ecclesiastical job in Todi in 1260 from the bishop of the town who happened to be his uncle Peter.

The poet’s support for the Spirituals was condemned by Boniface and he imprisoned his old adversary. While in prison he wrote some of his greatest poems. In the jubilee year of 1300 Boniface sanctioned the release of many prisoners but left Jacopone in the dungeon. It was not until Boniface died three years later that he regained his liberty.

Jacopone was now over 70, broken in body and spirit. After more wanderings he found refuge in the Convent of the Poor Clares near his native Todi. There he died on Christmas Day 1306 as midnight Mass was being celebrated in the chapel. He is buried in the Franciscan church, Tempio San Fortunato, in Todi. The inscription on his tomb says “…. having gone mad with love of Christ, by a new artifice deceived the world and took Heaven by storm”.

There are many translations of Stabat Mater. The latest is by Desmond Fisher. I hope Crazy Jim likes it.


Finbar Furey playing tin whistle

Finbar Furey playing tin whistle

A great concert tonight by Finbar Furey at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. But as he told Patrick Freyne of The Irish Times in January, he’s on his last big tour and is “winding down the clock” at the age of 68. The outstanding song was probably his rendition of Willie McBride, in which the packed audience joined. He started off with The Lonesome Boatman, playing the large tin whistle. At other stages in the show he played banjo, guitar and the uilleann pipes. He was accompanied by on double bass.

Finbar Furey at the Lyric Theatre Belfast Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Finbar Furey at the Lyric Theatre Belfast Photo: © Michael Fisher


“Finbar Furey loves the idea of his music bringing people together. This happened at theWorld Cup in 1994, he says, when Holland were playing Ireland. “At half time, the Dutch fans started singing ‘Het Kleine Café’,” he says. “And the Irish fans were all saying, ‘Hang on a minute that’s [Fureys’ song] The Red Rose Café, so they started singing it. And Paddy says, ‘Aren’t them Hollish people brilliant, singing one of our songs for us. Fair play.’ They didn’t know it was a Dutch song. And the Dutch are saying, ‘Ah, the Irish have learned one of our songs.’ It was the only time two sets of football fans were seen kissing and cuddling each other.”

He laughs. The 68-year-old is sitting forward in his chair in a Dublin hotel. He’s wearing a white fedora hat and a leather jacket and he’s looking sprightly and tanned. “It’s a bottle tan,” he says. Actually, he’s recently come back from Spain. He’s also just had “a big feed of bacon and eggs”, which may explain the sprightliness. “I’m not supposed to. Not after the bang: the heart attack I had two years ago. I haven’t had a fry-up for 2½ years.”

He’s doing publicity for a spate of gigs across Germany, Ireland and South Africa. He also just completed an album of uilleann pipe music, which he promises will be “an eye-opener”, and he’s hoping to begin another record in South Africa with local musicians. It’s probably his last big tour. “I’m winding down the clock,” he says.

He has been playing music for a long time. “[My father] would take me to different parts of Ireland with him. We’d go into a pub and start a session in the pub, [then] he’d move on to another pub someplace else. He would have taken music from county to county long before there was radio or telephones. Can you imagine two Irishmen sitting down at a crossroads in 1932 writing out sheet music to each other, swapping pieces of music? That’s an amazing scene when you think of it: a fiddler and a piper just swapping tunes.”

Finbar Furey at the Lyric Theatre Belfast Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Finbar Furey at the Lyric Theatre Belfast Photo: © Michael Fisher

Musical family

His whole family was musical. “My mother played the five-string banjo, a thing called ‘breakdown’, which is done with two fingers.” He mimes the picking and sings softly: “I come fromAlabama with a banjo on my knee, and I’m going to Louisiana, oh my true love for to see.”

As we talk he frequently sings a few lines of music for illustrative purposes. He says that singing a song should be like “when an actor goes on stage in theatre. You’re living the character. You can’t just look around and think, that’s a nice wave I got there from Seamus. You have to live the part until you finish the song.”

He and his brothers and parents would play in O’Donoghue’s pub in Dublin alongside the likes of Ronnie Drew. He and his brother Eddie began playing as a duo in the UK and they were asked to join the Clancy Brothers when Tommy Makem left the band. “It was fantastic,” he says. “The first gig we did with them was in 1968 in Carnegie Hall.”

Touring with the Clancys, he met famous people such as Liza Minnelli and Edward Kennedy, and he appeared on Johnny Carson’s show.

He and Eddie partied, but not too hard. “What saved our lives was that we never went near the top shelf. We never touched spirits. We’d have a couple of beers . . . We were kids. We enjoyed Coca-Cola and pizzas and things kids love.”

But ultimately, playing with the Clancys left him unfulfilled. “There’s only so many times I wanted to sing I’ll Tell Me Ma When I Get Home,” he says. And he missed playing the pipes. “After the concerts would finish, I’d run off to a club somewhere in Chicago and find somebody who was playing a bit of Irish music and start a few tunes.”

Intermission in Edinburgh

After leaving the band he went to Edinburgh where his wife, Sheila (“The most perfect woman I’ve ever met”), was about to have a baby. They rented a railway cottage. “I didn’t do anything for a year,” he says. “I tarred a roof in Scotland. Walked seven miles to work every morning and back.”

He and Eddie were friends with folkies such as Eric Bogle and the Incredible String Band. And they were particularly close to Billy Connolly and Gerry Rafferty, then a duo. Rafferty gave them his song, Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway. Their version became John Peel’s song of the year and their careers took off. “We were very experienced with an audience and we knew exactly what we wanted to play. We’d already been to the top and back.”

His brothers George and Paul were following in their footsteps with their friend Davey Arthur in a band called The Buskers. Finbar decided they should all join together – partly, he says, so he could “keep an eye on them”.

They never chased success, he says, but the Furey Brothers and Davey Arthur were nonetheless hugely successful. They appeared on Top of the Pops playing The Green Fields of France, on the bill with Kool and the Gang. They thought it was all hilarious. They had to re-record the backing track because of some obscure union rules.

“We had to join the British Musicians’ Union and then we had to get an orchestra and re-record the song. But I switched the tape and they played the Irish one anyway. They didn’t know. I threw the English one in the Thames.”

He loved working with his brothers. “There was no bosses in the band. We all had a say and we always made room . . . My brother Paul was asked one time what he liked about being an entertainer or musician on the road. He said ‘room service’.”

But he felt the band were repeating themselves, that they weren’t going anywhere. For the second time in his career he got itchy feet and walked away from a successful band. “The boys were happy but I had other things I wanted to do. I had all these songs and ideas of music I wanted to play. I just knew there was something different out there I wanted to play.”

Leaving broke his heart, he says. He couldn’t let go. “I’d watch them from a distance and make sure they were all right.” He would ring venues to make sure they were doing okay. It got worse, he says, after his brother Paul died of cancer in 2002. “I kept blaming myself, thinking that if I’d been there he mightn’t have died. But I know now I couldn’t have helped him anyway.”

The grief coincided with an injury to his shoulder that looked like it might end his career playing the pipes. “I went through a bad time,” he says. “I knew I’d never be able to play the pipes as well again, I’d always be struggling with them. I can only play them for about 20 minutes and then my shoulder starts really aching me again.”

He was also creatively blocked. “My brain was in a knot. Just the guilt of leaving the band and all sorts of things and not spending enough time with Paul before he died. And everybody was disappearing: all our uncles and aunts and people we used to look up to.”

In 2008 he had an operation on his shoulder. Then in 2009 he went on a holiday before going on a short tour in America. “And I went apeshit playing great music again,” he says. “I went around places I’d wandered years ago with the Clancy Brothers. When I came home I decided to get busy and I started writing. I started to think about the future instead of thinking about the past.”

Finbar Furey playing banjo

Finbar Furey playing banjo

Back in action

The creativity is back, he says, a serious heart attack notwithstanding. He is writing, recording and touring. He and Sheila live in a house that is littered with banjos and guitars and that he makes sound like a drop-in centre for his musically gifted children and their friends (his son Martin is a member of The High Kings). In 2013 he appeared in the TV show The Hit, for which he recorded an actual hit, a number one, with Gerry Fleming’s song The Last Great Love Song. Aren’t reality television talent shows very different from the musical tradition he comes from?

“How would I describe it?” he says. “Take all the great musicians like Joe Heaney andJohnny Doran and the Dubliners and the Clancy Brothers. Now imagine there’s a well and all the heritage goes into the well and every day this well gets bigger and bigger and bigger and all you have to do is take a cup and dip in anywhere you like. The Hit is no different. It’s part of that Irish heritage now and it was a wonderful song.”

After years when the music wasn’t coming, he’s on a roll. “I never want to get into a rut again,” he says. “I have to write about what’s happening now, tomorrow. I have a young man’s life. I never ever stop searching. If I had no hands and still had a brain and I could talk I would still speak about music or hum into a microphone.”

Then it’s time to go and he shakes my hand firmly and warmly. “There’s too much doom and gloom,” he says. “We need more singing.”

Finbar Furey CD cover

Finbar Furey CD cover

Finbar Furey tours Ireland in February and plays Dublin’s Vicar Street on June 12th. Details here.”  

Irish Times January 19th 2015.



Northern Standard Thursday 12th March 2015 p.35

Blayney Blades Celebrate 20 Years and International Women’s Day

By Michael Fisher

The spirit of the late Sr Celine McArdle was very much present as the Blayney Blades women’s group in Castleblayney celebrated their twentieth anniversary and International Women’s Day with a special event at the Íontas Centre. No doubt she was smiling down on the assembled group of around sixty women, particularly when the Arts Minister, Heather Humphreys T.D., announced that funding to allow the continuation of the various courses and services had been secured. Olive Bolger, Co-ordinator at the centre, said she imagined Sr Celine, who had a love of nature and died in 2013 aged, appeared every now and then in the form of a robin. Or even perhaps a squirrel, as a poem written by Sr Celine and read by her friend Nan Duffy reminded the audience:-

THE SQUIRREL  By Sr Celine McArdle (1988)  

Today I saw a squirrel, a-skip from tree to tree,

Red nimble little body, tail bushy as could be.

He nibbled here; he nibbled there, and then sat upon his rump,

To examine his collection, then scamper a tree stump.

He hid behind the swelling, upon the oldest tree.

And somehow as I looked at him, he reminded me of me!

A-scurrying through the branches of each day’s busy tree.

Picking up the husks and shells of dreams that used to be,

Dreams of stored up treasure, thirty years from when

I gave my all in ’59 – what happened to it then??

Or is there wealth I cannot see, stored up by God above

The fruit of all my scurrying, transformed by His faithful love?

Today, just like the squirrel, I sit upon my rump

And gather up the nourishment I’ll be needing in the slump.

When days are dark and dreary and my soul’s as dry as dust,

When nothing seems to touch my heart, and my knees won’t bend with rust.

Then may I find the store house, in some crevice of life’s tree,

And know again the certainty of God’s love for squirrels and me.

Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys T.D., said there was no better place to mark International Women’s Day than at Blayney Blades. This day is all about empowerment and positive action and this year’s theme is ‘make it happen’, she said.

The Minister said she had taken part in a Fine Gael event last week to acknowledge women who ‘make it happen’ in their local area. She went on: “We all know inspirational women in our own walks of life. I have no doubt that you could all easily name a woman who has inspired you, who has encouraged and supported you to become who you are today. This room is full of inspirational women. Women who are making it happen for other women in Castleblayney”.

She said the Blades had been making it happen for the last two decades. Since the group was set up in 1995, it had been empowering, encouraging and enabling women and their families in the Castleblayney area, so that they could realise their full potential and play an active role in this community.

The Minister described the range of services provided by Blayney Blades as very impressive; from education and training, counselling, support initiatives for young people and targeted programmes for new communities in this area. “I take my hat off to you”, she said.

Referring to the difficulties over grant aid in previous years, which made it difficult at times to keep the group going, she said she was very pleased to announce that concerns relating to the funding for the National Collective of Community Based Women’s Networks, of which Blayney Blades is a member, had been addressed.

Funding will now be provided by the Department of Justice, safeguarding the future of Blayney Blades and the Dochas Drop-in Centre for Women in Monaghan, and fifteen other projects across the country. The Minister said she had huge respect and appreciation for the work of the NCCWN, particularly the support the network provided to disadvantaged women, so she was very glad that the funding issue had been resolved.

She told the group that the work of Blayney Blades and NCCWN could be summed up in one word: empowerment. A big word, but it could also be a series of small things. A helping hand; a word of encouragement; or a nudge in the right direction. She said that step by step, week upon week and year after year, the Blades had been empowering women and helping them to make a difference in their own lives and in other people’s lives since 1995. You have been making this a better community, she added.

The Minister said her mother Emily had been a great inspiration for her. On the family farm at Drum there was no job a woman could not do. She had taught me from an early age how to drive a tractor and to milk the cows, she said.

She also spoke about the very important influence that two women had on her during her formative years. Both were teachers at St Aidan’s comprehensive school in Cootehill. One was Geraldine O’Brien, her economics teacher, who encouraged students to stand up for what they believed in. The other was Joan Hannon, who taught English and debating. She encouraged students to get out there and make their point known. Both women had sown the seeds for her to enter politics, she said.

Referring to the overall picture, Minister Humphreys said women had made great strides in Irish public life over the last two years. She herself was proud to be one four women sitting around the Cabinet table. Women occupied the roles of Tanaiste, Garda Commissioner, Chief Justice, Arrorney General, Minister for Justice, Education Minister and…of course….Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht! But we still have barriers to break down, she said.

“You will be aware that next year, we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of this republic. I am leading the Government’s plans for Ireland 2016 – which will commemorate the 1916 Rising – the event which led to the foundation of this State.  I want the role of women in the Rising to be fully recognised.

The Proclamation was a visionary document which specifically mentioned the men AND women of Ireland, at a time when women didn’t even have the vote. Women like Constance Markievicz were complete trail blazers. I want us to recognise these women, to remember the bravery of Cumann na mBan, but also to ask ourselves how, in the following 100 years, women were forced into the background. In some cases, they were written out of history”, she said.

She went on: “We now have a situation where we have to introduce gender quotas to increase the number of women in politics. I hope you will join me as we remember the men AND women who brought about the foundation of this State. After all, a true Republic is a country that values all of its citizens equally”. The Minister concluded by wishing everyone involved in the group all the very best for the next twenty years.

Afterwards in a question and answer session, the Minister spoke about the need for the gender quota and said it was very important that women should be at the decision-making table in government. She believed women needed to get involved in politics and she urged some of them to come forward so they could highlight what needed to be changed.

Last year the Blayney Blades along with other women’s community development groups began a campaign to have funding for their projects ring-fenced. Following the announcement by the Minister, they said they were delighted that the campaign had been successful. It would now give the NCCWN long-term core funding, thus offering continuity to projects. The Blades thanked all those who had supported their campaign and the local representatives who had supported them. They said it was very heartening and affirming to have the work of the NCCWN and Blayney Blades acknowledged and valued.

In her speech, Chairperson Noeline O’Neill said the occasion was tinged with sadness as Sr Celine McArdle was not present to celebrate with them. The Sister of Mercy had the foresight and vision to bring us to where we are today, she said. In the early days of the Blayney Blades, she remembered someone asking them if their group made razor blades! They had grown and developed over the years and she outlined the various stages achieved since the first meeting at the Parish Centre in Castleblayney on January 16th 2005. She outlined some of the courses hey had successfully run and now in 2015 they were about to embark on a new journey. She thanked the staff including the four support workers for their dedication despite the uncertainty over funding last year.

Co-ordinator Olive Bolger, a long-serving member of the group, said Sr Celine’s vision and dream for the group had at first seemed impossible to realise. They had made a trip to see some other centres in Cavan and Tipperary and then received a small bit of funding to initiate the project. She referred to the establishment of a community crèche, the first in the county, which had been set up in a house at Henry Street in Castleblayney. Then they realised other services were needed such as a homework club for older children. She explained how the concept of the Íontas Centre had emerged from its original plan as a small resource centre and how it had been established while Sr Celine was still in good health.

Olive then called on Rose Laverty from Dundalk to light candles in memory of Sr Celione and two former members of the Board of Management who had died, Carmel Redmond and Olivia Rice McCarron.

Development Worker Lorraine Cunningham said the past few months had been very trying because of the uncertainty over finance. She thanked the 43 TDs and Ministers who had attended their lobby at Leinster House a few months ago and had helped to save their funding. She praised Olive Bolger for dedicating her life to making the support group function effectively. The Blades had a very supportive Board of Management and unlike statutory agencies, the work they carried out did not stop at 5pm. She presented Olive with a piece of jewellery in recognition of her long service.

The guest speaker was a St Louis nun based in Dublin, Sr Catherine Brennan. She is a former teacher, who has run courses mainly for women’s groups in Inniskeen, Dundalk, Castleblayney and Dublin. She spoke about the inner journey people must make to understand themselves and the explore their potential. In changing ourselves, change happens all around us, she told the audience.

Following her talk, the Blayney Blades presented Sr Catherine with their award for Woman of the Year 2015. The citation said that Catherine was no stranger to Blayney Blades and had been one of the first tutors to work with the group. She trained in Ireland and England in Adult Education. She delivered the NUI Maynooth Certificate Course in Counselling, which some of our members received. Catherine delivered Personal Development courses, Ennegram, Myers Briggs and Parenting Programmes. Catherine was much more than a tutor. She became a great friend and supporter to all Blades and participants from all over the county and beyond. Catherine has a great love for the environment and encourages us all to become aware of the necessity to protect it. We have all benefitted from her expertise.