Home Irish Language Life, lore, and songs of Colm Ó Caodháin

Life, lore, and songs of Colm Ó Caodháin

Colm Ó Caodháin: An Irish singer and his world|Ríonach uí Ógáin|Cork University Press|€39 £35

Cork University Press have done a fine job in presenting Ríonach uí Ógáin’s latest contribution to folklore and music studies in Ireland.

by Cathal Póirtéir

Colm Ó Caodháin: an Irish singer and his world is the latest full-length study by Ríonach uí Ógáin, one of Ireland’s leading folklorists.

The book examines the life, lore and songs of an exceptional traditional singer from Conamara. Although the commentary is in English, the original Irish language material on which it is based is not only included but also translated into English, songs as well as stories. An audio CD further showcases the material presented in the text and the book also includes examples of the collector’s original handwritten notes and the musical notation for many songs and tunes.

The author of this attractive bi-lingual volume is a retired Director of the National Folklore Collection; she spent nine years as editor of Béaloideas, the Journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society, and has published several important books on various aspects of Irish oral culture.

Traditional singing and music

Much of Ríonach uí Ógáin’s work has been in the area of traditional singing and music, a life-long passion. Notable and important books have included ‘Mise an Fear Ceoil’ Séamus Ennis – Dialann Taistil 1942-1946 (2007), later translated as Going to the Well for Water: the Field Diaries of Séamus Ennis (2009); The Otherworld: Music and Song from the Irish Tradition – with Tom Sherlock. (2012) and a study of the legendary Liberator in oral tradition, published as An Rí gan Chóróin: Dónall Ó Conaill sa Bhéaloideas (1984) later translated and expanded in Immortal Dan: Daniel O’Connell in Irish Folk Tradition (1995). Clár Amhrán Bhaile na hInse (1976) remains an invaluable guide to the song repertoire of that entire area of County Galway. She has also published articles in many specialist journals and lectured on folklore topics in Ireland and abroad.

Séamus Ennis

In her latest work she returns, in part, to the work of Séamus Ennis, one of the great collectors employed by the Irish Folklore Commission and an acclaimed musician in his own right.

Here the focus is not on the collector but on a single informant who generously shared his songs, stories and biographical details with Ennis and a number of other collectors who visited him in his native Glinsce, Carna, County Galway.

Visitors included internationally known collectors like the American Alan Lomax, national institutions like Radio Éireann and the BBC and individual fieldworkers of the Irish Folklore Commission, Caoimhín Ó Danachair, Proinsias de Búrca and Liam Ma Coisdeala.

Although he lived until 1975 the bulk of the material collected from Colm Ó Caodháin was recorded in the 1940s and 1950s.

Fortunately much of this was in the era of audio recordings and the book includes over thirty audio tracks on the accompanying CD, a rare and very authentic treat for lovers of sean-nós singing and oral performance in general.

Warmth and friendship

The warmth and friendship in the relationship between Colm and Séamus Ennis shines through in many places including a poem the singer composed in honour of his friend.

The material collected gives the reader an insight in to the life and times of the singer.

His work at home in Conamara working on a small farm and fishing with his father, labouring in Scotland and returning home where he continued to work the land and built a number of houses in the general locality. The only wealth that Colm Ó Caodháin experienced was the wealth of tradition that surrounded him in the Gaeltacht area in which he grew up, an area where the Irish language has regretably largely disappeared since then.

In his youth Colm built up an extensive repertoire of songs in Irish and English and had a great pride in the songs he had learned under the careful influence of his father, another guardian of local songs and stories.

Colm Ó Caodháin was obviously an exceptional talent, a gifted singer, musician, storyteller, and raconteur.

We are fortunate that his generosity towards Ennis and the other collectors now allows later generations access to the wealth of oral tradition that he shared so willingly.

Her introduction and contextual notes are helpful and are designed to allow readers and listeners to discover and appreciate a man for whom music and song were a natural part of his life and the life of his community.

Cork University Press have done a fine job in presenting Ríonach uí Ógáin’s latest contribution to folklore and music studies in Ireland.

Colm Ó Caodháin: An Irish singer and his world|Ríonach uí Ógáin|Cork University Press|€39 £35

Cathal Póirtéir has specialised in researching, presenting and commissioning Irish interest material in various radio formats and in books, including history, literature and folklore in Irish and English, as well as current affairs and drama.