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Music and Memory

Music and Memory


My mother sang the following songs as she went about the house working; a chorus here, a verse there, or a few lines of every song.   I think she never had time to sing a whole song because children needed attention all the time.   She sang along with John McCormack, Fr. Sydney McEwan, Brendan O’Dowda’s Percy French songs, Delia Murphy or whoever was on the radio.


Thomas Moore wrote Oft in the Stilly Night, his memories of good times in the past.

Oft in the stilly night, ere slumber’s chain has bound me,

Fond Memory brings the light of other days around me;

The smiles, the tears, of boyhood’s years, the words of love then spoken;

The eyes that shone, now dimmed and gone, the cheerful hearts now broken!

Thus in the stilly night, ere slumber’s chain has bound me,

Sad Memory brings the light of other days around me. 


O Come, All Ye Faithful Christmas Carol

Adeste Fideles laeti triumphantes,

Venite, venite in Bethlehem.

Natum videte, Regem Angelorum.

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem
O come and behold Him, born the King of Angels


Queen of the May (Bring Flowers of the Rarest) based on Catholic Hymn.

O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May. 


Delia Murphy was born into a well-to-do family near Claremorris, she had a distinctive singing voice, met her husband while studying at UCG.   The couple were diplomats to the Holy See, Rome.   She was recognised for hiding Jews and escaped soldiers from the Nazis and was awarded the rank of Dame Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.


If I was a blackbird I could whistle and sing,    I’d follow the ship my true love sails in
And in the top riggin’ I would there build my nest,   And I’d flutter my wings o’er her lily-white breast.


Spinning Wheel

Mellow the moonlight to shine is beginning,   Close by the window young Eileen is spinning
Bent o’er the fire her blind grandmother sitting,   Is crooning and moaning and drowsily knitting.
Merrily cheerily noiselessly whirring
Swings the wheel spins the wheel while the foot’s stirring
Sprightly and lightly and merrily ringing
Trills the sweet voice of the young maiden singing.


Mother lived to be 96 years, in a Nursing Home for the last couple of years.   They had live music every Tuesday afternoon and I attended with her.   She sang along with all the songs and sometimes we tried to waltz a few steps.   One day, out of the blue she sang something I had never heard before.



There are fairies at the bottom of our garden!

It’s not so very, very far away;

You pass the gardener’s shed and you just keep straight ahead —

I do so hope they’ve really come to stay.

There’s a little wood, with moss in it and beetles,

And a little stream that quietly runs through;

You wouldn’t think they’d dare to come merrymaking there–

      Well, they do.


There are fairies at the bottom of our garden!

They often have a dance on summer nights;

The butterflies and bees make a lovely little breeze,

And the rabbits stand about and hold the lights.

Did you know that they could sit upon the moonbeams

And pick a little star to make a fan,

And dance away up there in the middle of the air?

      Well, they can.


There are fairies at the bottom of our garden!

You cannot think how beautiful they are;

They all stand up and sing when the Fairy Queen and King

Come gently floating down upon their car.

The King is very proud and very handsome;

The Queen–now you can guess who that could be

(She’s a little girl all day, but at night she steals away)?

      Well — it’s Me!


She said that when she was a very little girl her mother’s cousin, Willie Whyte from around Cloondahamper brought his threshing machine to her village and he stayed at their house while working in the village.   He taught her that song.    Hearing her sing it was an emotional surprise for me but it didn’t faze her. 


My own favourite music is the genre described as swing/jazz/pop.   I find it soothing; that is until I listen to Frank Sinatra’s songs that stir up all sorts of emotions. 


Acker Bilk’s instrumentals, Strangers on the Shore and Unchained Melody are captivating.   The unique sound produced by the clarinet can be bright or melancholy.


 Music is always in the background but I don’t connect a specific piece of music to any important event.   Usually I pay more attention to the words but there are a few pieces of music that I recognise such as Bolero composed by Maurice Ravel.   Torvill and Dean won gold at the 1984 Olympics for their ice skate dancing to Bolero.


 Thinking about music has resurrected a lot of memories that I might as well write down because by tomorrow they may have faded!   


A friend who had a smidgen of French in her ancestors gave a party for a group of Zydeco singers/musicians from Quebec Province, Canada.   Zydeco combines tunes of French origin with Afro-Caribbean music and blues using instruments including guitar, washboard and accordion.   Zydeco is popular in Louisiana too and to enhance this experience my friend served Cajun Jambalaya.


 When we were all young and single, going dancing, the music played at the end of the night to influence thoughts and feelings included Kris Kristofferson’s Help me Make it Through the Night and John Denver’s  Leaving on a Jet Plane.


 One year I was invited to a Christmas party at Rockefeller Ice Skating Rink.   Rented ice skates were fitted and guests enjoyed ice skating, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres while being entertained by Billy Eckstine singing and his orchestra playing.   Kenny Rogers sang at an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers meeting in St. Louis that I was at, and Bob Hope performed for a medical convention I was attending in Dallas.


 People in my group of friends had different tastes in music, mostly middle-of-the-road or classical, and if someone needed a friend to go to an opera or a Willie Nelson concert I would go.   When I wanted to see Frank Sinatra they came along.   My sister and I and three other girls packed into Joe McInerney’s* car for the drive to Jones Beach, Long Island to see Frank Sinatra in concert on an outdoor stage one summer night.     (*Joe was from Leitrim)       

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