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The first song that entered my consciousness as a young child was an American spiritual called: “Will the Angels Play their Harps for Me”. I heard it in a house that had no radio or television but had an old, wind-up gramophone and a small number of 78 vinyl records. How this contraption ended up in the parlour of my grandparents thatched cottage (in the back of beyond) will always be a mystery. Perhaps it had something to do with my Canadian uncle in the white suit? As a special treat my Aunt Kathleen would wind up the mechanism, start the record rotating and carefully place the needle on the outside rim. Then with a crackling sound I would hear the introductory chords before the singer merged with the band:


I was passing by the churchyard in the city, when I saw a beggar old and grey

with his hands outstretched, he asked the folk for pity, and it made me sad to hear him say:

Oh I wonder, yes I wonder, will the Angels way up yonder, will the Angels play their harps for me?


Oh a million miles I’ve travelled and a million sights I’ve seen and I’m ready for the glory yet to be.

Oh I wonder, yes I wonder, will the Angels way up yonder, will the Angels play their harps for me?


For my heart is growing dreary and my feet are growing weary, will the angels play their harps for me

Will I ride up to the pearly gates in glory, in a chariot of pure shining gold?

Will I see the folk that went up there before me, when I’m safely gathered in the fold?

Oh I wonder, yes I wonder, will the Angels way up yonder, will the Angels play their harps for me?


 Every year during my childhood, Loughrea celebrated the life of Stoney Brennan on a summer’s night. According to folklore, Stoney was a local man who had been hanged for stealing a turnip.  A sculpture of his head, with sightless eyes, was located at the West Bridge.


In preparation for the big night a large wooden stage was erected in an open space, where 4 roads converged, at the western entrance to the town. Meanwhile, in the Fair Green nearby, a massive bonfire had been accumulating in the previous weeks. It consisted of dozens of rubber tyres from cars and tractors. With the arrival of dusk, the fire was lit and as red and yellow flames illuminated our excited faces, a pall of black smoke and burning rubber gave the night a unique atmosphere and aroma.


When the pubs finally discharged their inebriated customers, at closing time, the dancing started with a ceili band providing the music that was then broadcast over the trumpet style speakers around the streets. The celebrating went on for hours, long after my bedtime. However, with the window open, I could waltz with the best of them and for some reason the song that still echoes in my head 70 years later is The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen: “The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen mean home, sweet home to me, the northern lights of Old Aberdeen are what I long to see”.


In National School, Brother Boniface taught us songs in both Irish and English. The one I remember best was by the Scottish singer called Harry Lauder.  The song was called Keep Right On to the End of the Road and I’ve never forgotten the words. I love its martial beat, its uplifting spirit and its stoicism:


Every road through life is a long, long road, filled with joys and sorrows to

As you journey on how your heart will yearn for the things most dear to you.

With wealth and love ‘tis so, but onward you must go –


         Keep right on to the end of the road, keep right on to the end

         Though the way be long, let your heart be strong, keep right on round the bend

         Though you’re tired and weary still carry on, till you come to that happy abode

         Where all you love, you’ve been dreaming of, will be there at the end of the road.


With a big stout heart to a long steep hill, we will get there with a smile

With a kindly though and an end in view, we will cut short many’s the mile

So let courage every day, be your guiding star always


          Keep right on ….

 We learned a very different kind of music from Herr Wolfe, the organist in St Brendan’s Cathedral. If a funeral Mass was needed during the working week, our National School choir was called into action. In the choir loft we learned the various parts of the Requiem Mass, as it was called. It was sung in Latin and even though we did not understand the words, I never liked the hymn called Dies irae, dies illa, solvet saeclumin favilla. There was something very ominous about the words and the music. Years later I found that this Gregorian chant was about the Day of Judgement – “ the day of wrath, that dreadful day, shall heaven and earth in ashes lay  … what horror must invade the mind when the approaching judge shall find and sift the deeds of all mankind …” Strong stuff for a 10 year old to cope with in a gloomy church filled with people dressed in black.


  Of course, being a teenager in the 1960’s I lived through the golden age of popular music with a continuous stream of brilliant singers and groups from the UK and USA – Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys, Presley, Cash … However, the 2 records that I most associate with that decade were instrumentals.


One of them was a one hit wonder for an English band call The Tornados. It was called Telstar after the telecommunications satellite that was launched in 1962. Effectively, this satellite gave birth to modern electronic communication and, by eliminating distance, turned the world into a global village.


The record called Telstar was produced by an eccentric genius called Joe Meek and released by a five-member pop group. The music, with its space sounds, was produced by guitars, drums and a clavioline, a keyboard instrument with a distinctive electronic vibe. For me it has always captured the excitement of those optimistic years.


1966 was also the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising and that year Gael Linn released a documentary film called Mise Eire to mark the event. Using original footage from newsreels and contemporary newspapers, it gave a strong sense of those momentous years before, during and after the 1916 Rising. The music was composed by Sean O’Riada and his elaborate orchestral score drew heavily from Irish traditional sources. It matches Elgar’s “Land of Hope and Glory” in rousing patriotic fervour. What wonderful music O’Riada could have composed had he not died at the age of 40.


There is no doubt that music is very resonant and can bring back all sorts of memories.

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