A Letter from Ireland:
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A Different Sort of Irish Music

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Are you a fan of Irish music? Today, we have something a bit different as we look at the music of one man who had his roots in the north of Ireland.

Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to your Letter from Ireland for this week. How are you doing in your part of the world today? I have a confession to make – your letter is not coming from Ireland this week, but from a small island off the west coast of North Africa (but still in Europe). Would you care to guess where we are? I must say, I do like island life – it must be the isolation and clear boundaries that breeds a very distinctive type of character.

Before we go on, I have a bonus spoken letter to share with you today. In it, Carina wonders if Irishness is in your “nature” or “nurture”. So, have a listen here and let us know what you think.

I’m having a wonderful cup of local coffee as I write, and I do hope you’ll have a cup of whatever you fancy yourself as we start into today’s letter.

For this week, we are going to have a look at some family names from County Cavan – and one Irish musician in particular. I have put some really nice musical videos in the centre of our letter today and I know that you will enjoy them.

The Families of the Kingdom of Breifne.

Have you ever heard of the ancient Irish Kingdom of Breifne? You may know it nowadays as Counties Leitrim and Cavan – the two counties that evolved out of the kingdom. Up to late medieval times, the Kingdom of Breifne was ruled by two main families – to the west we had the O’Rourkes and to the east the O’Reillys. By the late 1500s, the O’Rourke territory was shired as County Leitrim and the west part as County Cavan. Did any of your Irish ancestors come from these counties? Do leave your comments below and let me know.

When the many English and Scottish settler families such as:

Armstrong, Bell, Bennett, Browne, Clarke, Cochrane, Cooke, Crawford, Elliott, Foster, Gibson, Graham, Hamilton, Harrison, Heaslip, Irwin, Jackson, Johnston, Kells, Maxwell, Nixon, Robinson, Scott, Smith, Stewart, Taylor, Thompson, Williamson, Wilson, Woods

arrived in County Cavan from the 1600s (it was one of the Plantation counties), they joined the existing Irish Gaelic of the region.

Along with the O’Reilly families, they included:

McCabe, McBrady, O’Carolan, O’Donohoe, O’Farrelly, O’Farley, Finnegan, Gaffney, McGovern, McGowan, Smith, O’Reilly, Sheridan, McTiernan names among others.

Are any of your surnames here?

Like to add your Irish surname to our list? Signup for your free weekly Letter from Ireland by clicking here.and we’ll let you know how to join in the fun.

Let’s now focus on just one of those surnames – McBrady. By the 1700s, most McBradys had dropped the Mac and even today you will have to search hard to find one with a Mac attached. Almost 400 years after East Breifne was turned into County Cavan, one Brady family had moved far to the north-west – and set up house in the town of Strabane just outside County Tyrone.

Paul Brady was born into this County Tyrone family in 1947 and went on to carve a very unique place in Irish music and song over the following decades. I first came across the live music of Paul Brady in 1979 as he stood alone in the middle of a stage and dazzled everyone with his virtuoso guitar playing, singular voice and a collection of wonderful songs that dug deep into the Irish tradition and psyche.

How about we take a tour around the songs and music of Paul Brady?

We’ll start with an old song called “Arthur McBride” which Paul made his own during the 1970s. It recalls a time when it was dangerous to go out walking in the Irish countryside just in case you were “recruited” into the British Army.

It was unlucky to meet a recruiting sergeant on a beach that size!

Next up, we have “Nothing but the same old story”. This is a masterful story of the highs and lows of Irish emigration – especially to Britain. In this version, Paul plays the song acoustically with Donal Lunny:

Paul Brady was born in a town that was on the border between Counties Tyrone and Donegal and spent much of his time in the Donegal countryside. In the next song, “The Homes of Donegal” – he shares some beautiful music and imagery that capture all that is good in that beautiful county:

Finally, I think it’s appropriate to take our leave with with one song in particular. Here, Paul Brady duets with Karen Matheson on an old Robbie Burns song “Ae Fond Kiss” which beautifully illustrates Paul’s “feel” for a song. I also think it’s a good song to include given the strong links between Ulster and Scotland – a duet from an Ulster man and a Scottish woman. What do you think?

 

And with that last song, I think we’ll say farewell to you also! I hope you enjoyed this musical letter in the company of Paul Brady – from the mighty McBrady clan of East Breifne, now County Cavan!

That’s it for this week – If you would like to share your ancestral story – or the surnames in your family tree – do feel free to leave your comments below and connect.

We do look forward to you joining us again next week.

Slán for now, Mike & Carina.

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