Cómhrá na dTonn, a Book and CD About Irish Traditional Music

Cómhrá na dTonn by Máire Nic Dómhnaill Gairbhí
Cómhrá na dTonn by Máire Nic Dómhnaill Gairbhí

Cómhrá na dTonn by Máire Nic Dómhnaill Gairbhí (2004, ISBN 0-9545324-0-6)

Cómhrá na dTonn means the Conversation of the Waves. It is a book of traditional Irish music from the past and comes with a companion CD. It is
authored by Máire McDonnell Garvey (Máire Nic Dómhnaill Gairbhí). Together with Dan Healy and Ciarán Ó Raghallaigh, she has been collecting and playing traditional music for many years.

The name Cómhra na dTonn comes from a little deserted fishing village called Aughris, on the north Atlantic coast between Sligo and Enniscrone. Large stones similar to the Giant’s Causeway face the sea. There is an opening under the cliffs and it is said to run for about a mile. When the wild Atlantic waves roll towards the cliff’s they rush into this opening and the roar can be heard for over thirty miles away.

The tunes on the CD have much to do with the sea and nature. To accompany the CD, Máire Nic Dómhnaill Gairbhí wrote a book of the same name. The story of each of the twenty tracks is related in the book as is the music and history and many pictures.

Máire Nic Dómhnaill Gairbhí talks of the forgotten people of Ireland. “In the 19th century there were many collectors of Irish tradition music and songs. Patrick Lynch, George Petrie, W.P. Joyce, William Forde and Captain Francis O’Neill. The setting up of the Folklore Society of Ireland, the Feis Ceoil, and Conradh na Gaeilge were all instrumental in bringing Irish tradition forward in order to equal its European neighbors. Men and women in these societies did wonderful work for the future of Ireland. Eibhlín Bean Ui Coistealbha, who was teaching in the Presentation Convent, in Tuam married the local doctor, and collected songs from the Tuam, Connemara and Mayo singers, where Irish was the spoken language at that time. She published her collection under the name Amhrán Muighe Seola.”

Our Ancient music is seldom heard,” says Máire Nic Dómhnaill Gairbhí. “We have delved into the well of 400 years ago and came up with The Wild Geese, the tragic story of the destitute women ‘ag caoideadh’, as the ships set sail for France as their men folk were going to join the Irish Brigades to fight for King James II. It was 1691, after the fall of Limerick. Before that around the forming of the Confederation of Kilkenny, the Parliamentarians defeated the Confederate Catholics at Cnoc na nDos near Mallow in Co. Cork, and not a man of Allister Mc Donnell’s army under the command of Taffe was left alive. MacAllistrum’s Lament-March is a fitting tribute to the dead.”

Máire also talks about the closeness of Irish tradition to the other 5 Celtic countries and the reasons for this. “Pointing out that Thomas Connellan and his brother Lawrence both Harpers from Cloonamahon in Co. Sligo, both lived in Scotland for years and both Ireland and Scotland claimed their compositions. I say we come from the same tradition. We have Planxty Davis one of Thomas ‘s compositions.”

Further research was done in Wexford, the home of the Mummers. “It took some time to discover the two most important men of that era. Now almost forgotten except for the oldest generation. Their stories are full of excitement and challenge; Arthur Warren Darley was born in Dunlaoghaire and first lived in Silchester Road. In 1923 he purchased a house in Northumberland Road, Dublin. His family was musical both in traditional and classical. His grandfather played the uilleann pipes and fiddle, his father played fiddle and viola and Arthur played fiddle and piano. Arthur was playing the fiddle well at 8 years of age. He was a fellow in The College of Violinists, London, Professor of Leinster School of Music, Director of the municipal School of Music, and was deeply interested in Irish Music. He met P. J. McCall who spent much of his time in Wexford. Together they collected old tunes and Ossian Publications published them. It was P J McCall who composed the famous Wexford Ballads and Arthur Darley put the music to them – The Boys of Wexford, Boolavogue, Kelly The Boy from Killane.”

Arthur read a paper to the Irish Literary Society in 1897,” continues Máire. “He talked of the ancient bards and harpers, and the supremacy of their music. He had theories as to how the position of Irish music could be advanced in the future. He said, many believe he song known as Killarney is an Irish air Kathleen Mavourneen, Molly Bawn and many others are accepted as genuine. “Now is not such ignorance lamentable? ” He said Thomas Moore and Stevenson were censurable for their work. They changed the name of “The Foxes Sleep” to “When he who adores thee”, and they removed all the vestige of Irish character from the ancient melody. Arthur adjudicated at the Feis Ceoil all over
the 32 counties

Then, Máire came to a very interesting item. The connection between County Mayo and counties Armagh and Down, bring a new element to her history. “The O’Neill Clan were numerous O’Neills of the Fews, Armagh. O’Neills of Mayo were descended actually from the Fews, the Leitrim O’Neills and the Meath O’Neills. The first migrations from the north in medieval times were the Mc Donnell’s and the Mc Sweeney’s who came to this part of the world as galloglasses or professional soldiers, hired by the Burkes. Migration took place from Ulster to County Mayo, from the end of the 18th century. The late Cardinal O Fiaidh did a study of this.”

When Máire moves into the 18th century, she finds an underlying seam of culture right across Mayo. “Songs and music were heard at every fireside. In remote areas people sang Carolan’s songs. Dr Douglas Hyde collected many sean-nós songs around the Mullet. Here I come to Patrick Lynch. I have the list of 189 tunes he collected in Mayo from Queen’s University, Belfast.”

The book is available from the www.comhranadtonn.com Web site.

Máire McDonnell Garvey was born in 1927 in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon. She moved to Dublin in 1948. She plays fiddle, researches Irish traditional music, has written three books and is a member of various historical and musical societies.