Behind every song or poem is a good story, place or character. And wouldn’t you know some of the most interesting have been inspired by Ireland in some big, small or touching way.
From Johnny Cash to James Joyce, artists, musicians and poets taken pen to paper and finger to cord in honour of Ireland.
I’ve picked the best to tap your toes to, sing along to, and read out loud to your beloved.
If there is one thing people from love, it’s talking about how brilliant Cork is (I can say that – I’m a proud Corkman myself). ‘The Banks of my own Lovely Lee’ by Dick Forbes and J.C Flanahan is a classic that you’ll hear misty-eyed Cork people singing all over the world. It tells of one man’s memories of his native Cork and the River Lee that runs through it. The singer is many miles away from home now but recalls childhood memories of playing beneath leafy trees by the banks, and lazy afternoons walking arm in arm with his love along the river. Have a listen, and if the song moves you too, sure pop over to Cork and see what all the fuss it about. Just admit we told you so.
Johnny Cash in Ireland
Country music hero Johnny Cash loved Ireland so much that he penned the song ‘Forty shades of green’ about his journey around Ireland meeting the locals. From Dingle harbour to Tipperary and Dublin, Cash recalls the splendor and downright loveliness of Ireland, especially one girl in Tipperary town (hmm, wonder what June had to say about that). Cash sings of farmers at their work in the bog, women thatching straw and the friendly people of Skibereen.
On one of his trips to Ireland, he stayed in with June, and made this video with Sandy Kelly singing ‘Woodcarver’ on the staircase. You can still see their signatures in the guest book today.
A feeling of Joyce
Literary legend James Joyce immortalised the city of Dublin in his masterpiece Ulysses. In return, the city remembers him in fine fashion each year on , named after the main character from the story, Leopold Bloom. As a celebration of all things Joycean, across people dress up in silly Edwardian costumes and gather in real-life relics from the book such as Sweny’s Pharmacy and Usher’s Island for readings and performances.
This year, the annual 16 June festivities promise to be extra special as the author’s work is out of copyright, which means all sorts of Joyce-inspired plays, talks, readings, performances and music will run that have not been possible in Europe before. So grab yourself a floppy hat, some lemon soap and get involved.
Next up, naturally, is the poetry of WB Yeats and County where the mighty Ben Bulben Mountain and the were immortalised. ‘Under Ben Bulben’ is a poem infused with a sense of mysticism and magic that is easy to appreciate when gazing up at the table-shaped green velvet mountain. The final words of the poem are the very same words inscribed on Yeats’ tombstone in the graveyard in Sligo.
From witches and myths to a tranquil lake isle, ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ describes the peacefulness and serenity of Innisfree, an island on Sligo’s Lough Gill. Yeats evokes the sounds of nature with bees buzzing, crickets chirping and water gently lapping at the lakeside. Lovely.
Dublin’s Fair City was the site of one of Ireland’s most cherished love poems: Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘On Raglan Road’. The poem was made all the more famous when Dubliners singer, Luke Kelly, put it into song. The poem describes the moment when Kavanagh first laid eyes on a beautiful girl. It was a moment that Kavanagh knew he might rue but was ensnared by all the same. You can take a walk down Raglan Road in Ballsbridge today and see whether you spot your own dark haired-beauty. Failing that, you can always visit along the banks of the Grand Canal, but don’t expect any words of sympathy.
The Rose of Tralee
Most of us will have heard of the , where young ladies from all over the world compete for the title of Rose of Tralee. But did you know a song inspired the festival? The original rose was a fair maiden named Mary who stole the heart of the song writer as he spied her in the pale moonlight. She had grace, beauty and a ‘shining truth in her eyes’. Today, the competition ends with the newest Rose of Tralee usually bawling with happiness being serenaded with the very song that inspired her title.
in County Donegal may not have any famous songs written about it (that I know of) but no piece about musical Ireland would be complete without mentioning Ballyshannon’s most famous son: Rory Gallagher. Rory
Gallagher was to guitar playing what Einstein was to physics, or what Caravaggio was to realism; in other words, he was the total boss. Though associated with County Cork, Rory spent his early childhood in the tiny town of Ballyshannon. Each year the town celebrates it’s favourite son with the Rory Gallagher International Tribute Festival, which is a festival of tribute acts and seriously great craic. If you have yet to discover the music of Rory Gallagher I suggest listening to ‘Cradle Rock’ off the 1974 live Irish Tour album (you’re welcome).
So considering this body of evidence, you have to wonder why does Ireland inspire such works of artistic beauty? Is it the arresting sight of Ben Bulben as it transfixed Yeats, or the big smiles and warm hearts of the locals as cherished by the man in black? The Dublin pubs or the Leitrim waterfalls? The landscapes or the ladies?
The truth is that no poem or song could do justice to the sun rising up over Connemara or the first lambs dancing through the fields in spring. But people will always try to capture Ireland’s beauty in words and song, and we sure love listening to their efforts.