Origins of the Lough Swilly songs


IMG_2053 “O Arranmore”

O Arranmore was originally written in 1979 in 30 Theberton St. Islington, London; a large Georgian house squatted by young people from Letterkenny and New Ross. The song was one verse in entirety and performed acapella.
It was two years later that I first sang it in public at Dalston Junction Alternative Cabaret. Subsequently it became part of my act “The Zen Mc Gonagall” It would usually lead directly into a poem. Surprisingly it has been sung on the stage of the Abbey Theatre; I performed at Gala benefit for “The Centre of the Performing Arts” on a bill with Maureen Potter and The Dubliners”
It was 1995 before it became fully integrated into a theatre show “The Church of Chill”
For the recording I am adding a second verse, and harmonium, with Orlaith on alto clarinet, Jeremy on piano and Fionn on bass.
Arranmore go there.
photo by Lilian Haliday





The Belle of Tyrconnell – The Mental
This is the first song sung in The Mental by the character Joe Boyle, a resident of St Conal’s in Letterkenny. Joe was first institutionalised in New York after a meltdown in the East Village where he had sung with a punk band “The Mary Duffys” In St.Conal’s he forms a relationship with the ghost of the Irish language writer Seosamh Mac Grianna who he likens to a Donegal Jack Kerouac.
I wrote the song on ukulele at the same time as I worked on the script; I have a few ukuleles around the house it’s a very handy instrument to pick up at any time if you get an inspiration. I wanted it to be old worldy, dripping in a past that clings to so many broken lives. In the show the musical parts were played by Laura Sheeran on ukulele and Nuala Ní Chanainn playing the violin pizzicato, they also sang harmonies. (Laura and Nuala composed an exquisite score for the show.)
Our delicious new recording is played waltzy; we are led round the hall in the masterly arms of Fionn Robinson who plays both bass and six string guitars, while Jeremy and Orlaíth cast their dreamlike magic on grand piano and clarinet. Many of my theatre songs need to be short for the sake of dramatic pacing so for the album there is a new second verse that follows a most perfect atmospheric guest trumpet solo by John Ruddy; Orlaith sings the second verse as only she can. The song is not mixed yet but so far so very happy.
The Mental was commissioned by axis ballymun.
photo: Paul Mc Guckin



“Dead Rooster Blues”
Dead Rooster Blues is from the show of the same name which premiered in Killargue Hall Co. Leitrim in 2008 as part of The Flights of Fancy Festival.
In Dead Rooster Blues the bluesman hero sets off in his vintage lorry to a mysterious gig in a singing lounge up in the hills in the middle of nowhere “The Mothers Arms” The dodgy owner has organised a new age healing festival and spread rumours about possible surprise musical guests; this draws an audience of expectant bikers as well as a busload of Daniel O Donnell fans and some Bjork fans; the pressure is on our bluesman, who while unloading his equipment from the lorry accidentally reverses over a rooster. When he brings the dead rooster to the nearby caravan of its owner, the beautiful Bella, she informs him that the rooster was likely already dead and proceeds to explain her conspiracy theory involving an assassin in the hills targeting roosters.
The song was composed on my mahogany Paul Hathway ukulele, and it featured in a broadcast of “Sunday Miscellany” in November 2010
For “Songs from the Lough Swilly Delta” the ukulele is joined by Fionn on electric guitar, Jeremy on harmonium and Orla playing both alto and soprano clarinets. We all succumb to the glory of the spirit and sing the chorus with a righteous fervour that will make the feathers in your pillow dance like dervishes.
Photo: Jane Talbot