Rebels with a musical cause
Days before the centenary of the creation of the Irish Free State, Claddagh Records have re-released a 1966 record in which three incredible Irishwomen – Helena Molony, Maud Gonne MacBride and Kathleen Behan – account for their part in the 1916 Rising. Contemporary musicians Niamh Bury and Landless add some beautifully haunting musical touches.
It feels almost sacriligeous to be writing a review of a recording that is fused to such an historic moment in Irish history. However, while the prominence of men involved in the fight for Ireland’s independence – Connolly, De Valera, Skeffington, MacBride, Casement and Collins et al – is well documented, the role of women in 1916 had been largely overlooked. The original 1966 release of this record was aimed at redressing this imbalance.
The recollections of activist and actress Helena Molony about Easter Monday in 1916 vividly open the record. She speaks matter-of-factly of how “the girls were all served out with revolvers”. She recalls Francis Skeffington as a committed pacifist, who “took no more notice of the bullets as if they were raindrops.”
Niamh Bury’s version of ‘Érin go Bragh’, originally penned by Peader Kearney (brother of Kathleen Behan), is utterly heart-breaking. The wonderful four-part harmonies of Landless on ‘The Tri-Coloured Ribbon’ close the album.
Molony, Gonne and Behan had such varied backgrounds and origins, yet they were all united by a passionate desire for justice, equality, and an independent Ireland. Ironically propelled by the DUP-backed madness of Brexit, we now find ourselves at another delicate and potentially transformative juncture in Irish history.
Tentative conversations about a fully united Ireland are now taking place across a much wider spectrum of society. A full picture of the importance of music, song and courageous women in Ireland’s kaleidoscopic history, especially around the 1916 events, will surely help to create a space for reflection and debate about the next Irish chapter.
Rebel Irishwomen is available on vinyl and CD at claddaghrecords.com