A day with the fairies
But not from fear of the supernatural. John Doherty, who was born in 1895, died just a year after the recording was made. Had it not been stored safely in the National Folklore Collection, this modest but irreplaceable slice of Irish cultural history might have vanished into engulfing nothingness, never to be heard by human ears again. And that’s a seriously scary thought.
Pick of the pucks
It has taken editors Rionach Uí Ogáin and Tom Sherlock more than 25 years to put together the compilation that is The Otherworld. The idea was born in the late 1980s, when they worked together on a CD of music from the Blasket Islands. One of the tunes on that CD was Port na bPúcaí, the Tune of the Fairies. It features on The Otherworld and it’s Uí Ogáin’s favourite.
“It appeals to me very much. I knew Muiris Ó Dálaigh, who plays it here, and recorded him many, many times. This tune is said to come off the air, or off the wind, or sea – various versions are told.
“So that has a great appeal for me, that closeness to the landscape. The association with the sea and the mountains, with loneliness and light.”
Sherlock has a particular fondness for An Mhaighdean Mhara (the Mermaid). “It’s an international tale of the fisherman who marries a mermaid,” he says. “They set up house and have a family. He hides her sealskin cloak in a box, and nobody is allowed open it. The children find the box and when she spies her cloak she has to go back to the sea, and deserts her children. The song depicts the conversation the children have on the shore with her out in the sea. The song isn’t literal. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. But this is what’s going on. It’s very beautiful. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by it.”
The Otherworld, edited by Rionach Uí Ogáin and Tom Sherlock, is published by Four Courts Press. It costs £25 and all profits from sales of the book and CD will be invested in the conservation and publication of the National Folklore Collection. For details see ucd.ie/irishfolklore