Hoist The Flag: Long-lost 1916 song by a woman is performed in Collins Barracks

A forgotten woman of 1916, a deaf choir and Forever Young singers come together in a celebration of neighbourhood projects

A long forgotten 1916 song, one of only a couple known to have been composed by a woman at the time, was performed in Clarke Square in the National Museum at Collins Barracks this week.

When Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Susan McKeown was going through her musician mother’s things after returning to Ireland from New York in 2013, McKeown discovered an old manuscript of sheet music.

It was a song composed by McKeown's great grandmother on her father's side, Angela Clarke, in 1916. It is thought to be the only known song by a woman about 1916, and is now in the National Library.

McKeown found sheet music with two different covers for the song: "I like to think it was reprinted" because of demand. The composer is credited using just a first initial, A Ryan (Ryan was Clarke's married name).


Its discovery ties in well with renewed interest in the forgotten women of 1916.

Clarke had an unusual, difficult life, moving with her two sons from Galway after her husband died in 1906 leaving her destitute, to live in Dublin 7. Later she became a governess in France and Portugal.

Clarke composed a number of songs, and this one, Hoist the Flag, was written in Dublin after the Rising. It's a stirring marching number. "Hear the loud ringing cheers from the brave volunteers," goes the chorus. "As they proudly March along/ To save our country's honour and her faith, hope and song."

Over 100 years later, her 15-year-old great great grand-daughter Roisin McKeown (Susan’s daughter) sang it from the stage in the square at the National Museum (Decorative Arts & History) Collins Barracks . It has come a neat full circle.

As she sings, the song is signed by 14-year-old Marcus Conroy from Roscommon, a boarder at the Holy Family School for the Deaf, and a member of its choir, which also performed at the event in Collins Barracks.

Susan McKeown’s discovery of the song with a personal connection tied in perfectly with another project she is working with, which came together in the museum performance.

Before the show, in one corner of the square at Collins Barracks, as the afternoon wind started to pick up a bit, there was a bit of a racket. There were soundchecks and snatches of song, but some of it was a quiet racket, as the choir from the Holy Family School for the Deaf got ready to perform, and a number of people signed rapidly as they set up.

They were using Ireland's newest official language, Irish sign, and when the children sang onstage it was a glory to see all 83 of them, from age four to 19, with joy and intense expression lighting their faces and their signing. Teacher Shirley Higgins conducted them; it was a moving pleasure to witness.

The deaf choir performed, along with a whole bunch of other Dublin people, outside in Clarke Square in the National Museum at Collins Barracks, at an event celebrating the people of the Tolka river valley. It was the culmination of a long-running project, Dublin Culture Connects, which Dublin City Council runs in communities all over the city. It's innovative and varied, with artists, including McKeown, working with people across the city to build connections between people and where they live.

"I never imagined anything like this. It's made the museum come alive I think," says School for the Deaf teacher Shirley Higgins. As part of Dublin Culture Connects, the deaf students have learned bodhran and other drums with Brian Fleming, the project leader who is hosting the performance onstage. "My students love the choir, they are really excited and have been learning and practising the songs. They love performing - people watching them and being on stage. It is fantastic."

The choir signed for You've Got a Friend in Me and then True Colours. Later they performed along with the Forever Young Chorus of older people, another group working with Dublin Culture Connects' National Neighbourhood. They sang songs written for them by McKeown, which evolved from their own life experiences, and another, inspired by another north Dublin woman, the Viking woman's remains discovered in Finglas in 2004, which they saw on a visit to the National Museum Kildare St.

For some songs they were joined by Finglas professional singer Clare Peelo, who also sang with the deaf choir,Glasnevin native Trevor Hutchinson of the Waterboys and Lunasa, and Sharon Murphy from Connemara, the black Irish woman who brought Tom Jones to tears when she sang Forever Young on The Voice UK and got over a million hits on Youtube.

Displayed inside were some artworks by St Malachy's School, Finglas and the Deaf Village, Cabra, guided by artist Claire Halpin. St Malachy's has investigated the Tolka River and valley, collaborating remotely with a Deaf Village group who made artworks from butterflies (one of the only animals thought to be deaf).

As part of the Dublin Cultural Connects programme exploring Tolka Valley history, St Malachy's School visited the National Museum to see 19th and 20th century horse-drawn fire engine, a hearse, a grocer's van and a laundry van used in North Dublin. Also on show was mural work by St Declan's Sec School, Broombridge Educate Together, Cabra Sketchers, Holy Family School for the Deaf, Scoil Bharra and Cabra For Youth, made with artist Jane Groves, inspired by Sir William Rowan Hamilton and Broom Bridge.

If that all sounds complicatedly interconnected, it is. The web of interlocking creative explorations was woven by what Culture Connects CEO Iseult Byrne describes as using creativity to build a sense of place, to empower people locally across the city and connect them with each other. This display and music performance emerged from either side of the Tolka River, but the web envelops local community creative projects all over Dublin.

Dublin Culture Connects was originally part of Dublin’s City of Culture bid, and when that didn’t work out, the city council decided to go ahead anyway with this multi-pronged National Neighbourhood project. It aims to develop a sense of place, using creativity and the resources of our National cultural institutions within communities from craft groups, walking groups and choirs to colleges, nursing homes, hospitals, scout dens and schools. To help neighbourhoods get to know and “own” their city’s cultural resources, they create cultural projects in community settings, connecting artists, groups and villages with libraries, museums and creative places.

“It’s community building through the arts,” says Byrne. “It’s very forward thinking of the council, which has funded it all to support neighbourhoods. It’s groundbreaking for a local authority.” One of the team describes it as “cultural Tinder - we connect people with people and walk away.”

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times