It has inspired work by composer Thomas Moore, folklorist Lady Gregory and sculptor Oisin Kelly – and the story of the Children of Lir is about to be brought to a new audience this week thanks to rock band Loudest Whisper, with their folk opera take on the ancient Irish myth.
Composed by Loudest Whisper founder and lead guitarist Brian O'Reilly, Children of Lir was first staged by the band in 1973 and was so successful that Polydor Records picked up on it and signed the Fermoy folk-rock combo to record an album.
O'Reilly acknowledges the album was hailed as Ireland's first concept album and is a now a much sought-after collector's item, with the folk opera proving particular popular in Europe. Fans still approach the group with copies for signing when they tour on the Continent.
The veteran rocker explained that his decision to compose a folk opera about the four children of Lir being turned into swans by their stepmother, Aoife, owes its existence to his involvement in Fermoy Choral Society productions such as The White Horse Inn and Hello Dolly.
“I was always interested in Celtic mythology, but I was reading a lot of stuff by Lady Gregory, and the Children of Lir jumped out at me because when Aoife, the wicked stepmother, turned them into swans, she allowed them have human voices and sing melodious music,” O’Reilly says.
“When I read that I said this has to be done, so I stuck as rigidly as possible to the background – I was working on it from late 1971 into 1972, and we first staged it in Fermoy in January 1973 – I’ve added to it since then but it’s great to revive it now again and perform it at the Cork Opera House again.”
Joining Loudest Whisper will be folk legend Donovan, who is a big fan of The Children of Lir. He will reprise his role as the Narrator, which he previously did when he featured both in the stage production and a CD recording of the folk opera the band made almost a quarter century ago.
“It’s great to have Donovan back with us again. When we did the show in the Opera House in 1994, we filmed Donovan and we projected him on to the stage, and we’re going to do the same this time for the concert – he loved the whole concept, so he was delighted to come on board with us again.”
Joining Brian, his brother Paud on drums and bassist Paul McCarthy in an expanded Loudest Whisper are Brian's son Oran on guitar and keyboards, Frances Foley and Melaine Quann on vocals, Eelco Beckers on mandolin and guitar and Lisa Howard on whistle and Uillean pipes.
The band will also be supported by a string quartet, as well a choir of 100 voices drawn from the Loreto School Choir in Fermoy and the Cork Prison Officers Male Voice Choir, as well as young ballerinas Tamsin Giltinan, Niamh Kehoe, Laura Hayes and Sofia Rea.
Brian said: “It’s 23 years since we performed Children of Lir at the Opera House. We’ve travelled the world with the show, which is a magical showcase of Irish mythology, music and storytelling, and we are delighted to mark Loudest Whisper’s 50 years on the road by reviving it now.”
See corkoperahouse.ie or call 021 427 0022 for information.