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Folkworld Review

01/05/15

Eithne Ní Uallacháin (1957-1999) was born into an Irish-speaking household in Dundalk. Her father collected old songs from the area and encouraged his daughters (such as Eithne’s sister Pádraigín)[47] to sing. In 1986, Eithne, her husband Gerry O’Connor[30][46] and flutist Desi Wilkinson recorded the pivotal album “Cosa Gan Bhróga”.[51] Five years later they released their first duo album, “Lá Lugh”, and subsequently formed a group of the same name. Eithne and Gerry focused on songs from the Oriel region, an area roughly encompassing Co. Louth, Armagh and Monaghan, where they lived and took their inspiration from. Eithne also began to compose new melodies to old traditional songs, write new songs and draw upon world music influences. In 1997, she laid the foundations for a solo album. Her vocals were completed and much of the music was arranged, but she sadly took her own life following several bouts of illness.[10]
These recordings were eventually brought to a conclusion by son Dónal,[44] with substantial support from guitarist Gilles Le Bigot,[24] uilleann piper John McSherry,[42] and many others. “Bilingua” is not an archive recording for to put in the vaults but a fresh undertaking. “Bilingua” is eclectic and psychedelic and pathetic. It is deeply rooted in the Irish tradition; Eithne is a gorgeous traditional singer with a bright crystal voice, but at the same time an adventurous artist who is eager to explore new territory. (At roughly the same time, Anne Wylie turned from folk to world music.)[31]
I will not discuss every track in detail here, but I cannot refuse to make some comments:

  • The title track “Bilingua” has been written by Eithne and deals with growing up with both the English and Irish language. Gerry and John McSherry added a fine slow reel.
  • “Meadhrán Samhraidh” by Eithne and Gerry has been inspired from sessions with Romanian band Taraf de Haidouks.[35]
  • “Grief” by Eithne and Gerry is a contemporary keening song with extracts from the old “Caoineadh Airt Ui Laoghaire”.[32]
  • “Bone” by Eithne has been inspired by an outro of the Breton band Skolvan.[30] Gilles Le Bigot wrote a supplementary gavotte to go with it.
  • “I am Stretched on Your Grave” is an English version of the traditional Gaelic ballad “Táim Sínte ar do Thuama”. I have heard Irish a capella choir Maca singing it.[18]
  • “Óró” is a traditional Jacobite relic, set to music by Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin.
  • The Latin “Senex Puer” by Eithne, already recorded before by Lá Lugh, is a modern hymn. Since then it had been covered by others, e.g. by German-Irish group Iontach.[30]

The CD comes with a 40 page hardcover book, which includes a foreword and Eithnes biography by Fintan Vallely,[47] lots of photographs, lyrics, song infos, and some sympathetic words from singers Pauline Scanlon[32] (made me feel at once both sad and comforted), Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh[32] (possessed of a respect and deep understanding of Ireland’s musical heritage, Eithne put her own stamp on songs), Mary Black[47] (a fresh, contemporary feel while still remaining true to the tradition), Karen Matheson[31] (from the aching beauty of her voice to the innovative layering of voices and world music inspired sounds), Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill (once that sound went into your head, it also went to your heart and stayed there).
© Walkin’ T:-)M