Another perspective by Clare Maloney
In his introduction to The Redress of Poetry, Seamus Heaney notes with some delight how “a reliable course can be plotted by following a poetic sixth sense”. Looking at the course of Eithne Ní Uallacháin’s life, it seems that without it having been consciously planned, the titles of the albums, the band, the names of places they toured and so on, can be seen as ‘plotting’ her musical course according to an equally ‘poetic sixth sense’. Taken together these titles and names seem like a series of mythical touch-stones laid out in the landscape of her life.
Cosa Gan Bróga
Cosa Gan Broga names the unencumbered joy of making barefoot contact, with the grounded rhythms and reverberations of her song-singing father and the Irish speaking family into which Eithne was born. This, in Eithne’s own words, was the family ‘whose passion for the Irish language, for literature, for learning was the foundation stone on which all my music was based”. (Diaries)
The seventh of eight children, Eithne was ‘of a quiet disposition, a listener’, prompting her sister Padraigín to ponder “… a certain inevitability that Eithne would become a singer”. Long car journeys in the inspirational company of her father, a school cigire, were for this young ‘listener’, an aural education. They afforded opportunities in which, whether sean nós or nua-cumtha, Eithne sang all the way; “…my father’s love of song steered the course of the purpose of my life”. (Diaries)
Indeed all the way from one generation to the next Eithne sang. “She was always singing …travelling the length and breath of Ireland and further afield to gigs and festivals with Lá Lugh on tours that doubled up as family holidays” (Feilimí) “She never stopped singing at home too!” (Siubhán) But singing did not just ‘pass’ the time and the miles on those childhood journeys. In the larger ‘sixth sense’ of things, Eithne’s singing foretold, and consecrated milestones that would constitute her life’s larger journey.
With the steadfast surefootedness of the family tradition as ‘home ground’, Eithne found herself drawn further and deeper – ‘in-toned’ in a sense, into the realm of Lugh the ancient god of creativity. “… we reflected on our cultural identity and took a positive step to reinterpret the music and song of our home area …. to highlight and celebrate the music and song tradition of North Leinster and South Armagh we chose the name ‘Lá Lugh…” (Gerry) …
That ancient god of creativity, probably also had a ‘long hand’ in the creativity that flourished romantically in Eithne’s life:-
“At Christmas 1976 Eithne phoned me, as she had a few times before to find out where the sessions were happening in the Dundalk area over the holiday period… we made arrangements to meet a few times that week” For New Years eve we were invited to Drogheda to Sean and Helen Corcoran’s home for a house party after a session in Carberry’s pub. Eithne invited me the next New Year’s Day 1977 to a session with her college friends in Balloo House in County Down… By now our match was made!” (Gerry),
Eithne’s musical creativity flourished under the mythical patronage of Lugh, and as she entered through marriage into the musically renowned O’Connor family, her identity and belonging within a new generation of musicians and singers also blossomed. “Her interest in music and particularly song, developed during her time at the University of Ulster among friends like Brian Mullen, Gary Hastings and Ciaran Curran, Diana Skillen and Nigel Boullier. It was here that Eithne found a natural home to socialize and play music amongst a passionate yet fun loving musical community’” (Gerry).
With Lá Lugh, Eithne and Gerry delighted audiences all over Europe through their rich heritage of local songs and music. In the poetic sixth sense though, that ‘kiss’ of the mythical Brigid seduced Eithne’s talent, inviting it ever deeper ‘in’ to the old and worn and well loved, seducing it in turn, taking it in the new and challenging directions that only Eithne could intuit. In doing so she ensured that the tradition so vital for her, could remain fertile and constantly renew itself.
“Although Eithne enjoyed performing she was coming to the realization that she was deriving more pleasure in the writing and recording of newly composed work. She focused particularly on the re-creation of new melodies for old songs which had lost their voice and this in turn influenced the writing of entirely new compositions”. (Gerry)
“Eithne’s creative writing was often inspired by the readings and discussions with the E.L.F. (Experiencing Life’s Fullness) and Mount Oliver groups; these were a loose amalgam of disparate friends who met regularly in the mid 1990’s to read poetry and mythology, ranging from Greek to Celtic to moden writing … Her notebooks are full of referencess to these readings. Many unfinished songs and poems are there with additions and changes, honing her writings” (Fiona). Indeed for a poetic ear such as Eithne’s the places in which Brigid’s Kiss toured sounds like a litany of vocal benedictions – “Tonder, Forde, Copenhagen, Mistlebach, Hallien, Quimper…This is not surprising as in a poetic sense, Brigid’s Kiss blessed Eithne-the-composer and ordained her a poet, for indeed poetry, is what her lyrics are.
A singer must have a good ear; a composer must have more – an inner ear and an inner life that picks up vibrations created far below and high above the usual surface register of things.
Senex Puer named and registered the inner ear and inner life of Eithne the composer. It registered her as capable of picking up, composing and transmitting like a tuning fork, primal and counterpoined energies – the deep, soulful, wisdom of the senex, and the spiritual, youthful, soaring of the puer. “All my songs sprung from Big emotions” (Diaries) Her transmission of those Big emotions and archetypal energies was audible in “… the unmistakably deep, rich colours of her voice, the voice that could understand and communicate a huge breadth of human experience in a single note.” That single note held so much that was diverse, in unison. That note was true to Eithne and true of her … “My memories are also of that candid person, the caring and sensitive soul who brought another thing to company, a dimension that you knew was honest. (Neil)
At first glance the two laguages in the title Bilingua point towards Gaeilige and Bearla. But in a sixth sense that title runs deeper. It points inwards into the very nature of language and of what it records. Language records thought, feeling, memory, life. Recording is a process of capturing soundwaves – in Eithne’s case, those of her flute or her voice – and writing them down, nowadays, digitally. In the studio equipment, needles flicker and fluctuate like frenetic ballerinas, in their dedicated effort to be true to the most minute detail and nuance of what must be ‘picked up’ and written down, recorded. But the fine-pointed phongraphic needle works in two directions, and one of those directions points towards another fine-pointed instrument that worked just as honestly and creatively to record Eithne’s life, to record the crescendos and diminuendos, the swells and silences, the highs and lows, and the fluctuations between her wellness and her ill-at-easeness; her own pen. “We started to experiment with a four track recording device at home but Eithne felt more at home with the traditional method of pen and paper using a selection of diaries and notebooks. (Gerry)
“’Sé mo mheabhrú, ’sé mo smaoitiú,
’Sé mo chuimhneamh, ’sé mo shamhlú.
Another time learning wisdom age. Bilingua…” (Bilingua)
Bilingua transcribes Eithne Ni Uallacháin into the tradition of great recording artists. Whether in Irish or in English, Eithne Ní Uallacháin loved language, loved its its silence, its song, its movement back and forth between the known and the as yet, unknown, between what could be spoken and what cpuldn’t find the words to speak. She was a recording artist but in the poetic sixth sense, Bilingua baptises her, christens her and confirms her as much more: she is both singer and song.
“Caidé do chuimhne di anois?” a d’fhiafraíos dá máthair atá sean, in ísle brí.
Las a haghaidh is dúirt le fonn;
“Séimhe, Cineáltas, a chonaic i gcónaí an mhaith i ndaoine is sa tsaol”.
“Cinnte” arsa mise “agus gealgháireach, le grá soineanta don bheatha, agus ceol i gcónaí ina croí.”
Nach trua gur imigh sí uainn is í chomh h-óg. (Eamon agus Mamó)
True. Yet also true that wherever two or three gather to sing a song, something of Eithne Ní Uallacháin is there in their midst. As Siubhán has said “She was always singing” – the other side of which is “singing always!”