Irish Storytelling: A Wee Bit O' History
As a librarian I who enjoy hearing and telling a good story, it was a pleasure for me to attend the storytelling and poetry reading part of The Irish Influence in the Adirondack Park: program put forth at The Tannery Pond Community Center in North Creek, NY . This part of the presentation paid homage to our own local Minerva/Irishtown history through a presentation of stories, poems and songs by local residents.
A Fair Introduction to Your Host - Rob Lee
The Mayor of Irishtown
The focus of this presentation was on Irishtown, a small piece of Minerva which was settled in the 1800’s by the Irish, by the Brannon family in fact who has lived on this land for five generations. This presentation was dedicated to William “Bill” Brannon whom Robbie described as the “quintessential Irish gentleman “and to his lovely wife Ellen Brannon, the First Lady of Irishtown.
Ann Hornbeck spoke to us with The Glen and August Weather.
Michael Corey regaled us with Boolavouge by Patrick Joseph McCall. Another tale of about the Irish rising of 1798 when Father John Murphy and his parishioners put the boot to the Camolin Calvary in the town of Wexford. Father Murphy and his supporters were hanged for their involvement
Frank Herbst recited The West's Asleep by Thomas Osbourne Davis an Irish Nationalist who memorialized the rising of 1798 when the Irish joined the French in freeing Connacht from the English King. The Irish suffered greatly for that uprising. The English punished them severely and many Irish citizens were murdered and buried in mass graves by the English soldiers in retribution
Maggie Eager home for a visit from Colorado decides to pay a visit to Robbie’s Irish pub and through some Irish Shenanigans ends up on the stage at Tannery Pond reciting some of her favorite Yeats poems. Maggie says "When You Are Old is a poem I became familiar with the first poem when I studied Yeats poetry in college and fell in love with it. It's about Maude Gonne who is a woman that Yeats was in love with and proposed to on five different occasions. She never said yes and ended up marrying someone else (that marriage failed I believe). The Lake Isle of Inisfree is a poem that heard sung as a child, it is lyrical and pretty and stayed with me. “
Next we are entertained by a barroom skit in which we are treated to a group of Irishmen and an Irish barmaid Katie Smith, enjoying a moment of companionship. My favorite part of this skit was Bob Foley telling two stories; one about his grandmother an Irish immigrant who traveled south one day from her job at the Adirondack Hotel in Long Lake to Minerva because she had heard that Minerva area resembled her Irish homeland. The second story also involves his grandparents and an Irish poem by Yeats entitled The Pity of Love which Bob recites from memory and then states with perfect Irish humor “to this day, I don’t know what the hell it means.” The skits were performed in conjunction with Dan Berggren singing Irishtown Crew.
The second skit stars Minerva student Connor Davie asking “Old Mother Irish” played by Sue Montgomery-Corey why the Irish always seem to be fighting. To which she responds. “The Irish suffered 800 years of oppression at the hands of the British. They took our language, they took our land and they would have taken our souls if we'd let them.” It seems sad to me that such rich history can be summed up so accurately in one sentence.
We end the presentation appropriately with Mindy Piper singing The Parting Glass accompanied by Dan Berggren a song traditionally sung at the end of a gathering of friends. Although, this proved not to quite be the end of an enjoyable morning. At the end of the performances we gathered together at Basil & Wicks who graciously opened early to serve the on goers with some traditional Irish fare.
Robbie treats us to High and Low by the Irish poet James H. Cousins (1873-1956). Cousins was a poet who kept company with Joyce, Russell and Yeats in Dublin in 1897. In this poem Cousins is telling the story of an Irish fellow who though besot by drunkenness recalls the glory of his past.
Mindy Piper entranced us with the Irish Ballad Believe Me written in 1808 by Irish Poet Thomas Moore. Moore wrote the song for his wife who was so scarred with small pox that she would not leave her bedroom. His love for her which comes through in the song helped restore her confidence and once more enter the world.
Andy Halloran delivered Yeat’s Easter 1916 which was a breakthrough poem for Yeats. Up to this point in his life, Yeats had chosen to remain the romantic poet and to not use his works in a revolutionary way as some of his fellow poets of the time were want to do. In this poem, Yeat’s talks about the Ireland’s inability to gain its freedom and independence.
It a testament to Robbie’s charm and power of persuasion that the next performer is none other than Michael Kelly. Michael is the oldest of 9 children in the very large Irish Kelly clan. Like the Lynn’s, the Kelly’s play a large role in the history of Minerva and are a center of many of the stories told about the old days. Michael is a gentle yet strong sole who returned to Minerva after working out of state for most of his adult life. Seen about town with one of his ever present hats, Michael is a quiet and humorous man whose soft spoken words seem to hold a lifetime of wisdom. Michael in his peaceful manner recites an Irish prayer entitled I am asking the Lord. I was unable to find out much about the poem, Michael seems to think that it is apropos in many situations.
We are treated next to On Raglan Road by Patrick Kavanagh a love poem recited by Robbie who is accompanied by a haunting melody played by John Sleckman on his fiddle. The fiddle music sets a perfect tone for a love story gone wrong. It should be mentioned that John Sleckman, Dan Berggren and Thinas Wison provided musical moments throughout the presentation.
Robbie hopes this is the first celebration in what he hopes will become a part of Irishtown history. Next year he hopes that it will take place in Irishtown on Brannon field which takes us back to one of the leading reasons for this celebration, William “Bill” Brannon. Bill with the blessings of his family donated this piece of property to the town so that they would always have a place to play baseball. Bill started a new tradition on this field several years ago, The Irishtown celebration, a celebration where you can not only participate in some Irish “Road Bowling”, but some Irish storytelling at its finest