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Book Review: Drone On: The High History of Celtic Music
by Nicky Rossiter
This is a weird, wild, wonderful read. Despite her name, Winnie Czulinski is an avowed Celtophile and has written extensively in the field. Mind you, having read the book, there may even be Polish or Russian or Brazilian Celts skulking out there.
Reading Drone On, subtitled "The High History of Celtic Music," is like attending an Irish story night in a good, non-music pub. The teller of tales mixes fact, fiction, speculation and downright lies to make the night a joy to recall. As we say here in Ireland -- and probably all over the planet -- "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story."
Having said that, maybe every word, syllable, dot and comma of this book is gospel truth, and if it is I apologize -- but somehow I don't think so. There are tons of great facts, insights and anecdotes here, but I also detect the occasional plant, so I would be careful about what parts to use for a thesis. And, having said that, I would urge anyone with a modicum of interest in Celts, music or history to buy, read and enjoy this book because I believe it is there to be enjoyed.
Winnie takes us on a breakneck tour of the various Celtic lands and legends. Along the way, you get a flavour of the irreverence with, for instance, a reference to Fionn McCool's Fianna as the "F Troop."
Scotland's Thomas the Rhymer reminds us of a certain email address for a well-known editor. I was not too well up on this Scot or a number of Welsh, Breton and other Celts. The potted biography of Francis O'Neill and his contribution to collecting and preserving the tradition is excellent. The note that the chief collected 1,850 pieces compared to much smaller numbers by Edward Bunting and George Petrie operating on home ground just goes to prove that foreign shores make the Celts more Celtic.
The book also looks at the Celtic contribution to country and American folk styles of music, as well as the transition of songs like "The Patriot Game" into "God on Our Side," telling us the tune comes from the Appalachians as "The Merry Month of May" and was popularized as "Bold Grenadier" by Jo Stafford. And all that comes in 10 lines from this 200-page book, so imagine the other insights.
Riverdance as the inspiration for writing the book gets a fair few pages, as does Celtic music in the movies from Titanic to Barry Lyndon. Oh, and I love the comparison of the Dubliners to ZZ Top -- beardwise at least.
The book brought me closer to a number of groups playing Celtic music to the west of the Atlantic. I have reviewed many of them, so it was nice to read a little more about them. This is a wonderful book in the old sense of the word, being full of wonder. It is full of wonderous facts, but it also makes us wonder how many of the comic asides are true and how many false.
Buy it from Amazon.com
Nicky Rossiter writes on local history and general interest for numerous newspapers, magazines and journals in Ireland. He operates a website dedicated to Wexford and its history, and he was a founder of Wexford Youth Theatre, which performed many of his plays on stage and radio.
He presents a radio series on Ireland's South East Radio called Stories, which combines lesser-known folk tracks with local history pieces. This programme runs on Mondays from June to November at 7 p.m. British Summer Time and can be heard on webcast. He is contactable via e-mail for comments or requests for the programmes.
We invite you to visit his web site and be sure to check out his own new "Wexford - A Tour, A History, A Miscellany."
This review originally appeared on Rambles.net, an on-line Cultural Arts Magazine. It is reprinted here with the kind permission of both the author and the editor and publisher, Tom Knapp. Click here for Rambles.net. Go raibh maith agat!
Fri, Nov 3, 2017
The Round Towers
The Round Towers of Ireland are remarkable among the world's ancient monuments; one author has called them 'Elegant, free-standing pencils of stone.' Today, 65 survive in part or whole. Hand-crafted in native stone and cemented with a sand, lime, horsehair and oxblood mortar - a technique imported from Roman Britain - it's said by many historians that they were built by monastic communities to thwart Viking invaders. And yet, there's reason to believe that the towers were built long before Christianity came to Ireland. Whatever their origins, monasteries did indeed flourish where the round towers existed. And why not. These imposing edifices provided a watch tower, a keep and a refuge.
Image: By kind permission of Stephen Cassidy, The Cassidy Clan.
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