Is our connection with the past, and who we think of as heroes, best told by song rather than by history books? What makes a hero and how important has song been in shaping the popular image of that time, and that hero? And in Ireland does failure rather than triumph define heroism?
Across the centuries people in Ireland have passed on their history story through songs of heroes both political and tragic like Robert Emmet, Charles Stewart Parnell and James Connolly as well as mythical characters like Molly Malone and sporting heroes like the champion greyhound Master McGrath. Some of these songs have been handed down through the generations like ‘Mo Ghile Mear’ about Bonnie Prince Charlie while other like ‘Bold Robert Emmet’ were written long after the events in the song.
This eight part series is an Athena Media production for RTÉ Radio 1 and is presented by singer and academic Therese McIntyre, who traces the journey of ballads from the 16th century to today and explores how they shape or distort our understanding of history, real events and real people like Henry Joy McCracken in 1798 or Jim Larkin in 1913. In the series we hear from historians including Diarmaid Ferriter, Kevin Whelan, Eunan O’Halpin, Mike Cronin, and Lillis O’Laoire, retired musicologist and song collector John Moulden and traditional music experts Nicholas Carolan and Grace Toland from the Irish Traditional Music Archive. Therese is joined by singers Iarla Ó Lionáird, Nóirín Ní Riain, Frances Black, Niamh Parsons and composer Eric Bogle who share their own relationship with history, song and these sung heroes.
Herosongs presenter Therese McIntyre originally from Detroit in the US came to Ireland in 1996 to pursue independent studies of the various aspects of Irish traditional culture – music, song, and dance – with a particular focus on the song tradition. In 2009, Thérèse was awarded an Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Science (IRCHSS) Scholarship. Her PhD, which commenced in October 2009, is titled ‘Historical ‘Fact’ versus ‘Folk’ Memory: The Creation and Representation of ‘Heroes’ in Irish Traditional Song and Ballad’.
Herosongs: Where History and Song Meets is an eight part radio series produced by Athena Media for RTE Radio 1. The series will run weekly for 8 weeks.
The series is made with the support of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.
Episode Three of Herosongs is to be aired this Sunday 7pm on RTÉ Radio 1. In this episode of Herosongs presenter Therese McIntyre, explores some of the songs in the traditional canon about three historical leaders, Napoleon, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Charles Stewart Parnell, often sung or lamented as loss leaders. She visits Parnell’s grave in Glasnevin Cemetery with resident historian Shane Macthomais and looks at the ballad sheet of ‘The Blackbird of Avondale’ one of two songs with the same title written about Parnell with Grace Toland in the Irish Traditional Music Archive as well her take on the song ‘My Name is Napoleon Boneparte’ also known as ‘Farwell to Paris’. Sean Nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird shares his memories of singing the song about Jacobite pretender Bonnie Prince Charlie, ‘Mo Ghile Mear’ as a young boy; “I started singing it with the choir when Sean O’Riada was still alive so I’ve had a long relationship with it” and we also hear from history lecturer Maura Cronin of Mary Immaculate College Limerick and Terry Moylan author of ‘The Age of Revolution in the Irish Song Tradition 1776-1815’, about the life of Bonnie Prince Charlie and Napoleon.