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GEARÓIDÍN BHREATHNACH "Ar Fhoscadh na gCnoc"
Clo Iar-Chonnachta CICD130

The latest chapter in Clo Iar-Chonnachta's ongoing exposition of the singing tradition of Donegal is quite a book of revelation, showcasing as it does the manifest talents of Gearóidín Bhreathnach. Perhaps the most impressive female sean-nós singer to emerge since Nóra Nic Dhonnchadha, Gearóidín Neidí Frainc (as she is known in Gaelic patronymic style) has everything that even the most demanding listener (mé féin) might ask for: great feeling, a superb voice, and wonderful timing and control.

None of the foregoing, of course, counts for anything if the material be unworthy, but this is very far from being the case here. What we have, rather, is a multifaceted document of ... well, of nothing less than a living tradition! So alive, indeed, that the authorship of the majority of the songs on this record is known, most having been composed well within living memory by Gearóidín's family, friends and neighbours, or by the singer herself.

Gearóidín hails from that singingest of spots, Rinn na Feirste in the Rosses on the northwest coast of Donegal, and was in the fortunate position of being exposed in her youth to such influences as the great Aodh O Duibheannaigh, and, in more recent times, Lillis O Laoire, already the subject of an earlier CIC record, "Bláth Gach Géag dá dTig" (CICD 075). Her parents both had a great store of songs, many of which she learnt almost before she could walk, but, if one influence overleaps all the others, it is surely that of her one-time next-door neighbours, the Mac Grianna family. The noted writer "Máire" (the pseudonym of Séamus Mac Grianna) was a member of the clan, and two of his songs are featured here; but there are no fewer than four by Seán Bán Mac Grianna ("an fear bán", as Gearóidín refers to him), including the outstanding "Cumha an Fhile", composed on the death of his sister.

Gearóidín's lament for her own father, "Mo Sheanchara Dílis" ("My Sweet Old Friend"), sung to the air of "Bríd Og Ní Mháille", is, for me, one of the highlights of the collection; but it should not be supposed that this record is a litany of laments. There are songs of love and of the joys of nature, but it has to be said that, despite the inclusion of a couple of light songs, the overall tone is one of seriousness - though with no excess of solemnity. I suspect that the feeling which so characterizes Gearóidín's singing works its magic better in the context of a serious song; and her other composition, "An Loch sa Ghleann", is a fine example of this. An evocation of the beauty of the glen in which she has lived since her marriage, so different from her birthplace by the sea that true appreciation of it came only slowly, the song is a masterpiece of reflection in more senses than one, being dominated by the image of the Moon shining over the loch in the glen.

The relatively esoteric, though fascinating, songs of the singer's home place coexist on this record with some far more widely-known traditional ones, such as "An Droighne n Donn" and "An Seanduine Dóite", all handled with consummate skill. Perhaps the very best of this particular bunch is her rendition of "Tiocfiadh an Samhradh", so overexposed in recent years that it could easily have become a cliché. In Gearóidín's tender care, however, it is an exultant rhapsody, and as fresh as if it had just been written.

Conall O Domhnaill's introduction makes mention of the fear felt by some in recent years that the Donegal tradition was slowly dying. Apparently things are slowly on the mend now, thank God - certainly with a few more singers of the calibre of Gearóidín Bhreathnach it would be in the rudest of health.

Christy Mac Hale

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This album was reviewed in Issue 24 of The Living Tradition magazine.