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EILIS NI SHUILLEABHAIN "Cois Abhann na Séad: Amhrain ó Mhuscra¡"
Cló Iar-Chonnachta CICD132

Cúil Aodha (Coolea) in Muskerry, NW Co. Cork, was put firmly on the cultural map of the world by the late Sean O Riada's involvement in it. Thanks to this, we now have an impression of an area with an abundance of fine singers, and it has spawned a famous choir and many reputed individual artists, Iarla O Lion ird being perhaps the best-known example.

This notion of Cúil Aodha as some kind of a singing paradise will only be strengthened by the latest offering from Cló Iar-Chonnachta. The title translates as 'By the River of Gems - songs from Muskerry', and the diversity and wealth of the Muskerry tradition are well-shown by this collection of gems, interpreted with great feeling and clarity by the wistfull contralto tones of Eil¡s N¡ Shúilleabhain.

And a diverse collection it is, to be sure. In addition to well-known songs such as Maidean Luan Casca and Aisling Gheal (the latter being closely associated with the parish), there are such curios as a macaronic version of Bruach na Carraige Baine, a song perhaps best-known for having furnished a famous piping slow air, in which the English verses are exact translations of the Irish verses which precede them. In the sprightly An Hide and go Seek, on the other hand, each alternate line is in English, and the story unfolds in what was a bilingual tour de force by its anonymous composer.

As well as the above, there are songs of love and rejection (Plúir¡n na mBan Donn Og), songs celebrating the beauty of one's home place (Na Gleannta), aisling songs (An Gamhain Geal Ban), crack songs (Trucail Pheige Bhre tha), and even a song entirely in English - a version of Higher Germany, sung to an unfamiliar but pleasing air. And, perhaps inevitably, there's a religious song (Go mBeannaithear Duit, a Mhuire), the O Riada input into the record being provided by Peadar O Riada, who accompanies this and the title song on the organ in the church at Cratloe, Co. Clare.

Eil¡s handles all this diversity with an easy mastery, using (by Munster standards) relatively sparse decoration and melodic variation, but always framing each song in a way that seems ideally tailored to put across its feel and content. This record constitutes more pleasing proof that there is plenty of life in the great Munster singing traditions yet.

Christy MacHale

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This album was reviewed in Issue 28 of The Living Tradition magazine.