Posts Tagged ‘brendan graham’

Karen Matheson sings ‘Crucán na bPáiste’ with a Gaelic band. Brendan Graham tells how the song chose him as a conduit. Truly beautiful and sad.

October 9, 2022

I can remember as a child getting emotional every time my father would play a recording of Toora-Loora-Looral (It’s an Irish Lullaby). My lower lip would pout and quiver, and sometimes I’d cry. I still feel sad when listening to certain Irish artists and created a blog post about them.

Karen Matheson sings Crucán na bPáiste

Another Gaelic artist and song I recently discovered that also moves me is Karen Matheson singing Crucán na bPáiste, ‘burial place of the children’. It was written by Brendan Graham for the heroine of his novel The Brightest Day, The Darkest Night. When I discovered what it was about, what the words of the song meant, it elicited a stronger response.

One commenter explains: “The song is set during the famine in Ireland (1840s). People were dying so fast that they had to be buried in mass graves—the children included. But there was a special mass grave just for the little ones. That is what a ‘Crucán na bPáiste’ is (burial place of the children). In this song, a young mother grieves the fact she could do nothing to keep her dear little one from dying and wishes she had died as well. Now she vows to leave Ireland forever to the States to try and escape the bitter memories.”

Another later adds: “One other aspect you do not know…this is a graveyard for unbaptized babies…died before being baptized….kept separate by the Catholic Church.” Brendan Graham mentions this in his talk about the song in the second video below.

See a translation of the lyrics from Irish Gaelic to English, and listen to the recorded song on Spotify from Karen’s downriver album or on YouTube. They both play out to the end. Truly beautiful and so very sad.

This video excerpt from a BBC Four Transatlantic Sessions 3 includes an introduction by Karen about the collaboration between British and American musicians playing Gaelic music, followed by the band’s performance of the song.

These musicians accompany Karen in her rendition, which is filled with sorrow, regret, and a pleading prayer. The uilleann pipes in the last third of the piece intensify the overall sense of grief. Embedded here is that live performance of Crucán na bPáiste with English subtitles.

Accompanying Karen Matheson are Donald Shaw on piano, Ronan Browne on whistle and uilleann pipes, Aly Bain on fiddle, Tim O’Brien on fiddle, Jerry Douglas on slide, Catriona McKay on harp, and Todd Parks on bass.

How Brendan Graham wrote Crucán na bPáiste

The YouTube algorithm later suggested a short video of how Brendan Graham wrote his beautiful song Crucán na bPáiste. It was a revelation! He happened to be walking up in those beautiful mountains, “a place above the world hung between heaven and earth,” and came upon that place of unmarked stones. That’s when it happened.

He describes how he was affected, how the history of that time and place worked on him over many months to express itself, to tell its story, word by word, line by line, until he “had been set free and it had found its epiphany.”

I had learned to keep out of the way; let the song write itself. … The truly special songs write us; we don’t write them. We don’t find them; they find us.”

The truly special songs write us; we don’t write them. We don’t find them; they find us.

Songwriter and author Brendan Graham

“How else is it explained how a song can seep out of the wilderness, out of rocks and streams, and the deep pool of its own dark history, and, how a remote place in the Mayo Mountains, can, of its own volition, send out its story to the world.”

He concludes with all humility and gratitude. “I am grateful to be merely the conduit, an accident of time and place through which something I don’t fully understand is given voice and is heard.”

A truly haunting song! It ranks up there with Davy Spillane playing the beautiful lament Caoineadh Cu Chulainn on uillieann pipes, and May Morning Dew on low whistle, alone, and with Moving Hearts in Dublin. Siobhan Miller sings her own beautiful version with her amazing band.

l first discovered Davy Spillane playing Midnight Walker. It captured my attention. Those songs are all embedded with a few artists’ covers here: The hauntingly beautiful music of Davy Spillane played on uilleann pipes and low whistle.


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