The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #171124   Message #4138744
Posted By: Joe Offer
11-Apr-22 - 01:44 AM
Thread Name: Obit: Brian O'Rourke (1949-2022)
Subject: RE: 2022 Obit: Brian O'Rourke

Irish folk songs are Brian O’Rourke’s hobby, but were a natural extension of his professional career. Brian lectured in Irish Studies at GMIT for over forty years.

In the early 1980s, Brien (seen performing in the photo above at a singing session in Kinvara, County Galway in September 2013) started attending singing sessions. Back then, he would sing mostly Irish language songs, having fallen in love with the beauty of Irish poetry and compositions. Sean nós especially had won Brian's heart.

Let us introduce you to Brian with video recordings of his songs.

Brian's Collections Of Irish Songs
As a labour of love Brian published two song collections of Irish songs with recordings sung by recognised Sean nos singers. The collections also included the songs in print, translations and commentaries. It was a comprehensive and novel project, which brought Irish folk songs to many lovers of Irish culture living abroad. The titles of the collections are: Blas Meala (A sip from the Honey-pot) and An Dubh ina Bhán (Pale Rainbow).

As a traditional singer, Brian says, it took him a long time to appreciate the English language songs which are generally thought of as being of lower quality both poetically and musically. In one of life's unpredictable twists and turns however, Brian one day found himself writing songs in the traditional style, in English.

Brian’s Own Irish Folk Songs
This was not something he had been planning to do, but rather something that just poured out of him. Having written them at a time when life was quite difficult, he was also surprised to find these were comedy songs. Some grew out of personal experiences. Audiences all over loved them, so he continued writing. By 1992 he had enough material for an album entitled ‘When I grow up'. In 2009 the album appeared as a CD with the new title 'Chantal de Champignon'.

‘Chantal...’ is one of Brian’s best known songs. Based on a personal experience, it is a 15 minute comedy song in the style of a ballad lamenting love gone wrong. The beloved was a young French lady, on holidays in Ireland.

When the song was only a couple of years old, Brian discovered that it was being adopted and sung by others as is typical with traditional Irish folk songs.

“It was men of a certain age who could identify with the theme. A man from Carlow, Damien Brett, eventually advertised to see how many men he could find who could sing the song, and he got about forty! Club Chantal was born and met regularly for some years.”

Brian’s 'Carnations' song which you can listen to here, is also based on a personal story. Says Brian:

“The song arose from the mistake I made on Valentine’s Day 1996 presenting my girlfriend with the wrong flowers. The song is a mix of realism, drama, and imagination. It is also a parody of a sentimental Cork song 'The Banks of the Lee' to the tune of which it is sung.”

Working Methods
About his choice of subject matter Brian says: “Dozens of people have said to me in relation to certain events, 'There is a song in that.' There may be, but rarely for me. Usually I have to wait until I am forcefully struck by an image, by something 'different', quirky even. A goat becoming a Bodhran drum, a diary washed ashore from the sea, or a cow surviving half a year without food.”

The main traditional technique Brian employs is internal rhyming as can be found in Irish language songs. Brian thinks that in English, this works better in comedy songs than in a serious context. The melodies of his own contemporary Irish folk songs come to him usually once he has started to write the words. The tunes are those of traditional songs that he has absorbed since childhood.

Sometimes, he says, he doesn’t recognise them at first, and flatters himself, thinking he composed an original song. (Note the understatement and the slightly self-deprecating Irish sense of humour.) The adoption of familiar tunes is a traditional technique also. There are many such songs where the same melody is used with two entirely different sets of words or vice versa.

Brian thinks that the least traditional part of his work is the way he performs his songs. He will often act the part, when there is something comical about the persona in the song, where traditional sean nós singers keep their voice the same independent of whether they are singing ballads or comical songs.

We hope you are enjoying our section on Irish songs as much as we did researching and writing about it! Small favour to ask in return- would you kindly use any one of the social functions we provide at the top left, and at the bottom of the page to tell the whole world about our website so that others can enjoy our creation, too. Much appreciated.