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De Barra family ancestry (harps)

keberoxu 29 Mar 16 - 06:09 PM
keberoxu 29 Mar 16 - 06:41 PM
keberoxu 30 Mar 16 - 05:41 PM
keberoxu 04 Apr 16 - 06:54 PM
keberoxu 05 Apr 16 - 05:48 PM
Thompson 06 Apr 16 - 02:04 PM
Thompson 06 Apr 16 - 02:05 PM
keberoxu 06 Apr 16 - 06:41 PM
keberoxu 08 Apr 16 - 01:47 PM
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Subject: Roisin Ni She and the de Barras
From: keberoxu
Date: 29 Mar 16 - 06:09 PM

The redoubtable O'Shea/Ó Séaghdha family has turned up on the "dear spinning Eileens" thread about the Irish harp. When I learned that Róisín Ní Shé, who died in 2005, had two generations of descendants and that some of them were prominent in Irish music today, I thought this line of descent deserved a thread of its own.

Much of the following info on Róisín comes from the Gaelic-language entry at, where there are biographical entries for Róisín under her married name, for her father Seán Pádraig Ó Séaghdha, and for her sister Nessa Ní Shéaghdha (but none, strangely, for oldest sister Máirín, the harp teacher at Sion Hill's Dominican convent school).

Her parents came from county Cork. They had moved to Dublin (Drumcondra) when Róisín Ní Séaghdha was born on September 14, 1919. Her arrival was preceded by the births of Máiriín, Nessa, and only brother Finbarr. The entry, concise as it has to be, leaves out almost as much as it discloses; there is no mention, for instance, of Caroline Townshend/Townsend (depending on who the writer is who mentions her), herself from a Cork family, who made up her mind to investigate the Irish harp. The little I can find on Ms. Townshend says that when she finally located a playable Irish harp, it was in Wales (?!). In her enthusiasm for all things Irish, she learned how to play the harp (no mention of a tutor), she arranged traditional Irish songs, and she even cooperated with people who wanted instruments like hers, and she gave permission to have harps made that were exact copies of her own. Doesn't say, but I am guessing this was a gut-stringed harp, not a wire-strung Gaelic harp.

When Caroline Townshend relocated from county Cork to Dublin, she had already been teaching harp lessons for years. In Dublin she was sought out for harp tuition, and it is stated that the daughters of Seán Pádraig Ó Séaghdha were among Ms. Townshend's more advanced students, with whom she was especially pleased.

Róisín Ní Séaghdha's formal education was extensive. She studied at the Royal Irish Academy of Music (piano I believe), in addition to her studies with Caroline Townshend. Then there was her bachelor's degree from University College, Dublin; her major was Celtic Studies. Here, I attempt, with the help of Google Translate, an English translation of statements quoted from the biographical entry in Irish.

[quote] The result [of the UCD Celtic Studies major] is that she spoke Welsh fluently, and that she learned to speak Breton and Irish Gaelic at a later date; in fact she was a good speaker of FrePOST HTTP/1.1 Host: User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64; rv:38.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/38.0 Accept: text/html,application/xhtml xml,application/xml;q=0.9,*/*;q=0.8 Accept-Language: en-US,en;q=0.5 Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflate Referer: Cookie: CFID=206265; CFTOKEN=24834222; _cb_ls=1; _chartbeat2=CWKQmv07YUKBMg3c2.1459290053475.1459291485106.1; __atuvc=4|13; __atuvs=56fb

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Subject: Róisín Ní Shé
From: keberoxu
Date: 29 Mar 16 - 06:41 PM long as you can laugh, you don't have to cry....where was I?

Quote: "she learned to speak Breton and Irish Gaelic at a later date."
Comment: That statement, as accurate as I could translate it, gives me pause somewhat. Not with regards to Breton, but the Gaelic. After all, the Shea children went to Scoil Bhríde, did this school not make a point of educating Irish children IN Irish? To resume:

[quote, translated from Gaelic,] fact she was a good speaker of French, and she spoke tolerably well in German and Italian.
She married Séamus Ó Tuama in 1945. His father was Seán Fear Ó Tuama. He was the brother of Seán Óg Ó Tuama and of Máire Ní Thuama; the latter was one of the few women who were interned from 1939 to 1945.
Séamus Ó Tuama was a talented actor in the Keating branch of the Gaelic League (gCraobh an Chéitinnigh) and in other companies. He was tragically killed on 16 January 1992. Their children were five boys and four girls.
[endquote] more to come

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Subject: RE: De Barra family ancestry (harps)
From: keberoxu
Date: 30 Mar 16 - 05:41 PM

Credit is due to the writers at of biographical entries.
Diarmuid Breathnach and Máire Ní Mhurchú are credited with the biographical sketch, in the original Irish/Gaelic, of Róisín Uí Thuama.

Continuing my quick-and-dirty translation of same:
From the late 1940's she was extensively involved in the choral group, An gClaisceadal, which Séan Óg Ó Tuama directed every Saturday evening in the Royal Irish Academy of Music. She used to accompany the chorus, both on the harp and on the piano. She was present for hundreds of these performances, which featured established celebrities, such as Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha and Fionán Mac Coluim, as well as performers who would become famous in the 1960's, such as Mary O'Hara, Kathleen Watkins, and Éamon de Buitléar. In the 1950's, the show "Claisceadal an Radio" was broadcast by Radio Éirann. She also had her own program, "Rí-Rá agus Rabhcáin," and on the television series "Dilín Ó Deamhas," she played the role of Grandma / Mhamó.

Rósín Uí Thuama was a founding member of Cairde na Cruite from its inception in 1960, and at the time of her death she was the group's president [2005]. A woman harpist was a person of great importance in countries with Celtic cultural identities, and the musical key of the Irish harp was featured in countless concerts that she gave throughout those nations. Not surprisingly, with her background in Celtic languages, she was one of the vice-presidents of the Irish branch of the Celtic Congress.
An interesting detail is that one of her daughters, Róisín, married Dónall son of Micheál Ó Cuill of Cork, another person with a keen interest in Gaelic song.

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Subject: RE: De Barra family ancestry (harps)
From: keberoxu
Date: 04 Apr 16 - 06:54 PM

Róisín Ní Shé not only had a daughter named after herself, but a daughter named Nessa/Neasa, which was the name of one of Róisín Ní Shé's four sisters. That daughter is still alive, and although married with adult children, she still goes by Nessa Ní Thuama.

And Nessa Ní Thuama's children include three brothers: Eamonn, Fionán, and Cormac de Barra. These three, at least, are musicians, and at least two of these three have worked extensively with Moya Brennan of Clannad. In fact, Cormac is the harpist out of the three brothers, and his grandmother Róisín Ní Shé was among his harp teachers.

About the father of the brothers De Barra, all I can find in my searches is that Cormac, in an interview, states that his father was a musical director in the theatre.

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Subject: RE: De Barra family ancestry (harps)
From: keberoxu
Date: 05 Apr 16 - 05:48 PM

In a future post, a musical link will be disclosed with Séamus Ó Tuama's sister Máire. For this post, a few biographical remarks. Remember, the brothers De Barra are the grandsons of Séamus Ó Tuama, so Máire Ní Thuama is their great-aunt.

The only daughter of Seán Fear Ó Tuama, Máire displayed her own commitment to the republican cause. While her brother Seán Óg Ó Tuama was detained at Camp Curragh from 1940 to 1944, Máire Ní Thuama was one of six women arrested because of their republican activities and sentenced to several years in Mountjoy Prison.

Their father, Seán Fear, became a widower with the loss of his wife Síle. Seán Óg and his sister Máire installed their father at their Dublin home, and there he remained until he died.

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Subject: RE: De Barra family ancestry (harps)
From: Thompson
Date: 06 Apr 16 - 02:04 PM

Séamus Ó Tuama was a talented actor in the Keating branch of the Gaelic League (gCraobh an Chéitinnigh) and in other companies. He was tragically killed on 16 January 1992.

What happened?

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Subject: RE: De Barra family ancestry (harps)
From: Thompson
Date: 06 Apr 16 - 02:05 PM

Incidentally, should this thread be coalesced with the Seán Óg Ó Tuama one, @JoeOffer?

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Subject: RE: De Barra family ancestry (harps)
From: keberoxu
Date: 06 Apr 16 - 06:41 PM

What happened to Roisin Ni She's husband Seamus O Tuama? It doesn't say at, so I had to look elsewhere. Here's what I found.

Irish Press 18 January 1992

Seamus O Tuama, a 75-year-old retired civil servant, died almost immediately after being stabbed with a poker in his home....It is believed that the two men were alone in the house and that the killing followed a loud argument.
The 31-year-old man, who is not being named by gardai, was released from garda custody and is being detained in a Dublin psychiatric hospital.

He was the brother of Sean Og O Tuama, former president of the Gaelic League, who died in 1981.
Shocked friends and colleagues in the Irish revival movement yesterday paid tribute to one of the best-known members of the extraordinary Cork-based family.

President of Conradh na Gaeilge and chairman of Bord na Gaeilge Proinsias MacAonghusa said people would be "very, very shocked. That such a man would be removed in this way will mean an even greater loss than if it were to have been a natural death, "   he said.
"His home in Clonskeagh was a centre of culture and was always run very much as an open house. People involved in the theatre, music, or the Irish language were always welcome to drop in at any hour of the day or night, and did."

Mr. O Tuama was a popular radio and theatre actor for 25 years and was a prominent member of the Craobh an Cheitinnigh branch of the Gaelic League, which specialised in producing plays in Irish for Radio Eireann. At the time when much of the cultural life in Dublin revolved around Parnell Square, with the Gaelic League and the teachers' organisations, Seamus O Tuama was central to it.

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Subject: RE: De Barra family ancestry (harps)
From: keberoxu
Date: 08 Apr 16 - 01:47 PM

I lack a date for the following quotes, so old as to be archive material. They come from the Irish Independent; the journalist is Marie O'Reilly.

Roisin Ni Sheaghdha, Mrs. Seamus O Tuama, is one of a family that has done a lot to preserve old cultural traditions by bringing them into key with the contemporary mood: through music, particularly the harp, and through a sincere devotion to the Irish language.

Mrs. O Tuama's father is Mr. Sean P. O Seaghdha. Selected [in his youth] for an Irish cricket team to tour Australia, he had to choose between it and marriage, and marriage won. The New Mrs. O Seaghdha knew no Irish, but she learned it in Gaelic League classes and in the Gaeltacht; and, when the children were growing up, only Irish was spoken at home.

All six children -- five girls and a boy, Finbarr -- were among the first thirty pupils in Scoil Mhuire, the all-Irish National School in Marlborough Street. The sisters went on to Scoil Bhrighde and had their first French lessons under Miss Louise Gavan Duffy, that brilliant educationist who, born in Nice, had French as her first language. From then on, in Mrs. O Tuama's educational program, French and Irish were interwoven, as they are for her five children who speak both languages more easily than they speak English.

[Ultimately, Seamus O Tuama and Roisin Ni She would go on to raise a total of nine children.]

In fact, one French girl, who came to them on a language-exchange basis, told them that she had learned more Irish than English during her stay -- much, I may add, to Mrs. O'Tuama's delight and satisfaction.
While she was herself an Intermediate Student in Eccles Street (St Catherine?), Mrs. O Tuama spent her summers teaching the old songs in Colaiste Rinn, and the money she earned, a substantial twenty pounds a month, financed a three-months' course in two successive years in the University of Caen. She graduated from University College, Dublin, in Celtic Studies, and for the past number of years has been Ireland's delegate to Celtic Congresses abroad. Last year in Brittany she read a paper written in Breton.

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Subject: RE: De Barra family ancestry (harps)
From: keberoxu
Date: 10 Apr 16 - 04:07 PM

A compact disc of music was released in early 2015, and is sold through Claddagh Records. The number is DeBCD001.
"An Caitín Bán", the title song, opens the album. It sounds like "Limerick Rake" melodically. The notes say it was passed down as a lullaby in the family. A few instrumental tracks are included. One song is in Breton.

The final song is a recording from 1969. Nessa Ní Thuama, the mother of the de Barra brothers, sings "An Raibh tú ag an gCarraig?" accompanying herself on the Irish harp.

As for the de Barra brothers, they perform on most of the songs on this album:
Éamonn de Barra sings, plays bodhrán, and pipes.
Fionán de Barra plays bass as well as guitar, and sings.
Cormac de Barra plays harp, also sings.
Dónal de Barra sings, and plays whistles.
They are joined by Fionnuala, Ruairí, and Mánus de Barra.

Besides their mother, there are guest appearances by three of Nessa Ní Thuama's siblings:
her brother Seán Ó Tuama plays whistles on a medley of reels.
The other two siblings are Séamus Og and Róisín Ní Thuama, who contribute vocals.

Finally, the dedication:
I nDil-Chuimhne Mháire & Séamuis Uí Thuama, Róisín Ní Sheaghdha agus Dónall Ó Cuill.

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Subject: RE: De Barra family ancestry (harps)
From: keberoxu
Date: 12 Apr 16 - 12:08 PM

A little more information about the close family ties amongst the performers on "An Caitín Bán."

Three families are singled out for attention in the album's liner notes, using the Gaelic term Muintir. They are:

Muintir de Barra, consisting of the seven de Barra siblings identified in the previous post.

Muintir Chuill: this is the family of the man mentioned about eight posts back in this thread. He was Dónall Ó Cuill, son of Micheál. Róisín Uí Thuama, maiden name Róisín Ní Sheaghdha, had nine children, five sons and four daughters; one of the daughters was also named Róisín. It is this latter who married Dónall Ó Cuill, and with his death she is Róisín Uí Chuill, his widow. She is also part of

Muintir Thuama, which consists of four siblings identified in the previous post.

This is all for the purpose of identifying singers and musicians on "An Caitín Bán", not speaking of all of THEIR spouses and children.

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Subject: RE: De Barra family ancestry (harps)
From: keberoxu
Date: 12 Apr 16 - 05:48 PM

"An Caitín Bán" includes an interesting performance featuring Róisín Uí Chuill, the sister of Nessa Ní Thuama, and a maternal aunt to the de Barra brothers.

"Me zo ganet e kreiz ar mor" is a well-known song from Brittany. Its author, Yann-Ber Kalloch, who also had the pen-name Bleimor, fought for the French in the First World War, and was killed by the explosion of a shell. His poetry was published posthumously. The dialect in which this poem is written, is said to be from Vannes; I am well outside my area of expertise here and I can't qualify that statement. The actual poem is some twelve strophes long.

The Breton composer known as Jef le Penven set the first three verses to music, although I can't find a date for his musical setting. This is the version sung on this recording; it has previously been recorded by many artists, including Alan Stivell.

Unlike the performance that closes this CD, a recording dating back to 1969 when its singer was presumably a very young woman, the performance of this Breton song seems to have been done in the present day, with the singer accompanied by slide-whistle, harp, and possibly guitar. It is a slow languid haunting performance, no percussion and no dance rhythms. And Róisín Uí Chuill, in her lead vocal, does not vibrate or wobble in tone, but gives a spare, pure account of the modal melody. It's lovely.

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Subject: RE: De Barra family ancestry (harps)
From: keberoxu
Date: 13 Apr 16 - 07:10 PM

Don't know why it took this long, but after some tedious searching I have identified one husband/father whom I could not locate in this family tree.

Pardon the redundancies in what follows, some of this is in previous posts.

Róisín Ní Shé/Seaghdha, one of the more advanced students of the somewhat mysterious musician/harpist Caroline Townshend, and one of "the Ní Shé sisters" mentioned in histories on the revival of the Irish harp, had nine children with her husband, Séamus Ó Tuama. The previous post mentions the daughter named after her, and born Róisín Ní Thuama. This latter is widowed; her late husband, Donall Ó Cuill, did some songwriting and shared the family interest in language, poetry, and Celtic culture.

Another daughter was born Nessa Ní Thuama, and though she is a wife and mother, she still uses her maiden name. The seven De Barra siblings who recorded "An Caitín Bán" are her grown children. So, who is the husband/father here?

In one post I got some information wrong. One of those De Barra brothers, Cormac de Barra the harpist, spoke of his father with regard to the theatre. And I posted, above, that the father was a musical director in the theatre; this is incorrect, and I was mistaken.

Tony De Barra is well-known enough in Dublin, it is just that his online profile is on the lower side. He is Nessa Ní Thuama's husband, and the father of all those very musical adult children; Mr. de Barra is, however, a stage director, not a musical director. If you search deep enough online, you will find archival documentation of past theatrical productions in which husband and wife worked together, usually with Gaelic scripts. Mr. de Barra has many theatrical shows to his credit. He may not be a musician, but text and language he obviously takes very seriously; he has done some playwriting as well, but it appears that most of his work is directing.

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Subject: Review: "An Caitín Bán" CD
From: keberoxu
Date: 22 Apr 16 - 02:29 PM

The third track on "An Caitín Bán" is another homage to the Celtic heritage of Brittany. "An Alarc'h" is a well-known Breton song, I can't find author credits and it chronicles history from the fourteenth century, so I presume the song is traditional.

The energetic lead vocal, in the Breton language of origin, is sung by Séamus Óg Ó Tuama, brother of Nessa Ní Thuama and uncle to her children with Tony de Barra.

The original song has over thirty verses! If you must have all of them, they may be found in Barzaz Breizh which is an anthology of Breton songs.
However, on "An Caitín Bán", they only sing the first five verses followed by a final verse which, according to Barzaz Breizh, is an addendum from more recent times.

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Subject: RE: De Barra family ancestry (harps)
From: keberoxu
Date: 22 Apr 16 - 05:29 PM


(traditional, Breton)

An alarc'h, un alarc'h tra mor
War lein tour moal kastell Arvor

Neventi vad d'ar Vretoned
Ha mallozh ruz d'ar C'hallaoued

Erru ul lestr e pleg ar mor
E ouelioù gwenn gantañ digor

Degoue'et an Aotrou Yann en-dro
Digoue'et eo da ziwall e vro

D'hon diwall diouzh ar C'hallaoued
A vac'hom war ar Vretoned

Enor enor d'ar gwenn-ha-du
Ha d'ar C'hallaoued mallozh ruz

Chorus, after every couplet:
Dinn dinn daoñ d'an emgann, d'an emgann, o!
Dinn dinn daoñ d'an emgann ez an!

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Subject: RE: De Barra family ancestry (harps)
From: keberoxu
Date: 22 Apr 16 - 05:36 PM

A very rough translation -- from Breton to French to English -- of the previous post content.

(traditional, Brittany)

The chateau of Arvor, on its old tower,
Shows the swan who came over the sea.

Welcome news to Britanny,
And red malediction to the Gauls.

A ship enters the harbor
With its white sails open wide.

Our prince Jean [de Montfort] has returned
In order to defend his fatherland.

To defend us against the Gauls,
Who wish to conquer Brittany.

Honor to our flag of black and white,
And red malediction to the Gauls.

Chorus, after every couplet:
Ding ding dong to the battle, to the battle, o!
Ding ding dong away to the battle!

(French translation was in Barzaz Breizh)

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Subject: RE: De Barra family ancestry (harps)
From: keberoxu
Date: 29 Apr 16 - 01:56 PM

An April 10 post on this thread singled out Nessa Ní Thuama's performance of "An raibh tú ag an gCarraig?" which concludes the compact disc "An Caitín Bán." This is just to specify that the performance is limited to the first two verses of this traditional song, which has additional verses. Nessa Ní Thuama sounds young and passionate in her singing, very musical. She was born, schooled, and seems to have raised her own family, in Dublin. Where she learned the traditional sean-nos style of singing, I can only guess.

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Subject: RE: De Barra family ancestry (harps)
From: keberoxu
Date: 04 May 16 - 06:11 PM

A previous post dated 30 March 2016 cites a Gaelic-language RTE children's television programme, which told stories in Irish. Every episode would be introduced with a recording of traditional musicians singing the nonsense-song, "Dilín Ó Deamhas," and this was also the name of the television show.

There is a widely-reproduced still color photograph from this television show. In it, the centerpiece is an Irish harp. An elderly Róisín Uí Thuama, silver-haired, is seated at the harp, and several small children are seated around her, singing along with her. I have failed in my attempts to locate any moving-picture footage of all of them singing together, although you can hear the sound of them singing the nonsense song, a traditional Irish song for bouncing babies on one's knee, in a clip at the RTE website.

And the small children are, in fact, the harpist's grandchildren, including Éamonn and Cormac de Barra, who are now grown up and recording traditional Irish music themselves.

Oh, and Mudcat has one or two threads concerning the above-mentioned traditional song.

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Subject: Lyr Add: An Caitín Bán
From: keberoxu
Date: 15 Jun 16 - 07:36 PM

The title song on the De Barra album described in previous posts, is the first track on the compact disc. This song may be found in Amhráin Mhuighe Seóla, Traditional Folk-Songs of Galway and Mayo, pages 87 - 88. The brothers De Barra sing three verses, and they sing it slowly and softly, as they learned it. Their great-aunt Máire Ní Thuama taught them the song, and she used it as a lullaby, to sing children to sleep.



Bhí an caitín glas ag siubhal go deas
Nuair a fuair sí a maicín sínte
'S gur bliadhain ó an lá sinfuair sí a clann
Caithte a's báidhte i dtrínse

An caitín bán bán bán
An caitín bán cat Bhrighde
An puisín bán sneachta bán
Do báidheadh ins-a' dtrínse

Bhí cruit ar dhruim an caitín bháin
Chomh mór le 'jug' trí píonta
A's nár dheas an 'show' ag daoinibh móra
An caitín Poll deas Bhrighde   


D'éirigh an mháthairín suas 'n-a seasamh
Nuair a fuair sí a maicín sínte
Thug sí a bhail' é 's righne sí leaba
A's thosuigh sí annsinn d'á chaoineadh


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Subject: RE: De Barra family ancestry (harps)
From: keberoxu
Date: 15 Jun 16 - 07:45 PM

And here is the three verse-plus-chorus translation from Eileen Costello's edition.


The little grey mama cat was walking prettily
When she found her son the kitten stretched out
And barely a year since she found her family
Her son was cast out and drowned in a trench

Little white kitten, white, white,
Little white kitten, Bridget's kitten,
Little white pussy-cat, snow-white,
That was drowned in the trench

The little white kitten had a hump on his back
As big as a three-pint jug
Was he not a fine show for the gentry to see,
Poll, Bridget's pretty little kitten


The little mother stood upright
when she found her little kitten dead
She brought him inside and made a resting place for him
And then she began keening him


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Subject: RE: De Barra family ancestry (harps)
From: keberoxu
Date: 03 Aug 16 - 05:33 PM

On the compact disc album, "An Caitín Bán," the seventh track is "Cnocáinín Aerach Cill Mhuire"
(actually, I don't know why, they spell it 'Chill Mhuire').
This traditional song is printed and published in both Gaelic and a singable English translation; the title is variously given as "Cill Mhuire" (in Ceolta Gael 2 edited by Mánus Ó Baoill),
"The Flourishing States of Kilmurry," and
"The Airy Wee Hill of Kilmurry."

A separate Mudcat thread has been started for this specific song.

Cnocainin Aerach Cill Mhuire

I don't hear any harp on this performance: just multiple guitars, including bass, and a chorus of the brothers singing.

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Subject: RE: Cnocáinín Aerach Chill Mhuire
From: Felipa
Date: 04 Aug 16 - 08:57 AM

I haven't read the discussion, coming to it after 21 posts. I do see that there are lyrics given for a number of songs. But I note the statement in the previous comment, "actually, I don't know why, they spell it 'Chill Mhuire'.

I've seen both spellings ("Cnocáinín Aerach Cill Mhuire" and ""Cnocáinín Aerach Chill Mhuire"). I think "Cnocáinín Aerach Chill Mhuire" is correct, maybe someone else like Thompson or Martin Ryan can also give an opinion. The reason for leniting the word "Cill" is that it would be in the genitive case, to say "the little airy hill OF Kilmurry. I also wrote that in the thread that Keberoxu started specifically to discuss the Cill Mhuire song and tune.

For a performance of Cnocáinín Aerach Cill Mhuire with harp, try to get the recording by Máire Ní Chathasaigh and Chris Newman.

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