“On The Galtymore Mountains” by The Grehan Sisters - album review

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TJR says

I adore The Grehan Sisters, the pride of Boyle in County Roscommon. Pure and true naturals of the folk genre, they were able to convey moods various as the song demands. At the time of this LP they were: Marie (23, lead vocals, spoons), Francie (22, mandolin, ukelele banjo, vocals) and Bernie (18, guitar, spoons, vocals). The album’s liner notes reveal some background:

“Their parents own a pub ’Grehans Bar’ in Boyle and the sisters started their folk singing career by entertaining the customers in the bar. Francie is the main instrumentalist and what an instrumentalist! At the age of 15 she came second in the miscellaneous instruments section of the All Ireland Fleadh, beaten by the winner by one mark and after that she was placed first or second in four other All Ireland Fleadhs. Bernie plays guitar and is also a phenomenal spoons player. Marie also plays the spoons and is the main vocal strength of the group. For about two years The Grehans established a reputation singing and playing professionally around the Dublin area. Early in 1967 they came to stay in England and are now based in Manchester where they are building up a tremendous following, appearing at folk clubs and concerts and also on radio and television. In both their material and their presentation, The Grehan Sisters are one hundred percent genuine. There is none of the false slickness of the city performer who adopts folk music second-hand. The Grehans have lived and grown up with their material and they have too much respect for it to try and gloss it over with surplus trappings. They are natural singers, natural performers and natural musicians and their feeling and enthusiasm for their music is infectious. Under the circumstances we’ll go so far as to say that they are also likely to be naturally successful – and we think that you’ll agree when you’ve heard this record.”

There are many heart-stirring moments on side 1 of the LP. The title-track gets dewy-eyed over The Galtymore Mountains which stand just south of Tipperary in County Tipperary and County Limerick. The song is a beautiful ballad expressing a young girl's deep love for her country and her willingness to die for it. The young caulin, whose age was sixteen, hangs on to her flag of white, orange and green, fending off an English bobby who tries to take it from her. Having won her small victory, she’s not long in being crushed: “That very same day in sweet Tipperary town, that gallant young girl from the Galtees come-down. Her poor heart was torn with anguish and pain, for that very same day Mick Keane died for Sinn Fein. Now you young men and maidens from Erin’s green shore, raise a cheer for the maid from the proud Galtee Mor, and please keep on fighting the cause of Sinn Fein, till we make dear old Ireland a Republic again.”The Lake of Coolfin” is a traditional ballad also known as “The Ballad of Willie Leonard”, the victim of a tragic drowning. It is a song which The Grehans had been singing since they were knee-high, and the liner-notes reveal that they had only ever heard it sung in the West of Ireland: “Oh, to see Willie's funeral, it was a grand sight, there were four-and-twenty young men, they were all dressed in white. There were four-and-twenty young maids, they were all dressed in green. Just to show that he was drowned in the Lake of Coolfin.”

Both the Dubliners and The Grehan Sisters served up versions of “The Black Velvet Band” on their albums this year. The Grehans had learned this song about three years earlier when they got the words from Fergus Cahill, a friend of theirs. The story is about a young man who is beguiled by the beauty and charm of a girl who plants a theft on him for which he is transported to Van Diemen’s Land. In those days people were transported for very trivial reasons. Bad cess to that black velvet band! The album’s highlight track appears on side 2. On “Tommy McDonagh” the grief of a war widow is palpable. This ballad was written by a man called Patrick McGrath who lives just outside the town of Boyle, County Roscommon. The story is of a young lad named Tommy McDonagh, who was shot by the Tans on 1st September 1920 during an attempted raid designed to relieve well-armed Royal Irish Constabulary of their weapons. McDonagh's mother and his fiancee were forced to drag his corpse through the streets of Castlerea as a warning to the rest of the Irish. McDonagh, who was only twenty one years old, came from a place called Cloonlo which is about six miles from the sister's hometown of Boyle. To hear the Grehans is to love them. What a pity there was only one long player!

The Jukebox Rebel
23-Jul-2010

A1 [02:41] 6.8.png The Grehan Sisters - Victoria (Brian Na Banban) Folk
A2 [04:13] 7.8.png The Grehan Sisters - On The Galtymore Mountains (Traditional) Folk
A3 [02:16] 6.0.png The Grehan Sisters - Jigs Medley - Gallagher’s Frolics / Leitram Jig (Traditional) Folk
A4 [04:36] 8.2.png The Grehan Sisters - The Lake Of Coolfin (Traditional) Folk
A5 [02:56] 5.8.png The Grehan Sisters - The Fairy Boy (Traditional) Folk
A6 [03:40] 9.2.png The Grehan Sisters - The Black Velvet Band (Traditional) Folk
B1 [06:18] 6.7.png The Grehan Sisters - The Lonely Banner Strand (Traditional) Folk
B2 [02:43] 7.9.png The Grehan Sisters - My Uncle’s In The Dail (Traditional) Folk
B3 [04:53] 9.3.png The Grehan Sisters - Tommy Mcdonagh (Patrick Rory McGrath) Folk
B4 [01:16] 5.5.png The Grehan Sisters - Donegal Reel (Traditional) Folk
B5 [04:54] 7.5.png The Grehan Sisters - The Wexford Massacre (Traditional) Folk




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