I was raised on songs and stories; the hardships of my people are ingrained in my armor, and in my writing. When I was 14, I went to Ireland for the first time. Sitting in the back seat of a little car, knees sideways, yet still jammed in to the seat in front of me, I sat stunned as I watched tanks roll, five-year-olds throw rocks at them, and barbed wire fences two stories high cut through, and wrap around the neighborhoods; the criteria for cages was religion.

I remember walking through a huge field, maybe a football length across, and at least as deep. A wall stood sentry at the far side, and a road curved beyond it. We climbed that wall; there were men with rifles, and ski masks; men who had Bobby Sands on their shoulders, in a coffin. Over 100,000 people lined the funeral procession that day.

In just over three months over the summer of 1981, ten Irish men died on Hunger Strike in a Republican campaign for political status, for freedom. The Hunger Strike as a political tool has existed in the Irish weapon foot locker for centuries. So have songs to record the history of the Irish, and their struggle to take their place among the nations of the world. That struggle for fair place burst into the world consciousness in The Easter Rising of 1916, and the brutal aftermath.

The Lyrics of Irish Freedom tells the story and the history behind rebellious bard and ballad, from the beginning of Irish time. The songs linger in our psyche, not just across generations, but across centuries. Who took the battlefields of 1798, 1803, 1916, 1981, and why? Who wrote their song, and why? Tall tales, truth stranger than fiction; the days, demons and dreams, the Lyrics of Irish Freedom, are within.





Read excerpts from Festival Legends, Songs and StoriesAuthor John O’Brien, Jr.’s new book, First Generation, was launched at the Irish Books, Art & Music Showcase 2011 in Chicago. First Generation is all original poetry by O’Brien, focused on his experiences growing up in the Irish-American community, music, work, his twenty-five year struggle with Rheumatoid Arthritis and a ten-year battle with a broken back. Despite the struggles, he has continued to have an impact on the local and national community, and was named one of the 2011 Top 100 Irish Americans by Irish America Magazine.

O’Brien is the Co-Founder/Co-Publisher and Editor of the Ohio Irish American News, a monthly cultural newsmagazine that celebrated its 5th Anniversary in January. His poem, The Vacant Chair, about a man who loses his soul mate and wife to cancer, took 1st Prize at the Irish Books, Art & Music Showcase 2010. This is O’Brien’s second book, following Festival Legends: Songs & Stories, a biographical look at pivotal Irish music legends who influenced rock, county, folk, Irish, bluegrass and blues music in America and around the world.

O’Brien grew up in and continues to live in the West Park neighborhood of Cleveland. He is Public Information Officer (Spokesman) for the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office and a Founder and Assistant Director of Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival, which will celebrate its 30th Anniversary July 20-22, 2012.





A Tommy Makem fan, when asked if she knew what music is, responded: “It is the soul of the world expressed in sound.” To me, Tommy Makem and the other Festival Legends featured in this book, express the soul of the whole world, Irish or not, in each and every performance they give, in Dolby surround sound.

From Tommy Makem, The Godfather of Irish music, to his sons, The Makem & Spain Brothers, from the Ballad Boom to Riverdance, and the Ed Sullivan Show to Carnegie Hall, the incredible explosion of Irish music directly related to the success of the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem and Riverdance, as well the stunning growth of Irish music and cultural festivals across the United States, has led to live Irish music and dance being the most sought after form of cultural entertainment today. The Celtic Tiger is thriving in America.


Read excerpts from Festival Legends, Songs and StoriesThe happiest times in my life are those spent around festivals, especially the afters parties. I have had the opportunity to get to know these wonderful men and women as people, not as performers. Seeing these amazing and genuine people, up close and off camera, has been the inspiration for writing this book. When I tried to find out more information about them, where they came from, in the sense of what made them who they are, beyond just the town they were born in, there was so little information available. I decided to change that.

Derek McCormack’s sudden passing only reemphasized the need for me to get these wonderful stories, filled with humor, jaw-dropping accomplishments and deep love for the Irish heritage, from those who know it best, the performers themselves. I have strived to eliminate any inaccuracies, myths, false stories and general lack of hard information about each of these legends and present it in their own words. I hope you will enjoy finding out their stories as much as I have.

Festival Legends offers an entertaining but historically accurate look at these iconic entertainers with detailed, behind-the-scenes information on the journeys, backgrounds, inspirations, people and stories in the rise of these great talents to the top of their field, and a place in the indelibly linked American and Irish histories. This capturing of these entertaining and surprising stories as well as correcting the myths and misinformation that seems to surround these performers, has been the driving passion behind this book.

Based on over twenty years of professional experience marketing and producing one of the top five Irish festivals in the United States and authored articles and media presentations, the author expertly writes Festival Legends to accurately detail such amazing and highly entertaining stories as:

· The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem - have achieved legendary status by igniting the Irish music boom in the United States and eventually, back in Ireland and are fatefully linked with folk music’s own explosion that came out of New York’s Greenwich Village in the late 1950’s. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem’s story includes such luminaries as Odetta, Josh White and Bob Dylan, who called Liam Clancy the best ballad singer he ever heard in his life and professed at a young age that he would “be as big as the Clancy’s.” Both proved true. But it was not their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show that shook the foundations of Irish music in America, as most believe. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show four times. Saving the best for last, the final appearance, for a record setting sixteen minutes, is the episode that altered history.

· Danny Doyle - His grandmother was a runner during the 1916 Irish Rebellion, burning haunting stories of the people and events of the war and the love of Irish history into one of Ireland’s finest balladeers and Danny interweaves these harrowing and often humorous stories in powerful concerts, presentations and theatrical shows.

· Barleycorn - At the outbreak of Internment, on August 9th, 1971 at 4:00 a.m., British soldiers overran Catholic areas of Belfast, beating and imprisoning, without trial, scores of Irish men. In a political irony typical of the time, Barleycorn’s Paddy McGuigan was interred for four months for writing The Men Behind the Wire, a song about internment. Barleycorn continued to perform the #1 song, despite opposition and Paddy’s detainment.

· The Makem & Spain Brothers - The present, and the future, of the Irish ballad tradition, the Makem & Spain Brothers are gaining notice throughout the Irish music world for carrying on the legacy of those that came before, with a style and energy all their own. It is abundantly clear that this is what they were born to do.

· Johnny McEvoy - The Beatlemania era in Ireland took Johnny McEvoy to Superstar status, going from pub crowds of forty and fifty people to playing before sold out concerts of 70,000, all over the United Kingdom and the United States, and all in a few months.

· Tom Sweeney - Anthem for the Children, his peace song for children of all nationalities, brought Tom Sweeney to the Clinton White House, in the weeks before the Good Friday Peace Agreement was reached. Did Anthem for the Children help bring peace to Ireland?

Copyright © 2006, songsandstories.net or its affiliates, All Rights Reserved

From Tommy's Song

Freedom’s Sons are singing;
singing sad songs,
to their love, songs.
Pretty Maggie O’, Sally O’,
Pretty Saro and Rosie.

for some,
a Song For The Children.

In The Time Of Scented Roses,
let they be not black,
The Long Woman’s Grave.
Rather Sing Me The Old Songs;
of Rambling Rivers
in The Rambles of Spring,
Clear Blue Hills
or Grey October Clouds,
among Long Winter Nights.

If I should return,
If You Should Ask Me,
I’m Going Home To Mary,
Smiling Mary
I can see her, as she holds
our Gentle Annie in her arms,
listening to
The Listowel Blackbird sing;
Music In The Twilight,
In Newry Town

I will return again.

                 ~ John O'Brien, Jr.

John O’Brien, Jr.
14615 Triskett Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44111-3123
P 216.647.1144    John@songsandstories.net

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