The History of Irish Music, by Larry Kirwan

Out of the Mailbag, Comes Songs & Stories:
The History of Irish Music, by Larry Kirwan​
ISBN: 9780963960115, 346 pages
a story from this month’s issue of the Ohio Irish American News

A History of Irish Music Back Cover A History of Irish Music cover

I love reading and learning, especially the history of Ireland, of music and of my friends. In Larry Kirwin’s The History of Irish Music, all my passions are rolled into one book. Whether in writing or in person, Kirwan’s style is the same: genuine, laced with humor, illuminating and as accepting as a politically active bandleader can be.

Kirwan’s musical history is full of seminal people, moments and music set against the backdrop of an Ireland undergoing political, religious and economic quakes. The shores change to America, the song remains the same, on the cutting edge of music; Kirwan tells it as he experienced it, firsthand. I loved it.

Throughout his career, with Deep Thinkers and seminally, as the leader and founder of Black 47, Larry has met, worked with, interviewed, and sang with and for, the biggest names in music. Black 47 went out with a bang after 25 years together, in a Farewell Tour that ended at the same locale as they started. Sixteen Black 47 and two solo CD’s, fourteen plays and musicals, two novels and a memoir, Kirwan also hosts and produces Celtic Crush for SiriusXM Radio and writes a column for the Irish Echo. He is President of the Irish-American Writers and Artists.

Larry’s perspective is personal, not word of mouth. Donal Lunny, Planxty, Sinead O’Connor, Shane McGowan and The Pogues, Christy Moore and Moving Hearts, Horselips, The Wolfe Tones. Liam Ó’Maonlaí and Hothouse Flowers, Punk music, Thin Lizzy, Sharon Shannon and the Waterboys, Moving Hearts, Paddy Reilly, U2, Saw Doctors, The Ramones, Damien Dempsey, Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys, those on whose the music world turned, are part of his repertoire too. Larry’s insight and commentary are fascinating, delivered in a straightforward conversational style, in print. Highlights are scratching the surface, but are a wee taste of the pure:
“There have always been two strands to the Celtic Music tradition – songs of entertainment and songs that talk about our history, politics and cultural identity. We’re definitely in no danger of losing the former – as long as there’s an Irish Rover, a Wild Rover or any other kind of rover to be lauded we’ll have entertainment. That goes for the hedonistic Celtic Rock side of things too with songs like Streams of Whiskey, Drunken Lullabies and Funky Céili. But take away the politics, the history and our ongoing resistance to political and economic oppression then our music loses its life-affirming and, for my money, interesting, quotient. Nor does every song need to be a fist-pumping anthem or political tract set to a four-on-the-floor beat; sometimes you just need to take into account the loss and loneliness of someone far away who is wondering how the hell he ever ended up enmeshed in a foreign culture, and if he’ll ever make it home. That’s the root of Irish music and if we lose that we risk becoming a parody of ourselves no matter what level of professionalism, proficiency, and entertainment we aspire to.

“I’m always more concerned with moving an audience rather than merely entertaining it, for touching hearts and even souls is much more gratifying than tickling fancies or expectations.

“I loved fair days but match days were their equal. They unleashed a wildness that took the old town by the scruff of its neck and shook it free of its slumbering nonchalance. Wexford adored its hurlers, especially when it seemed as though they might defeat their archrivals, the mighty Kilkenny, and reach the All Ireland final. The cries of the vendors, the surge of expectant faces up lanes and back streets towards the Gaelic Athletic Park, the repressed excitement that would erupt during sixty gasping minutes of belting and pucking the sliotar up and down the grassy pitch, hurleys splintering, blood spouting, with no thought of personal safety by any participant – all of this inspired the people to shrug off the patina of feigned respectability imposed by church piety or latent Victorian propriety. Suddenly you’d come face to face with the old hidden Gaelic Ireland – the thorny outlines of an ancient culture that doffed its cap to no one.”

Kirwan went on to speak of influences and irrationalities, but returned to the root of the modern ballad tradition, the pivotal band that brought the ballads back to life, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem:
“Indeed by 1964 one third of all albums sold in Ireland had been recorded by the Clancys and Makem. They were so popular that the mighty showbands even felt called upon to don báinín (white) Aran sweaters and actually stop the dancing while they performed a set of “Clancy ballads.” Years later when I first made my foray into the showband world one of the more popular numbers was a quickstep version of the Clancy’s Bonny Shoal of Herrings. One can only imagine what that grave purist Ewan McColl would have thought of this polka-like resetting of his flinty sea shanty. … the Clancys and Makem swept the dust off all of them. They removed layers of calcification from patriotic laments like Roddy McCorley and Kevin Barry. By juicing them so jubilantly while never tampering with their innate power, they cast these songs in a new light. We had become vaguely ashamed of them, especially after the botched IRA border campaign of the mid-1950s. The Clancys and Makem cauterized some of the innate danger and subversion thus rendering the old songs more respectable, and ultimately acceptable, by placing them in a more theatrical framework. An acquaintance of theirs said to me many years later in a Manhattan saloon, ‘You could see the shadow of the gunman behind the lads, but you were damn certain he had no bullets.’”

9-11 and New York are indelibly ingrained in Larry; 9-11 changed him forever:

“Those nights were so intense; you would almost jump for joy when you saw a familiar face enter – at least he or she was alive. When someone wouldn’t have shown up for a month or two you feared the worst. In many cases you might not know a name, so you couldn’t inquire if they’d made it through. On gigs around the tri-state area people would show pictures of lost ones and request their favorite Black 47 songs. Hard as it was when you recognized a familiar face, oddly enough, it was even tougher when you didn’t – to think your music had meant so much to someone you hadn’t even known.”

I was honored to write an endorsement for Larry Kirwan’s The History of Irish Music. The modern history of Irish rock told firsthand in a conversational painting of the times transported me to the time, and the temperature of Kirwan’s experience. I loved the book. The History of Irish Music is a Top Shelf Selection.




Can You Grow Great Friendships?

Can You Grow Great Friendships?

A good friend of mine’s birthday is 3 days before Christmas; one of my sister’s is Christmas Day. So we make an extra effort to acknowledge those days and not let their birthdays get lost in the holiday. The friend, we’ll call her Mindy, has a fantastic roommate who decided to really celebrate it, and threw a ½ Way to Mindy’s Birthday Party instead. Boy was Mindy SurPRIZED!

Happy 1/2 Birthday!
Happy 1/2 Birthday!

Great Lakes Brewery had the beer, the food and company. ½ of a birthday card, and ½ of a Birthday Cake, along with very full birthday appetizers and meal added to the surprise and the fun. She was delighted, and got a taste, sweeter and longer lasting than the cake, of how much she is loved. I wrote a complicated poem for her; I look forward to her insight on it.

I have so enjoyed going to the new Irish Music Sundays at Music Box Cleveland, on the water, on the West Bank of the Flats. I love heat, love summer, love being on the water, love music, love great food … Gotta make the o’donuts tho, they don’t bake themselves. Auld Pitch 3 weeks ago, a Ceili with The Portersharks on Father’s Day last week with 16 of my family, and this Sunday, I am looking forward to Marys Lane.
4 Oyster Bar Music Box
Fresh Oyster Bar, Crab Legs, various wraps and craft beers and the beautiful view are a few highlights, but the music is the star. 3 – 6 every Sunday thru the summer. I try a different food and beer each week. While I lighten my wallet, I add to my edumacation.

Auld Pitch
Auld Pitch

Friday night, 18 Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival volunteers gathered at the Berea Fairgrounds to continue creating our CICFestival Irish Village, the boreen green to our Temple Bar. The 33rd Annual Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival is four weeks away, and so many new and fun things are coming. I met some amazingly talented and work ethic rich new members of our team, shown the light by returning volunteers.
cicf paint 2
It takes a village, and our village is rising before our eyes. Saturday morning 19 people gathered, and more shops were painted into our village. Mama Julianna’s Pizza is so good! We stopped for a pepsi afterwards too of course. Getting to know the giving only makes me more grateful.

Whole group painters

30 bands and 8 stages, reunions and the planting of future wedding seeds are the mainstay of the festival, but other highlights/new plans for the festival this year include
• Marys Lane Movie – “See You Next Time” A mini-rockumentary short film on Cleveland-based Irish-American Celtic rock band Marys Lane as they journey in and around St. Patrick’s Day
• Irish Road Bowling – A cult-classic in Ireland, Irish Road Bowling is coming to Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival
• Online Advance Sale Admission, Weekend Passes and Whiskey Tasting Tickets @
Gate Admission is only $12 (that’s only $2.50 per band!) and Parking is free.
• Online CICF T-shirts, including the new LiveMoreLiveBeMoreIrish hit shirts, Men’s and Women’s cuts and pre and post fest sales.
• Whiskey Tasting – Friday and Saturday “Whiskeys of the World” with North American Irish Whiskey Ambassador Michael Eagan and the 2Gingers Girls
• Expanded Irish Beer Garden with BRAND NEW Craft Beers – For the adults, featuring Smithwicks Pale, Guinness Blonde, Homestead (Licking Co) and French Ridge IPA (Millersburg) highlight the local and the International
• GAA Irish Football and GAA Hurling Demonstrations – Cleveland St. Pat’s Gaelic Football and Akron Guards Hurling Clubs will engage both kids and adults with demos of Ireland’s National Sports
• Cleveland Nature Center / Nature Tracks Mobile Units – For the kids, Nature Center and Metroparks will have their mobile units at the fest
• Authentic Irish Food Focus – more than 20 authentic Irish food favorites will be available, including Shepard’s Pie, Bridies, Fish & Chips, Bangers & Mash, Boxty, and an Irish Breakfast. American Fare and Kid’s favorites are also plentiful.
• Friday Happy Hour (5-7pm) – with $1 discount on all import and domestic beers and many food items.
• 100th Anniversary of the Easter Rising – the most seminal event in Irish history will be commemorated in play, song and performance this year and next
• 8 Stages; 30 bands, including Pipe Bands, Dance Schools, Plays, Food Court, Tir Na nOg (Land of Our Youth) Children’s Area, and so much more.
• Local Irish Band Showcase and Mad Sessiúns- featuring Ballinoch, The Roundabouts and Mad Macs Irish bands, Cleveland legends and performers at the fest from throughout Ireland, the U.S and Canada join in the sessiúns; Irish language, instrument and history workshops too
• Uber – Uber is offering festival patrons a $20 discount coupon to first time users.
• Recycling – CICF is proud to incorporate recycling of plastic cups, bottles and Program Books
• Temple Bar & Museum and our Irish Village – take a walk thru the expanded Irish Village and the Temple Bar, modeled after Dublin’s signature entertainment district – with live music, dancing, sessiúns (jam sessions), instrument, dance and language workshops and more. Displays on Irish Life, Music, Sports, Food, People and Places fill the monster Temple Bar and Museum.


I sent off the July issue of the Ohio Irish American News on Saturday morning before heading to the grounds, 32 pages! Each and every issue this year has matched or set a new record for the 9 years that month’s issue has been published. Head down, chin up, learn, and give more than you receive has taken us from success, to significance. Now, on to August issue.

buick loaded
Maureen & Rory catching the last train out

Back to the grounds on Sunday, to roll up the many new canvases left to dry overnight, with the help of Maureen and Rory Hennessy; I am oh so grateful to have gotten to know these two generous souls, first through the Rose of Tralee, and then through Irish Language Cleveland class. We wrapped and rolled, then danced our way down to music Box for the Ceili with The Portersharks. The dancing is beyond me with my back and joints, but watching the grace and glimmer is still fun – yet … I am envious.

Speaking of the back n joints, I have not written on that in a while, on purpose. I am in my 18th week of self injections of the biologic, Orencia. When I look back I see the difference, more than I notice in the present, as the effect is so gradual. I can raise my arms above my shoulders more freely, can sometimes open a bottle of water with my hand, not my teeth. Joints are not a continuous throb, just when tested by walking, standing or sitting for too long. I am blessed to see progress and reduction in pain; reversal of damage may be in my future yet.

Synovial Fluid is the lubricant in your joints. In RA, the body receives an alarm of an invader in the synovial fluid, and attacks it, mistakenly, and continuously. This attack causes great inflammation, which begets stiffness and pain. One RA treatment, fairly new, is classed as Biologics. Biologics have the distinction of being the first drug with the potential (everyone’s results are different) to reverse the damage of Rheumatoid. Literature says benefits from Orencia injections take up to 3 months, and accumulate for up to a year, so I am very hopeful.

For more than a dozen years, I have had treatment on my L5, a cracked vertebrae at the bottom right of my spine. All my discs are also ruptured and the L3 has started to disintegrate as well. A new insurance and a new Doctor in January led to another new Dr, a back specialist, last week. He took xrays, asked a bunch of general questions, then started to drill down. He would ask a question, I would reply, then he would shake his head, saying, that’s not L5. Ask another question, listen and say, that’s not L5. That went on for a short while and he said – all those facet injections and epidurals, they were in L5. Your pain is coming from S1.

In my head I thought, good God, we’ve been treating the wrong joint, for 12 years!

I go back for more, different xrays next week, then will attack based on the results. Head down, chin up. Soldiers are we …

Hope to see you at the fest; let’s grow a friendship.

Editor’s Corner, Ohio Irish American News, June issue

June Editor’s Corner, Ohio Irish American News

June Cover, featuring Julie Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald Family, and The StepCrew, coming to the 33rd Annual Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival July 24-26, Berea Fairgrounds.
June Cover, featuring Julie Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald Family, and The StepCrew, coming to the 33rd Annual Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival July 24-26, Berea Fairgrounds.

It’s June; it’s summer. Man did it take a long time to get here. Our 9th Annual Festival Focus issue is the focus this month. With all the Irish and Celtic festivals going on in and around Ohio, there is much to see and savor in our way too short summer. The schedule, highlights and details are inside. Seize the moment; seize the day.

I am very excited about all the festivals. I have been involved in Cleveland’s for all of its 33 years, but this year, we are undergoing the most drastic changes in perhaps decades. If we want our audiences to get younger, in a move wholly dictated by survival and self-preservation, our offerings must get younger too. In that spirit, much new is coming, and the details of some of it is inside too.

Some of this and I suppose every, issue, looks to the past, for we are a nostalgic race, especially in light of the 100th Anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. For those not familiar, it is the most seminal event in modern Irish history, most akin to our American Revolution, with the same government opposed.

But like the festivals, we must preserve, promote and present our roots, while creating a future not dictated by our past. We create a future strengthened by those from the same place, but a generation, two, or more, removed; we don’t remove the past, we relish its richness.

Black 47’s Larry Kirwan witnessed much of the birth of Rock n Roll and modern day music in Ireland. The band retired last November, after 25 years together, but his memories are strong and brought alive in the retelling. He shares shocking, unknown, funny and poignant memories in his new book, The History of Irish Music, which I was delighted to write an endorsement for. The review is on Page 10, but get the book for its history, its humor and the very first-hand retelling of history, as it happened.

Did you know 100 years ago, Lincoln’s Funeral came through Cleveland? Did you know the Irish immigrant story of John Carroll? Did you know the Tuatha de Dannan, or about the North King Street Massacre? Roses speak, and the mighty Aiden Cronin, Irish Consulate General in Chicago, comes to Cleveland for a last goodbye as he moves on to his next post. … these stories and much more are inside.

We’d like to welcome our newest columnist, David McDonnell, Our Sports Man on the Irish Street, writing to us each month from Tipperary, Ireland, on soccer, rugby, Irish Gaelic sports, boxing and the NFL from an Irish perspective.

There is far more to do than we could do, in this issue. I’m going to try anyway. Hope to see you out & about. A s always, please stop by and say hello. We love putting faces to our readers, commentators and sources of inspiration.



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