Is our connection with the past, and who we think of as heroes, best told by song rather than by history books? What makes a hero and how important has song been in shaping the popular image of that time, and that hero? And in Ireland does failure rather than triumph define heroism?
Across the centuries people in Ireland have passed on their history story through songs of heroes both political and tragic like Robert Emmet, Charles Stewart Parnell and James Connolly as well as mythical characters like Molly Malone and sporting heroes like the champion greyhound Master McGrath. Some of these songs have been handed down through the generations like ‘Mo Ghile Mear’ about Bonnie Prince Charlie while other like ‘Bold Robert Emmet’ were written long after the events in the song.
This eight part series is an Athena Media production for RTÉ Radio 1 and is presented by singer and academic Therese McIntyre, who traces the journey of ballads from the 16th century to today and explores how they shape or distort our understanding of history, real events and real people like Henry Joy McCracken in 1798 or Jim Larkin in 1913.
In the series we hear from historians including Diarmaid Ferriter, Kevin Whelan, Eunan O’Halpin, Mike Cronin, and Lillis O’Laoire, song collector and scholar John Moulden and traditional music experts Grace Toland and Nicholas Carolan from the Irish Traditional Music Archive.
Nicholas Carolan, director of the Irish Traditional Music Archive, shares his concept of a herosong; “From the very beginning even the continental Celts had herosongs praising their great men, their bravery and the things they did for the community. They did exactly the same thing here in Ireland so it goes back to the beginning of human occupation in Ireland.”
Therese is joined by singers from the Goilin Traditional Singers Club, singers Iarla Ó Lionáird, Nóirín Ní Riain, Frances Black, Niamh Parsons, Derek Warfield and composer Eric Bogle among others, who share their own relationship with history, song and these sung heroes.
An Athena Media Production for RTE Radio 1 made with the support of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland Sound and Vision Scheme.