seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Birth of Sarah Makem, Traditional Irish Singer

Sarah Makem, traditional Irish singer, is born in Keady, County Armagh on October 18, 1900. She is the wife of fiddler Peter Makem, mother of musicians Tommy Makem and Jack Makem, and grandmother of musicians Tom Sweeney, Jimmy Sweeney (of Northern Irish Canadian group Barley Bree), Shane Makem, Conor Makem and Rory Makem. Makem and her cousin, Annie Jane Kelly, are members of the Singing Greenes of Keady.

Makem lives in Keady her entire life. Living in the border region of Ulster and in a market town, she is influenced by Irish, Scottish, and English traditions. She learns songs from her mother while she is doing household chores such as cooking, often picking up these songs while sitting with her mother after just one repetition. She also learns some of her repertoire from songs the children sing in school.

Makem leaves school early to work as a factory weaver as many of the girls do in her town. She works from 7:00 AM until 6:30 PM and then comes home to have sessions with many of the other musicians living in the same area. She marries Peter Makem in 1919.

Makem does not consider herself a musician, however, she has a vast musical career. She is a ballad singer who has over five hundred songs in memory. These songs she describes as life stories of murder and love and emigration songs. She records many of her songs, mostly for collection purposes.

In the 1950s, song collectors from the United States tour Ireland recording its musical heritage. Makem is visited and recorded by, among others, Diane Guggenheim Hamilton, Jean Ritchie, Peter Kennedy and Sean O’Boyle. Her rendition of “As I Roved Out” is used to open the BBC Radio folk music programme of the same name in the 1950s. She does not intend to use this recording as such and is very embarrassed to know her voice will be heard every day across Ireland.

Makem dies in Keady, County Armagh on April 20, 1983. She is buried in St. Patrick’s RC Graveyard in Keady.


Leave a comment

Death of Joe Heaney, Traditional Irish Singer

joe-heaneyJoe Heaney, traditional Irish singer also known as Joe Éinniú or Seosamh Ó hÉanaí, dies in Seattle, Washington on May 1, 1984. He spends most of his adult life abroad, living in England, Scotland and New York City, in the course of which he records hundreds of songs.

Heaney is born Carna, a remote village in the Irish-speaking district of Connemara, County Galway, along the west coast of Ireland on October 15, 1919. He starts singing at the age of five, but his shyness keeps him from singing in public until he is 20. He learns English at school in Carna. When he is 16 years old, he wins a scholarship to attend school in Dublin. While there he wins first and second prizes at a national singing competition. Most of his repertoire, estimated to exceed 500 songs, is learned while growing up in Carna.

In 1949, Heaney goes to London where he works on building sites and becomes involved in the folk-music scene. He records for the  Topic Records and Gael Linn Records labels. He is married for six years until his wife dies of tuberculosis.

Heaney is recorded by Pádraic Ó Raghallaigh for Raidió Teilifís Éireann, and by Peter Kennedy for the BBC in 1959. The BBC recordings are assembled on a BBC LP, not commercially issued, as BBC LP 22570.

Heaney comes to the United States in 1965 at the invitation of the Newport Folk Festival. After singing at Newport, he decides to move to America and settles in New York City. From 1982 until 1984, Heaney is an artist-in-residence at the University of Washington in Seattle after previously having taught at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

Joe Heaney dies of emphysema in Seattle on May 1, 1984. The Joe Heaney Collection of the University of Washington Ethnomusicology Archives is established after his death. The Féile Chomórtha Joe Éinniú (Joe Heaney Commemorative Festival) is held every year in Carna. An Irish-language biography of him has been written by Liam Mac Con Iomaire, and a biography that discusses his work in the larger context of Ireland and the United States was published in 2011 by Sean Williams and Lillis Ó Laoire.