Saturday, January 31, 2009

What Should Be Ireland's Best-Known Export

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Cliffs of Dooneen
Christy Moore
SONGWRITER: Traditional
ALBUM: Live at the Point

I was a folk singer in exile.
(Christy Moore)

Here in America, we tend to think of "Danny Boy" when we think of traditional Irish songs. It is understandable: with all the recordings of the song out there (CD Universe lists a whopping 677 recordings available), we would assume that it's THE Irish ballad.

Not so fast. A far more beautiful traditional Irish ballad exists; and, based on this live recording from Irish folk legend Christy Moore, perhaps we Americans have chosen the wrong song to automatically associate with Ireland.

Like most Americans I had never heard of Christy Moore (it's hard to find lots of publicity on our own folk singers, let alone one from another country!). One day, however, while channel surfing through the satellite stations, I came across his hilarious "Delirium Tremens," a hangover-to-end-all-hangovers song from his 1994 live album Live at the Point. I found that song so enjoyable that I picked up the live album and, in the process, found "Cliffs of Dooneen."

This version of "Cliffs of Dooneen" is exquisite. The lyrics paint a lovely picture of the Irish countryside in a way that conveys a universal message: there's no place more lovely than home. With just his guitar for instrumental accompaniment Moore sings the song as if it's his own home he's singing about (he is actually from Newbridge). His delivery is reverent, quiet, and emotional. The audience is silent, rapt in enjoyment after a moment when they can be heard singing along with the line "far away o'er the mountains, far away o'er the foam."

Moore, like many of our folk singers, has strong political opinions, and the references don't always translate well into another country. With "Cliffs of Dooneen," however, the glory of a beautiful land transcends politics and nationalities.


The entire Live at the Point (1994) album -- yes, Americans may scratch their heads and wonder what is so funny about the line "I dreamed Ian Paisley was saying the rosary" in "Delirium Tremens" or wonder what some of the other political references unique to Ireland are all about, but the great thing about music is that sometimes that just doesn't matter. This is an outstanding collection of music well delivered by one of Ireland's favorite musical sons.

A Death in the Family
Dark as a Dungeon
Bottomless Well

Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
Baby Mine

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