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HOWARD MARSHALL - Out Of Darkness: The Blind Piper Of Inagh

HOWARD MARSHALL - Out Of Darkness: The Blind Piper Of Inagh
Cottier Press ISBN: 9780995505407

The name of Garrett Barry is well known among Irish musicians, even if only for the two tunes which bear his name, one jig and one reel. The legend which is Garrett Barry was a 19th century link in the chain of Irish wandering minstrels dating back to medieval times, and his remarkable story has never been told until the publication of this amazing 400 page tome by Howard Marshall. Even the great Francis O'Neill could find no space for him in his 1913 Irish Minstrels And Musicians, although many other musicians were acknowledged, so this comprehensive volume gives very belated recognition to an icon of Irish traditional music.

It's academic in a sense, with references and appendices, but still an extremely readable and perceptive view of the long and continuing culture of one small parish in its setting in County Clare. It's obviously a labour of love, but importantly is not only about the music, but crucially explores the social background and aspects of history which shaped the society in which Garrett Barry lived.

The life of Garrett Barry in 19th century Ireland was a tenuous one, not least due to his blindness, which didn't make easy his chosen lifestyle. The book contains many illuminating stories and anecdotes recorded by people who actually met him. The nature and history of his chosen instrument is comprehensively explored in one fascinating chapter, while the known repertoire of the man is considered in another - he had many more tunes than the two which bear his name, many still in the current tradition. Clare's long musical tradition is fully explored, and the author soon clarifies that Garrett Barry became an inspiration to a generation of pipers and musicians, many of whom have become legends in their own right, like Johnny Doran and Willie Clancy.

This serious hardback volume was a revelation to me, and has been beautifully produced, with contemporary drawings and magnificent photographs by Ben Taylor. The Irish musical tradition is in good health today, and there is little doubt that the beacon lit by a blind piper in a remote part of Clare served as a major inspiration for others to follow. This excellent volume will be a valuable addition to the literature of Irish traditional music in its historical context, as well as being an enjoyable and informative read.

Jim Bainbridge

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This album was reviewed in Issue 118 of The Living Tradition magazine.