DONAL MAGUIRE - Michael Davitt – the forgotten hero?

DONAL MAGUIRE - Michael Davitt - the forgotten hero?
Rossendale Records MUSCD007

Subtitled 'broadside ballads reflecting his life and times' the man to whom this album is dedicated lived from 1846-1906 and is, if Maguire's liner notes are to be quoted "one of the most significant personalities in c.19 th Irish history." Whilst it's often Parnell's name that springs to mind as the prime achiever of this period, Davitt was a founder of the Land League, which helped forge a path towards Irish political independence. Whilst serving a sentence in Dartmoor for treason, he came to the conclusion that ownership of the land by the people was the only solution to Ireland's problems. In fact, isn't giving people a stake in life the answer to the world's ills, now as then?

Born into poverty in Co. Mayo, the family, after eviction, travelled to Haslingden in northwest England - coincidentally where Donal from Co. Louth has lived since 1978. He's at pains to point out that he is no historian, though it's fair to say that this is a thoughtful and well made work, combining academic notes with appropriate and often little known songs to create a thematic whole. A concept album then? - that beast long thought extinct - no wait, come back! No ponderous exercise this. Broadsides after all, were popular pieces, reflecting the views and interests of the common people and the tracks turn from the detailed politically-slanted (Hold Your Rents, Hold Your Harvest!) to ordinary life (The Old Man's Complaint) with ease to give the pieces of the jigsaw, and not just the big picture.

The opening Rocky Road To Dublin is the stall-setter, once you erase past memories of a song beaten in submission by countless groupings since the mid '60s. Taken gently, it's troubled intimacy and powerful imagery bridges the political with the personal to reveal a song that is asserted "in reality, deals with intra-Irish discrimination."

It's no picnic. There's a melancholy undercurrent and an often sombre tone to the album but it accurately paints a fabric of a nation and a community in transition. The music and the complementary essays work well together. Maguire is in fine voice throughout, playing acoustic guitar, banjo and mandolin, accompanied by the inspiring John Murphy on uillean pipes with additional vocal back up from time to time.

Committed and coherent, and often uneasy listening but nevertheless a celebration, not a wake and an accomplished, genuinely intriguing labour of love

Clive Pownceby

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This album was reviewed in Issue 71 of The Living Tradition magazine.