Reviewed by Mary McWay Seaman,Celtic Connection, December, 2008Every so often, a literary jewel radiates beams of breathtaking, iridescent force. Sebastian Barry”s THE SECRET SCRIPTURE, with the heft and lilt of eloquent simplicity, is one such novel – a tale of mystery, love, war, repression and redemption spanning the last 100 years in Ireland. Roseanne Clear McNulty is a centenarian warehoused in Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, a vintage institution scheduled for demolition. All patients are being assessed for relocation. As a young woman, Roseanne had been admitted to the Sligo Insane Asylum, which morphed into the Sligo Mental Hospital. Her diagnosis and her long-ago move to Roscommon are mysteries lurking within misplaced records. Sixty-five-year-old Dr. William Grene, Roseanne”s psychiatrist, struggles with her transfer, recognizing that many inmates “are not so much mad as homeless and ancient.” Considering the history of mental institutions, he notes that “no sensitive person would choose to be the historian of the Irish asylums in the first part of the last century . . .” Grene concedes that some patients “were incarcerated shall we say for social reasons, rather than medical . . . and continuing in this day and age to be held.” His evaluation of Roseanne is frustrated not only by missing files, but by her silence. Some local folks know Roseanne”s secrets, and one of them works on her floor. The story sings within a duet of dueling journals: those of Irish Protestant Roseanne and English Catholic Grene. Hers is secreted beneath the floorboards of her room, and his is a personal record apart from official paperwork. Roseanne on Grene: “The beauty of Dr. Grene is that he is entirely humourless, which makes him actually quite humourous. Believe me, this is a quality to be treasured in this place.” The doctor, a childless man with marital troubles of his own making, suddenly becomes widowed. His relationship with Roseanne, despite its perfunctory appearance, blooms into quiet friendship, “touched by a sort of benign lightning, something primitive, strange, and oddly clear.”Roseanne grew up as the only child of Sligo Presbyterians ” her father had been a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary and a cemetery caretaker demoted to rat-catcher after the Irish Civil War. As a teenager, Roseanne witnessed her father assisting anti-partition rebels in burying one of their fallen. She and her father were wrongly blamed for alerting the authorities when, at the rebels” request, Roseanne contacted a priest. Father Gault “was like a singer who knows the words and can sing, but cannot sing the song as conceived in the heart of the composer.” But Gaunt was “not one of those people that shy away from you when you need them, like many of his brethren, too proud to taste the rain in their mouths.”Part of Roseanne”s journal chronicles her convent school education, where the nuns “savage as they were, though they wielded sticks against us with every ounce of energy in their bodies . . . they were interesting women enough. But I must let them go. My story hurries me on.” Roseanne married a Catholic man, Tom McNulty, against the wishes of his family, especially angering his mother – a classic incarnation of the super-religious, self-righteous, autocratic matron of her place and time, albeit with irregularities in her own past. The McNultys ran a dancehall during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s in the heyday of Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington. In the words of Dr. Grene, “This is all long ago, in the savage fairytale of life in Ireland in the twenties and thirties, mostly, though the period of her [Roseanne"s] greatest difficulty seems to have occurred actually during the years of the emergency, as de Valera referred to the Second World War.” Depictions of “amon de Valera present an identity-politics profile extraordinaire. Dr. Grene eventually locates Roseanne”s file, rich with Father Gaunt”s accounts – accounts that differ radically from those in Roseanne”s journal. Gaunt”s notes reveal that Roseanne”s in-laws were employed at the Sligo asylum when she was admitted, and Grene begins to assemble pieces of a horrendous conspiracy involving kinfolk, church and state. Whopper-sized lies shout from the old paperwork, proving that Gaunt “betrays at every stroke an intense hatred . . . of women. . .” Furthermore, he regarded Roseanne”s “Protestantism as a simple, primal evil in itself.” The ghastly reach of a tyrannical clergy with fingers in every nook and cranny of politics, government, commerce, society, education and family life was a power “leading as day does to night to absolute corruption.” The perfect storm of intricately-crafted events leading up to the final travesty forms a singular, explosive piece of art.Roseanne consoles herself in her journal: “The real comfort is that the history of the world contains so much grief that my small griefs are edged out, and are only cinders at the borders of the fire.” However, one monstrous grief remains: it entwines doctor and patient as they wrestle to reconcile the irreconcilable on resplendent, aching final pages that are turned too soon.
Celtic Events & Celtic Connection Presents LUKA BLOOM JUNE 3rd 2009 Celtic Events at 303-777-0502(from March 09 Celtic Connection – Part I of II)Interview with Cindy ReichLuka Bloom”s latest album, “Eleven Songs” will be released in the U.S. in March. He talks with Cindy Reich from the Celtic Connection via phone from County Kildare on an early day in February where the snow was coming down fast and furious. CR Thanks for talking to us, Luka”we look forward to your appearance in Denver on June 3rd at the Soiled Dove. It”s a great venue with a great history–as was Lannie”s Clocktower Cabaret where you performed last time you were in Denver. You seek out those great venues with a lot of character to them and it just seems to suit you.CR Thanks for talking to us, Luka”we look forward to your appearance in Denver on June 3rd at the Soiled Dove. It”s a great venue with a great history–as was Lannie”s Clocktower Cabaret where you performed last time you were in Denver. You seek out those great venues with a lot of character to them and it just seems to suit you.LB Yeah, its important to find the right room, isn”t it? Its important that not just yourself but that the audience finds itself in a place where it can be happy”whether its in Denver or Boulder or wherever, you know? I”m really looking forward to the Soiled Dove. CR Well the vibes there are quite good and speaking as a member of the audience, some venues have this empty space between the performer where things can just fall into”not in a good way, or it can create an intimacy and camaraderie where everyone”s in it together and the vibes are just flowing back and forth in each direction. LB Yeah, I hear what you”re saying, but at the end of the day its up to me, isn”t it? (Laughing) CR It is up to you, but then you have a harder time. So from your standpoint, its gotta be tough when you”ve got that gulf between you and the audience. LB Yeah, sometimes I actually have to work for a living” (laughing). CR Well, we”re going to make you work for a living right now and talk about “Eleven Songs”. Obviously your latest release and it is as advertised”eleven songs”although, there were 15 that made it to the final cut, were there not? LB There might have even been more, actually. I had written about 20, we recorded about 17 or 18 and released these 11. I found it really difficult to narrow it down to this number but I am a great believer in records not being too long. All my favorite records are sort of over with by about 44 or 45 minutes. I don”t believe in this whole idea that people get better value for money when they get 19 or 20 tracks. I just don”t buy into that. This particular group of songs just felt right. But there were a few more songs which I was sort of happy with but I didn”t want to put them on the record so we made them available as downloads from the website (www.lukabloom.com) CR Which is why I brought it up”when you buy the album off the website, you also get these four downloads, which are lovely songs as well. We”ll go back to “Eleven Songs” in a second, but I had to ask about the download song, “One Rose”, because it is a powerful song. One of the things I like about your song writing is that the songs are generally hopeful. You take these vignettes of people”s experiences and you always seem to capture the indomitable spirit in people in certain situations. Give us some background on “One Rose”. It doesn”t have that hopeful note at the end of it. LB Well, “One Rose” is inspired by the experience of one of many young women who have been trafficked into Ireland for the sex trade. It is one of the sad aspects of the globalization movement in the world and the freedom of movement”which obviously for the most part, I”m totally in favor of, but sadly, particularly during the time of our big economic boom, a large number of women have been trafficked to Ireland”either to serve the sex industry in Ireland or to be moved forward into the United Kindgom. It”s just something I wanted to highlight, and as is often the case with me, instead of talking about an issue, I prefer to talk about people. I focused on the experience of one particular woman I”d heard about who was trafficked into Ireland from Bolivia. CR I think that is one of the things I like most about your songs is that you focus on the individual as a way to speak of larger issues. You”re a keen observer. LB I believe in people and I believe in the incredible power of the human spirit to survive in all sorts of adversity. That, more than anything else is what I like to write about when possible and when possible I prefer to do it with individuals rather than kind of the coldness of issues. Writing about issues for me can often seem like an academic exercise, whereas writing about people completely involves the heart and the heart is what songs are all about. CR It also allows the listener to personalize and possibly relate to the circumstances you sing about. LB Yes, I think so. I think if you are writing a song about human trafficking, people will be mildly interested for about as long as it takes them to read a few paragraphs in the newspaper. But I think when you tell them the story of an individual, it does personalize it and someone can say, “well, what if that was my sister, or my daughter, you know? It makes it easier for people to be conscious of this. It”s a very big issue in Ireland at the moment, and maybe not as big as it should be. It”s definitely a change that has taken place in Irish society. I think 20 years ago, if somebody had said that this kind of thing would be happening in Ireland, I don”t think anyone would”ve believed it. CR I think that there are many people outside of Ireland who wouldn”t believe it now. You could”ve taken an easier route and could have made this take place in one of many countries. But you chose to look at it within your own country. Speaking from the American perspective, a lot of people in America want to think of Ireland as this perfect place where things like this don”t go on. But you are peeling back the reality of what is happening there just as it is in many countries, including this one. LB We”re just as screwed up as anyone else. CR In reality, you are. We all are. No one has a perfect life. No country does it perfectly right and we all have issues. LB I”m not a spokesperson for the tourist board. I love my country, but if something is happening that is worrying, or wrong”its not that I see it as my responsibility or duty to address that problem, but if I become aware of a situation that actually moves me or saddens me in a personal way, I do have a duty to myself to bear some kind of witness to it. CR Again, that is your keen power of observation combined with your ability to translate that into a visual through words is one of your great strengths. Lets talk about the songs that are on “Eleven Songs”. There is such variety and it has such a great sound. You have gone through these wonderful transmogrifications in your entire career and this is a blending of having a band and backing musicians. Very different sound from just having a guitar, which lends a great feel to the songs and drives some of them to new levels. LB Thank you. That”s a great observation. Over the last number of years I”ve made some albums, which have been by their nature very personal, very intimate and sort of quiet, really, I suppose. When the songs were written for this record, the producer, David Oodlum and I agreed the songs were just screaming out for me to move away from the comfort zone of my home. Around that time, I”d been listening to that incredible “Raising Sand”"the record that T-Bone Burnett produced for Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, which I think is a really remarkable record. (ed. note: “Raising Sand” garnered “Album of the Year” in the Contemporary/Folk/Americana category at the recent Grammy awards) Some of the songs on it I”m not crazy about, but it”s just the overall feeling of a group of people celebrating these voices and really great musicians in a great live room. Making a very traditional kind of a record in a way, and it sort of became a little role model for me, or a template and I said with this new record, this is what I want to do. I want to be a little bit brave and go into a great room and play live with a bunch of other musicians. I tend to be a little bit safe in the way I”ve made my last few records and this time I wanted to sort of remove the safety net. CR From this side of the CD I think it worked remarkably well. Of course, having someone like Dave Oodlum producing doesn”t hurt and you surrounded yourself with great musicians like Liam O”Maonlai, Cora Lunny, Conor Byrne”its great. You are all musicians that play well together and I think it raised everybody up. LB Well, it was important with this record that I didn”t spare the horses. It was important to allow every song free rein to express itself as it needed to be expressed and that required I bring in the strings, bring in the gospel choir, bring in Liam O”Maonlai”In fact there are even two tracks on it where the guy who plays pedal steel for k.d. lang, Josh Grange, he e-mailed me some tracks from Los Angeles, which is quite hilarious”it”s the first time I experienced that. But nearly everything else was live in this incredible studio in a rambling old farmhouse that has been converted into a recording studio”it”s where R.E.M. recorded their last album. It has a beautiful live room with a really beautiful sound. When you”ve got that combination of the right songs with the right people in the right room it”s a fantastic experience. CR We talked a year ago, right after “The Man Is Alive” project came out, and you talked about big plans for the song, “Don”t Be Afraid Of The Light That Shines Within You”, which was recorded for the first time on that project. And now it is on this album. LB Initially I wanted that to be the opening track on the album”to be a big, bold statement, but David (Oodlum) disagreed with me and he felt we should close the album with it and he was absolutely right. It”s a beautiful surprise to find yourself at the end of the record with the most powerful, uplifting song imaginable, really. The interesting thing about “Don”t Be Afraid Of The Light That Shines Within You” is that I wrote it seven years ago and it just never felt right for any of my previous records. I enjoyed doing it for the DVD (“The Man Is Alive”), but I still knew that wasn”t its real coming of age. But through this year I just had the feeling that this album was going to be the right album for this song. This song is all about hope. It is all about people in darkness, in adversity, reaching inside themselves”searching for the light within them that will allow them to survive the adversity and difficulty of life. And I never could have imagined when I wrote that song that I would end up releasing it at the appropriate moment when the world is in chaos (laughing). This is a song who”s time has come and that”s really the case with it! CR It was bittersweet to see that you dedicated the song “When Your Love Comes” to John O”Donohue who died so unexpectedly and so young. He was an amazing human being. LB I was very friendly with John, and for those who didn”t know who he was, he was a wonderful Irish man who was a Catholic priest who had left the priesthood in somewhat controversial circumstances because of his beliefs and his difficulty with the institution of the Catholic Church, particularly in relation to its treatment of women. Over the next 10 years he wrote some really phenomenal books, the best known of which is called “Anam Cara” which is the Irish for “soul friend”. I think it is one of the most important books to have come out of Ireland in the last 50 years. It has been translated and read throughout the world. He was a very beautiful man and a very good friend. He was great fun as well as being deeply spiritual and a great literary figure. But he was just a great west of Ireland man with a deep belly laugh that loved life and loved nature. When I decided to write a song for John, I just didn”t want it to be a sad song. I wanted the song to be a celebration of new love, because that”s what he would have wanted. CR Another song on this CD that I think is a hidden gem”I haven”t really heard anybody mention it and I was really struck by it. I had this little film that started playing when I listened to it, and that is “Sunday”. Tell us a little bit about that one. LB Funny you”re asking about this one after asking me about John, because this is a song that was inspired by an appalling rant by an Irish bishop who is now a cardinal. About a year and a half ago, he came on to the Irish people with this incredible criticism of people who were leaving the church and finding alternative ways to finding God and spirituality. It was just a very pompous arrogant rant on his behalf. It might have been listened to or taken in 10 or 20 years ago when the Church still had the control it thought it had, but fortunately people don”t take this sort of nonsense very seriously anymore. My response to his rant was to write a song, which I suppose, (laughing) is about not going to mass on Sunday. It”s about choosing to be on the outside of the church and acknowledging the bells and acknowledging the ritual and of course the right of people to engage with their God however they choose to do so. The reality for me is that the God I definitely don”t understand in this world exists in nature, music and people. The only reason that it works for me is because it is not an angry song. I don”t believe that bitterness solves problems but I do believe it is important to express how you feel. Kind of like the song, “I Am Not At War With Anyone”. Another powerful song but its not an angry song. To Be Continued… We”ll have the conclusion of Luka Bloom”s interview with Cindy in the April edition of The Celtic Connection. Luka Bloom”s new album, “Eleven Songs” is available on his website: www.lukabloom.comKBCO & Celtic Events presents Luka”s only Rocky Mountain concert will be June 3rd at the Soiled Dove Underground in Denver. Tickets go on sale Tickets $30 for reserved seats.