The Green Bunch of Joy. Traditional Music from Armagh and Down

June 17, 2013

Dermot Rafferty’s new CD “The Green bunch of Joy” represents a family inheritance of traditional music from Armagh and Down largely of the  Rafferty / Savage legacy going directly back through five generations. Its reach also draws from the collections of Patrick Mc Gahon, Luke Donnellan, Edward Bunting, the playing of the Mc Cusker brothers and from local flute band music in a truly impressive presentation from a superb flute player, interpreter and arranger.

Along with Seamus Sands on fiddle and Emily Rafferty on the flute, a variety of reels, jigs, dance tunes, airs and laments are presented. The legacy of his uncles Benedict Savage and Hugh Savage from Outlacken and his grandfather Henry- (who played for the dancers at the Tenants Ball in Ballymoyer Estate for the Hart-Synnott family) is strongly present. An extract from the Newry Reporter from the 5th of December 1903 and referring to the Tennant’s Ball records that–

“The dancing began at eight o clock, the music being supplied by Mr Henry Savage whose performances on the violin were much appreciated from start to finish.  Fun and frolics flew fast and furious. Reels, quadrilles, barn-dances polkas etc., succeeded each other in rapid succession.’

The writing in the rest of the article is a great insight into another era – it reads like Jane Austin from a century earlier.

The legacy also includes Henry’s father, also Henry, and grandfather Hugh Savage who was playing the fiddle in the 1820’s.

Dermot’s uncle Paddy Rafferty who played in the Jackie Hearst Trio, and a prominent Newry Comhaltas member was also a strong influence.

But Dermot Rafferty, creator of this collection, is not come to do a mere preserving of tunes as their heir to this dynasty. The recordings represent a transforming presentation of this body of music, a distinctive purity of expression and rhythm that thoroughly enhances the legacy.

In fact the impression rises from time to time that we are hearing the very first performances of these tunes as they arrived in pristine emergence out of the deeps of south Armagh and south Down in the past centuries. Again there is a feeling that the various reels and jigs and dance tunes and  slow airs recorded  were each taken aside beforehand, and any sense of  wear and tear from constant usage gently removed, the gatherings and accumulations of countless sessions down the years softly erased, and all re-polished and represented.

Two pieces in particular highlight exceptional ability. Dermot’s interpretation of the “Irish Cry”, a funeral lament in several parts, collected by Bunting in south Armagh, is one of the rarities of this collection. The form is reputed to be very old with references as distant as the 10th century and the piece, as arranged and played on the flute reveals a rare depth of musical creativity and sensitivity.

Another very impressive item is the arrangement by Seamus Sands of “The Wild Geese” a tune dated back to the 1600’s  and collected from Patrick Quinn,  reflecting perhaps the loss felt by the Irish exiles who fought in Europe. Usually played on the harp, the transformation to the fiddle as performed by Seamus represents a superb rendering of this powerful and poignant piece.

The music is all played unaccompanied which is very rare nowadays and is unfamiliar to many, but was the norm for the older generations.

Among many interesting tunes are “the Rocks of Pleasure” and “I’ll follow you over the mountain”- airs for the harp which came from Patrick Quin, the Armagh harpist who was taught by Patrick Linden of the Fews in south Armagh.

There is the revelation that many of the tunes played in Armagh and Down had their origins in Scotland, jigs collected by Paddy Mc Gahon whose manuscripts of 1817 can be found in the Laverty collection.

The CD represents a very comprehensive record and fresh setting of the great Armagh / Down legacy including such tunes as The Boyne Water which commemorates the battle of the Boyne “on both sides of the House”, along with the Jacobite tune “The White Cockade. In the dance tunes, Madame Bonaparte’s was a  favourites of Benedict Savage and the Sweets of May was recorded by his brother Hugh in 1952.

The Flute band inheritance commemorates the memory of the Ballyholland Foresters flute band who marched with St Patrick’s Newry  and bands from Jonesboro and Bessbrook

The CD cover details the background to all the tunes and contains pictures of Hugh Savage, Benedict Savage, Marita Savage, the Mc Cusker Brothers Ceili Band in the1950s, Ballyholland Irish National Foresters flute band 1911, pictures of Paddy Rafferty, of Dermot and Seamus Sands and the modern  flute playing Raffertys, Niall, Liam, Dermot, Emily and Seamie.

Dermot Rafferty deeply knows his music and the history of that music and this collection brings a proud inheritance to fresh levels of presentation, a presentation that would deeply satisfy all those ancestors for whom the music was the heart and soul of their existence.