The Black Family Reunion – All That I Love About Ireland

Imagine in your head for a moment having the opportunity to meet someone who you have looked up to for many years.  Someone you have admired greatly.  Someone that you have up on a pedestal.  Someone you would dearly love to meet but never dared hope that your paths would ever cross.  Now imagine the opportunity has presented itself in which you might actually just meet this person.  Finally I should like you to imagine that feeling or encounter and then double it!  Such an occasion took place last night in my life…

IMG_2126.JPGMy sister Aoife and I journeyed to Dublin to attend the Black Family Reunion concert in Liberty Hall.  For many years now I have been a huge fan of Mary and Frances Black.  Not to mention having had quite the crush on Mary Black for many years…and still do!  After the concert we had an opportunity to meet the family and chat to them.  Finally that moment in my life which I never dared would take place was here.  I had the opportunity to actually speak with Mary and Frances Black…what did I come out with I hear you ask?!

Mary was the first one I approached…she greeted me warmly and very kindly signed my cd…and the words suddenly tripped out of my mouth before I could stop them…

“Ehh…we’re O’Reilly’s!” In my head I could hear myself shouting “Stop Dom stop! That isn’t what you wanted to say!”  Yet the words decided that they would keep on making their way out of my mouth before checking with Sense if they were meant to do so yet… “Yes, we’re from Newcastle…County Down!  We saw you in Belfast nine years ago…tonight…it was truly wonderful.”  What!? What even…the poor woman! Who is this stumbling stuttering fool making absolutely no sense in front of her!?  Why didn’t you tell her about the first time you listened to her sing One in a Million?  How you had to stop the car because you were crying so hard at the absolute beauty of her performance and storytelling.  That might have been an interesting story to relay!  Yet she was remarkably kind and grateful.  Mary was only too happy to pose for a photograph and we moved on.  I saw Frances up ahead and thought I would say hello…perhaps I’d have better luck with my words there…

I approached and said “Hello Frances…” so far so good I think to myself…I know whatIMG_2128.JPG you’re thinking dear reader.  How did I follow this one up!?  Well naturally with a “We follow each other on Twitter…”  Yes because what else would I say! In my head I found myself saying “No!! Don’t do it again! What is wrong with you, fool?  You have addressed crowds of hundreds of people and do so with total calm and a cool head!  Why not now?”  Frances was, like her sister, nothing but kind, welcoming and utterly charming.  We chatted about how Aoife and I were celebrating our thirtieth birthday and had travelled up from Newcastle for the show.  Why not tell Frances about how you were sat awestruck during the show as she beautifully sang All the Lies and how it is only now that you understand and appreciate the song?  Would that not have made some sense?!  Alas!

As we made our way down the stairs to leave I found myself thinking, Why?  Why didn’t I tell them?  Really if I had taken the time to stop and think then I would potentially have been able to tell both Mary and Frances just what the music of their family means to me.  Unfortunately I did not.  Fortunately I now have the opportunity to at the very least write about what their music means to me and hope that possibly they may read these words.  I never dared I would meet them…perhaps I can hope against hope that they will in fact read these words…what does the music of the Black Family mean to me I hear you ask?  Well quite simply…the music of the Black Family embodies everything which I love and hold so dearly about mother Ireland.

Shall we proceed?  I think we shall…

As I mentioned previously, the concert itself took place in Liberty Hall theatre.  This is significant as Liberty Hall was home to the Irish Civilian Army in the early twentieth century.  These brave men and women who struggled and fought with every fibre of their being for the rights of workers.  Many of these are rights which I certainly take for granted often in my daily life.  Even to be able to take the time to remember those heroes of Irish history who are oft times forgotten is time well spent and it is something I plan to remedy in my own life now.

The concert begins as many great music sessions do.  Somebody begins by giving us a song.  In this case it began with Shay, followed by Martin, Mary, Michael and eventually Frances.  Every one in their turn is given the opportunity to give their party piece as it were.  In between is a chance to hear stories of the songs themselves and what they mean to the performer.  At any given time one member of the family could be telling a story and another member might interject with another point, thought or joke.  It is such a lovely dynamic.  Sitting watching the family perform it is clear that you are indeed in the presence of a family as you watch how they interact with each other throughout the song.

There was much reference to the family’s parents and the many lessons learnt from them, not to mention references to the next generation of Black Family performers who were present at the concert.  It almost feels as though you are sitting in the middle of a family gathering and not a concert.  It was a real delight for me to see Roisin O’Reilly and Aoife Scott, daughters of Mary and Frances respectively taking photographs throughout the show.  They are artists whose progress I have followed with great enthusiasm and will continue to follow.

The music itself is a tremendous gift.  I could not begin to express every single feeling brought up by the music which I experienced last night.  What I can say however is that here in Ireland we have been given a most remarkable tradition of storytelling through song.  We are a nation of poets and singers.  We are revolutionaries and peacemakers.  We are the life of the party and yet carry great sadness.  We are one of the strongest people imaginable yet we have been oppressed and subjugated for so long.  However when we look at the history of Ireland the great thread that runs through our story is not just our temerity and unwillingness to yield to those who would try to step over us, but also our compassion and kindness for those we meet.  We are a nation still very much in tune with the land from which we have come.  We are not afraid to cry.  We are not afraid to say when our hearts have been broken.  We are not afraid to speak out against injustice and wrongdoing.  We are a nation of Lovers and Dreamers.  I am proud to call myself an Irishman.

If you were to ask me to illustrate the Spirit of Ireland I would tell you to listen to the music of such artists as Liam Clancy, Luke Kelly and the Black Family (amongst many!)  As one who enjoys singing a ballad or two I am fully aware of the great legacy they have given us.  To those of you who may be reading this that enjoy singing songs of Ireland but are unsure of yourself, I urge to remember how important your craft is.  You have no idea whose heart you are touching through your beautiful voice.  If you are up performing I invite you to take a look into the audience and find the guy who is sitting with his elbows on his knees propping his head up…look at the tears in his eyes and the smile on his face.  Perhaps you will catch his eye for just a moment and realise that yes…he gets it.  He has found the connection he has been seeking.  Your music has touched his heart and filled it with love and joy, or sorrow.  Perhaps you are singing about injustice and see that yes he gets it.  For the time you are singing you see that you have made this young man realise that he is alive.  Whether he has numerous moments such as this or just this moment is irrelevant…because right now, he is alive and knows that his life is a gift…he is Home and at Peace…

Why didn’t I tell them?

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