Welcome back one and all within The Craneskin Bag! I do hope the new moon this spring-tide is hearkening to your inner directives and allowing them to push you deeper along your own chosen path in this wilderness we call life. There is something about the burgeoning birth of energy outside right now, teeming with the electric buzz of spontaneous potential that sets us earthly inhabitants to rejuvenate along with all of natures kindred. The earth has truly awoken from its wintry dream and is ready to devour an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. Take a deep breath and hold hands with your wild twin, it is time to descend, to ride the wind within, The Craneskin Bag.
The Middle Kingdom~
This month I would like to introduce to you all an appropriate soundtrack for the spring-time, The Middle Kingdom. This work marked my 8th studio album and provided the soundtrack for my first play of the same name. The Middle Kingdom is based upon the Irish myth 'Tochmarc Étaíne' or 'The Wooing Of Étaíne.' It is preserved in the early 12th century 'Lebor na Huidre,' yet was recorded in the language of the 8th century. I was inspired to delve into the vast literary arena of playwriting after studying the works of Irish poet and playwright, W.B. Yeats. Like Yeats I wanted to preserve the old stories and mythology of Ireland in the best way I knew how, with the mighty pen and the heroic harp. My wish was to weave new strands within the tapestry of myth and remind the listener why these stories need to be told.
The music for The Middle Kingdom was not recorded in a traditional studio, but rather in what can best be described as a private classical sound cathedral called, Il Tempio Di Musica. Replete with a pipe organ harboring over 1,000 pipes, a harpsichord, and one of the top five grand pianos in America, this cathedral was actually built specifically to accentuate the nuances of the human voice.
The recording utilized an array of over 20 instruments as well as a medieval and a children's choir. It was truly the culmination of my life's work up to that point. I had been getting ever more theatrical with my band Lasher Keen as early as 2006 and this evolution of experimental theatricality eventually led to the writing of this work which was released in 2015 and is dedicated to the lasting memory of W.B. Yeats.
The Middle Kingdom is available now in my online shop as a vinyl record, CD or MP3 download. Supplies are limited on this one! Again I thank you all for your support in keeping the Bardic fires alive and well tended.
Recording The Middle Kingdom at ~ Il Tempio di Musica.
Men Who Eat Ringforts~
During our recent time apart this last month the awareness of all things Irish became spotlighted as the celebration of St. Patrick's Day on March 17th took place. Years ago I gave this day an alternative title, Irish Appreciation Day, because I personally wanted to broaden the focus of festivities towards celebrating the wealth of cultural heritage in Ireland as a country rich in the poetic splendor of mythology, folklore and archaic wisdom. For me, every day is Irish Appreciation Day, for in this verdant green world of glamour my spirit was birthed.
″The Harp of Erin″ painting by Thomas Buchanan Read
So, in light of this appreciation, I wish to share with you all something which deserves our attention and awareness. The Ring-fort also known as the Fairy-fort are Ireland's most prolific historical monuments, some are over 7,000 years old and they are intrinsically linked with the na sióga, the faeries of Ireland. These circular earthen mounds, often surrounded by an impenetrable fortress of windswept whitethorn trees, dot the Irish landscape in a subtle beauty unnoticed and often misunderstood by the world at large. This misunderstanding led to the publication of a book in 2020, Men Who Eat Ringforts by Sinéad Mercier and Michael Holly and featuring storyteller Eddie Lenihan.
The book describes how Ireland was once upon a time covered with over 60,000 of these enigmatic otherworldly ring-forts and how today there is sadly only half of that number remaining. Where did they go? Who exactly has this insatiable appetite that is eradicating these archaeological heritage sites? The answer is both complex and simple: modernity. Because of the decline of the Fairy-Faith in Ireland in recent decades these sites have begun to lose their sense of otherness and are becoming increasingly viewed as either being in the way of the development of infrastructure, or demolished out of an ignorant desire to clear scrub from the land. Yet one aspect of this remarkable book shows that those who dis-respect the faeries do so at their own peril.
As you would expect, the good-people are not taking this destruction lightly. One example of supernatural retribution is taking place on the M18 motorway between Crusheen and Gort where the partial destruction of a prominent fairy-fort, (seen in the photograph below) took place in order to pave way for the new motorway. There is an unusually high number of accidents occurring on this stretch of road and over half of the accidents occur right by the mutilated fairy-fort.
"..but sure, what could they expect after what they did to the fort?" replies a local man to Mr. Lenihan, who discussed the probability that the faeries have something to do with the high number of car accidents. Mr. Lenihan states very succinctly and explicitly,
"If you interfere with the property of the faeries, bad things will happen as a consequence."
The National Road Authority in Ireland responded to these claims by reporting that on that stretch of motorway there exists a micro-climate which causes freak hail storms to frequently occur. It is true that these "freak hailstorms" were responsible for the accidents, however, I would argue, along with the authors of this book, that this is raw elemental nature magic wrought by the fair-folk as retribution for the desecration of their ancestral home.
Another site under threat in Ireland is the Hill of Allen. I have a personal attachment to this hill because it is the ancient seat of Finn mac Cumhaill and also the site where I plan to record part one of my Illumination Tales story/song cycle. In 1859, during construction of a tower on the summit of the hill there was found a pit containing extra-large human bones...These were believed to be the possible remains of the Fianna Chieftain Finn.
Yet how could this culturally significant earthen monument turn into what is now a modern-day stone quarry? Gutted out and fast becoming a shell of its formal self? Worse than that, the exhumed stone from the hill is being crushed and transformed into motorways which are then in turn destroying fairy-forts. The literary legacy and mythical resonance of this sacred hill deserves to be protected at all cost. Irish poet and activist Desmond Egan is part of the Hill of Allen Action group campaigning for state control for the Hill of Allen on the grounds that it is a site of cultural and historical significance. In one of his protest-poems he writes,
"we the Irish
shinkwrapped without a squeak
and who gives a damn
that just outside the town
old serious things
are tumbling in the cement mixer
legends becoming a bypass."
There is good news though! A very special and sacred sceach, or whitethorn bush in County Clare, known as a meeting place for the faeries of Munster to convene before going to battle, was thankfully preserved by the efforts of Mr. Eddie Lenihan. The building of junction 10 on the M18 motorway would of willfully bulldozed this bush without an eye-blink, but thanks to Eddie's warnings of faerie retaliation the motorway decided to kink the road slightly to the east to avoid the faerie bush.
"Eddie challenged the gargantuan might of the advancing motorway to stop for a moment and consider the magical nuances that are built into the landscape. In doing so he created a moment for society to respect the unseen, the unknown and the not-yet understood."
~From, Men Who Eat Ringforts.
A Live show!?~
Just yesterday I was provided a rare opportunity for a live show at a local private gathering.
I preformed parts one and two of Illumination Tales, Poetic Magic From Ancient Ireland: Stories and Songs of Finn mac Cumhaill.
Twas a grand and very intimate occasion of which afterwards the audience instigated an impromptu Q & A asking questions of my writing process. It felt tremendously encouraging and validating to not only have my storytelling work be finally preformed but understood.
In this liminal time of next to nothing for live performance opportunity, I realize how important this medium of transmission is for me. The oral tradition of communicating and feeling the energy of these stories circulate in such a unique way gives the soul a sense of sustenance, place and peace.
In honor of the approaching Maytime I share with you now a song I recorded last year for the Illumination Tales film series. The words were taken from a 9th century Irish poem.
In keeping with the theme of this post, I will introduce to those who are not already familiar, with a folk duo from Dublin Ireland called, Tír na nÓg. Comprised of Leo O'Kelly and Sonny Condell, there original 3 albums recorded between 1971-1973 evoke an intimacy of comforting strangeness, of refined oddness. You quickly become confronted with harmonies that ache with a beautiful and distinct melancholy. The band is currently still active have released a new album of original material in 2015 entitled, The Dark Dance.