Tale of the Gael – Collège des Coudriers – 15.11.2013

Attending GLAS events in Geneva is often like heading home to Ireland for an evening without any need for Aer Lingus (and their stupidly early morning return flight); and last night was one of those occasions. Tale of the Gael is a kind of collective of musicians whose centre of gravity is Catherine Rhatigan and her harp.They perform themed evenings with a line-up that changes from show to show.

Last night’s show was inspired by the music of Turlough O’Carolan and the poetry of W. B. Yeats. The ensemble featured uilleann pipes, flute and tin whistle, fiddles, bouzouki and double bass, along with a woman who sang and recited poetry. Catherine stepped out from behind her harp to introduce each set of tunes and words, with many interesting stories about the parallels between the lives of Yeats and O’Carolan.

The music was wonderful and at times quite moving. I was happy to close my eyes and let it wash over me for the most part, but I also had a great view of the piper, Micky Dunne, whose technique was impressive to watch. He also told a story about his link to one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. (His wife is a granddaughter of The O’Rahilly, who was shot by a British machine gun and, as described in a poem by Yeats, wrote his dying words in blood in a doorway on Moore Street.) It felt special to hear him tell the story but even more special to listen to his solo rendition of the lament Róisín Dubh, by Seán Ó Riada. I’m sure it got the biggest round of applause of the whole evening.

I was also really pleased that Yeats’s He wishes for the cloths of heaven was included. It’s a short, but very beautiful poem that I’ve loved since my schooldays. I think I would have liked to hear even more poetry and songs during the evening – the tunes were excellent, but I start to miss the lyrics after a while!

All in all another superb evening of entertainment thanks to Denis McClean, the driving force behind GLAS. Music and poetry, stories and songs, and Micky Dunne wearing Finbar Furey’s shirt. (A long story…)

(I will admit that the one little disappointment for me on the night was the final song, Van Morrison’s Moondance. It’s a great song and the performance was musically good, but it was such a leap from everything that had gone before that it kind of broke the spell a bit I thought. I hope Catherine didn’t mind me saying that to her later on in the evening back at Charly O’Neill’s pub! She told me their next show will be based on the life of Brian Boru, another interesting character from Irish history. Maybe Denis will have a good reason to invite them back to Geneva for that one.)