Posted by

If you go to Dublin, you must go see Kilmainham Jail; it is an incredibly moving place

lyrics by Melissa L. Tatum & Robbie O’Connell
music traditional
arranged by Robbie O’Connell
recorded by Robbie O’Connell
vocals Robbie O’Connell
bouzouki Aaron Jones
wooden flute Claire Mann
recorded at Cavern Studios, Tucson, AZ
recording engineer Bill Cashman

Here’s a preview sample of the song.

I am not a fanciful person, but the first time I toured Kilmainham Jail, I felt that if I pressed my hand against the stone walls, I would be able to hear the stories of those imprisoned there. When I stumbled across a slow air entitled “they have gone,” I knew I had to write this song. While my original lyrics were okay, they did not fully capture the feeling of being at Kilmainham, so I toted the draft to Robbie O’Connell’s songwriting class at Swannanoa, and it was there I learned how to polish lyrics, and transformed this song into what I wanted it to be. 
I was first introduced to Celtic music by the (now defunct) Tulsa Performing Arts Center’s Celtic music series. One of the first concerts I attended featured Mick Moloney and Robbie O’Connell. I didn’t purchase a CD that night, but Robbie’s version of Kilkelly haunted me for the next week, and my search for the album with that song also ended up with me purchasing his album Humorous Songs Live. Robbie quickly became one of my favorite singers (and songwriters!), and I was thrilled at the opportunity to take a songwriting class with him at the 2009 Swannanoa Celtic Week

An acclaimed singer and songwriter, Robbie O’Connell was born in Waterford, Ireland and grew up in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, where his parents had a small hotel. He began to play guitar and sing at age thirteen and soon became a regular performer at the hotel’s weekly folk concerts. In addition to his solo career, Robbie has performed and recorded with the Clancy Brothers, Mick Moloney, Jimmy Keane, Eileen Ivers, Seamus Egan, as well as with his cousins Aoife and Donal Clancy.  

He is accompanied by Aaron Jones and Claire Mann. Aaron is a member of the Scottish group Old Blind Dogs, and we met him several years ago when the Dogs were in Oklahoma. We didn’t get to know him very well until 2009, when he and Claire came through Arizona with 2Duos (now known as Litha), a group that plays folk songs from a variety of traditions. I love their music and their song choices and they are among my all time favorite performers to watch live in concert. They were also among the first people I approached about helping out with this CD. I knew they were fabulous musicians, but watching them behind the scenes in the studio brought home just how amazingly talented they are. Aaron is brilliant at developing accompaniment, and my jaw hit the floor when I heard Claire in the studio. For those of you familiar with Irish flute, all I need to say is Claire played a D flute in the key of B. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Irish flute, I can’t even begin to describe how much talent that takes… let’s just say that Irish flutes are not meant to do that….


The lyrics:

As you walk the prison yard, and the dusty cells and halls
the ghosts they clamor softly, hear their voices in the walls
from the hungry volunteer to the leaders in command
their lives all tell the story of our heroes and our land

CHORUS:Won’t you listen to the stones sing the song of Kilmainham
they tell of triumphs won and grieve the struggles lost
O can’t you hear their tale? O can’t you feel their presence?
Our heroes may be gone, but their spirits linger on

In Anne Devlin’s lonely cell, you can hear only silence
For she never would reveal the names of her comrades in alliance
Robert Emmett still declaims his defiance of the crown
Though the battle may be lost, he never will bow down

Hear the voice of Padraig Pearse, as he whispers his last prayers
Or Joseph Plunkett sighing, as his love for Grace he swears
In the execution yard, stands a plain wooden cross
to proclaim Irish freedom and remind us of the cost