By Ray O’Hanlon
Just before the U.S. women’s soccer team took the field against Germany in Montreal for the World Cup semi-final, the San Jose Mercury News carried a report which stated: “The forgotten woman on the U.S. roster suddenly has emerged as a viable option to lead the No. 2 Americans heading into a colossal semifinal showdown against top-ranked Germany in Montreal.”
The “forgotten” player was Kelley O’Hara.
After scoring the game clinching second goal against the Germans, O’Hara – whose full name is Kelley Maureen O’Hara no less – had secured her 2015 Women’s World Cup legacy.
The Irish American who wears the number 5 jersey would again take the field in Sunday’s triumphant World Cup final clash against Japan, a game that was a repeat of the lineup four years ago which ultimately went Japan’s way after a penalty shootout.
The Mercury News story left readers in no doubt that O’Hara embodies what might be described as a “fighting Irish” approach to the game.
“It took a bloodied nose to stop Kelley O’Hara in her debut at the 2015 Women’s World Cup,” the report stated in its opening line.
And it continued: “The former Stanford star was forced to leave the United States’ quarterfinal game against China last week because of a collision in the box. Now she’s hoping that hour of energizing soccer she provided a stagnant American offense will lead to more opportunities Tuesday.
And then that prescient line: “The forgotten woman on the U.S. roster suddenly has emerged as a viable option to lead the No. 2 Americans heading into a colossal semifinal showdown against top-ranked Germany in Montreal.”
Kelley, 26, and the 2009 season college player of the year, was ready for the call.
According to the Mercury News, O’Hara had “created quite a rooting section” after her hour long performance against China in the quarter final.
“Some of the country’s leading soccer analysts said she deserves more playing time,” the report said.
O’Hara has been variously described as “fiery” and as a “grinder.”
She certainly doesn’t lack for commitment, being one of those players who both defends and attacks.
The U.S. was one goal up against Germany – after a well-struck penalty from the excellent Carli Lloyd – when O’Hara took the field as a sub.
Up to that point, the U.S. attack had tended to melt away due to a lack of players up front, particularly in the striking area right in front of the German goal.
O’Hara put an end to that by getting her foot to a ball sent across the goal by Lloyd, who would go on to score a spectacular hat trick in Sunday’s final.
O’Hara, a Georgia native, is the daughter of Dan and Karen O’Hara. She has a brother named Jerry, and a sister named Erin.
“She is of Irish descent,” states Wikipedia.
That’s for sure.
In Sunday’s final, O’Hara was subbed in for the final third of the game which the U.S. won by the impressive margin of 5-2.
She didn’t score.
But at that point she didn’t have to. The game was pretty well won.
When the final whistle was blown, Kelley Maureen O’Hara took her deserved place alongside the rest of America’s soccer heroines.
Forgotten no more.
John Dunleavy (right) with John Fitzsimons on Fifth Avenue.
By Ray O’Hanlon
Not for the first time in recent years a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade after what some parade insiders have described as a “coup” aimed at sidelining longtime parade chairman, John Dunleavy.
Dunleavy remains chairman of the parade organizing committee, but in a dramatic move that may well have shifted the axis of power in the parade organization, committee vice chairman, Dr. John Lahey, has been named as “chair” – apparently of the crucial parade corporation, this in a release issued Wednesday by the public relations firm that acts on the parade’s behalf.
The Echo has learned that the dramatic change in the parade power structure was brought about in a conference call on Tuesday involving a number of top parade officers.
John Dunleavy was not included in the call, and indeed was out of the country and in Ireland when the conference took place.
One parade source told the Irish Echo that Dunleavy was not informed of the outcome of the meeting and may well have only found out when contacted Wednesday by supporters in the parade organization – this after a report on the Irish Central website that Dunleavy had been ousted.
However, the press release presented a more nuanced picture of what had transpired, or what was in the process of evolving.
It stated: “John Lahey, PhD, long-time vice chair of the Board of Directors of St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc., the organization which owns and produces New York City’s 253-year-old St. Patrick’s Day Parade, has been named chair, with the authorization to add a second lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender group to the parade.
“John Fitzsimons was named Vice Chairman of the Board at the June 30 meeting. Lahey and Fitzsimons were instrumental in arranging for Out@NBC to participate in the 2015 St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
“Out@NBC has been invited to march again in the 2016 parade.
“Lahey and Fitzsimons were authorized to represent the Board of Directors: To select a second LGBT group to march in the 2016 Parade; To negotiate and renew the TV broadcast of the Parade with long-time partner WNBC and to develop and implement a communications and public relations plan to communicate clearly and comprehensively to the media and all other stakeholders in the Parade, the decisions and activities of the Board of Directors with respect to these recent actions and all important future decisions and actions.”
Irish Central recently reported that Mr. Dunleavy was seeking an alternative to parade broadcaster WNBC and that he remained implacably opposed to the participation of an organized gay group in the parade.
The press release continued with words from Dr. Lahey, president of Quinnipiac University – a highly respected figure in the parade organization and broader Irish American community, and someone who has been an increasingly crucial figure in attracting financial support and sponsorship for the parade.
“With determination, and humility, the Board of Directors is committed to building on the tradition of celebrating the contributions of all men and women of Irish descent through the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City,” Dr. Lahey said.
“We honor the values, the sacrifice, the great heart, of those who have come before and look to inspire those who come after.”
The release stated that John Dunleavy would continue in his role as “chair of the Parade Committee of the Board of Directors, responsible for organizing the affiliated organizations marching in the parade March 17.”
The release concluded: “In approving all of these new policies and decisions, the Board of Directors of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc., underscores its authority and responsibility as the sole legal and fiduciary for the policies, finances and the general welfare of the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a responsibility it takes quite seriously.”
Mr. Dunleavy had indicated some weeks ago that he intended to seek another two year term as chairman when parade voting delegates gathered in the fall to vote for parade officers.
But it appears that his effort to shift broadcasting rights, and his opposition to any organized gay participation in the parade, were crucial catalysts in leading to this week’s events.
What remains unclear is how precisely Mr. Dunleavy will react to these latest developments.
One parade insider told the Echo that Mr. Dunleavy was still “unconditionally” the parade chairman, regardless of what had been decided at the Tuesday conference call.
Another expressed concern that the parade itself could be endangered by strife within the parade organizing structure as a result of this week’s events.
One group that favorably viewed the apparent sea change in the parade organizing structure was Irish Queers, which has protested its exclusion from the parade each year by mounting a picket on Fifth Avenue.
Said the group in a statement: “The reasons behind Dunleavy’s ouster are something to celebrate. In the referendum on May 22, Ireland roundly rejected homophobia and the authority of the Catholic church to dictate Irish culture.
“Irish Queers and its predecessor, the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, have staged the same battle at the parade. We have posed the legacy of Irishness as a powerfully diverse set of experiences – and a history of throwing off chains – against the religious vision of Irishness as a closed, provincial identity that erases so many people’s real lives. The question of whether queers can take our place in Irish history and culture is now settled.”
The Federal Building in Lower Manhattan
By Ray O’Hanlon
The Irish were in the thick of the fight for American independence.
Lately, they seem to be absent from the ranks of new Americans.
This would certainly appear to be the case in the specific – though not necessarily definitive – context of two swearing-in ceremonies for new citizens held in New York in the run-up to the July 4th holiday.
The first ceremony, held on June 19th and conducted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was held, according to a release, “in celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month.”
150 new Americans from 42 countries were sworn in at the gathering in the Federal Building at 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan.
Ireland was not among the 42.
In a second ceremony conducted Tuesday of this week at Brooklyn’s historic Old Stone House, 20 new citizens from 17 countries participated.
Again, Ireland was absent from the list of nations in a ceremony which, according to a release, was part of “USCIS’ annual Independence Day celebration.”
The two New York ceremonies were but a fraction of more than fifty naturalization ceremonies being held across the country from July 1 through July 4.
But given that they were in New York, the Irish absence – in what is the fiftieth anniversary year since passage of the 1965 immigration reform act – appeared all the more glaring.
Many Irish immigration advocates see the ’65 act as a closing of the door to large scale legal Irish immigration to the United States.
Dr. Lori Gallagher (third from right) and some of her students.
By Evan Short
A Texas-based academic who visits Belfast every two years as part of the course she teaches says she feels like the current Stormont impasse shows that society is moving on.
Dr. Lori Gallagher, who runs the William J Flynn Center for Irish Studies at the University of St Thomas in Houston, told the Irish Echo that because the parties were dealing with “bread and butter issues” it marked a development when so much of the past dealt with conflict related issues.
The last time Dr. Gallagher visited the North was in 2013 when flag protests gripped Belfast, but this year the crisis is about the implementation of budgetary and fiscal policy.
Gallagher said the peace process was a key part of the curriculum at the university alongside the wider cultural study of Ireland.
She had traveled to Ireland to visit a number of organizations working to bring Catholics and Protestants together.
“Because peace and reconciliation are a cornerstone of our Irish Studies program, we were pleased to have the opportunity to meet with Rev. Bill Shaw again this year and learn from him as a peacemaker within the community of North Belfast, as well as the wider community,” she said.
Conor Maskey from Intercomm, an organisation which works with former prisoners who help to maintain the peace, said he had met the Texas students to explain how work on the ground was developing a shared future.
“I spoke to them about the dynamics of the peace process and what I tried to get across was that, okay, Stormont is in crisis and while the arguments have a number of constitutional political issues related to them, it is really boiling down to how you treat the poorest in society.
“For years we had people crying out for Stormont to get down to bread and butter issues and that is what we have.
“The political institutions are in danger, but it’s over a political argument,” Maskey said.
Jimmy Crowley began writing the “Songs of Cork” column in Evening Echo in 2002.
By Daniel Neely
I imagine there isn’t a music lover from Ireland who doesn’t recognize the name of the great Corkman Jimmy Crowley. From his work with Stokers Lodge to his own solo projects, Crowley has forged a reputation over the past 50 or so years as one of the legendary balladeers. Earlier this year he launched “Songs for the Beautiful City: The Cork Urban Ballads,” a magnum opus that contains nearly 150 songs and tells an unparalleled story of place and history. Thoroughly researched and brilliantly realized, it’s a collection for the ages.
This book has been years in the making. A student of song his whole life, Crowley has shared his vast knowledge publicly since 2002 when he first began writing the “Songs Of Cork” column published in Cork’s Evening Echo newspaper. All of the songs that appear in this new book were carefully curated from Crowley’s Echo column and together form a select group that thoroughly represents the humanity of the Cork people. There are age-old ballads, songs of more recent vintage, songs to which Crowley given a melody, and a small number of Crowley originals (including his beautiful “Queen of the White Star Line,” which is a personal favorite) – it’s a stunning selection. This is a work that stands in the grand tradition of books like “Songs of the People,” the seminal collection Sam Henry put together for his own weekly newspaper column in Coleraine’s the Northern Constitution newspaper, 1923-1939, and is a wonderful parallel.
The songs here are arranged in a series of categories organized by theme. These include “Calendar Feasts and Urban Occasions,” “Children’s Songs, Skipping Songs and Some Cork Cants,” “Skipping Songs,” “The Comic Muse,” “Cork Harbour, The Lee and Beyond,” “Early Songs,” “Emigration and Urban Attachments,” “Love Songs,” “Nationalist, Subaltern and Didactic Songs,” “Parallel Ballads,” “Portraits,” “The Sound of History,” and “The Sporting Muse.” Each of these sections is led by a short essay which includes basic information about the song type as well as a small bit of lead commentary about the songs contained therein.
The songs are presented on facing pages to allow easy reading and include basic notation (without harmony), lyrics, commentary and in some cases, photographs. The songs themselves are truly wonderful. Crowley’s notes about each one are romantic and engaged, communicate his deeply felt passion for the subject matter, present little bits of Cork-specific folklore and tale, and signal his deep historical understanding of their cultural context. There is a wonderful ease in Crowley’s prose that communicates his wit and humor, and which makes the commentary that accompanies the songs come alive.
Don’t read music? Not a problem. Included in the book’s purchase is the “balladcard,” which is stuck inside its front cover with a bit of sticky rubber. The balladcard looks like a credit card, carries a unique download code and includes instructions on how to download the tracks directly to your computer. The download itself consists of Crowley singing each song once though without accompaniment or ornamentation – strictly the bare bones. These tracks have the feel of old field recordings, but Crowley’s voice is magical and helps make them easy to listen to and learn from. It’s a wonderful addition and should be a standard approach for any songbook like this.
Crowley has done something remarkable here. “Songs for the Beautiful City” is a brilliant collection and a must have not only for singers but for any person who has an affinity toward or a nostalgia for Cork. Given the scope of its contents and the years of research it represents, this book is an indispensable scholarly document and will certainly go down as one of the classic song collections. However, it’s also full of soul. Crowley is an engaging writer and the songs and stories he tells here are the sort that reach people in visceral ways. I can’t recommended this one highly enough. Visit www.jimmycrowley.com for information about purchasing.
Daniel Neely writes about traditional music for the Irish Echo each week. His website is www.danieltneely.com.
Martina and Larry Hayes. Family photo.
By Irish Echo Staff
Ireland this week is again reeling in shock after the sudden and tragic deaths of citizens overseas.
This time, however, it was not accidental death, as in the case of the California balcony collapse tragedy, but rather as a result of cold-blooded terrorism that left three Irish among the dead in the ISIS-inspired Tunisia beach massacre.
Martina Hayes, a mother of one and her husband Larry, from Athlone, County Westmeath, along with mother of two, Lorna Carty, were among the 38 killed in the weekend attack.
Billy Kelly, brother of Martina Hayes, told the Pat Kenny radio show that the family were devastated by the loss.
“These people, they shot my sister and her husband in cold blood,” a distraught Mr. Kelly said.
“Larry was an inspector with Bus Éireann, and my sister Martina was a housewife, a very proud housewife, and they were just a loving family who were finishing out their holiday when they were gunned down,” Mr. Kelly said.
The couple had been married for more than 30 years.
In the grim aftermath of the slaughter, after which the gunman was killed by Tunisian security forces, Irish Foreign Affairs Minister, Charlie Flanagan, issued a statement in which he said the process of full and formal identification of victims was continuing in Tunis and would take a period of time before it was completed.
Irish diplomats in Tunisia were working closely with the Tunisian authorities, he said.
Said Mr. Flanagan in his statement: “Contact has been made with family members of those citizens for whom there is grave concern. The embassy team is also continuing to provide all possible consular support to the bereaved family of the Irish citizen who had been confirmed yesterday as being among the deceased.
“This is a tragic and difficult time for the families and loved ones of those concerned. I appeal for their privacy to be respected and for sensitivity to be observed in the reporting of this tragic event.
“As of now, the Irish Embassy team is not aware of any other cases of potential concern in relation to Irish citizens. We will continue to actively monitor the situation pending full identification of all those who have died and who have been injured.
“My department’s travel advice for Tunisia, which was changed yesterday in the light of the attack, is to exercise extreme caution. While the Tunisian authorities have declared this incident to be over, we would urge Irish citizens in Tunisia to remain vigilant and to follow any instructions given by the police, tour operator, and hotel staff.
“I have condemned in the strongest terms these terrorist attacks,” said Mr. Flanagan. who also condemned the weekend attacks in France and Kuwait.
“I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the families of all the deceased.
“The Ambassador of Ireland accredited to Tunisia, David Cooney, also met EU counterparts in Tunis today to review the situation on the ground. The embassy team will keep me and the government updated through the days ahead.”
Salon Diary / By Karen Daly
Conor McCourt and Laure Sullivan.
The IAW&A Salon at the Cell Theatre occurred on that revered date in the Irish cultural calendar: Bloomsday. Despite many competing events around town, we had a great crowd enjoying a night that was variously described as “raucous,” “invigorating” and “inspiring.” The line-up featured our first mini film festival, arranged by Conor McCourt and Laure Sullivan, as well as poetry, fiction, stories, song and of course, the famous Molly Bloom. In honor of the wanderings of Ulysses and Leopold Bloom, several odysseys were presented throughout the evening.
Poet Tony Pena got us off to a roaring start with three poems: “A dance before New York,” and his Irish tribute “Upon kissing a Celtic princess” and “The island of untitled poems,” which implores poets to name their works.
Conor McCourt and Laure Sullivan introduced the first brief film segment. “The Irish Tapes,” produced by John Reilly and Stefan Moore in association with Global Village. Reilly and Moore shot over 100 hours of footage on videotape in Northern Ireland from 1971-1973. Our sample showed a man on short release from Long Kesh prison to get married.
The three other segments were interspersed during the night. They included “Guard Vincent: Fatima Mansions Beat,” in which filmmakers McCourt and Sullivan in 1999 followed police officer Vincent on his beat in one of the toughest housing projects in Dublin. The result was a cinéma vérité look at the people, the place and the long-term effects of drug and alcohol abuse, crime, and systemic dysfunction. Filmmakers are trying to do a follow-up and return to the place and re-visit the people Vincent encountered on his beat.
In “Camino by Sea,” filmmaker Dónal Ó Céilleachair documents what happens when a writer, a musician, an artist and a stonemason follow an ancient route from Ireland to Spain in a daring voyage.
And finally came “Lazarus Running,” a tale of redemption and salvation in the story of “Guinness Book of World Records” marathon runner and New York City bar owner Tom McGrath, who was on hand at the Salon to share his story.
Next up your Salon Diarist read a piece of memoir called “Listen.”
John McDonagh told the story of “How the Irish peace process cost me one million dollars.” He and a friend spent seven long days in Los Angeles auditioning for “The Amazing Race,” which he calls “one of a long list of reality TV shows that I was rejected from.”
Another New Yorker’s story came from Jack DiMonte. A young man showed up at his door at 3 a.m. with an improbable tale about an acquaintance of Jack’s, a neighbor who had been in a car accident in the Bronx and needed $22 to get home in a taxi. He gave over the money, but the twist was about how he was reimbursed and the famous person involved.
Salon producer and the night’s host John Kearns read an excerpt about Sarsfield Logan, S.J., from his multi-generational novel in progress, “Worlds.”
In honor of the Summer Solstice, Margaret McCarthy read her poem “The Tangible Illumination of Summer” from her poetry collection “Notebooks from Mystery School.” She read: “One morning I sank into summer and summer sank into me; unexpectedly.”
Tom Mahon, then, read a chilling story called “Revenge” from his collection.
Every Bloomsday celebration needs a Molly Bloom and we were privileged to have Nicola Murphy perform a ravishing soliloquy. An accomplished actor, seen this year in the Irish Rep’s “Da.”
An “Ulysses-ian” evening concluded with our own guitarists Brendan Costello and John Kearns accompanying soulful singer Guenevere Donohue on three Joyce-inspired selections: Tom Waits’s mournful neo-trad “The Briar and the Rose,” a rockin’ Doors sea-song, “Land Ho!”, and an IAW&A sing along about Dublin’s sweet “Molly Malone.”
A longer version of the Salon Diary, with links and contact information, can be found at iamwa.wordpress.com. The next Salon takes place on Tuesday, July 7, at Bar Thalia, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, beginning at 6 p.m.
By Evan Short
A successful Irish businessman, who built his fortune by outfitting McDonald’s restaurant kitchens around the world, has turned his attention to informing the American public of the dangers of heart disease – which he claims are being hidden by mainstream medicine.
Dubliner David Bobbett, through his Irish-funded documentary entitled “The Widowmaker,” has highlighted the argument that heart attacks are not random events, but happen because of disease that can be easily, and cheaply, detected.
Four years ago, when he was 51, Bobbett found out that even though he always lived a healthy lifestyle, and had played plenty of sport, his body had the arteries of an 87-year-old man.
He found this out by taking a calcification test in hospital, a relatively simple procedure that the documentary claims is not made widely available because of “medical politics.”
Narrated by actress Gillian Anderson, and featuring Larry King, the documentary has been well received, picking up a Mass Impact Award at last year’s Boston Film Festival.
Nevertheless, Pat Caslin, from the Irish Heart Disease Awareness charity, told the Irish Echo that powerful interest groups were preventing calcification tests from being offered on a widespread basis.
“This test has been around for thirty years, but are you more likely to make money off a hundred dollar test, or a fifty thousand dollar stent operation?” Caslin said.
“There are over a thousand research papers that back what the film is saying. Cardiovascular diseases are the biggest killer of both men and women in the U.S. and globally, and the majority of heart attacks are completely preventable.”
One expert in the documentary says that the American healthcare system is not set up for prevention, but is rather geared to treat conditions, which is much more lucrative.
The documentary argues that by taking the hundred dollar test you can find out if you are at risk – and then take steps to prevent it.
The documentary, say its backers, is a hard-hitting film that pulls no punches, from the title, to the repeated message from the featured experts who claim that thousands of people could still be alive today had the test been made more widely available.
More information is available at www.widowmakerthemovie.com and the movie can be viewed on Amazon.
Honorary Consul Noel Trainor
By Ray O’Hanlon
The grief spanned the Atlantic.
It spanned America.
It also spans the wide stretch of ocean between the continental United States and Hawaii.
A fund has been established in Hawaii to assist the families of the five Irish J-1 students and one Irish American student who died after the June 16 Berkeley balcony collapse.
And an investigation by Berkeley authorities has pinpointed rotted wooden joists that linked the balcony to the apartment building.
The Berkeley J1 Student Tragedy Aloha Fund is administered by The Society of The Friends of St. Patrick Hawaii, an organization formed in Hawaii in 1955 to provide assistance to Irish immigrants, native Irish, and those of Irish descent.
Information can be found at fosphawaii.ning.com.
“This is a tragedy that touches us all,” said Noel Trainor, Ireland’s Honorary Consul to Hawaii.
“The funds we raise will assist the immediate needs of the students and their families, who must now cope with the loss of their children in a place far from home,” said Trainor, who is a Belfast native.
The Society of the Friends of Saint Patrick chairman, Bill Comerford said: “In a week full of tragedies and sad headlines we Irish of Hawaii, are particularly sympathetic to these families facing such sad losses so far from home.
“We wish to aid those who face this tragic circumstance and ask those of like feelings to join us by extending a hand of aloha.”
Contributions to the fund may be made in three ways:
- Visit any branch of American Savings Bank and deposit a check made payable to the Friends of Saint Patrick with a memo line Berkeley J1 Aloha Fund to Account # 81028 32968
- Mail a check to The Friends of St. Patrick, PO Box 2178, Honolulu, HI, 96805. The check should be made out to The Friends of St. Patrick and should include Berkeley J1 Aloha Fund in the memo line.
- Contributions may also be made online by visiting www.gofundme.com/J1tragedyfund.
Meanwhile, as the funerals of the five Irish students reached their end in Ireland, the cause of their deaths became starkly clear.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the balcony that collapsed was supported by wooden beams that were “severely dry rotted.”
The determination was made by Berkeley city inspectors.
“Reported the Chronicle: “City officials said they are recommending new regulations ‘to enhance the safety of all current and future buildings in Berkeley’ in the aftermath of the collapse of the fifth-story balcony at 2020 Kittredge St. early June 16.
“The changes would require new balconies and other waterproofed areas to be subject to more rigorous requirements for materials inspection and ventilation, the city said. The regulations would also require routine inspections for new and existing buildings within six months after the rules take effect and then once every five years.”
The New York Times reported that “the joists beneath the concrete balcony were extensively rotted in the spot where the structure collapsed.”
Added the Times report: “The wooden joists were ‘completely sheared off’ the building, the inspectors wrote, and ‘appeared to be severely dry-rotted.’”
The reported added, however, that city officials said that the scope of the report was limited, and that they were not calling the wood rot the official cause of the collapse.
Tim V. Smyth and Carol Anne McGowan, aka Hidden Highways, will be touring Ireland throughout the summer.
By Colleen Taylor
For Irish duo Hidden Highways, subtlety is the key to good music. Understatement, sophistication, and musical nostalgia are what define this Americana-folk act. Made up of Tim V. Smyth and Carol Anne McGowan, Hidden Highways resurrects mid-century America with each song they play, both the Johnny Cash style and the Bob Dylan profundity. But they aren’t a cover band. Hidden Highways views the best of 20th-century American folk music from an outside point of view, through Irish eyes. Perhaps that’s what makes their music special. They reproduce what historically made older folk artists great through the re-interpretation of an Irish background and innovative, original songwriting.
Hidden Highways is still in the first phase of its career. They only released their debut album, “Old Hearts Reborn,” in 2013. Right away, it was received enthusiastically by critics in Ireland. The Irish Times heralded McGowan and Smyth’s simple sound. However, while there is undeniable beauty in Hidden Highways’ scaled-back musical style, to label them “simple” is, in some ways, an injustice. The seamlessness of their sound in “Old Hearts Reborn” speaks to the time, thought and meticulous work that went into their songwriting. While the finished product might sound simple, the musical craftsmanship behind it is anything but. The songs invoke the past in a way that is easy and unforced. Such fluidity differentiates Smyth and McGowan from the typical run-of-the-mill 20th-century folk cover band or the average Cash fanatic. This duo has earned complete ownership of their music’s timelessness.
“The Western Line” is one of my favorites on the album. It opens with the softest of guitar chords, comparable to a lullaby, followed by McGowan’s gorgeously whispered vocals. Her voice is smoky and classic, like a folksy Judy Garland. This song is a truly exquisite ballad-lullaby whose slow, melodic tune has an instantaneously nostalgic effect. As much as Hidden Highways finds their inspiration in the old American West, they also recreate that periodization for the listener, so that you feel like you are right there, on the Western Line.
As with “The Western Line,” many other songs on the album, like “The End of the Road” and “The World Began with a Waltz,” mystify the ears and the mind. There is magic in the way the soft acoustic guitar sways in time with the sweet, heartbreaking vocals of McGowan and Smyth. Some of this is owing to the duo’s beautifully harmonized humming, or the benefit of modern-day technology, which creates an echoing, pulsing effect on some of the tracks, such as “Next Time Around.” Whatever the cause, time and time again, with each listen, the experience is equally as strong as the last time: the song removes you from present time and space, and places you in an otherworldly past, where life was simpler, but just as painful. These songs communicate a tragic air—they emulate the loss of the past as well as resurrect it sonically.
With musical powers like these, it’s no surprise that Hidden Highways has been touring the folk venues of Ireland frequently since their debut release in 2013. They’ve played sold-out shows twice in a row at the Kilkenny Roots festival. An American TV show, “The Red Road” even picked up one of their tracks for its soundtrack. After a stellar show in Limerick two weeks ago, the band plans to tour throughout Ireland for the summer.
Hidden Highways reminds us that some of the best music has already been made—decades, even centuries ago. But that doesn’t mean it’s dead and gone. That music still lives nowadays, and, as Smyth and McGowan evince, it can be re-created with fresh ears and voices. Visit Hidden Highways’ Facebook page or “Out on a Limb Records” for more information.
Colleen Taylor writes the “Music Notes” column each week in the Irish Echo.