I lost my heart to "The Galway Girl"
Two comments on this blog a while back alerted me to a controversy that broke out when the manager of an Irish bar in New York banned "Danny Boy" because its composer was English. (Quizzed about this in a Northern Ireland radio interview, apparently, he claimed to have banned the song not because of its origins but because he was tired of drunks butchering the song. Imagine that: a bartender shocked — shocked! — to find that drunks sing badly.)
Happily, Irish music in Ireland seems to shun such ideological purism. In more than one pub, I found myself singing and stamping along with the crowds to "Galway Girl," a smash hit that has become an Irish standard though composed by an American, Steve Earle. How thoroughly have the Irish embraced this wonderful tune? The singer Mundy, who recorded the song in English with Sharon Shannon on accordion, also recorded a version in Irish.
But cultural influences move in multiple directions, and Shannon and Mundy told an Irish radio interviewer how Earle had written the song after spending time at traditional music sessions in Galway. I like to think of the tune, then, as Earle's ode both to the girl whose "hair was black and her eyes were blue" and to Irish music itself.
The musical ecumenicism is no new thing, either. Luke Kelly of The Dubliners did not hesitate to tell audiences that the beautiful "Peggy Gordon" was of Scottish origin and had been a hit in America.
My exposure to Irish music is no deeper than one could expect of any acquaintance less than three weeks old. So far, though, the apparent avoidance of identity politics, whether among The Dubliners, among the pub musicians of Dublin and Belfast or among today's international stars, seems to have enriched this already rich music. Now, click on these links and start dancing.
© Peter Rozovsky 2008