Donegal historian and author, Seamus Harkin, has recently updated and reissued a book of songs and poems first published over a century ago by Neil McBride from Creeslough.
The photo above shows Seamus with his wife, Tessie together with Dermot MacIntyre and Mairead Mooney who both helped to launch the book.
As well as a published author Neil McBride is known as the only person ever to be defended in court by Padraig Pearse, one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising.
This seemingly unlikely event in Irish history happened as a result of the banned use of the Irish language at that time. In early 1900’s all carts had to display the name of the owner as an early form of vehicle registration and Neil, with the help of his friend Andrew MacIntyre, fashioned his name plate out of an old cocoa tin and put his name on in Irish.
As a Neil was deemed to have broken the law because his name plate was illegible (it wasn’t in English) and therefore illegal. He was fined 1 shilling at Dunfanaghy Parish Sessions.
Feeling aggrieved on his friend’s behalf Andrew felt passionately that Neil should appeal his fine and so approached another friend and local fellow member of the Gaelic League, Padraig Pearse, to see what could be done.
Pearse agreed to defend Neil McBride for free but, as history shows, this was his one and only time in court and he lost the case.
Fast forward to different times and, in his 1996 ‘Poets and People of Doe’ book, Seamus featured work by Neil Mc Bride. As a fellow Creeslough man he was interested in Neil’s work and therefore thrilled when he came across a copy of Neil’s book from 1905, called ‘Blta Fraoic’ or ‘Heather Blossoms’, which had been out of print for years.
Seamus says “Because this book is of cultural importance it deserves to be re-printed so that more people can see this great work. My reason for printing this book is to let people, especially the young, know the great wealth of talent we had in the parish.”
Two extra songs, which Neil had not composed when the original book was published, are added to the new version of the book.
‘Noreen Bawn’ is a song that tells the sad tale of young people having to emigrate and sometimes, as in Noreen’s case, returning with scarlet fever or tuberculosis. Seamus says this song is as relevant today as ever it was, though perhaps without the illnesses.
The other song to be inclulded is ‘The Castle of Doe’ which is a legendary story of how the castle, just outside Creeslough, was built.
“Music, singing, storytelling and local history form a large part of my life,” says Seamus. “For most of my life I have been an entertainer in one way or another so I understand the importance of Neil’s work. I’m delighted to play my part in bringing his work to new audiences.”
The launch of the republished book took place in The County Museum, Letterkenny on Friday the 5th August by Donegal Person of the Year 2009 and Altan frontwoman, Mairead Mooney.
Also helping to launch the book was Dermot MacIntyre, son of Andrew. He said “I’m delighted to be here as a neighbour and friend of Seamus Harkin.”
Any profit made from the sale of the book will be donated to the Muckish Project which is dedicated to the ongoing upgrading of the road and car park at the foot of Muckish Mountain.
Seamus explains, “As Neil lived at the foot of Cruckathee, in the shadow of Muckish Mountain, I think this is a fitting place to spend the proceeds of his book.”
Leave me a comment in the box below if you’re interested in buying a copy of the book. They’re on sale for €5 (£4).