When Aodh Mac Ruairí was a teenager, he said, he sort of moved away from the songs and even the Irish language that had played such a large part in his upbringing.
“It seems to be a natural progression,” Aodh says now. “Teenagers move away from what they’re used to, even the Irish language.
“But I find with the Irish language, anyway, people always return to it,” Aodh added.
When Aodh was in his mid-20s, he again embraced both. He has sung on a number of charity CDs and other recordings in recent years, and last month his own CD, “Seal Gan Ghruaim”, a new collection of traditional songs from around his native Rann na Feirste, was launched by acclaimed chef and singer Brian Danny Minnie at Leo’s Tavern in Meenaleck.
“I had a long-running interest in Irish music -- Rann na Feirste would be renowned for that,” Aodh said. “A steady stream of albums, books, poetry streamed out of Rann na Feirste for years. It has always done.”
Aodh and his siblings grew up surrounded by the culture of their home place, “so it was kind of second nature. You never thought you were any different to anyone else -- that was the way it is,” he said. “But certainly it affects you and it makes its mark on what you listen to.”
Aodh left to work in carpentry on London’s building sites in 1987 and while there, he often found himself listening to Donegal music. That’s what brought him back.
“I was listening to bands like Clannad and I would go and see them in London, and this is what made me realise the importance of Irish music and the Irish language, and it was just as much appreciated abroad as it was at home,” he said. Emigrants from all over west Donegal would come together for those concerts in London.
“It makes you realise that we have something that is valuable,” Aodh said. He already knew the music of Clannad. Living locally, he would often be in and out of Leo’s, where he would see members of Clannad perform. But he recalled in particular seeing Clannad perform before a full house at the Royal Albert Hall. “There was something amazing, you know?” he said.
Aodh spent about a decade in London before returning to Donegal in 1996. Around 1998 he began recording single tracks for different complications that were produced, including the Trad Trathnona series. After a while his wife, Geraldine, and others encouraged him to produce a CD of his own.
The song selection sounded like a very natural process. “That kind of happens automatically,” Aodh said. “I would be attracted to a certain type of song and the songs would choose themselves.
“I wouldn’t have to think too much about it -- they would have been songs I would have sung for years,” he said. The songs on the CD are local to the area.
“Most of them would have been sung in Rann na Feirste -- they still are today,” Aodh said. “And the next one, if there is a next one, I can expand a bit.”
Aodh recorded the CD in Manus Lunny’s recording studio in Mullaghdubh and Manus and his brother Donal both play on the recording, as does piper Mark Crossan. Donal is on the last track, “An Seanduine Dóite”. The song tells the story of a woman whose husband is some years her senior, “but he’s a bit of a rake as well,” Aodh said. “He’d be fond of the younger lassies.” The woman places a curse on her wandering man and suggests that if she found him lying in a bog hole with a broken leg, it wouldn’t end well for him. Then she said she would party away herself with younger men.
Another of Aodh’s favourites on the CD, “Ainnir Dheas na gCiabhfolt Donn”, is basically a love song, “as most of them are -- old Irish songs based on unrequited loves,” Aodh said. This song is sung by a man who cannot forget his great love, a woman with flowing brown hair. “He just memorises the time he spent with her and he will never forget her,” Aodh explained.
The song does not explain why the woman is no longer in the man’s life, but the pain her absence has caused him is palpable.
“What I like about most of these songs, they were written with a purpose,” Aodh said. “There was no formula like the pop songs of today. If they were written they were written for a reason by a real person who felt exactly what they were writing about.” That emotion comes through in the songs themselves, he said.
Though Aodh has a sean-nós quality in his singing, there is more of a modern Irish accompaniment to the songs on the CD. The slow ones are more basic, he said -- “just soft guitar and maybe some piano”. But the more upbeat songs have a more modern Irish musical feel to them; the artists steered away from some of the more traditional Irish musical instruments in the recording.
It sounded as if Aodh were not just carrying on the tradition of his parish, but also of his family with this recording. “My father would have sang, my aunt would have sang, my mother certainly would be musical as well,” he said. His grandmother was noted for her hymns and prayers. Three of his brothers -- Dónall, a producer and presenter at RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta; Tony, who won his section last year at the Oireachtas’ Corn Chuimhneacháin Cheolgeóirí Conamara and was to compete this past weekend in the Oireachtas Cómortas na Bhfear; and Seán Mór, who holds the honorary title of Mayor of the Lower Rosses, all sang with him at the launch at Leo’s. His sons, Odhrán, 13; Fíonán, 11; and Tiarnán, 6, are also singing, he said.
The CD’s title, “Seal Gan Ghruaim”, came from a Rann na Feirste writer. “In one of his songs he says, ‘a period without hardship beside the waterfall -- it means a period of life where you’re at please, when you’re content. A period of contentment -- that’s it,” Aodh said. “That’s it best translated.”
Asked if that was what he would like listeners to take from the recording, he said, “That’s what I imagined.”
“I imagined if they listened to this that’s exactly what they’d have, a period of 45 minutes of tranquility and enjoyment -- hopefully,” Aodh said.
“Seal Gan Ghruaim” is available at Ionad Cois Locha, Dún Lúiche; in the Cope in Anagaire; at the shop at Donegal Airport at Carrickfinn; at Siopa Chroichshlí, O’Donnell’s of Crolly; and in other local shops.