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Eileen Gogan on Bring Your Own Hammer 

My friend Cathal Coughlan asked if I’d be interested in taking part in this project. I was intrigued by the idea and the subjects the source material covered. When Richard Mc Mahon sent me a recording of Mikey Kelleher’s “Female Cabin Boy” I was transfixed.

There is a bravery and naiveté to Mikey’s impromptu a cappella performance. I’m a big fan of old Irish and English Folk music and the collections of such made by Seamus Ennis and Alan Lomax and Jean Ritchie. I also love an English version of this song from the 1900’s called ‘Canadee-i-o’. I am familiar with Nic Jones’s version from the 1980s. It tells the same story of a young woman following her lover across the sea and disguising herself as a male sailor.

Richard suggested that Neil Farrell contribute an arrangement for my very stark recording and I am glad he did. Neil does a beautiful and subtle job. I recorded it without a metronome or click track to try and capture the impromptu feeling of the original recording. I have been lucky enough to live beside the sea a few times in my life. I spent long hours staring at the tides and learned that it has its own rhythm and pattern which is not at all metronomic.

Eileen Gogan, November 2023.

Carol Keogh on Bring Your Own Hammer

I was invited to contribute to Bring Your Own Hammer in late 2021 by one of the key artists on the project, composer Mike Smalle, and by the project directors, historians, Richard Mc Mahon and Niall Whelehan. The idea of a collaboration between academics and musicians was meat and drink to me – I needed little persuasion.

At that point a few themes were being mooted, one of which was “The Sea”, with a particular interest in arrivals and departures to and from Ireland in the 1800s. Having completed the writing of two darkly inspired albums as The Wicc, I wanted a subject that admitted a chink of light, but my mind went immediately to the emigration waves of the Great Famine.

Like many people, I wonder if distant relatives made the journey in those years. No way to know for sure without genealogical research, but I went to the emigration records and searched for the name Keogh. Now there are many names that might be connected to me over generations of marital changes but for a voyage of fancy this seemed a good place to start.

The ship’s manifest for the Dunbrody on 8th April 1849 names 176 people, ranging alphabetically from Bridges to Wickham, including more than 30 children, several of whom were infants, and two women that shared my name. In the records men were defined by their occupations and women by their marital statuses – even 15-year-old Bridget Bridges is listed as “spinster”. Consequently we have no insights into the backgrounds, life experience or possible skill-sets of Catherine (aged 20) and Biddy (25). We have to imagine them.

Like many other vessels given over to famine passage, the Dunbrody was also a merchant ship, commissioned by the Graves family from New Ross and built in Québec, Canada. Famously, the Dunbrody lost few lives at sea, a fact widely attributed to the stewardship of sea captain, John Williams. He’s claimed as a New Ross man but according to a handwritten record from 1938 found on he was “not from New Ross but was married to a New Ross woman” and his descendants went on to run a number of businesses on Quay Street in the town, including a “fancy warehouse”. It’s fair to say that Captain Williams deserves a song of his own.But back to the possibly related Keoghs. I say “possibly related” because they may have been related to one another and traveling together. It’s also not beyond the bounds of possibility that they are distantly related to me. In any case, they made it to the other side of the Atlantic and stepped off the Dunbrody in the port of New York, perhaps, as I pictured them, with a small suitcase each – a pair of packed valises as the song goes. We may have to imagine the rest but despite its dark origins, the song, like the journey they made, is in essence a story of hope.

Carol Keogh, May 2023

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Adrian Crowley on Bring Your Own Hammer

When Cathal Coughlan first contacted me about contributing to Bring Your Own Hammer, I immediately accepted the invitation. We arranged to meet for a coffee on the seafront near where I live in Dublin. 

He had asked me to think of somewhere close to the local train station and I suggested this café by the promenade. The café, incidentally, doubled up as a hairdressers which Cathal found very amusing, making some quip about us getting some highlights done while we were there. 

I was the first to arrive for our meeting and I took my coffee from the counter and sat by the window.  I recall gazing across at the yellow sand bags that had taken up permanent residence by the sea wall, and contemplating the open sea beyond.

Cathal arrived and eloquently explained the concept behind the project, describing the deep well of material we were invited to draw from, thanks in no small part to his historian friend,  Richard. 

It was clear from the beginning that this was to be a new approach to songwriting for me. I had been writing songs for decades and had always felt like my inspiration comes from all manner of mysterious places, and seldom had I formally researched anything ahead of putting a lyric to music. 

In the months that followed, I found myself divining for magic threads.  My notebook filled slowly with my longhand cursive, transcribing from newspaper archives and court sessions, first-hand accounts of hardship, digitised manuscripts written in ink, epistolary missives, diaries, eyewitness incident reports, transcripts and essays. 

 I spent long hours at library desks and kitchen tables, on trains and in departure lounges. Reading and reading. Often  I was lead along by instinct or chance. I found real-life stories. Stories of strife and resilience, stories of adversity and struggle, stories of longing and of poverty, stories of survival and failure, stories of misery and sadness, stories of minor triumph,  stories of loss and disappointment, stories of the fields, stories of the shoreline, stories of the streets, stories of the workhouse, the prison yard, the courthouse, stories of hunger and yearning, stories of the open seas, stories of the human spirit. 

I felt enrapt by these figures of the past and what they lived through. And their names visited me in my sleep.

I am thankful for the seafront rendezvous that day and for the songs that followed. I hope these songs will find a place in the world and will, in time, live a life of their own.

Adrian Crowley, September 2022.