A Cork poet known for his humour has added a note of poignancy to his latest collection, writes Pet O’Connell
IF HIS daughter had agreed to his matchmaking plan and married ‘The Man with the Chainsaw’, she might have been richer, but Seán Ó Muimhneacháin’s collection of songs would have been the poorer.
Not even close family members are spared as the Cork composer takes aim with pointed comic wit at subjects from the Prince of Wales to the Kerry Slug in his third volume of verse, released this week.
Macroom Oatmeal and Cúil Aodha cattle jobbers inspire their own songs and even the Examiner gets a mention in verses based on events real, fictitious, or which “come out of my imagination in times of contrariness,” says Ó Muimhneacháin.
Renowned for his Irish language compositions, the Cill na Martra poet’s English work is now aired in The Cuckoo Sings in May which traverses, in both languages and a macaronic mixture of the two, “the witty, the serious, the humorous, the melancholic, the sentimental, and the downright absurd”.
Despite having had a liberal dose of poetic licence applied to her romantic affairs (her fictional reward for rejecting a chainsaw operator as suitor being abandonment by a hairy rock musician husband) Seán’s daughter Siobhán appears in real life as the singer on an accompanying CD recording of 10 of her father’s songs.
While many are set to traditional airs, Siobhán is also the composer of the music for ‘The Old School in Rylane’, celebrating the school’s centenary, and ‘The Man Who Invented the Wheel’, a comic song with equally amusing true story attached.
The wheel inventor, in Seán’s account, was “an Iraqi so rare with ancestry from Clare; He was Abdul Mohammad Muldoon”.
Seán’s compositions have won numerous All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil titles, but he was taken by surprise by a fellow competitor when ‘The Man Who Created the Wheel’ was performed at this most traditional of Irish cultural events.
“The year I wrote that, it went to the All-Ireland, a song about an Iraqi called Abdul Mohammed Muldoon. Now what are the chances, but there was a competitor in the same competition for newly-composed songs, who was an Iraqi by the name of Mohammed al-Hussain?
It was at a fleadh too, that one of Seán’s songs provoked emotions of a more poignant nature.
‘When The Cuckoo Sings in May’, which lends its name to the book, is based on the death of someone Seán knew, whose father awaited in vain her return from hospital in springtime.
Sung by Siobhán, the song won the all-Ireland, but it was the reaction of an audience member that left a lasting impression on Seán.
“There was a lady came up to us after, who had been so impressed with [the song]. She associated it with her own mother, who had always looked forward to hearing the cuckoo, and she had tears in her eyes. I thought if it could move a person to tears and affect a person so much, there was something in it,” he says.
“People generally associate me with humorous songs but I think a serious song in the long run is a better song. The humorous ones can be fine in the pub; a bit of craic. It’s easy to get people laughing, but if you get a tear it’s more powerful.”
The song was the first of many written in English by Seán, a former schoolteacher, who published his collected agallamh beirte and lúibín Irish language verses An tAgallamh Muimhneach last year and poems and songs, Gleanntán an Aoibhnis, in 2011.
Whether in Irish or English, he insists:
The Cuckoo Sings in May has a foreword by fellow Cork songwriter Con Ó Drisceoil and cover by Colum Cronin. It will be launched by sean-nós singer Máire Ní Chéileachair this Friday, Nov 29, 9.30pm, at the opening of Éigse Dhiarmuid Uí Shúilleabháin in Cúil Aodha