Blind bard guides the way for troubadour Spillane

Renowned songsmith John Spillane will be featured in his six-part TG4 series singing at the grave of legendary blind bard Turlough O’Carolan.

Season two of Spillane An Fánaí (Spillane The Wanderer) sees the Corkman again travelling and scripting songs about towns, rivers, legends, and people.

One of those that emerged on his radar when he landed in Boyle, Co Roscommon, was O’Carolan, one of the last of Ireland’s harpist troubadours and composers, who died in 1738, and is buried in the MacDermot Roe family crypt at Kilronan Abbey.

“I’ve always had a thing for O’Carolan,” said Spillane. “I found myself travelling around towns, just like O’Carolan, trying to get a cheque to pay the rent. So, I feel like a latter-day O’Carolan, doing an Irish bard gig.

“He did not discriminate when it came to composing and his patrons numbered both the native Gaelic population and the English gentry.

“These days, I find myself composing for TV companies as well as towns and festivals, and I felt it was ironic that this pattern led me to Boyle in Co Roscommon and O’Carolan’s grave and I felt I should play a tune in tribute to him.

“The song I played was ‘Si Bheag Si Mhor’, the big fairy fort and the small fairy fort. It was a beautiful place and I wondered if anybody would be playing one of my tunes in 300 years time.”

Spillane has launched a second album, The Man Who Came In From The Dark, to coincide with his TG4 series, which begins tomorrow night.

The title song refers to John Reilly, who, according to Spillane, was a “traveller from around Boyle who was the keeper of a treasure trove of ancient ballads he had learned from his parents around the campfires of the west of Ireland”.

“Scholars and song collectors came to record him and learn his songs, including a young Christy Moore, who went on make famous versions of John’s songs, such as ‘The Raggle Taggle Gypsy’, and ‘Lord Baker’.”

Other towns featured in the series are Athenry, Kells, Killaloe, Gorey, and Youghal. Spillane declared: “I’ve put a lot of cherries into this cake.”

He collaborates with Christy Moore and playwright Conall Creedon; the latter sees a reprise of Spillane’s popular song titled after Cork’s ‘Prince’s Street’, which is overlaid with Creedon reading from his play The Cure.

- John Spillane will play songs from his new album tomorrow at a free gig in Cork City Library, beginning at 7pm.

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