There is a long back-story behind this record. In 1865, one Patrick McCartney bought the lease of Pennyburn House near Derry and his family lived there until 1912. They were an important family in the area by all accounts and played host to Charles Stewart Parnell at the invitation of Patrick’s son, John, an ardent Land Leaguer and one of Ireland’s first catholic magistrates. In 1904, John won a legal battle in the House Of Lords against The Londonderry And Lough Swilly Railway Company although you’ll be hard pressed to find many details of the case without diligent study. All these incidents became inspirations for the music on this record.
Brendan McCauley is a descendant of the family and his grandmother, Kathleen, styled herself, as the title of the opening track records, ‘The Last McCartney Of Pennyburn’. Brendan comes from a musical family and is a composer, musician and instrument maker – he made the flutes, whistles and pipe chanter and drones that he plays on the album – and his elder brother, Jackie, was a member of Them alongside Van Morrison.
That’s a lot of history, I know, but this record is a sort of family scrapbook. There are big stories and small memories like ‘The Phaeton Carriage (To Church And Back)’ with its rhythm of hoofbeats and ‘Cassie’s Farewell To Parnell’ remembering his great-great aunt’s love of playing the piano. There are two songs among the instrumental pieces. ‘When My Love And I Parted’ is a traditional song of emigration while ‘The Men Of Arranmore’, written by Brendan and Jackie, is a tribute to the lifeboatmen of the Donegal island. It’s a lovely song and Brendan’s reasons for including it are valid but it seems a little out of place here. I can envisage a whole song cycle about rural life at the turn of the twentieth century.
There’s a huge variety of music in this set and Brendan plays every note, adding the modern sound of a synthesizer to the traditional instruments to complement imaginative arrangements. I’ve listened to The McCartneys Of Pennyburn whilst thinking hard about this review and now I’m looking forward to hearing it for pleasure.
‘The Men Of Arranmore’ live: