thoughts on music, design and literature

Thursday, September 6, 2007


I'm researching keening at the moment. I'm very interested in referencing this tradition for my upcoming album, as it fits in well with the themes that I'm exploring (life, death and resurrection).

Keening is a form of vocal lament performed at Irish wakes. The term comes from the old Irish word 'caoineadh,' which means 'to cry'--it's an old tradition dating back to the 7th-century, and though it's not performed much today, there are still examples of it to be found. One of the few recorded keens is this one, by Kitty Gallagher:

Essentially it's a song of lamentation, traditionally performed by the wife of the deceased--but often by professional mourners as well. According to various sources, keening had an element of call-and-response as well; the deceased would be laid to rest in his bed, the head keener would lament his passing at the foot of the bed, and the chorus would echo her cries.

One of the best known keens is the Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghair, or the Lament For Art O'Leary. Composed by his wife Black-Haired Eileen over his death at the hands of an Englishman, it's a stirring 18th-century epic poem, and a powerful example of the mourning of lost love. An excerpt, during which she pleads with him to 'wake' from his death-slumber:

Mo chara thu is mo chuid!
A mharcaigh an claimh ghil
Eirigh suas anois,
Cuir ort do chulaith
Eadaigh uasail ghlain,
Chuir ort do bheabhar dubh,
Tarraing do lamhainni umat.
Siud i in airde t'fhuip;
Sin i do lair amuigh.
Buail-se an bothar caol ud soir,
Mar a maoloidh romhat na toir,
Mar a gcaoloidh romhat na sruth ...


My friend and my dear!
Oh bright-sworded rider,
Rise up this moment,
Put on your fine suit
Of clean, noble cloth,
Put on your black beaver,
Pull on your gauntlets.
Up with your whip;
Outside your mare is waiting.
Take the narrow road east,
Where the trees thin before you
Where streams narrow before you.

(Not sure what 'put on your black beaver means'....any ideas?)

(It's worthwhile to note that the myth of the banshee seems to have been derived from this tradition.)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the "black beaver" mentioned is referring to a hat. Back in the day, the nicest hats were made from beaver fur.

October 16, 2007 at 12:30 AM

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