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Fermanagh is the most westerly and almost furthest south of the six counties that comprise Northern Ireland and the most isolated, politically and economically. This has resulted in a rich cultural life, including a flourishing musical and singing tradition, which has in recent times become well known. However, the singing and playing of Cathal McConnell and his group the Boys of the Lough, the wonderful, loving ethnographic writings of Henry Glassie (All Silver and No Brass, Irish Folk History, Passing the Time in Ballymenone and The Stars of Ballymenone), the notable pioneering (auto)biography of the singer, John Maguire of Tonaydrummallard near Roslea (Come Day, Go Day, God Send Sunday) which was edited by Robin Morton, and the many performances, broadcasts, writings and records of the most famous of all Fermanagh singers, the late Paddy Tunney, represent only the better-known aspects of Fermanagh music and song. Most important is that the tradition of singing still flourishes in small places, upheld by local enthusiasts and remarkable, little known performers. The repertory is broad, encompassing English and Scottish influence, and reflects all the types of Irish song in English. There are songs in praise of places, of beautiful girls and handsome young men, songs about outlaws and of sectarian and economic tensions, songs about local sport, songs of marriage across classes, of marital and family tensions, of emigration, of war, murder and betrayal; all human life is there. Some of these are humorously wrought, some are comic and a few are simply hilarious.
Today’s performer, Rosie Stewart, sings many of these categories of song. Rosie’s very large repertory, like that of all traditional singers, is eclectic. She sings what she likes from wherever she heard it: songs of the Irish uprising of 1798, hare coursing songs from the plains of Mayo, love songs from Galway, songs about aspects of the recent Northern Irish troubles, songs she heard in England, songs from friends, songs put together from several sources. Yet, no matter the song or its source, the characteristics that mark her performances are vitality and an absolute commitment to the song as it unfolds. With a combination of understated passion and occasional wild glee, she imparts the extraordinary emotions and experiences of the ordinary men and women of county Fermanagh.
by Rosie Stewart
Rosie Stewart, from Belcoo, County Fermanagh, is among the most distinguished of Irish traditional singers. Chosen as ‘Traditional Singer of the Year’ for 2004 by the Irish Language Television Station,TG4, her absolutely distinctive voice and style, the dramatic intensity of her ‘big’ song performances and the wicked pleasure she takes in comic ones, make her one of the most sought-after singers in Ireland. She has performed throughout Ireland, on radio and television, and in Britain and North America.
Her interest and repertory is owed primarily to her father, Packie (Patrick) McKeaney, who, up to within a few months of his recent death at the age of 93, was capable of a well-turned song. Other family members were influential also, as were neighbors, particularly Francis Joseph Judge and Eugene Edward Judge. More recently, she has learned songs from other Irish singers, among them John Lyons of Cork and, principally, Róisín White from Co. Down, whom she counts her dearest friend.
After a brief time in London in the 1970s, Rosie returned to Fermanagh, began singing in Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (the Irish Musician’s Association) competitions and attended courses run by that organization, in which Paddy Tunney, the doyen of Fermanagh singers, took a prominent part. Following success in All-Ireland Competitions, she took part in the 1987 Comhaltas tour of North America.
Since then she has taken part in many singing festivals and delivered workshops to young and older singers at home and abroad. Some of her pupils have become junior All-Ireland Champions. Rosie works in a supermarket in Enniskillen and she and her husband, Joe, also operate a public house in Kiltyclogher, Co. Leitrim.
by John Moulden
Rediscover Northern Ireland: In 2007, Washington D.C., the heart of the United States of America, will have the opportunity to meet face to face with people from Northern Ireland - people who contribute meaningfully and creatively to the society which has emerged from a troubled past and is now looking outward and forward to the future. As a complement to the sights and sounds America will experience at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Northern Ireland has planned a program of events for Washington D.C., starting in March 2007, which will reflect other aspects of what happens here on a daily basis. This program is collectively entitled Rediscover Northern Ireland.
The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American Folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs, and training. The Center includes the American Folklife Center Archive of folk culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world. Please visit our web site.
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