October 2017 update (a further update appears below as a footnote) ...: I believe Salut! Live's archive deserves a wider audience, not for any merit in the writing but because it brings great music to those who stray into these pages.
That is why I occasionally reproduce items from the past, as now with some reflections from 2007 on musical by-products of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Brexit, and continuing problems that arise when two political parties with utterly opposing philosophies share power (power-sharing is currently suspended and there is a risk of direct rule from Westminster being imposed), may not lead to a return to violence on the scale of the Troubles.
But they leave some of us less optimistic than when this article first appeared 10 years ago. Otherwise, I stand by all that I wrote then - and you'll find I have added clips of the songs mentioned ...
The Troubles brought desperately sad and often tragic events to Northern Ireland, and the impact was felt far beyond the six counties that make up the province.
There seems reason to hope that the stumbling march towards peaceful reconciliation of the competing demands and traditions has at last produced something that, while a long way short of perfection, could hold.
But it is worth remembering that great art of one form or another often has its roots in times of bitter sorrow.
Songs of poverty and emigration, struggle and warfare and, on a more mundane level, lost love dominate the folk music repertoire.
The Troubles were no exception, offering abundant inspiration to gifted musicians, singers and writers.
I have complied my own short list of the best songs to come out of those three decades of strife. It is not the definitive selection; there is ample scope for different ideas and candidates, and since there is not - yet - any serious tradition of reader participation at Salut! Live, I will also launch a thread, or maybe two, at Mudcat to invite the views of others.
But here is my choice, in each case offering a link from the artist's name to the record shelf where an album containing the song may be purchased:
Tommy Sands There Were Roses
The anguished story, based on fact, of two friends from either side of the Protestant/Catholic or, you prefer, Loyalist/Nationalist divide, who became victims of tit-for-tat killings.
Cara Dillon also sings an excellent version as might be expected from a sensitive young woman who grew up not far from Greysteel, scene of one of the worst single instances of mass murder. Tommy Sands gets my vote because it was his words, and his voice, that originally and so searingly captured the helplessness of ordinary people in the face of such evil.
Isaac was my friend! he cried, he begged them with his tears/ But centuries of hatred have ears that do not hear/ An eye for an eye, it was all that filled their minds/ And another eye for another eye till everyone is blind
Paul Brady The Island Irish republicans reacted with contempt to Brady's incisive lyrics asking if cars bombs and ambushes represented the freedom they sought. Like Tommy Sands, Brady is from border country. He was, at the very least, fully entitled to ask his questions. And it's a magnificent, powerful song.
And I guess these young boys dying in the ditches/ Is just what being free is all about/ And how this twisted wreckage down on main street/ Will bring us all together in the end
Paul Brady: Folk Images Christy Moore North and South of the River Written with Bono and The Edge, this song (the lyrics are Moore's) neatly reflects both the search for an imperfect peace and the mellowing outlook of Moore himself.
Some high ground is not worth taking Some connections are not worth making This old church bell no longer ringing Some old songs are not worth bringing
Over at Mudcat, the idea of a second thread comes from a desire to be even-handed and will invite suggestions as to the strongest or most evocative Irish rebel songs. Irish nationalism has always seemed to me to be a respectable philosophy; you do not need to support or even forgive the IRA to be able to regard The Foggy Dew, from the Easter Rising, or Four Green Fields, by Tommy Makem, as songs of the highest quality. I have no more than skimmed the surface. Not everyone would go along with G K Chesterton's summing up of the "Great Gaels of Ireland":
For all their wars are merry And all their songs are sad
But I will come up with an appropriate prize - three CDs - if anyone responds with a candidate and reasoning strong enough to make me think again on any song inspired by the Troubles, or the preceding centuries of conflict. And if anyone comes up with a contender from the loyalist viewpoint, and in my expereince these are somewhat rare, I promise to listen with an equally open mind. There is no particular deadline. I will leave it for a few weeks, see how it goes and then announce a closing date (or quietly bury the whole idea!). My decision, as ever, must be final.
* UPDATE: OCTOBER 2017 - This article drew no responses for several months. Then one "Captain Ginger" posted the first comment you see below and, a little later after I wondered about the authorship of a song he mentioned, which I had always attributed to my friend and confrere, Geoff Lakeman, Anne Kennedy Truscott offered an authoritative account of its origins. It turned out that Geoff was aware of Mickey MacConnell’s song but had written his own using the same title. But the real motivation for Capt Ginger's contribution was to draw my attention to a song of the Troubles that he especially admired, Mickey’s Peter Pan and Me. The lyrics can be read here and are evocative and dignified without pretence at balance. Peter Pan and Me deserves to be listed along with the afore-mentioned examples. Here is MacConnell singing his own song ...