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February 06, 2005

02/06/05 - Music Rev: Irish Green & Bonnie Blue

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Irish Green and Bonnie Blue

Derek Warfield looks to the South in his latest exploration of the music of the Irish in America's Civil War

A review by
Kevin P. Gorman

Music and singing are never enough for former Wolfe Tones' leader Derek Warfield, and with "Bonnie Blue Flag," his latest album, once again Warfield attempts and succeeds at touching the patriotic and sentimental soul of the Irish listener with his folksy Irish singing style and his impressive storytelling, placing every track in historical context.

His 20-tune album titled "The Bonnie Blue Flag, The Musical Story of the Confederate Irish" his third in a series of musical collections drawn from America's most catastrophic and costly conflict Dublin-born Warfield again turns his attention to the Irish experience in America's Civil War. The twist, of course, is this album's focus on the music of the Irish who went South, a fraction of the total in America in 1861, but a significant fraction, all the same, numbering in the tens of thousands.

Warfield and his band, who masterfully play only traditional instruments, recorded the album to, as Warfield explains, tell "the story of the Confederate Irish, (which) has been sorely neglected over the years, (and) to recall some small part of the gallantry and sacrifice of these 'Rebel' Irish."

The album is rich with Confederate-themed lyrics set to familiar tunes, such as"The Wearin' o' the Grey," set to "The Rising of the Moon," one of Cork-born Confederate General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne's favorite songs, and "The Soldier's Farewell," set to the highly popular period-tune "Rosin the Bow."

Warfield's album also includes a clever new ballad composed by Warfield's son Pearse, titled "The Hunley," which, in just four stanzas, tells the story of the February 1864 sinking of the USS Housatonic by the Confederate submarine Hunley. The ship, the first submarine to ever destroy an enemy ship, sank in Charleston Harbor after piercing the Union sloop with an explosive-laden spar. The Hunley and its entombed 8-man crew, including at least one of apparently Irish ancestry, were raised in 2000, with the crew reinterred in Charleston's Magnolia Cemetery in April.

Warfield's deep passion for this subject is again readily apparent with "Bonnie Blue Flag." Repeating the pattern set in his previous Civil War releases, "Sons of Erin " (Cill Dara Music, 2000) and "Clear the Way" (Kells Music, 2002), the material provided beyond the music the story of each song and of the people who influenced them is included in a handy 32-page illustrated booklet accompanying the compact disk.

As before, Warfield offers keen insights into the origins of each tune in the booklet, and intriguing anecdotes about historic figures such as Daniel O'Connell, called "the Liberator" for his successes in gaining political rights for Catholics in Ireland; Young Irelander John Mitchel, who become a fervent Confederate partisan; and Theodore O'Hara, a Confederate officer best known for his elegiac poem "The Bivouac of the Dead," read by Warfield in the final album track. On a musical note, one surprising discovery: the tune "Wrap the Green Flag Around Me Boys," often associated with Ireland's Easter Rising, was written in Chicago in 1862 and was sung by many Irish soldiers on both sides of the American conflict.

I do want to quibble with one aspect of the new CD. Regarding the focuses of his three-album Civil War collection, Warfield claims in the booklet that while the first two albums "were mixed, this one, by popular demand, is all Southern." Such tunes as "Danny Boy" (poignantly sung by Andy Cooney), "Irish American Soldier" (a Warfield original), and the closing recitation The Bivouac of the Dead are general enough to belie Warfield's claim to have an all-Confederate album here. In fact, lines of the opening stanza of Bivouac of the Dead are inscribed over the entrance to Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery, and can be found inscribed on cast-iron tablets in many national cemeteries.

On fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.
Hardly Confederate indeed.

Nevertheless, such hyperbole aside, there is no question as to the satisfaction one enjoys in listening to the recordings and in reading the accompanying materials. WGT

For additional commentary on recent Irish Civil War music releases, click on the links below.

Derek Warfield

Emerald History Packed in Two Jewel Cases

David Kincaid

An Interview with David Kincaid

'The Irish Volunteer' Finds His Bard

Kincaid's 'The Irish-American's Song' Worth the Wait

Gallant Sons of Ireland

New "No Irish Need Apply" CD Is Worthy

69th Pennsylvania Irish Volunteers

Review: 'Rock of Erin' Album

About the Reviewer: Kevin P. Gorman is a Senior Marketing and Strategic Programs Manager with a global telecommunications provider. He graduated in 1986 from the State University of New York at Buffalo with a BA in History and Political Science. A native of Buffalo and a fifth-generation Irish-American, Gorman and his family are residents of Fairport, New York. A long-time reenactor and member of the Buffalo, N.Y.-based 155th New York Volunteers, he also served as one of WGT's three correspondents at the
140th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Antietam.

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