Shilelagh Law

Good Intentions

by Robert R. Calder

4 October 2004



Interesting enough this, for a native of the more easterly territory of the Irish diaspora-colonisation. I mean the west of Scotland, rather than Liverpool (Lennon and Starkey are Irish names too). This New York Irish band are accomplished instrumentalists importantly on fiddle and bodhran (a sort of hand-drum), and on squeezebox as well, when that’s called for here. Very vigorous, they are short on the gentleness that is an important characteristic of the music they try to play, in contrast to some native Irish bands in the same vein.

On “Broad Black Brimmer”, gentleness is not an issue, but the aggressive sentimentality is. Everybody should be very wary of any American reference to the “Irish Republican Army”, a.k.a. IRA, given the number of US dollars forwarded over a long period of time to communist Czechoslovakia to send Semtex to the Emerald Isle. Vaclav Havel stopped that trade. Perhaps some of that same Semtex was in the later big bombs whose killing of children exposed some of the bloody arbitrariness of Irish terrorist action under the name of one and another “IRA”. Political songs of sixty years ago had a bloody validity for killers whose Romantic Ireland isn’t dead and gone, but a dangerous spook.

cover art

Shilelagh Law

Good Intentions

US: 28 Jun 2004
UK: Available as import

For all that a Shilelagh (there are other spellings) is a species of weapon (a club, but not in the same sense as the Stork Club), the band should not succumb to the temptation to deliver old political rants with blood on their cobwebs. This is no mere PC/Non-PC issue. Seamus Heaney’s distance from any of that noise—his family background being Catholic—was, I gather, cited when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Referring to such dark poems as “The Tollund Man” is at odds with what is, however, only one line of this very lively band’s repertoire. They can write a reasonable Irish song, but the lack of gradation in delivery has to be mentioned to potential CD buyers, for those who’d demand some subtlety.

In comparison with Irish diaspora music recorded in America in the 1930s, this band’s music has a stronger American and specifically sub-Mason-Dixon accent. Some of it would be at home in the Scottish citadel of formerly-Irish, formerly-folk culture, Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry. Maybe this is fair enough if the band want to sing only this rousing stuff and it packs ‘em into the NY Irish pubs (a sort of establishment found across Europe; the spread of Irish pubs into western Scotland seemed daft, adding bric-a-brac and images to places renamed from such longtime or always cognomina as Flannigan’s or Feeny’s).

Do other bands that can also diversify into pure cowboy songs, etc. have an advantage when singing the initially Irish music that did not relocate from O’Flaherty to O’Tennessee? There is some evidence of this—ensembles more careful to avoid routine delivery avoid matching ignorant popular consensus as to what the music is. It’s not that the music Shilelagh Law serves up is changing in the way they perform it. It’s that it’s close to turning into something else altogether. Yee-haw?

A certain amount of study has always been part of Celtic music, whose ancesrtry involves very ancient colleges destroyed and undone by Henry VIII and Oliver Cromwell, ample cause for Irish protest, though also rather for attempted emulation of the cultivated arts of peace (Ireland was the home of Classical Learning in the “Dark Ages”, when its ancient sites had been overrun by tribes insufficiently appreciative of its merits) than indiscriminately rollicking bucko machismo. This CD will presumably help some buyers find out what they forgot they’d heard from the band, but only when the morning hangover’s well over.

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