The May Morning Dew is one of those songs that seems to have been around forever and is a great favorite with singers and players of slow airs. I have heard it described as traditional but I’ve also heard a story that it was written by a returning emigrant to Donegal. In that story, I believe I got it confused with Slieve Gallon Braes, which has a similar provenance ascribed to it. A few years ago, at a concert in Colorado Springs, I introduced the song and told the story of it being written by an old man who had emigrated from Ireland as a child and who had returned as an old man and had then written this song. A couple of days later I was grateful to get an email from one Alan G. Humphrey who had been at the concert and who directed me to Paddy Tunney’s book, The Stone Fiddle. In it, Tunney refers to Mandy Gallagher of Tullagh near Carrigart at the bottom end of the Rossguill peninsula in the northern part of Co. Donegal. Mandy Gallagher was a fiddler with a repertoire of fairly obscure tunes but he was mostly known as a singer. Paddy Tunny says “Mandy Gallagher had a fine song in praise of the may morning dew” and goes on to give the words much as they appear in the version that I sing. That he ‘had’ the song suggests to me merely that he knew it and that it was a song he was known for. He may have composed it himself but I think that would have been particularly mentioned. Paddy Tunney goes on to say of Mandy Gallagher that “Alas! he died young”. So my guess is that the song is probably traditional and Mandy Gallagher was not the author. I did a little research but the only other reference I found was in Caoimhín MacAoidh’s In Between the Jigs and Reels (p. 174) where Mandy Gallagher is mentioned briefly among other fiddlers from the Carrigart area. However, nothing else is said of him.
The song could be said to be sean-nós in English. The sean-nós, or old style of Irish singing is generally unaccompanied, free in its meter and phrasing, features some greater or lesser degree of ornamentation in the melody and is often personal and emotional. And it’s nearly always in Irish. Given that Mandy Gallagher was from the Irish-speaking Carrigart area, the form of the song makes perfect sense but it’s a little odd that it’s not in Irish. This, too, makes me think that it’s a song he acquired somewhere else. And, indeed, we can think of the fact that it’s in English as a good thing for those who don’t speak Irish -- they get to hear a sean-nós song as it was meant to be.
Here's a video of a performance in 2010. There's also a recording on our CD, Trad. :
This is a simple and quick recipe for macaroons that made their debut as band chow a couple of weeks ago.They’re gluten-free, very tasty and a breeze to make. The instructions are a guideline. If you find them too sweet try making them next time with half sweetened coconut and half unsweetened. You might prefer more almond extract -- or try making with marzipan. It’s up to you, but this is a good starting point.
7 oz. shredded sweetened coconut
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg white
pinch of cream on tartar
6 oz. Ghirardelli 60% cacao chocolate chips
1 teaspoon canola oil
Preheat the oven to 350º
In a bowl mix the condensed milk and the almond and vanilla extracts. Then fold in the sweetened shredded coconut. (It comes in 7 oz. packages; hence the odd measure.)
Beat the egg white with a pinch of cream of tartar until you get soft peaks, then fold the beaten egg into the coconut mix.
Place a sheet of parchment on an oven tray -- and do make sure it’s parchment; wax paper won’t do -- spoon out the mix in little mounds of about 2 tablespoons. This should give you about a dozen middle sized macaroons. Place on the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 20 minutes. Start keeping an eye on them at about 10 - 15 minutes; you want to get the macaroons browning slightly on top -- but don’t overdo it.
When the macaroons have baked, remove them from the oven and put aside to cool on a rack. Put the chocolate chips in a bowl with a teaspoon of oil and put in the microwave for about a minute, if you're doing it on a high setting. You can, of course, use any decent chocolate but I really like the Ghirardelli 60% cocoa chocolate chips. And chocolate chips melt easily in the microwave. (The amount of time you’ll need will vary with the microwave and its settings. I start with a minute and zap them about 10 seconds at a time until they’re partly melted.) Then mix the contents of the bowl and allow to finish melting. Dip the macaroons, bottom side down, into the melted chocolate and place them on another sheet of parchment to cool.
Crown. 2012 pp.415
I love a good mystery and I’m happy to read anything from the light witty work of Edmund Crispin all the way to the more disturbing serial-murder fare of Val McDermit. From Poirot to Rebus. I’ll read murder mysteries when I need to relax, or when I’m stressed and I used to be able to recognize a form of depression in myself by my appetite for this kind of fiction -- escapist and ultimately, satisfying with a resolution of the problem and light shone into dark corners.
Gone Girl is a twisty, dark and disturbing book. Told from the viewpoints of two narrators -- Amy, a wife who has gone missing on her fifth wedding anniversary and leaves behind her diary -- and Nick, her husband who is suspected of doing away with her. The two narrations don’t jibe, however, and Amy’s description of events and personalities seem at odds with Nick’s much more bitter account of their courtship and marriage. There are all kinds of indications of foul play, events that Nick can’t explain and everything points and points again to him as a murder. One’s sympathies are trifled with and things are not-so-obviously not what they appear to be ...
The characters of Nick and Amy are expertly drawn and their voices convincing. The plot has some wonderful twists and, on many levels, this is a hugely satisfying read.
The ending, though ... well, the ending is very frustrating. I will avoid spoilers here and simply say that, first of all, there were some gaping holes in forcing the plot to a non-resolution. And, secondly, that non-resolution is not what I look to mysteries for. I even resented it in Ian McEwen’s Atonement -- a hugely accomplished book but with an outrageous let-down at the end.
I had a look at reviews on Amazon, just to see what others might have thought. It seemed as if all of the one-star reviews quoted the ending as being the problem.
So, the writing is good, the characters strong and real, the plot is powerful -- and the ending sucks. It’s up to you.
New American Library, 1966 pp. 315
I first read this book (or rather, part of this book) when I was a teenager. At the time its form perplexed me and its content struck me as bizarre and surreal. It was also, in places, hilarious.
As far as I can make out, this book has the right to claim the mantle of ‘first postmodern novel’. It was published in 1939, which saw the publication of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and the beginning of World War Two, so it got lost in the historical and literary shuffle of the time. If Joyce’s oeuvre propelled modernism into strange new territory, At Swim-Two-Birds took a wholly different tack into surreal and self-referential territory. (I admit that I managed to get an MFA in visual arts in the late 1980s without really knowing, or much caring, what constituted ‘postmodernism’. My distrust of the area was due to what I saw as a close alignment with irony. Irony is fine as a seasoning but it makes an indigestible meal.)
Anyway, a nos moutons ... The narrator, the first-person-singular, of At Swim-Two-Birds is a young college student, living in his uncle’s house and given to self-absorbed apparent idleness and speculative literary experiments. One among his theories is that there should be a limited number of fictional characters that should be made to do duty in different books -- rather than authors being burdened by having to re-invent new characters all over again for each new book. Further, he states that “a good book may have three openings entirely dissimilar and inter-related only in the prescience of the author ...” He then proceeds to suggest three separate beginnings, one featuring the Pooka McPhellimey, the next a Mr John Furriskey who was born at the age of twenty-five and, finally, legendary hero, Finn McCool. These characters start living autonomous lives quite separate from their creators and go on to mingle with characters from other books, some of whose authors are also fictional. Along the way we also meet a bad-tempered Good Fairy who cheats at cards, the mad king Sweeney and a pair of cow-punchers from Ringsend -- or was it Sandymount? -- who featured in cowboy stories set in Dublin. There then ensues a revenge tale where fictional characters turn the tables on their evil creator. Meanwhile, the original narrator, our college student who, the author assures us in the fly-leaf, is “entirely fictitious’, goes about his life, making dispassionate observations of all around him. Indeed the book casts a pretty merciless eye on Irish pieties and presumptions of the time -- and of the present day, too, no doubt.
There are times, I feel, when some passages might have benefited from a little editing but the author seems to be aware of this, too. I’m thinking particularly of times when Finn McCool starts up with the oul’ chat and goes on and on ... but several characters in the book mention his tendency to go on a bit, and the verbosity is the point. Mad Sweeney is in there, too, pretty much as he appears in Buile Suibhne, complaining at length about his lot and all the while declaiming verses about the beauties of Nature. And the truth of the matter is that many of the old legends and stories can be repetitious to long-winded to the modern ear and O’Brien is nor afraid to point this out. You’ll find this same merciless observation in other books of his -- The Poor Mouth, for instance, has some biting satire about Gaelic Ireland and those who champion its virtues.
You might also want to try The Third Policeman or The Dalkey Archive for wildly imaginative, funny, clever and biting stuff. O’Brien was a fine and funny writer who may finally (I hope) be getting the notice he deserves.
A bookmaker (in case you’ve lived a sheltered life) is not one who writes or manufactures books but one who accepts bets on sporting events -- or just about anything else. A “turf accountant” (I love the euphemism of that term) is a bookmaker (bookie) who takes bets on horse races and it’s from that side of the betting world that this sandwich comes. The bookie would be pretty much unable to leave his station during the meet so he had to have something substantial to sustain him through the day. And this sandwich is nothing if not substantial.
It’s simplicity itself and can be taken to the racecourse or on hikes or to any event where food will be needed but may not be readily available. It’s great on a picnic.
1½ lb. sirloin steak
Loaf of bread -- cibatta is good
Salt and pepper
Grill the steak to preferred doneness and trim extra fat and gristle.
Cut the loaf longways and butter both halves.
Slice the meat into not-too-thin slices and place on the bread.
Season with salt, pepper and your choice of mustard.
Wrap in in wax-paper, place between two cutting boards and weigh with books, kettle or anything that will compress the sandwich for at least a half-hour. The juices from the meat will soak into the bread - a kind of more carniverous pan-bagnat.
Unwrap, slice into manageable pieces and re-pack in wax paper and foil.
This is a big sandwich -- all the better for sharing -- and most satisfying.
It’s great with a glass of porter or anything that induces good hearty burps.
Here's a recipe I acquired several years ago. I don’t recall where I got it and I don’t know what legal issues might arise should you decide to take up home distilling. No longer made with potatoes as it used to be, this recipe (I’ve been told) makes a wonderful “drop of the craytur”. It has many health benefits and people who drink it regularly have been known to live as old as forty.
You’ll note that there are no potatoes or barley in the recipe. Those ingredients, I’m told, went out of fashion in the late 1800s when sugar became relatively cheap.
The distilling process is complicated and requires no small degree of skill -- it also, of course, requires a still. But here’s the recipe:
7 lbs of bakers yeast
42 lbs of brown sugar
4 lbs of treacle
1 lb of hops
1. Steep ingredients in 3 gallons of lukewarm water at the bottom of a 40 gallon barrel after steeping fill barrel to three quarter full with cold spring water. Leave in a cool place to settle. After several weeks transfer to your still.
Here’s a video of traditional singer Tom Lenihan singing a paean to poteen, surrounded by a slew of beer drinkers ...
Fools of Fortune
Penguin Classics, 2006 224 pages
William Trevor is a joy. If you’re not familiar with his work, you have a treat in store. Best known for his short stories, he’s also the author of a goodly number of novels, many of which have won awards and some of which have been turned into movies.
Born Trevor Cox in Co. Cork in 1928, his reputation has grown quietly over the years and he is now thought of as the grand old man of Irish letters and heir to Joyce’s mantle of the great Irish short story writer.
His work is often melancholic, dealing with sadness, guilt, loss of innocence and a kind of accepted defeat. I’ve had a copy of The Story of Lucy Gault on my bookshelf for a long time and haven’t (yet) had the courage to read it. I’ve been warned that it’s inexpressibly sad. And yet the work that I have read I’ve also found uplifting and enriching.
Fools of Fortune is the story of Willie Quinton and Marianne, his English cousin. Set initially in the War of Independence c.1920, the basis of the story is the destruction of the estate of Kilneagh by the Black and Tans and the murder of Willie’s father and two sisters. The Quintons were a Protestant family, mill owners and previously large landowners. Much of their land had been sold during the Famine and the money spent on hunger relief. Because of their religion and social background they are members of a class apart but they are well regarded by the people around them. William Quinton (Willie’s father) even has dealings with Michael Collins, the IRA leader and though he supports the Independence movement with money, he doesn’t permit drilling and training on his property. Then an police informer is found ritually murdered on the property and the Black and Tans stage a deadly retaliatory raid in the night, killing many of the family and some workers and burning most of the house to the ground. Willie and his mother move into a house in Cork City where Willie attends school and his mother quietly drinks herself into oblivion. When his mother commits suicide, Willie is driven to a terrible act of revenge, one that exiles him from happiness and love. And, as is the case in much of Trevor’s writing there is much unsaid and much unresolved. The story does come together at the end but in an almost perfunctory way and after a very long time for affairs to resolve. I needed to re-read the ending at the time. I was afraid I’d been subjected to an ‘Atonement’ ending.
The story, in many ways, could be thought of as an extended metaphor for the Anglo-Irish relationship over the centuries and especially during the first half of the Twentieth Century. People become trapped in their roles and their history comes their destiny; the “nightmare’ that Joyce’s Stephen was trying to escape. They become “fools of Fortune.”
In the end, though, the book is about feelings and the inner lives of the people involved. Trevor has a most assured hand and the writing is superb. There is nothing extraneous and the habits of a skilled short-story writer serve the story well.
Over the years, many items have taken centre stage as “band chow”. Until recently, it was bread pudding -- see below. I remember for a long time it being Entenmann’s Coffee Cake. Sometimes crumb, sometimes raspberry, sometimes cheese-filled. But I got leery of all the unpronounceables in the ingredient list so I decided to start doing a little baking myself. Hence the bread pudding. And, now, the latest addition is my take on custard. I had to experiment a bit but I think I have it the way I want it.
In the summer I use fresh fruit for the topping and in winter I use frozen. The lemon slice offers a tang to cut the sweetness of the sugar and should be removed before spreading the cooked fruit on top.
I’ve found that excluding egg whites altogether makes the custard smoother and the slow baking at a fairly low heat seems to help, too.
It’s a very rich desert -- but sometimes that’s what’s called for.
For the custard:
3 cups of heavy cream
12 egg yolks
2/3 cup of cane sugar
2 Tbs of vanilla extract
For the topping:
12 oz - 16 oz of berries -- frozen or fresh strawberries, bluets, raspberries in any proportion you like.
1/4 cup of cane sugar
slice of lemon
drop of vanilla extract
Place a large tray with water in the oven.
Preheat the oven to 300º F
Heat the cream on the stove until warmed through or, better still scald it. But be careful. Cream on high heat can suddenly ‘go’ and the resulting mess is no fun ...
In an ovenproof bowl whisk the egg yolk and the sugar and vanilla until thoroughly mixed.
Whisk the cream into the egg/sugar mixture, making sure it’s smooth and the sugar is dissolved.
Place the bowl in the tray and ‘tent’ with a sheet of aluminum foil.
Bake for 1 hour and about 15 minutes -- until the center of the custard is firm.
While the custard bakes place the berries, sugar and the rest of the ingredients along with a splash of water into a saucepan and place on medium. Heat through and cook about 20 minutes until the fruit is mushy and broken down. Let cool
When the custard and the topping are cooled, spread the topping on the custard and refrigerate until needed. Take out of the ‘fridge about an hour before serving.
The Real Charlotte
by Edith Œ Somerville and Martin Ross
J. S Sanders and Company 1999, 386 pp.
Somerville and Ross are, of course, better known for their series of three books depicting the (mis)adventures of an Irish Resident Magistrate -- known collectively as The Irish R.M.. This book, however -- The Real Charlotte -- is generally thought of as their masterpiece and its tone is completely different from the humorous shenanigans of Major Yeates, Flurry Knox et al.
I first came across it in a reference by F.S.L. Lyons in his lecture Irish Ireland versus Anglo-Irish Ireland, one of a series of lectures delivered in the University of Oxford and collectively published under the title Culture and Anarchy in Ireland 1890-1939. (A highly recommended book, by the way.) Later I encountered a mention in R. F. Foster’s Modern Ireland 1600-1972. Both writers lauded its depiction of a moribund Anglo-Irish Ascendency and its odd place in the changing social and political scene in Ireland in the late 19th century. As had happened so often in the past, the main agitators for an independent Ireland and the main champions of a dying Gaelic culture were members of the moneyed, educated and leisured class, the Protestant Ascendancy, descendants of English planters of various eras. By the end of the nineteenth century they found themselves mistrusted by the Irish peasantry and often despised by the English aristocracy. They lived in an odd social limbo that was being increasingly threatened by Nationalist movements of the late 1800s.
The book does not go into the political ethos of the day and, indeed, even the more peasant characters seem to be politically neutral, which is not always the case in Somerville and Ross books. It does help, though, to have some knowledge of the political context of the times if one is to understand the observations made by Lyons and Foster. Still, even without that information the book is an excellent read and the social and political implications are not really that important.
It’s a long book, originally published (as was the fashion) in three volumes in 1894. It’s title character, Charlotte Mullen, was based on a real person, Emily Herbert, a cousin of Edith who it appears finagled Edith out of an inheritance. The notes in the book say “She was ugly, powerful, intelligent, a bully, and capable of underhand dealings in order to benefit herself. Edith thought of her as a sort of New Woman gone to the Devil”.
The story concerns Francie Fitzpatrick, a young woman of impoverished semi-gentility and cousin of Charlotte Mullen, who received an inheritance that was partly to go to Francie. (Shades of Emily Herbert, again.) Charlotte has connections, social and financial, with the local squirearchy and when Francie goes to stay with her she mingles in unfamiliar society. “Francie’s accent and mode of expressing herself were alike deplorable; Dublin had done its worst for her in that respect ...” But she’s a pretty and vivacious girl and very soon she’s leading a very complicated emotional life, further complicated by social and class conventions. She finds herself pulled by draws of duty, passion and ambition and Charlotte, all the while, schemes and connives.
It’s very elegantly written and the language of the Irish country people is well observed and colourful. Transcriptions of what are supposed to be Irish language phrases are, however, perplexing. It’s quite apparent that the authors had no Gaelic. Still, almost every page has a phrase or observation that makes one smile: “When Christopher was irritated his method of showing it was so subtle as only to satisfy himself; it slipped through the wide and generous mesh of his mother’s understanding without the smallest friction.”
In many ways, the book is reminiscent of Jane Austen as much as of Victorian writers and while it appears, at first, to be a novel of manners, by Volume Three, it’s a much darker and, at times, a difficult read.
This is a slightly updated version of the recipe that once appeared on our website. I’ve adjusted some things a little but I don’t mind if you want to make your own adjustments. In fact, I welcome insights, suggestions and questions.
I first encountered Green Chili in the early '80s at Rev. Taylor's restaurant in Niwot, Colorado. It was just about the time that their version of the dish had won a 'Best of ...' award from the Boulder Daily Camera. I was only intermittently carnivorous at the time, having been a vegetarian for a long time and the dish was unknown to me. Green Chili? I was intrigued -- and delighted. Sadly, Rev. Taylor’s is no more but I like to think it lives on in the inspiration it provided for this version of that illustrious dish.
I should add here that this, my version, is not necessarily, a heart-healthy dish though it may well have less fat than your breakfast muffin.
Make the salsa first. You can 'squish' the tomatoes in a bowl with your hands. When I use cilantro I use just the leaves -- I really don't know why -- but this may affect your quantities. I usually get a whole bunch, strip the leaves off, then rinse them and chop them. If you use the lighter stems, too you'll probably get more cilantro -- and, in my book, this can only be a good thing. (If you don't like cilantro, don't even bother with this dish.) Use jalapeños to your taste -- but don't be timid. There will be purists out there who will scowl at all the canned stuff -- who will insist on fresh-roasted chilies, homegrown tomatoes and fresh jalapeños. If you can easily acquire those ingredients, good for you. But tomatoes are often tastier -- and more nutritionally rich -- from a can. Fresh-roasted chilies are seasonal and the canned jalapeño to me has a certain je ne sais quoi that has more to do with warmth than heat. Letting the chili sit overnight softens the effect of the jalapeño, but this is a spicy dish so you might want to try it out before you serve it to your in-laws. Feel free to use less than the whole small can but, again, don't be timid.
If you brown the pork gently, then you can add the cumin at the same time. I like lots of cumin -- and this is my recipe so I suggest at least 1 Tablespoonful (1Tbs) -- more is better. And do not be scared by the amount of oil -- in fact, use more if you want -- it will be skimmed at the end, and more oil can actually help de-fat the pork. And do make sure that you get nicely marbled fatty pork -- this is not a dish that benefits from tough meat.
1 14oz. can tomatoes, chopped
1 4oz. can chopped jalapeños
1 bunch scallions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
half bunch cilantro, stems removed and chopped
salt and black pepper to taste
Mix all the ingredients together and set aside.
3 lbs or more, boneless shoulder or butt pork roast, cubed
half cup of vegetable oil
1 28oz. can mild green chilies, chopped
1 lb. tomatillos, diced
2 cups chicken stock
half bunch cilantro, stems removed and chopped
salt and black pepper to taste
Quarter cup of all-purpose flour
quarter cup of vegetable oil
Brown the cubed pork in batches in the oil and set aside. Into the remaining oil (or added oil if need be) put the cumin, the chopped chilies, the chopped tomatillos and the chicken stock. Deglaze the pot with the stock. Add the chopped cilantro, half the salsa and return the pork cubes. Mix well and set to simmer for a good 45 minutes to an hour.
While the pot is simmering make the roux. I used to make the roux in the pot as part of the whole cooking procedure but found that this caused the chili the burn while cooking. Now I make the roux at the end and add it.
Heat the oil in a pan and add the flour, sprinkling and mixing. Cook for 5 or more minutes until the flour is a nice blond color or is a little darker. When the chili is simmered well, add the roux a bit at a time and stir it well into the liquid while the pot is on gentle heat. Remove the pot from the heat, let the contents relax and gently skim the fat and oil from the surface. When you have removed what you can, refrigerate the chili and skim again the next day. Like many other stews, this one benefits from being left overnight. As always, take your own risks with this - adjust it 'til you like it your way.