The mystical legends and lore of Celtic women, with haunting Irish Gaelic songs and instrumentals on Irish flute and whistle, Celtic harp, guitar, Hammered dulcimer, uilleann pipes, Irish button accordion, sax, flute, clarinet, fretless bass, piano, and percussion.

This CD includes the pure Gaelic singing of award-winning Irish-American vocalist Connie McKenna, two National Celtic harp champions, Sue Richards and Carol Rose Duane, Hammered dulcimer and Irish flute player, Karen Ashbrook, and with Celtic superstar on the Irish button accordion Billy McComiskey as well as other guests on uillean pipes, and woodwinds.

Includes the music and songs of Dougie MacLean and Irish composers, Sean O'Riada and Turlough O’Carolan. (50:21 minutes)

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"Like the Chieftains, Ceoltoiri brings a refined chamber music approach to its expressive and spacious music."

- The Washington Post

Tune List

Connie McKenna

  1. vocal: The Cruel Sister (6:48)
  2. vocal: Mná na hÉirinn (Women of Ireland) (5:03)
  3. My Darling, I'm Fond of You/Baltighoran (5:01)
  4. Sligo Maid/ vocal: I'm 18 Years Old Today (6:33)
  5. Joy Be With You/ Flowers of Spring/ Sweet Biddy Daly (4:15)
  6. Hunter's House/Kiss Me Kate/Maid of Mt. Kisco (3:32)
  7. Caledonia (4:35)
  8. Terence MacDonough (2:13)
  9. vocal: Sean Dún na nGall (Old Donegal)/instrumental:Killavil Fancy/Buttermilk Mary (5:31)
  10. Fair Flower of Northumberland (6:42)

Liner Notes


Karen Ashbrook ~ Hammered dulcimer, flute and pennywhistle
Connie McKenna~ vocals and guitar
Sue Richards ~ Celtic harp

With Special Guests
Kira Pratt Davis ~ Celtic harp (3)
Carol Rose Duane ~ piano (2) and Celtic harp (8)
Heidi Gerber
 ~ harmony vocals (7)
Billy McComiskey ~ button accordion
Kieran O'Hare ~ uilleann pipes and pennywhistle (10)
Charlie Pilzer ~ piano (1)
Peter Mark Prince ~ fretless bass
Bobby Read ~ woodwinds (1 and 2)
Scott Reiss ~ percussion
Mark Stone ~ bodhran
Produced by Charlie Pilzer

Dear Friends,
Telling stories - with words and instruments -- has become a source of great joy in our ten years together. We love to plant old songs in an instrumental landscape where they can lay open the secrets of a heart within a household, a village, and beyond. There are lovers, of course, but also mothers, fathers, sisters, laborers, strangers...deep in conversation as the plot twists and turns!

This cinematic richness has taken our vibrating strings to places we never imagined -- to the barely visible past where women's adventures sound a lot like our own today. Thank you for joining us on our forays! "All songs are living ghosts, longing for a living voice."Brendan Kennelly

1. The Cruel Sister (Child ballad #10) (6:48)
This tale of family meltdown takes an operatic form which starts with a Tragic Overture, followed by Act I, "The Betrayal," (listen for the murderous breezes as the sisters walk on the windy shore) and Act II, "The Wedding." Vocals, guitar, percussion, hammered dulcimer, pennywhistles, woodwinds, piano (Charlie), Celtic harp.

There was a lady on the North Sea shore,
Two daughters were the babes she bore.
As one grew bright as in the sun,
So coal black grew the other one.

A knight came riding up to their door
Lay the bend to the bonnie broom
He traveled far to be their wooer
Fa la la la la la la, la la la

He courted one with gloves and rings,
He loved the other above all things.

"Oh, sister, come take a walk with me
And we will watch the ships at sea."
But as they walked on the windy shore,
The dark girl threw her sister o'er.

Sometimes she sank, sometimes she swam,
Crying, "Sister reach to me your hand.
Oh sister, sister let me live!
And all that's mine I will surely give."

"It's your own true love I shall have and more
And thou shall never walk ashore."
And so she floated like a swan,
The dark sea bore her body on.

Two minstrels walked along the strand
And watched the maiden float to land.
They made a harp out of her breast bone
That would melt a heart of stone.

They took three strands of her golden hair
And with them strung the harp so rare.
They took it down to her father's hall
To play the harp before them all.

But as they laid it upon a stone,
The harp began to play alone.
The first string sang with a doleful sound,
"The bride her younger sister drowned!"

The second string as that they tried,
In terror sits the dark-haired bride.
The third string sang out so sad and low,
"And now at last my tears shall flow..."

2. SONG: Mná na hÉirinn (Women of Ireland) (5:03)
Poem by Peadar Ó Doirnín (1704?-1769), music by Seán Ó Riada (1931-1971) Happily for us, Ó Doirnín's gritty experiences with Irish women in the 18th century didn't influence the lovely air which Ó Riada composed 200 years later. Vocals, Celtic harp, pennywhistle, woodwinds and piano (Carol Rose).

Tá bean in Éirinn a phronnfadh séad damh is mo shaíth le n-ól
Is tá bean in Éirinn is ba bhinne léithe mo ráfla ceoil
Nó seinm théad; atá bean in Éirinn is níorbh thearr leí beo
Mise ag leimnigh nó leagtha I gcre is mo tharr faoi fhód

There's a woman in Erin who'd give me shelter and my fill of ale
There's a woman in Erin who'd prefer my strains to strings being played
There's a woman in Erin and nothing would please her more
Than to see me burning or in a grave lying cold

3. My Darling, I'm Fond of You/Baltighoran (5:01)
Our dear friend, harper Kira Davis, found the first tune in Francis O'Neill's Music of Ireland (1903). We'd never heard it recorded, and have always played it in her joyful arrangement. Kira joins us here on lead harp. Sue takes the lead on "Baltighoran," a slip jig she found in Edward Bunting's The Ancient Music of Ireland (1840). Celtic harp (Kira and Sue), Irish flute and hammered dulcimer.

4. Sligo Maid/ I'm 18 Years Old Today (6:33)
A classic reel punctuates this traditional song, allowing the embattled mother and daughter to refresh themselves for the next round. We used to sympathize with the poor girl, but now she seems to us like a bit of a brat. Funny how perspectives change! Vocals, Celtic harp, pennywhistle, guitar, button accordion, hammered dulcimer and fretless bass.

"I'm 18 years old today, mama, and I'm longing to be wed
So find for me a young man who will comfort me," she said.
"You must find for me a young man who will be with me at night
And I'll roll him in my arms, he will be my heart's delight."

"Ah, hold your tongue, my daughter dear, your clothes I will pull down
Your silks and satins I will pull down, you must wear your morning gown
I'll send you out to the meadow for to milk and mow the hay
With your pike and shaft all in your arms, you must stop your drinking tea."

"Ah, hold your tongue, my daughter dear, I was 40 before I wed
And though it was late, I thought it no wait, I carried my maidenhead."
"Well, it may be the way with you Mama, but it isn't the way with me
For I'm young and very light and crazy and married I long to be."

"Ah, hold your tongue, my daughter dear, I will find for you a man!"
"A man for me, oh mother," she said, "you must hasten if you can.
The sooner the better, oh mother," she cried, "will you hasten a man to me
For I'm young and very light and crazy, and married I long to be."

5. Joy Be With You/ Flowers of Spring/ Sweet Biddy Daly (4:15)
Traditional Irish jig set. Celtic harp and hammered dulcimer.

6 Hunter's House/Kiss Me Kate/Maid of Mt. Kisco (3:32)
A tune from the revered Ed Reavy followed by a popular session tune named for a fetching woman in a town outside New York City. Hammered dulcimer, Celtic harp, guitar, uilleann pipes, bodhran, pennywhistle and piano (Charlie).

7. Caledonia (4:35)
A celebration of home and Scotland from one of our favorite living songwriters, Dougie MacLean. Caledonia was the Latin word for Scotland when the Roman Empire claimed it as their own. Vocals, harmony vocals, guitar, Celtic harp, hammered dulcimer, Irish flute, pennywhistles and fretless bass.

8. Terence MacDonough (2:13)
A lovely lament by Turlough O'Carolan for a distinguished Sligoman who was the only Roman Catholic of his time allowed to practice law in Ireland. Celtic harp (Carol Rose) and hammered dulcimer.

9. Sean Dún na nGall (Old Donegal)/Killavil Fancy/Buttermilk Mary (5:31)
Our most traditional set, we begin with the revered slow air rendered in its highest form as a sean nós (unaccompanied and unmetered) vocal, and then offered alongside the first reel in the classic unison style of Irish playing. Connie learned this song from a visionary Irish album of 1950s field recordings, The Lark in the Morning (Tradition), found by her mother in a record store bin years ago. It is the single album that set Connie on her path. The words were written by Carl Hardebeck at the turn of the century. Connie wrote the English lyrics for her sister's wedding. "Killavil Fancy" is an old favorite; Mark Stone's solo shows off the tonal possibilities of a skinheaded drum. "Buttermilk Mary" is by fiddler Brendan McGlinchy from County Armagh. Vocals, button accordion, flute, hammered dulcimer, bodhran.

Is grá geal mo chroí thú a Thír Chonaill a stór
I do luí mar bheadh seoid ghlas san fharraige mhór
Ó gráim thú i gcónaí go moch is go mall
Agus molfaidh mé choíche thu a Shean-Dún nGall

Níl condae in Éirinn is deise ná thú
Níl daoine sa domhan mhór is fearr cáil is clíu
Ná mar tá i dTír Chonaill abhus agus thall
Ó bláth bán ár dtíre thú a Shean-Dún na nGall

Dearest ones, we hold you in the hollow of love.
As the mountains rise to meet the skies up above.
And as hills of green give way to heavens of blue
As the angels wreak, so mortals seek, a one from the two.

© Connie McKenna

Donegal, you are the bright love of my heart
Lying like a green jewel in the great ocean
I love you always, both early and late
And I will praise you forever, my old Donegal.

There is no county in Ireland more beautiful than you
There are no people in the world who have better fame or reputation
Than those in Donegal scattered here and there
You're the fair flower of our country, my old Donegal.

10. SONG: Fair Flower of Northumberland (6:42)
Another rebellious teenager of yore! We close our album with the redemption of a mother's smile. The text of this song appeared in print in 1597 and the line, "Oh, but her love was easy won." is the first documented example of an internal refrain. Connie learned it from the singing of Sara Grey whose source was Dick Gaughan. Vocals, guitar, Celtic harp, uilleann pipes, hammered dulcimer, pennywhistle (Kieran) and percussion.

Oh the gaoler's aye daughter was making her lane
Oh, but her love 'twas easy won
And she heard a Scot's prisoner a-making his mane
And she's the fair flower of Northumberland.

It's "Oh, gin the lassie would borrow a key,
And I'd make her a lady of a high degree
If she'd loose me out of this prison strang."

Then she's gane ben to her faither's bedstock
And she's stolen the keys for many a braw lock
And she's loosed him out of his prison strang.

But as they were a'riding across the Scot's moor, he said
"Get doon frae my horse, you're a brazen faced whore."

"It's a cook in your kitchen I surely will be
For I can nae go back to my ain country."

"But it's I have a wife in my ain country
And she can nae do nothing with a lassie like thee."

So laith was he the lassie tae tyne
That he's hired an old man and fee'd an old horse
To carry her back to Northumberland.

As she gan ben, her father did scowl,
"To be a Scot's whore and you're 15 years old.
And you're not the fair flower of Northumberland."

But as she gaed in, her mother did smile,
"For ye are nae the first that the Scots have beguiled
And you're still the fair flower of Northumberland."

Women of Ireland
  1. Mna Na Heireann (Women of Ireland) Ceoltoiri 1:34
  2. Hunter's House/Kiss Me Kate/Maid of MT. Kisco Ceoltoiri 3:33