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 offers keen insights into the origins of each tune in the booklet, and intriguing anecdotes about historic figures.
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.
The cover of "Clear the Way" featuring the art work of Don Troiani.
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.