The Dubliners,
Finnegan Wakes
(Transatlantic, 1966;
Sanctuary, 2003)

For more than 20 years, Ireland had a self-imposed politically correct censorship on radio. Primarily, we were oversensitive to any folk music that might cause offence due to its republican -- Irish Republican -- content. With the carnage taking place on the island, this was hardly surprising. An unfortunate side effect was that groups like the Dubliners either avoided the songs that had brought them fame or suffered an airplay famine.

This album, released originally in 1966 on the excellent Transatlantic label, was one casualty. Thankfully it was re-released in 2003 and is a great showcase of what our most rollicking folk music of the 1960s sounded like. It is from a live show from the famous Gate Theatre in Dublin and as such it captures the Dubliners at their best -- haranguing the audience, making jokes and giving some background to a number of well-loved songs.

It opens with the title track -- a pun on Joyce -- and does not let up until the concert ends. We then get bonus tracks from a Dubliners EP (a now-defunct short album concept) and an unreleased comedy piece by Ronnie Drew.

"Monto" is one of those songs that Irish radio would seldom play regardless of republicanism. It is a comic song concerning the red light district of old Dublin with references to religious groups, censorship, Queen Victoria and the use of the Irish language to get round risque words.

Another song seldom heard in recent times is "The Dublin Fusiliers" and the same can be said about that anthem of the Irish navy, "McAlpine's Fusiliers." If you are young enough to be unaware of this song you must listen to it as, through sarcasm and dark comedy, it tells of the true cost of re-building Britain after the Second World War. The same theme is followed in "The Hot Asphalt."

Add to these "The Sea Around Us," "Come to the Bower" and "Off to Dublin in the Green" and you will understand why it got scant airplay from 1970 to 1994.

This album also dates from a time when the great Luke Kelly was alive and belting out great songs with the group. As Drew states on one introduction, "Luke is a communist, he even gives money to the poor." Kelly brought a fierce social conscience to the music that comes across in his heartfelt delivery.

Today in Dublin we have the spire or spike on O'Connell Street. Until 1966 we were blessed with Admiral Nelson looking after us, or down on us. "Nelson's Farewell" tells the tale of how he left us one fateful night in March.

While enjoying the songs and banter, we often forget that the Dubliners were top-class instrumentalists. Listen to them play "Chief O'Neill's Favourite" and you will realize the secret of the group's greatness. Who else would forego the lyrics of "Boolavogue" and then play it on banjo with uilleann pipe accompaniment and produce magic from two much maligned instruments?

With 20 tracks, impromptu Irish wit and fantastic performances, this is a classic and we are blessed to have it available on CD. Any aspiring folksinger could do well to get this, base a play list on it and give the hearty soul back to folk.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 20 November 2004

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