various artists,
The Rights of Man:
The Concert for Joseph Doherty

(Green Linnet, 1991)

On Feb. 24, 1990, less than two weeks after Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa, a benefit concert was held in New York City for an imprisoned Irish folk hero, Joseph Patrick Doherty. A portion of the concert was released a year later as a further fund-raiser on Doherty's behalf.

Of course, that calls for some history. Doherty, an Irish citizen, had by the time of the concert been in a U.S. prison for eight years. After being convicted of participation in an IRA operation in Northern Ireland, he'd escaped to the States in 1983 and was promptly arrested for entering the country without immigration papers. However, the courts denied Britain's demand for extradition, and in 1990 -- despite efforts by the Reagan and Bush administrations to challenge that ruling -- the courts decided Doherty could apply for political asylum. Still, the government refused to release him and so, without ever being actually charged with a crime against U.S. laws, he was held for eight years in a Manhattan prison designed only for short-term detention and so without the usually mandated educational, vocational and recreational programs and facilities.

That was the state of things when a large number of Irish musicians and organizers donated their talents to raise money for Doherty's release. No matter what your politics might be, this is an excellent collection of 17 live tracks by some talented Irish-American performers.

Beginning with a tight set of reels by Green Fields of America, the album progresses through a veritable who's who of Irish music. Mick Moloney, Robbie O'Connell and Jimmy Keane share the stage for the melancholy "The Winning Side," written especially for Doherty, before Seamus Connolly, James (not Jimmy) Keane, Jerry O'Sullivan, Mark Simos and Myron Bretholz kick things back up to speed with another set of reels. Then Jigsaw (Eileen Ivers, Joannie Madden, Gabriel Donohue and Donal Lunny) perform an original song about Doherty based on the hornpipe "The Rights of Man."

Rosalyn Briley and Barbara Nolan join forces for a slow and lovely duet on the Celtic harp before a kicking set of jigs and reels by Celtic Thunder. Father Michael Doyle, a Camden, N.J., priest and social activist, changes things up a bit with his original poem, "The Hunger Striker's Mother," after which Mick Moloney and James Keane perform the melancholy rebel song "O'Hara, Hughes, McCreesh and Sands." Next, elder melodeon player Tom Doherty joins forces with his daughter Maureen and flute and Moloney on guitar for a set of reels and the jig "Take the Bull by the Horns." Then Matty Connolly gives a solo performance of "Blackbirds and Thrushes" on the uilleann pipes, and the New York All Star Ceili Band (Joe Madden, Paddy Reynolds, Matty Connolly, Mike Rafferty, Mary Rafferty and Felix Dolan) launch another set of reels.

Sean nos singer Treasa Ui Chearbhuill solos for the Gaelic song "An Droighnean Donn" before more reels featuring Brian Conway, Tony DeMarco, Felix Dolan and Martin Mulhaire. Billy McComiskey, Jack Coen, Jerry O'Sullivan and Myron Bretholz run through a jig set, then Cherish the Ladies sing the prayer for peace, "From a Distance." The album concludes with Donna Long, John Whelan, Brendan Mulvihill and Seamus Egan with an air, hornpipe and reel set.

In several tracks, the fancy footwork of stepdancers including Jean Butler, Regan and Linnane Wick, Mairead Powell, Eileen Golden, Donny Golden and members of the Golden School of Irish Dance can be heard adding percussive flair to the tunes.

Benefit concerts have since the 1960s produced a mixed lot of good and bad albums. The Rights of Man: The Concert for Joseph Doherty is one of the better I've heard, bringing together a grand mix of musicians and high-quality recording. Whatever your views on Irish politics, this is an excellent collection to have on your shelf.

Despite the good intentions of the benefit and a lengthy legal battle, Doherty was deported to Britain in 1992 and imprisoned in Northern Ireland. However, we understand he was released under the terms of the peace agreement in November 1999.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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