Songs of Cork, No 1,000: Castletreasure

In the 1,000th edition of his Songs of Cork column, JIMMY CROWLEY selects a ballad from a place that holds happy memories for him, PLUS hear a podcast where he sings a few ditties
Songs of Cork, No 1,000: Castletreasure

Jimmy Crowley and his partner Eve Telford at the approximate site of the grave of ‘Billy the Black’ in Summerlea, Castletreasure - the subject of today’s song

IT is with great amazement and warm gratitude that I write today’s preamble. For today is a singular day in the life of this column, and indeed in the life of the present writer - our 1,000th song in the series.

Twenty summers have passed, no less, since I first began work on The Songs of Cork and submitted The Groves Of Blackpool to my editor, John Dolan as my first offering.

In the few social outings we’ve had together; particularly when John was kind enough to be part of the launch of my book, Songs From The Beautiful City, and more recently, the eponymous CD companion, he said he had expected the series to run for maybe six months, a year tops - but look at what happened!

Thank-you, the plain people of Cork, for granting me the wherewithal, the lyrics, background and music to tell your story. And stories married to a melody last a lot longer than the plainer kind.

Much of my own life has reappeared through the songs; my early years in Douglas, traipsing around with Kevin ‘Cuz’ Beale, Sammy Collins and cousin ‘Smiley’ Daly. I’m sure many of the local names like The Slippery Gap, The Bow-wow, the Shelly House and Doman’s Woods were new to Echo readers.

And God knows, the site of today’s song, Castletreasure, I’m sure, conjures up strange notions to many. Verdant, lush and elevated, Castletreasure is a pleasing bourne a few miles south from Douglas village. That is where I grew up and where my dreams were sown.

Eve Telford and myself wrote today’s song, Castletreasure. Hearing its first few notes and the soporific quality made me feel another hand was at work. The genesis of the song was well planted but we were rather at a stand, as they say in England, till a chance encounter with my old friend from Scart, Castletreasure, Der McCarthy, recounted the intriguing tale of Billy ‘the Black’ and set us on a very different course.

On the rolling hills of Castletreasure, according to folk memory, there once lived a bold buccaneer. We must remember in those early 18th century days, piracy was respectable and even the King and Queen of England bartered and traded with them.

One kind-hearted cut-throat plied his trade in the Caribbean and one day, after sacking a lucrative Spanish merchant ship, didn’t he see a little black boy cowering in the corner of a cabin. The pirate captain decided to take him back home to his nieces in Castletreasure to keep them company on the farm. He saw poor Billy as no more than a walking, talking, dolly-dowsey. Different times, folks, and a very different context.

Eve and myself visited Summerlea, a beautiful demesne in Castletreasure and Billy’s old home. We were hosted by the O’Sullivan family who told us all they could about Billy. We somehow had to get his story into the song, for we felt he was tugging at our sleeves wanting to be remembered.

It was commonly believed in Douglas, the O’Sullivans told us, that Billy was well integrated as he got older and worked as a butler in the house that ‘adopted’ him.

Unfortunately, when he died the repressive conventions of the time played against him. Evidently, the vicar in Douglas Church refused to grant him Christian burial in St Luke’s Churchyard. Poor Billy was committed to a plot in the orchard under the apple trees he loved so well. Eve and I visited the most likely site of Billy’s grave and remembered him.

Olga Pyne Clarke, whose autobiography I have just finished, sometimes used the nom de plume Pádraig Ó Clára and in this capacity she wrote an interesting article about Billy. You can still find it on the ‘Douglas Yesteryear’ website.

CASTLETREASURE

Wherever I roam Castletreasure is home

Where wild berries blow in the heather.

The gossamer breeze awakens the trees

Where rolling hills tumble forever.

And I call it my home

Wherever I roam,

I call it my home, Castletreasure;

Where Billy’s bones lie

In the orchard nearby

Where he watched his white sisters at play.

Strange stories unfold in that meadow of gold

Where sovereigns are stowed in good measure;

Much richer by far is the drowsy wee tarn

Where brown feathered friends float together.

And he called it his home,

Far away o’er the foam

Far from the winds of Tobago,

Mr Vicar man, please, let me lie ‘neath your trees;

My bones are as white as your own.

Wherever I roam Castletreasure is home

Cold concrete pours over my treasure,

From the sweet Saddle Field to the Liberty Stream

From Cos Dubh right down to Mountpellier.

And I call it my home

Wherever I roam,

I call it my home, Castletreasure;

Where Billy’s bones lie

In the orchard nearby

Where he watched his white sisters at play

Take a bow... musicians pay tribute to balladeer’s milestone 100th song

CHRISTY MOORE, FOLK SINGING LEGEND

Jimmy Crowley has been a great compañero since we first sang together in The Phoenix Bar many years ago. We did a tour back in the 1970s... Ballydehob, Kilcrohane, Kealkill, Schull, Sherkin Island and Skibbereen. We were hitting the high spots, our bandwagon was an old red Renault 4L, two balladeers and a bundle of songs He taught me Johnny Jump Up out on Sherkin Island, we’ve shared many’s the verse. Jimmy Crowley has been a master collector of songs. Blood & Bandage to the core... Cork’s very own Troubadour.

JOHN SPILLANE, CORK SINGER/SONGWRITER

Big congratulations to Jimmy on reaching his 1,000th song in his iconic Echo Songs of Cork series, testament to his great scholarship and the rich biodiversity of the Cork song tradition. From jolly rollicking ballads like The Good Ship Kangaroo to great, deep, keening Gaelic slow airs such as Carraig Aonair, the lament for the Fastnet drownings, he has covered a wide range of song styles.

I am personally very grateful to him for a musical apprenticeship I spent playing with him in the early 1980s and have been greatly honoured to have some of my songs such as Princes Street and Passage West included in this wonderful column over the years.

Rock on, Jimmy, you good thing.

GERRY KELLY, CORK POPS ORCHESTRA

So blow your breezes; blow farewell to the Asgard, See that lady go O’er the dark rolling sea A few lines from Jimmy’s song My Love Is A Tall Ship have always resonated with me and probably influenced my decision to learn how to sail. I first became aware of the song during the Tall Ships visit to Cork in July, 1991.

Jimmy himself is no mean sailor, and is to be complimented for his Songs of Cork column in The Echo. These ballads, which often refer to historical events, can arouse a historical curiosity and are a great way of passing on information to future generations.

I was amazed to see Jimmy has documented 1,000 songs for The Echo and am delighted he has preserved this legacy for future generations. ‘Fair Winds’, Jimmy!”

PAUL FROST, CORK COMPOSER

Chuireas féin agus Jimmy aithne ar a chéile am éigin insna seachtóidí. An bheirt againn óg istigh sa Phoenix. Bhí suim ag an mbeirt againn insna hamhráin dúchasacha agus roinneas leis go fonnmhar a raibh im cheann díobh, The Boys Of Fair Hill ina measc. Bhí san mar bhunchloch ag an chéad cheirnín a eisigh Jimmy agus Stokers Lodge.

Bhí agus tá an-shuím ag Jimmy in amhráin as Gaeilge, agus go deimhin sa teanga féin. Dhein sé céim sa Ghaeilge i UCC agus chónaigh sé thiar i nGaeltacht Chorca Dhuibhne ar feadh tréimhse. Laoch mór aige ab ea Nioclás Tóibín ó Rinn ó gCuanach a thugas i leith ar cheann des na Folk Festivals luatha. Tá an-chreidiúint ag dul do Jimmy as a bhfuil déanta aige timpeall ar amhráin áitiúla. Seoid is ea é inár measc, seoid nár athraigh riamh. Gura fada buan é.

PEADAR Ó RIADA, COMPOSER AND MUSICIAN

I have known Jimmy since the early ’70s when he was a frequent part of our company around Cúil Aodha. Back then he always would sing local Cork songs. He went on to be very much the voice of a Cork city culture, and has been one of the wonderful brothers of Cork song.

God only knows what corner or cranny he pokes all the songs from, but he does so consistently. I have watched, listened and played his recordings on Raidio na Gaeltachta and was really impressed with his double album Songs From The Beautiful City. This boy has a track record.

I like the fact he was always interested in the sea and he sails the waters of our beautiful city and coast. Long may he continue to navigate the streams and rivers of our native, creative records of note and existence, and keep providing songs for our paper, the Echo.

Email us your tribute to Jimmy Crowley and have your say at letters@theecho.ie

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