Travel to Northern Ireland: Book and Songs

Northern Ireland Week

Note: In another of those wonderful coincidences that strike  from time to time, a publisher sent a lovely novel set in Northern Ireland at the same time that another publisher sent a darker mystery from the same place.  I called on Kerry Dexter to share her unmatched understanding of Ireland and today she shares with us both a book and music to introduce Northern Ireland to the traveler. So I hereby declare Northern Ireland week at A Traveler’s Library. If you read below the video, you will learn why this is a particularly appropriate time to focus on Northern Ireland.

Destination: County Down, Northern Ireland

Book: Songman by Tommy Sands 

Music: Arising From the Troubles by Tommy Sands

Article by Kerry Dexter

“Growing up, I heard songs all around me, songs of emigration, and traditional songs, things that were very meaningful to those who wrote them. There were things happening around me, and I wanted to write about what was going on around me.” says songwriter Tommy Sands.

Sands grew up in County Down, in Northern Ireland, during a time when violent conflict between political and social divisions in the north, and about the political future of the six northern counties, was escalating. The area where he lived at the foot of the the mountains of Mourne looks out across the water at another set of mountains in the Cooley peninsula, which is across the border in the Republic of Ireland. Though the violence of the times struck close by and was daily in the news, Sands saw other sides of day to day life, as well. “When my parents played music — my father played the fiddle and my mother played accordion — people would come into the house, and it didn’t matter what religion you were, what politics, soon I’d see their feet tapping in time, all to the same tune,” Sands recalls.

It is that sort of connection and reaching across borders and ideologies that Sands seeks to create through his own music. Drawing from the wells of history, mythology, and what happens around him has led Sands to write and sing songs which have taken him all over the world. Sands and his songs have often been voices of peace amidst anger, and healing amidst conflict, in places from Belfast to Sarajevo to the Middle East. In addition to his songs, Sands has written a book about his life, called Songman. Though it does indeed talk some of his travels, the most vivid parts of his narrative have to do with his early days in Rostrevor, his choices as a young man to follow music rather than violence, and his work following music and working for peace in Northern Ireland.

The book is thoughtful, interesting, and at times sparkles with Sands’ dry wit. It may also help you understand a bit about life and politics in Northern Ireland. I’d suggest you also listen to the music Tommy Sands makes. Recently, he’s released Arising from the Troubles in which he’s gathered up songs he’s been writing and singing over the years but had not put on record, in which he offers perspectives on connection, disconnection and healing which are grounded in the history of Northern Ireland and yet with ideas which reach across its borders. Another of his albums, Let the Circle Be Wide, includes his call for connection and healing in the title track, as well as an uplifting song about sailing on his home waters, Carlingford Bay.

Read more about traveling to Northern Ireland in this 2011 article,  Kerry Dexter wrote for Perceptive Travel.This week is known as the “Marching Days” this time of year, when tragic history provides cause for flare-ups of conflict. Kerry reminds us that the 12th of July marks a date in 1690 when William of Orange defeated catholic King James. The day is still commemorated by marches by the Orangemen.  In Feburary 2012, Kerry also wrote about visiting a cathedral in Newry that brings the past to mind.


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About Kerry Dexter

Kerry Dexter is a regular contributor to A Traveler’s Library, bringing her knowledge of music and musicians who share a sense of place and travel. Her work also appears in Journey to Scotland and the Encyclopedia of Ireland and the Americas, among other places. Check out her bio on the contributor’s page to learn more and see her site at Music Road.

2 thoughts on “Travel to Northern Ireland: Book and Songs

  1. I’m a visitor to Kerry’s blog and so often feel that she helps us to know the artists she covers, their music and the bigger picture of how the music circles back to a place (physical or emotional).

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