This section features short essays by invited guest writers.
Our latest essay in this series is by film maker Simone Corr. You can read her text and watch her short film 'Tribute to a Sound'. Our thanks to Simone and we hope that you will enjoy her work.
In 2011 without fanfare, the foghorn was decommissioned from our coast line. A single Notice to Mariners was issued by the Commissioners of Irish Lights and it became so. Living on an island makes mariners of us all, so weather is never far from our consciousness. Island nations and coastal regions are more susceptible to fog. The biggest influence on Ireland's climate of course is the Atlantic Ocean, so the sea area and shipping forecasts subliminally enter our lives.
While Ireland, its western seaboard or stretches of the M50 may seem the foggiest places on the planet, they are not. The aptly named Cape Disappointment, (Washington State) and Grand Banks, (islands off Newfoundland) hold records in the extremes.
Meteorological Services measure visibility as: good, moderate, poor and fog. Where fog has a visibility of less than 1 km.
What is harder to measure are the innumerable references for fog when used as descriptor, metaphor, catchphrase, symbol, theme or motif. Fog within film and literature is used to great effect. Often indicating something menacing, making that which is visible, invisible. Robert Louis Stevenson, Bram Stoker and Dickens all used ‘foggyscapes’ to set the atmosphere.
"Before Turner there was no fog in London" writes Oscar Wilde in the Decay of Lying "The extraordinary change that has taken place in the climate of London during the last ten years is entirely due to a particular school of Art. At present people see fogs, not because they are fogs, but because poets and painters have taught them the mysterious loveliness of such effects. There may have been fogs for centuries in London. I dare say there were. But no one saw them, and so we know nothing about them. They did not exist until Art had invented them. Now, it must be admitted, fogs are carried to excess."
The cloaking fog of a winter’s evening sometimes makes noise sound hollow or distorts the distance from its source, car headlamps can cast shadows in 3-dimensions, typically through structures such as pylons or bare tree branches. During foggy conditions, sounds from the city will differ from sounds at sea, the foghorn as example is an audible warning to ships and small craft. In the earlier years cannons were used, explosive charges, bells and whistles, but these methods required manual resources. In the 20th century foghorns became electrified and automated. Now with navigational aids so advanced, sonar, GPS and recon are the eyes and ears of the modern seafarer. Commercial ships are still required to use foghorns, but they will no longer sound from our shores. Tribute to a Sound commemorates the decommissioning of the foghorn.
Simone Corr, Dec 2016.
Watch the short film Tribute to a Sound by clicking the play button below:
Life in post war Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s was tough going and light on entertainment. People worked hard for little, and any kind of recreation had to be done on a shoestring. Television hadn’t taken a hold on family life and the cinema, although popular, was at the very most a weekend treat. Radio was ubiquitous with a wireless in most homes, however people wanted to see as much as hear those that were entertaining them. It was therefore not unusual during this period for folks to make their own entertainment either as a family or on a local community basis. The family piano or the community hall were the gathering points for those looking to wile away a summer afternoon or a winter evening.
Dún Laoghaire was no different to the rest of the country in this respect and although it was probably more metropolitan than other parts of Ireland there was still a demand for a good knees up or a sing song. One advantage this parish had was of course it’s proximity to Dublin city, its port and its own harbour which brought in influences from abroad quicker than might have been the case in more rural parts of the country.
Let’s not also forget the beginnings of the popular music revolution that started in the U.S. and spread to Europe was at this time bringing recorded music into the homes of many via the gramophone and wireless. The people of post war Ireland were becoming familiar not only with Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby but also the revolutionary rock and roll records of Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry. Recorded music was at the beginning of a boom but far from stifling live acts it helped to inspire and bolster an up-swing in young people keen to follow in the steps of their idols. It also introduced a new range of songs emanating from the Brill building in New York or Tin Pan Alley in London.
It was into this world that the Brady family, who hailed from Rosary Gardens, off Library Road, brought their many talents. The Brady/Taylor’s were a gifted family of musicians and performers who had entertained their neighbours going back to Victorian times and who were typical of other families throughout Ireland who brought their talents to the local community - often by recreating the songs and routines of the worlds top musical acts. In the case of the Bradys this would take the form of seasonal pantomimes and ‘Musical Reviews’ held in the local hospital, convent hall or on occasion in the Pavilion theatre. These shows were often recreations of well known scenes taken from the films of Walt Disney or renditions of songs from the great hollywood musicals by Rogers and Hammerstein. Tunes such as ‘You’ll never Walk Alone’ or ‘Moon River’ by Henry Mancini were met with equal enthusiasm to the more traditional Irish ballads and folk songs. Popular versions of ‘The Foggy Dew’ and ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’ were common choices. Throughout the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s the growing members of the Brady family from grandparents down to grandchildren offered seasonal entertainment in various venues throughout the borough.
It is no surprise that out of this talented group would come someone who would seek to pursue entertainment as a profession. That person was Willie Brady who went on to start a recording career in the late 1950’s. Willie was both a talented singer, musician and entertainer with a sharp wit and a flair for comedy. He took after his mother Nan Brady (nee Taylor) in being a natural musician with a fine singing voice. His musical repertoire was gleaned not only from the popular songs of the day, sung by Sinatra, Crosby and Martin but also the more traditional music hall favourites and the folk songs of Ireland and Britain. One particular favourite was ‘The Patriot Game’ written by Dominic Behan, of which you can hear a recording below. Willie would tour Ireland playing everywhere from the Olympia theatre in Dublin to the community halls of villages around the country. He was known abroad and played New York and London and would have been very popular amongst the Irish communities in those cities.
Willie was also well acquainted with the some of the bright lights of Irish entertainment and would have played many a variety show often joining with comedian Hal Roach to form a duo for shows in the Gaiety and other theatres around the country. Willie and Hal became well known on radio and travelled throughout Ireland and the UK with their mix of light entertainment and comedy. Another person Willie knew from his boyhood was Dún Laoghaire native Ronnie Drew who grew up in Monkstown Farm and would have known the Brady’s as neighbours. Willie gave Ronnie his first banjo lessons and Ronnie would have learned songs from the Brady’s as a young man. Years later Ronnie often payed tribute to Willie on many occasions and shared songs that Willie had taught him. Tragically Willie died in 1968 of a short illness whilst still in his prime at the young age of 38.
You can hear Willie sing ‘The Patriot Game’ by clicking on the audio player below.
- Sound Title: Willie Brady ‘The Patriot Games’
- Duration: 4:00
- Location: Cross Avenue
- Date/Time: 1960s
- Author(s): Willie Brady
There was still plenty of talent left in the wider Brady family and Anne Byrne, Willie’s niece was already making a name for herself in the Irish music scene. Anne was the eldest of the Byrne family (her mother was Willy’s sister, Brigid ‘Queenie’ Brady) and she grew up on Tivoli Terrace North. The Byrne family were all wonderful singers and Anne in particular had a sweet soprano voice. She was the winner of many Fheis Ceoil in her teens and by 19 was already a recording artist. As already mentioned, Anne would have been familiar to the citizens of Dun Laoghaire from the various performances put on in St. Michaels hospital and the Dominican Convent by the Brady and Byrne clans during the 40’s and 50’s. Anne, like her Uncle Willie, would have had a repertoire of traditional Irish Ballads and folk songs that were now gaining popularity across the globe due to the folk revival in the US and also in the UK.
Anne found herself on the crest of a wave of folk revivalism and she was soon a regular on TV and Radio and a performer of concerts around Ireland and Britain. She first formed a duo with singer Jesse Owens and they released a number of albums together, his rich tenor complementing her high soprano. Anne appeared on numerous radio and television programs at the time and her and Jesses’ albums sold well both here and abroad.
Anne had already met her future husband Patrick Roche in 1965 and it was Patrick’s interest in the contemporary folk scene that led Anne to include more recent songwriters. She began to cover songs by writers like Gordon Lightfoot and Eric Anderson along with obvious the hits of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. Her interest in the American folk scene led to comparisons in particular with Joan Baez and indeed both voices are similar, however Annes’ Irish lilt and intonation added an extra charm to her renditions. Anne’s talents were noted by Irish songwriters and her biggest hit was written for her by Irish songwriter Gordon Smith who penned the song ‘Come by the Hills’ especially to suit her voice.
From around 1968 to 1975 Anne experienced the height of her success with 4 solo albums released between these years. Other hits such as Avondale (written about the Irish politician Charles Stuart Parnell) and Bunclody continued to increase her fan base. In 1969 she travelled to New York where she took up a residency in the famous Irish Pavilion singing alongside the Clancy brothers and Judy Collins. She also played the Philadelphia folk festival sharing a stage with the likes of Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot. She would continue to return to the states over the next few years for tours around the east coast where her Irish American fan-base was most strong.
Anne continued to record and perform in Ireland up until the late 70’s. However, the demands of motherhood and a change in musical tastes led to her becoming less and less involved in the music scene. In many ways the stresses and strains of performing were unsuited to her and she retired from live performance in the early 80s.
Although during the busiest years of her career she lived away from the borough of Dun Laoghaire she finally returned to live there in the mid 80’s and there was a continuation of the sing alongs and get togethers, now focused in the Byrne homestead on Tivoli Terrace. This enduring musical legacy has already rubbed off on a new generation with Anne’s nephews John Lambert (as Chequerboard) and Rhob Cunningham both recording and releasing their their own music over the past few years.
Jay Roche, June 2016
With thanks to Shane Brady, Anne Byrne and Patrick Roche
You can hear Anne talk about performing her music in Dún Laoghaire and other fond recollections by clicking on the audio player below. We are very pleased to have a recent recording from July 2015 of Anne singing ‘Come by the hills’ accompanied by Patrick Roche on guitar.
- Sound Title: Anne Byrne & Patrick Roche talk about performing music in Dún Laoghaire
- Duration: 5:41
- Location: Cross Avenue
- Date/Time: July 2015
- Equipment: Rode NT4+SD702
- Weather: Indoors
- Description: Anne Byrne and Patrick Roche recollect the days when they performed their music in Dún Laoghaire. Anne also talks about Wille Brady and some other famous locals from the borough. Anne, accompanied by Patrick Roche sings ‘Come by the hills’ one of her best known songs.
- Author(s): Anthony Kelly
Top: Willie Brady by unknown photographer.
Group image: Christmas Pantomime circa. 1950s, Dominican Convent, Dun Laoghaire. Third from left Rosaleen Brady, Edmund Byrne, Patsy Brady, Queenie Byrne (nee Brady). Anne Byrne is third from the right. Photographer unknown.
Below: Jay Roche by Ciara Brehony.
Artists engage with the world in a way that taps into sensory experiences that may otherwise be taken for granted. The artist lets the senses guide you—a mode of navigation not bound by reason. When an artist maps a site, acoustically in this instance, sound becomes the means of communicating the essence of a place. A sonic ambiance is cultivated as the artist collects snippets of daily life, tracing his or her presence cartographically. Sharing a fragmented soundscape in a geographic form allows others to not only gain perception into the artist’s journey, it situates these experiences in a real place. As such, A Soundmap of Dún Laogharie presents navigable sonic insight into this artistic portrait of a borough. Throughout the project, Stalling and Kelly have taken on the role of composers in this orchestrated soundscape by cultivating an aesthetic experience of this distinctive borough.
As a relative new-comer to Ireland, I appreciate how this sound map allows me to become more familiar with Dún Laoghaire (I have to check the spelling every time I type those words). David Stalling’s recording from the playground in the Belarmine Estate above (Sound #00006) carries notes of familiarity, evoking a nostalgia for my own childhood of many summer days spent playing nearing my home in the cul-de-sac of Ruxton Road. The sound of birds chattering mixed with children playing and echoes of traffic noises fill my ears. The murmur of parents slips in and out of the background. I close my eyes and let the sounds encircle me. An adult coughs—I turn slightly to the left. I hear a ball pounding on the pavement. A young child giggles. “Kick it to me, please.” A bicycle whizzes by. The more I listen to this pleasant scene of play, leisure, and social exchange, with its blend of natural and urban noises, the more immersed I become in this slice of daily life. I go so far as to imagine the warmth of sun light on my skin.
I then turn to Sound #00033, “Autumn Leaves, Granitefield,” recorded by Anthony Kelly along Rochestown Avenue. I can hear his footsteps crunch along the dry leaves that amassed along the route. Cars drone in the background as Kelly strolls along. The crunching transitions from measured steps to boisterous noise, almost like the static of a radio stuck between stations. A twig snaps. I can imagine Kelly pushing his way through a collected pile of leaves—another sound that I can trace to my own childhood.
Even though the artists provide an annotated map for me to follow, there is no directive on how I am to engage with this map. The sounds are numbered, though I do not need to follow them in order. I can hop from location to location, or I scan through a list and explore those I find provocative. I let these carry me back to map, where I continue to jump from link to link. How I experience Dún Laoghaire depends on how I decide to navigate. The artists have set the parameters, but I create the new world depending on how I piece my experience together. As such, A Soundmap of Dún Laogharie is performative—constitutive—as its contributors collect sonic traces of a place, and offering a non-linear path for the user to navigate. Treating mapping as performative means that it is treated as generative, rather than reflective.
While my experience of this borough are relatively limited, listening to this diverse collection of sounds provides me with a sense of familiarity of the place. Some sounds, like Stalling’s recording of the playground, offer an overview of the scene, like an establishing shot. I feel like a fly on the wall, just taking in the surrounding environment. With other sounds, like “Autumn Leaves,” I am placed in the midst of action. Throughout these recordings, I am granted with a keyhole glimpse into the daily life of this region, as in Kelly’s recording of young people swimming in Colimore harbour (Sound #00038). The lapping of waves dominate this track, making me feel as if I am swimming through the bay itself. I hear children joyfully splashing, chatting back and forth with voices heavy with breath due to the exertion of energy. Seagulls proclaim their presence. A woman and child are in the midst of a swimming lesson. Mother and son? The heavy splashing of an inexperienced swimmer, learning to control his arms and legs break through every now and again. “I can’t.” “You’re lazy.” He swims on. “Well done.” The intimacy of this experience is engrossing.
What I find distinctive about A Soundmap Dún Laoghaire when compared to similar, web based audio-cartographic projects, is the care that its contributors put into the act of recording. Sound #00043, “Seagulls and Pigeons,” presents a verbal exchange between Stalling and an elderly woman. She has stumbled upon him as he is recording and begins to discuss the particularities bird plumage colours: “There are lots of white feathers with the pigeons and I think they have a romance with the seagulls. Don’t you? [Laugh]. I hope they do!” Her excitement over the variety of avian colourings keep her from even finishing her sentences as she leaps at the chance to describe the features of different birds. Traffic sounds and the beeps of a crosswalk fill the background of this exchange between Stalling and the woman. The conversation is quirky, imaginative, but also grounded in particular experiences.
Mapping as an artistic practice is not novel. It has been documented throughout the twentieth century and earlier, and is a process utilised by Surrealists, Situationists, Fluxus artists, Pop artists, and Dada. The latest advances in digital technology and locative media in the production and uptake of cartography has informed how artists engage with geographies. Digital iterations continue this legacy, while also facilitating the process. As annotated digital maps are becoming more and more popular, a significant aspect of A Soundmap of Dún Laoghaire is the continued emphasis on face-to-face exchanges in the production of recordings. At the moment, Kelly and Stalling have been working with guest recordists who express an explicit interest in participating in this project so they may build a relationship with it, developing an investment in its outcome. This emphasis on non-digital, person-to-person engagement is notable in relation to the digital outcome of the project, since it explicitly merges this platform with physical human relations. At the same time, these interactions also slows down the production of the work, which can be considered a benefit. When it comes to the internet, artists may get caught up on the pressure of producing quickly in order to stay relevant, which inevitably speeds up the process of creation. Speed minimises the space of creative reflection as works can be uploaded for public consumption without a second thought. There are consequences associated with this process. For example, work produced in digital haste may not be thought out well, can be presented in unfinished forms, or is of poor quality. Once a work is placed on the internet, it escapes the artist’s control (though such can be said for any work that leaves the studio). However, the scope of influence that the internet encompasses far surpasses that of a physical object placed in a gallery; it can be accessed at the click of a button by anyone with appropriate digital access. While the method of production is place-based, the final product is not. Thus, slowing down this process and taking extra care in the production of these recordings, which includes engagement with the recordists themselves, offers room to breathe.
As an outsider, there are certain particularities of Dún Laoghaire that will remain foreign to me. These include cultural quirks that despite my best efforts, I may never acclimate to. However, the human relations and everyday actions that make up A Soundmap of Dún Laoghaire offer me a sense of transplanted nostalgia. I am able to connect these sounds with my own memories, transcending impercetible boundaries as I feel a little bit more at home in this adopted land.
It’s a little too early on a weekend morning as I hurry towards the Luas in Windy Arbour. I walk this road all the time, but never this early. The pale grey crescent of pebbledash, usually lively with lights and families going about their business, is lying still and is barely twitching out of its sleep. Because I am alone and I am rushing, I startle as a sudden metallic clicking of heels rises up behind me. I turn around but there’s nobody there. I stop. No sound. No sound other than my own, slightly anxious breathing. Then I clock the sharp architecture of the street corner: the sound of my own steps had ricochet off the walls, as if off a snooker table.
I always enjoy emerging from the Dart stop in Dún Laoghaire, meeting the opposing clangs of steel and traffic. Making the transition from the enclosure of the train carriage, seeing the sea appear behind the glass, I am never quite prepared for the noise. Somehow a train window implies an expectation for everything to be muffled.
The buses at the terminal are exhaling in puffs, all lined up liked bored schoolchildren. The new Library juts out in the distance, and I follow its contours as I make my way down towards the pier. When I get there, the gulls are in the process of losing a screaming match with a roaring mass of grey. Against all this monochrome, the cliff side is as green and as vibrant as ever.
Anthony says: ‘If you take a walk on the West Pier, you are fully aware of all the town noises: you’ve got the trains, you’ve got cars, you’ve got people. But the further you walk down the pier, you become much more aware of the harbour, and of the sounds of the sea. The further you walk down, you’re leaving the sound of the town behind: you move ‘out’ much more. And when you get to the first elbow, you really become aware of it.’
Today there is no clicking. My steps are slow and deliberate. It’s cold, yet I am wishing this rare moment of quiet reflection could go on indefinitely.
The Victorian shelter and its little brother the bandstand sparkle in the intermitting sunshine, welcoming through a steady trickle of families, of children, of pets. All of us here to walk a topography we know well, perhaps even take for granted, but one that keeps us coming back.
I go on to wonder how and if at all the sounds of this location - flexible, shifting actors in this geographic and weather-sensitive play - register in the conscious experience of the people here today. I can only smile to myself as my thinking gets rudely interrupted by a honk from a distant ferry, waving its deep bass goodbye out of the harbor. There’s my answer.
With A Sound Map of Dún Laoghaire, Anthony Kelly and David Stalling are undertaking a project that – alongside its primary educational, archival and artistic goals – will help its users rediscover with this particular aspect of auditory experience.
The invitation is out to the people who are here today – the elderly gentleman examining the sundial, the boyfriend and girlfriend having their ice cream, the little girl pointing at a little blue boat - to consider the unheard, and to get excited about it. And, maybe, to begin on a process of a collaborative auditory awakening that will in turn inspire to further admire, highlight and preserve the sounds of this location.
Without realising I have come to the end of the pier. The wind is getting stronger, but I steady myself and sit on the concrete edge, and close my eyes.
It’s true. From here you can’t hear the traffic anymore.