It seems very fitting that I am meeting Thérèse McIntyre for ice cream in Galway to discuss her new RTÉ Radio 1 series Herosongs. The premise of the show is to explore where history and song meet – so too could that description be afforded to our lovely city! Thérèse has been telling me about her idea for this show for a long time and to finally see it in fruition is very exciting. I couldn’t wait to hear about the inspiration behind the show, the historical figures, and if there is anyone in particular we should be listening out for in the series.
Aisling: So, Herosongs – how did that come about?
Thérèse: Like all great Galway stories it started with a chat in a pub with Jack L about a previous Athena Media production for Lyric FM, ‘High Fidelity: a history of recorded song’. He suggested that with my research interest I should look to the broadcasting world as the two would be a great pair. One conversation later, and Helen Shaw of Athena Media had pitched to RTÉ and suddenly we were looking to the BAI for funding for a show called Herosongs!
Aisling: Where history and song meet… There is something very special for both music scholars and historians where this cross over happens. When looking at songs, the historical context is essential to understand place, people and time. How important was it for you to have this crossover?
Thérèse: With my academic background being so interdisciplinary and my own personal research coming from the traditional spectrum it was vitally important to have the two cross in the show. Ultimately I want to bring songs into the field of academics, an area in which they have been greatly overlooked. Most people wouldn’t realise how much historical value there is in a song!!
Aisling: It is very evident that you have a grá for Irish music – and I know you well enough to know of the other research pursuits and interests you have – but for those who will be new to the show, and you, where did this passion come from?
Thérèse: Oh God. This is tough. Probably when I was in New York in the 1990’s and I had the opportunity to work with and get to know Karan Casey and Niamh Parsons and John Doyle and others like that who were teaching workshops. There was a huge flourish in Irish singing at that time. Karan was actually my voice coach when I was competing in the Fleadh Cheol and I suppose I have been singing ever since.
Aisling: Are there any of the songs and historical figures/moments in the series which had a particular resonance with you?
Thérèse: Kevin Barry. He is where it all started with my MA thesis. It was very appropriate that the last episode I recorded ended with him. Can’t seem to get rid of him!
Aisling: Are there any names or voices we will recognise in the series?
Thérèse: From the academic side, Niall Ó Cíosáin and Lillis Ó Laoire from here in NUI Galway, and Mike Cronin from Boston College. On the traditional side Iarla Ó Líonáird, Frances Black, Eric Bogle (who wrote ‘Willie McBride’). There is a good mix of academic and traditional. Something for everyone no matter which side of the spectrum you are listening from…
And with melting ice creams to finish and more music chat and catch up we ended the discussion. I left our conversation thinking about Ireland and her musicians and the songs that have stood the test of time. It is often perceived that Ireland has a special and unique relationship with music and its musicians. Often linked with our identity, this music as a cultural practice varies and the expansive tradition that exists right up to the modern day can be explored through many avenues. With such a rich and diverse history, looking at the changing nature of the times though the music that sprang from it and recorded it provides an interesting avenue to examine identity and context. The hero takes many forms in Ireland and looking at this through song Thérèse delves into the historical, social and political happenings of this island.
– Aisling Nolan
Aisling Nolan recently completed a BA Connect with Irish Studies at NUI Galway, where she took English and History to degree level. She is preparing to begin a Masters degree in the Social Anthropology of Irish Music and Ethnomusicology at Queens University Belfast.
Thérèse McIntyre is in the final furlong of her PhD at the Centre for Irish Studies NUI Galway, where she previously completed her Masters in Irish Studies. Prior to that Thérèse completed a BA English and History here at NUIG and was part of the first graduating class of the diploma in Irish Studies in the Centre. This radio series is her first, and hopefully the first of many with Athena Media and RTÉ.