Tuesday 12 December 2017

A song of the suffering little children

Declan O'Rourke tells Barry Egan about how he composed 'Children of '16', and how he grew up being moved by songs of Irish nationhood

Declan O'Rourke first wrote 'Children of '16' for a commemorative service. Photo: Caroline Quinn.
Declan O'Rourke first wrote 'Children of '16' for a commemorative service. Photo: Caroline Quinn.

My APOLOGIES in advance to Bono. Declan O'Rourke has a voice like no one else on these shores. It's quite possibly a gift from someone, God, whoever. So when Declan steps back from the microphone after performing Children Of '16 for the Windmill Lane Sessions on Independent.ie, you feel like you are in the presence of a special talent.

The song - which is on Independent News & Media's 16 for '16: Rising Against Homelessness CD in aid of the One For Ireland Campaign - is something he is "very proud of".

"I love singing it," he says. "Back in 2014 I was asked by Joe Duffy to take part in a commemorative service for 40 children killed in and around Dublin in Easter week of 1916. At first it sounded like a good way to start exploring what I knew was going to be a very emotional chapter for all of us - the centenary of the Rising," he says.

Declan adds that he couldn't think of an appropriate song to sing at the service, "although Joe and I went through my catalogue, via email, to try to pick something, but neither of us came up with anything."

It just seemed the song wasn't there, adds Declan. "So it came down to one question," he says. Declan sent Joe another email that simply said: "What would you like me to do, Joe?"

The email Declan got back from Joe just had a list of 40 children's names. . .

"I knew instantly what he was doing," says Declan, "The next 10 days, which is all I had before the ceremony, were a whirlwind of researching, reading info Joe sent me on all of the kids individually, and singing in the shower. Sleepwalking between the piano and the guitar, etc."

"It's a bit blurry, and although I remember the mechanics of it, I don't know how it happened. I know I puzzled over which child to write about, because the more information you give, sometimes the more you take away in a song. You only have minutes to really move someone and transport a whole lot of information and emotion into someone's brain. An individual story was what I thought would be the best way to achieve this, an insight."

But somehow, over the days that followed, explains Declan, the song ended up being about not only the children, but also about the whole conflict - "and eventually about all Irish people who live and will live in the wake of 1916. In the end I realised that we are in fact the children of 1916 because we are all the product of it. I feel like for a long time the subject of 1916 or being republican or nationalist in any way became a taboo and a dirty word."

Declan grew up around the corner from Kilmainham Gaol. He can remember being "fascinated with the whole thing when I discovered it at some point around the age of six or seven. I think it was mostly through song that I became aware of it."

"My father used to sing a song," reminisces Declan, "that began, 'A great crowd had gathered outside old Kilmainham, their heads all uncovered, they knelt to the ground, for inside that grim prison was a true Irish soldier, his life for his country about to lay down.' It's sung to the most moving of melodies," says Declan. "Really from the guts. As a kid I think this really hit on something deep in me. I get emotional even thinking of the song. I remember feeling such a love, and a deep sadness or some deep emotion. I don't know how else to describe it."

For the full interview, as well as two exclusive performances by Declan O'Rourke, see the Windmill Lane Sessions at Independent.ie. Declan O'Rourke will perform with a full concert orchestra at Dublin's Vicar St for one night only on May 7. He will also play University Concert Hall in Limerick on May 20.

Sunday Independent

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