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A tribute to Garrett Barry & music of West Clare
August 17, 2016
An untold story… a music legacy, richly steeped in the culture and history of County Clare.
Out of Darkness: the blind piper of Inagh.
Howard Marshall had heard reference to Garrett Barry many times in local music circles. With a passion for Irish music and history, and interest piqued, he went seeking information about this great piper who had influenced the likes of Willie Clancy and whose music is still evident in the tunes of today. What started as a simple inquiry, revealing a surprising lack of readily accessible material, became a fascinating journey of several years. Howard began to explore the places and people discovered through his research to be associated with Garrett Barry speaking with relatives and locals, and gathering their tales. Somewhere along the way, the notes gathered in curiosity evolved into a book. With his background in documentary film making, Howard became aware of the strong visual narrative that existed within his work. Ben Taylor, a photographer and fellow music enthusiast, came on board to capture the imagery so integral to the tale. The end result is a unique solution, marrying stunning photographs with a rich narrative, that offers an echo of times past and an inevitable entwining with the present.
In nineteenth century rural Ireland, there were numerous itinerant musicians and many of them were blind. They moved in an agrarian society that, despite political upheaval and abject poverty, remained culturally rich. Born into the midst of the catastrophe of the Famine, Garrett Barry lost his sight through disease. However, blindness would serve to enhance both his memory and his hearing. Travelling his community of west Clare as it gradually recovered, he gathered much of the oral tradition that it still retained. He came to know intimately the land and its people, claiming that his music was ‘not only for the feet but for the soul’. His commitment would drive his mission and his talents would ensure his reputation.
Though Garrett Barry died before he could be recorded, the collective memory of his role in the culture of this district has survived. The legacy of his music and a wealth of stories concerning him have come down to us through the great impression that he made on many of his contemporaries. They, in turn, have passed on much of this oral heritage to later
generations. There is a strong appeal to this poor man with a major handicap and yet with such cultural and sensory abilities. Despite the fact that, by nature of his condition, he remained illiterate, he had enormous allure and influence in his community. He remained dedicated to the people, at times without regard for his own welfare. As such, Barry’s story is a fine example of the strength and generosity of the human spirit.
Howard Marshall weaves the history, people and places of west Clare with tale and legend to provide the first written account of Garrett Barry—the blind piper of Inagh.
Against a backdrop of continuing social strife, we are introduced to those who knew Barry and have carried his memory, ensuring that his rich contribution to local culture still resonates in the music of his homeland. Beautifully illustrated with photography by Ben Taylor, Out of Darkness guides us through a world that has retained abiding traditions in poetry, folklore, music, dance and song.
Howard Marshall is a retired documentary film editor, with this being his first venture into writing. Born in provincial southeast England, he developed an interest in traditional music and song while still at school. In the early 1970s he began to visit Ireland regularly and he now divides his time between his home in Norfolk and his retreat in County Clare. For him, Irish culture represents a state of mind, contrasting but complementary to his own.
Ben Taylor is a professional photographer based in Norfolk, UK. For many years he has felt an affinity for Irish music. His grandfather’s family (Hessian) originated around Oranmore, County Galway, and emigrated to Warrington at the end of the nineteenth century. He has become an increasingly frequent visitor to Ireland, where he contributes to the music of Clare, picking up his fiddle at every opportunity.