The Hogan Collection CDs and DVDs.

DUBLIN -- A quarter century ago when I traveled to Dublin in the celebratory year of its millennium, I fell in with an exceptional group of “ordinary folks” known as the Slievenamon Set Dancing Club under a most inspiring leader in Tipperary man Connie Ryan who embraced the world of traditional music, song and dance with full measure.

The irrepressible Ryan, known mostly for teaching and barnstorming trips capturing the joy and fascination of the old country set dances, also shrewdly recruited top class musicians to join the craic on his many capers.

Among that talented group was a fellow Tipperary man named Dick Hogan who danced the sets with his wife Bridget, but his forte was his stentorian baritone voice that seemed to fill any room he was in. And he had a command of songs, including many comical ones, that told Ireland’s whole history over the centuries.

I met up again with the colorful Hogan in Dublin to find out more about his most ambitious project just released, The Hogan Collection: Songs from the Repertoire of Dick Hogan, and to get my hands on an extraordinary package of a songbook and CD box that couldn’t have come at a better time.

The emphasis on Ireland’s great literary prowess is often placed on its poets, playwrights and novelists, but is it also very evident in its body of great songs of all descriptions. The heart and soul of the Irish is revealed by those who carry on that wonderful aural tradition whether it is in the native Irish or that of the nearest neighbor.

And Ireland’s singing tradition needs bolstering these days in comparison to the very healthy state of instrumental music, set dancing and lately sean nos dancing as it seems too often relegated to occasional singing weekends meant for and attended to by the very few who still revere it.

But Ireland’s singing tradition was so important that it formed an integral part of its rich cultural heritage. It was accessible to all and seemingly anyone could share a song around the fire or in the pub or parlor.  It was very much part of the entertainment package enjoyed in the rural countryside or sympathetic town and urban households.

Whether out of ignorance or indifference that great oral tradition is too often associated with the past, with attention spans shortened by the limitations of the mass media like television or even the radio these days which doesn’t have the patience or patriotic curiosity exhibited by the likes of RTE’s Seamus Ennis or Ciaran MacMathuna.

So the world inhabited by many wonderful Irish singers isn’t as widely appreciated as it should be.  But there is room for optimism when dedicated people like Hogan carry out their dreams and create a collection like this, taking advantage of the modern technology to help spark a much needed revival by placing the tools at the disposal of singers worldwide who still value the songs of the Irish nation.

Hogan has invested six years in the task of culling his repertoire and recording hundreds of songs that are cleverly packaged in three strands to facilitate the varying degrees of interest for the potential customer.

To truly appreciate the monumental effort and comprehension of what Hogan has done, you would want the complete package of the 300 page book and the 20-CD compilation which is keyed to the alphabetically-indexed book and makes for a handy follow along guide for the listener and the learner, and also for teachers and presenters.

It is not inexpensive at €200 (inclusive of shipping though) but given the work and scholarship that went into it, the price is justified.  If one is simply looking for a very comprehensive songbook that goes well beyond anything published before, that is available for just €30.

The third option provides a more detailed breakdown into 12 different categories of songs covering topics like humorous songs, nationalistic, Amhrain as Gaeilge, songs of Nioclas Toibin or Percy French, songs of Clare or Tipperary and children’s songs.

There are also two volumes covering the “Big Songs” of the tradition featuring ones deemed very important down through the years because of the stories they told and the emotions they invoked in the singers and their audience about Irish history.

This third option allows the purchaser to select individual CDs in their desired category at €15 each, providing for more specialization or even realization about how Irish song has so many facets to explore.

Equally impressive and dominating the first 50 pages of the book are the thoughts and impressions of fellow musicians and singers like Fintan Vallely, Meati Jo Sheamuis O Fatharta, Ron Kavana, who encouraged and applauded the epic work, and Martin Gaffney, who helped Hogan organize and design the project along with Hogan’s own insightful preface.

As a measure of its significance Senator Labhras O’Murchu and Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann offered sponsorship towards its publication as a valuable aid to documenting Ireland’s cultural heritage in song and story.

I look forward to spending many enjoyable and edifying hours delving further into The Hogan Collection, and I’m grateful that someone has committed himself to such a worthwhile mission.

Hogan has spent a lifetime sharing songs from the parlor, pub, rambling house and crossroads environs of Irish life and taken them all over the world.  His wealth of experience can be seen and heard in every song convincingly rendered with his powerful voice and a fierce pride for his native land.

For those who fear the future of Irish singing, The Hogan Collection may very well help stem the tide and help restore much of the appreciation for the old ways that may be dead and gone, but the lessons still are very important to the Irish nation.

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