She’s been living in NYC since 1982, but Mary Courtney’s voice is pure Irish, the acoustic rendering of an evening around a turf fire, drinking a cuppa fortified with whiskey and honey, while the winds blow in from the west and an ethereal mist shrouds the cottage. It’s a voice that is mighty belting out rebel rock, but exalted when it has a ballad to bestow. It’s a voice that never disappoints, and is able to take old songs to new places.
The Castlegregory, County Kerry, native has a new CD out titled “Freedom’s Pioneers” that pays tribute to heroes of the rebellions Ireland has borne witness to over the last several hundred years. She explained, “I felt that the sacrifice of those souls needed to be remembered and honoured as well.” And not only the Catholics who fought for Ireland, for, as she points out, “A lot of our patriots were Protestants, both those that fought and those who were writers. I feel that their sacrifice is often overlooked, and I hope this CD shines a light on their contributions & highlights the fact that the struggle for freedom was not always split along religious lines.”
Included on the CD is “Henry Joy McCracken,” a song about the Ulster Protestant who was a co-writer on the 1791 Declaration of the United Irishmen. He was hanged in Belfast in 1898 for his participation in leading a rebel attack on the city of Antrim. One of the most beautiful songs Mary sings on the CD is “Grace,” the ballad immortalizing the 1916 wedding of Joseph Mary Plunkett and Grace Gifford in the hours before Plunkett was executed for his role in the Easter Rising.
A talented musician as well as singer, Mary accompanies herself on guitar on many of the songs. On several songs, including “O’Donnell Abú (Forever)” and “Words of Freedom,” she plays the bodhrán, and on others, such as “The West’s Awake” and “Boolavogue” she sings unaccompanied, allowing the instrument of her voice to poignantly highlight the emotion underlying the lyrics of the songs.
Her website, Mary Courtney, has all the information on her upcoming gigs, including her regular appearances at An Beal Bocht Cafe in the Bronx (Friday nights from 6 to 8PM) and Le Chéile in Washington Heights (every other Sunday 5 to 8PM). And her music, including “Freedom’s Pioneers,” can be downloaded from CD Baby and Amazon. On Saturday, November 24, Mary will be appearing with Marianne McShane at the Gallarus Arts Space in Katonah, NY, for an evening of Irish songs and stories.