An interesting discussion on thesession.org about Irish (or more broadly traditional) music in works of fiction led to the following list. The last item is my own, as yet unpublished, novel on Francis O’Neill and his life. The length of the list shows what a rich sub-genre this is and why it is worth publishing more. My own regular session also doubles as a book exchange once a month!
- Last Night’s Fun by Ciaran Carson. A wonderful poetic book (not fiction per se, more a memoir and collection of essays) on a number of topics related to trad music, even the Ulster fry. See my extended review here: https://chiefoneill.com/last-nights-fun
- The Good Servants by Johnny Brennan.
A humorous look at the raucous lives of session players in Dublin. Unfortunately seems to be out of print but available online here: https://www.smashwords.com/extreader/read/385941/1/the-good-servants.
- In Search of the Craic by Colin Irwin – Also not fiction but an account of the author’s pilgrimage to holy spots of Irish music such as Milltown Malbay. He also meets iconic musicians/singers like Christy Moore along the way. https://www.amazon.ca/Search-Craic-Crawl-Through-Irish/dp/0233002944
- The Bodhran Makers by John B. Keane – John B. is always good and this one is on my to-read list. Set in 1950s County Kerry with a controlling priest trying to quench the tradition of wren boys and their music: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/896054.The_Bodhran_Makers
- Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy. This really is a classic, being one of Hardy’s early works. Very pastoral and not nearly as depressing as his later books. The scenes with the church musicians are lovely. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/825901.Under_the_Greenwood_Tree
- The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. This is a fantasy work and not really about real folk music. It is beautifully written, however, and the main character’s relationship to music and playing in a local tavern will resonate with anyone who enjoys a session. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/186074.The_Name_of_the_Wind
- The Little Country by Charles De Lint. Also fantasy-themed but initially set in current day Cornwall and featuring a traditional musician. Described in the discussion as ” I think The Little Country was the first clue I had there was such a thing as a session. Trad music is a huge presence in that book.”
- The New Policeman by Kate Thompson. A
major portion of the book is a protagonist trying to remember how Dowd’s #9 goes…
- Sheila Connolly’s An Early Wake. A murder mystery set in a pub. From the blurb: “As word gets out, legendary musicians begin to appear at the pub, and the first impromptu jam session brings in scores of music lovers. But things hit a sour note when Maura finds a dead musician in the back room the next morning. ”
- Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. Features Appalachian fiddle and banjo music (the fiddle is played by Brendan Gleeson in the movie version)
- Accordian Crimes by Annie Proulx features Zydeco, Quebecois and Tex Mex music played on the accordion. Big, sprawling novel, following the life of a button accordion through early twentieth century American immigration. People who own it tend to meet a bad end, and the box ends up with someone else, and on it goes. I think it gets picked up by someone who plays Irish music for a brief bit of a chapter. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28001.Accordion_Crimes
- Father’s Music by Dermot Bolger – “A combination of family fable and gripping thriller, ‘Father’s Music’ tells the story of Tracey, the troubled twenty-two-year-old daughter of an Englishwoman and a wandering musician from Donegal.” https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/596378.Father_s_Music
- Erin Hart’s Cormac Maguire books: http://www.erinhart.com/books.php
- In the Canyons of Shadow & Light by Emily Donoho – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/151205268X/ref=rdr_ext_tmb
- Fiddle Fever by Sharon Arms Doucett – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2099852.Fiddle_Fever
- The Twisting of the Rope by William Butler Yeats – https://americanliterature.com/author/william-butler-yeats/short-story/the-twisting-of-the-rope Also his wonderful short poem The Fiddler of Dooney https://www.bartleby.com/146/11.html
- The Pint Man by Steve Rushin – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7264805-the-pint-man
- A Jig Before Dying, Fortune Turns the Wheel and With His Dying Breath by Danny Carnahan – Mystery novels based on characters in the San Francisco trad scene of the 80s and 90s. http://www.dannycarnahan.com/writing/novels.html
- Twisting the Rope by R A MacAvoy – Fantasy novel centering around a trad band. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/77313.Twisting_the_Rope
- Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan – Fantasy series. The protagonist spends some time as a travelling entertainer playing the flute, and music and songs feature throughout the series. There are a lot of tune names that sound very familiar, like The Wind That Shakes The Willow, Fluff the Feathers. He also takes time to note that the same tune often goes by many different names! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wheel_of_Time
- The Bogman by Walter Macken: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1002502.The_Bogman
- Tadhg and the Pockel by Michael Sands – https://www.irishnews.com/arts/2017/10/20/news/trad-roots-michael-sands-brings-irish-music-to-book-in-tadhg-and-the-pockel-1166552/
- Dirt Road by James Kelman – From review: “Dirt Road is a powerful story about the strength of family ties, the consolation of music, and one unforgettable journey from darkness to light.” https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32073134-dirt-road
- The Busker by Brian McNeill. A thriller starring a busker who becomes entangled with ex-Nazis. Some realistic portrayals of playing on the streets, or for other small audiences. Not a cheerful novel, out of print, but available here: https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=30213566733&searchurl=sortby%3D17%26an%3Dbrian%2Bmcneill&cm_sp=snippet-_-srp1-_-title12
- Chief O’Neill by Ronan O’Driscoll. : ) Yet to be published novel on the life of Francis O’Neill. He was the Chicago Chief of Police who saved Irish Music. His life was a fascinating one with many wonderful facets mostly forgotten today (he was shipwrecked in the middle of the Pacific!). It was a pleasure for me to research and write about. See https://chiefoneill.com/the-book for further details.
The title of this post echoes O’Neill’s forgotten classic Irish Folk Music: A Fascinating Hobby. Unlike his tune collections, this semi-autobiographical collection of stories on gathering and playing Irish music has been largely forgotten. Luckily, it is freely available for download on archive.org and is worth dipping into for anyone interested in Irish Music and its history.
Today, a great place for anyone who has caught the bug for trad is thesession.org. This site has been an incredible resource of tunes (available in a number of formats) discussions and session information for over 17 years. Whenever I’m on holiday somewhere, the first place I check for local sessions is this site.
Recently, I thought I would pose a question on what works of fiction have examples of sessions or folk musicians. I was very impressed with the results. You can check out the complete discussion here: https://thesession.org/discussions/43381