Annie Hession 1890-1960

Annie Hession 1890-1960

Annie Hession, was a celebrated traditional singer, mesmerising audiences at Feis and Oireachtas organised by the Gaelic League in the first years of the 20th Century.  The eldest of the Hessions of Ballydotia, she was known variously as Aíne or Eithne Ni Oisin, and after her marriage to local Farmer John Keane, as Bean O’Catháin or Mrs John Keane. In the 1910s she popularised several traditional songs including particularly “Una Bhán” and “Sal Óg Ruadh”, and both inspired and collaborated with Carl Hardebeck the composer.  Annie qualified as an Irish Teacher at “the Partry School” in Toormakeady, Co Mayo, and taught initially at Kilskeery, Trillick Co. Tyrone, then in Spiddal and later for a time at Collaiste Uladh, Cloughaneely Co Donegal. A regular singer on early Irish radio in the late 1920s and 30s, she took centre stage in the radio commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the 1916 Rising in 1936.

Oireachtas Winner 1902-1906

Annie first appears in the press the winner of  first prize in singing at the 1902 Oireachtas (Freemans Journal 14.05.1902).  The next year, she was  6 times prize winner at the 1903 Oireachtas (Connacht Tribune  16.04.1903)  and, later that year at the Connacht Feis , she was a prize winner with her father Stephen (Tuam Herald 22.08.1903), and with her sisters Maggie and Ellen (Western People 29.08.1903) .  Both she and sister Maggie took multiple awards in the 1904,1905, and 1906 Oireachtas (Irish Examiner 5.08.1904 and 17.08.1905).   In 1904 they also both impressed audiences at regional Feis, at Achonry (Western People 27.08. 1904).  1905 found her in Ballinrobe organising festivities for St Patrick’s Day (again with Sister Maggie).   Qualifying as a teacher at Partry College, Tourmackeedy in 1906, it was presumably also through her growing fame as a singer in Gaelic League Competition’s that she secured her first formal teaching post. .

Cill na Sgire, Trillick Co Tyrone 1907-1911

In 1907 she was engaged as a teacher of Irish Language and Singing in Trillick Co Tyrone, as part of Fr Maguire’s energetic programme of “irishification”  of the Parish  (Ulster Herald 11.09.1907). Her teaching and singing was much revered, with early reviews giving a flavour of the fervour with which she was received.

Thug Áine, Iníon Uí Oisín, amhráin uaithi agus shílfeá gur síbhean cheolmhar éigin a bhí ag tabhairt comhairle do chlannaibh na nGael í agus í ina seasamh ansin ar turtóigín fraoich, culaith bán uirthi, coróin dá gruaig dhuibh ar a ceann, an ceann féin ardaithe go huaibhreach is go huasal, meidhreacht ag lonradh trí mhánlacht ina gnúis agus ina súilibh agus binneas agus anamúlacht a gutha ár sámhchorraí agus ár spreagadh’ (An Claidheamh Soluis 6 Samhain 1909).

Annie Hession delivered a song and you would have thought that it was  some musical woman of the Sídh taking counsel with the children of the Gael, and she standing there on a  heathery mound, a white dress on her, a crown of black hair on her head, that same head raised proudly and nobly, merryness shining through graciousness in her face and her eyes and the sweetness and soulfulness in her voice soothing and inspriring us.(An Claidheamh Soluis 6 Samhain 1909).

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The Hessions of Ballydotia, Belclare

The Hessions of Ballydotia, Belclare

I owe many of the songs in this book to the Hession family. It is famous in Irish speaking circles. It consists of a father, mother and nine children, all equally proficient in song and story.

Bean Ui Coisdealbha “Amrain Muige Seola” 1919

Stephen and Ellen Hession raised nine children in a modest thatched cottage in Ballydotia, Belclare Co Galway; All nine participated in the local and national competition’s organised by the Gaelic League; Their four sons,  Thomas, Martin, Stephen and Micheal, but particularly their daughters Annie, Maggie, Maire, Ellen and Bridget, were  celebrated singers and active participants in the Gaelic Revival in the early years of the 20th Century.

When I came to live in Tuam, some fifteen years ago, I had already formed the acquaintance of the Hession family of Belclare (beside Tuam) at different Feisanna, had admired the beauty of their singing, and I regarded myself as fortunate in being brought into such close proximity with them.

Bean Ui Coisdealbha “Amrain Muige Seola” 1919

Ellen and Stephen

According to family tradition Ellen (nee Reaney) was the driving force behind her childrens’ education; Stephen Hession being of a more “philosophical disposition”. The granddaughter of a celebrated singer, and herself a talented singer,  she taught them the songs that first gave them notoriety.  Her obituary celebrated her singing; “As an Irish Speaker and as a traditional singer here was not her equal in Ireland” but it also underlined her private nature; “during her life she showed that a women’s place on the hearth is a noble one, and that good and lasting work for Ireland may be done in the light of the turf fire and by the side of the cradle” (Connaught Tribune 11 July 1925).  Whatever the truth of that assertion, she encouraged her childrens’ performance, and her daughters did not entirely follow her supposed example.
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Discovery in the Fishmarket- George Petrie

Discovery in the Fishmarket- George Petrie

William Stokes in his book The Life and Labours in Art and Archeology of George Petrie (Cambridge Library 1896) recalls George Petrie’s  discovery of an inscription at the base of what became the High Cross of Tuam, with a little help from a polite passerby;

In the year 1853 Petrie read a paper on the stone cross at Tuam, he having been the first to draw the attention of the public to this most remarkable and most beautiful relic of Irish Sculpture now remaining. In the MS of his Western Tour, written about the year 1822 he has the following passage

“I have still to describe another piece of antiquity, of which no notice has hitherto been undertaken – the ancient market cross of Tuam. This monument, the most remarkable of its kind, and the most splendid existing in Ireland, no longer remains in the situation for which it was intended. It is broken in three pieces, of which I discovered two lying in the church yard, and the third which was the base or pedestal in the fish market, where it was covered over with a heap of stones and rubbish. When together it stood sixteen feet high, and is composed of three blocks of sandstone and all the sides are covered with sculpture. From the accompanying outline you will observe that the arms are supported by pillars resting on the sides of the pedestal, a peculiarity of which I know but one instance, the contemporaneous Cross of Cormac McCarthy at Cashel. On top we see one side of the figure of Christ represented with the crown and kilt on the other side we see religious figures, apparently intended to represent the apostles. The shaft is composed of tracery and the base has two figures on each side, probably intended to represent the king and bishop by whom the cross was raised, along with an inscription running along the base.  The reader will no doubt, applaud my antiquarian zeal in uncovering, and thus discovering, the curious inscriptions, but I must not take all the credit for myself, for while I was working like a paviour, a gentleman offered his assistance, who, strangely enough, bore the very name of O’Hoisin or Heshin, he little thinking that in this act of politeness he was rescuing from oblivion a monument consecrated to his ancestor. The first inscription is a prayer for Aed Oissin for whom this cross was made, who became abbot in 1128, the second for Turlough O’Connor. This cross offers the only instance of a work of the kind, in which the name of the artist is recorded, the last inscription being for the sculptor Gilla Christ O Thuahail.”

Links

The Life and Labours in Art and Archeology of George Petrie (Cambridge Library 1896)

Storm by the Lake – Eibhlin and Eithne 1910

Storm by the Lake – Eibhlin and Eithne 1910

On the first day the Connacht Feis in late summer 1910, competitors, judges and visitors were overtaken  by a great rain storm and took refuge in a tent pitched by the lake in Loughrea. On learning that Mrs McGowan’s class from Belclare were all singers an inpromptu concert was arranged by the organisers.  Padraig Pearse took charge of  proceedings and a table was set up in the tent for a stage.  The Belclare girls held the attention of a large crowd for over an hour. But the Connaught Tribune’s correspondent was impressed one girl in particular;

Eibhlin Ni Oisin who took first prize on the following day was the most note worthy singer of the group. She has the rare and supreme gift of detachment while singing. This is the characteristic of the best old style singers. I think Eibhlin seemed to sing for herself, just as a bird on a tree sings, and to be unaware of the presence of the audience. She touched the hearts of those who listened to her in Loughrea that day in the tent by the lake and her manner so natural and so modest, as well as the sweetness of her voice moved her hearers in a way few city singers have done.

Connaght Tribune  17th August 1910

Two days later, a second young woman was also cause for special mention.  Eibhlin’s sister Annie (here Eithne), recently returned from her teaching post in Trillick Co Tyrone, delighted a large crowd;

On the second night Eithne ni Oisin gave two songs.She had come from Tyrone on the same day , and tired as she was after a long journey, she succeded in delighting and surprising one of the largest audiences that Loughrea has ever seen at a concert. Eithne Ni Oisin is one of our best old style concert singers. She wins applause everywhere. A style of singing such as hers which is old and which pleases so many should need no defense. This young lady has successfully introduced the old style singing into Tyrone where Fr Matt Maguire is doing excellent work for the Irish Language and Irish Music. She is the leader of a small band of Belclare singers, who, with but little encouragement, have done much to  preserve and re-popularise our Irish songs and Irish style of singing.

Connaght Tribune  17th August 1910  

Darby O’Hoysshyne 1551

Darby O’Hoysshyne 1551

In 1551 Darby O’Hosshyne was a vicar choral at St Nicholas Collegiate Church in Galway. According to a charter issued by Edward VI on the 29th April 1551 his colleagues were Patrick Blake, a Priest, appointed warden, and Patrick Kerevan, Thomas Ffrench, John Talman, Derby O’Rowane, Jon Dermoyte, John O’Brannigan and Edward Flartie, all Vicars Choral.  The charter was issued in response to a petition by the citizens of Galway aimed at preserving the position of their main church during the ongoing reformation of the Irish Church (and sequestration of church property).  Vicars Choral were minor clergy or laymen primarily charged with singing the offices at the church, substituting absent canons,  in a secular cathedral.
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Maire Ni Oisín 1899-1957

Maire Ni Oisín 1899-1957

Maire Ni Oisín – Actress at the Abbey and Gate Theatres during the 20s and 30s. Born in Ballydotia, Belclare, Co Galway in 1899. She is pictured here in 1934 on the front page of the Irish Press. Maire-March 12 1934 Irish PressShe worked initially with Piaras Beaslai (Michael Collin’s friend and biographer, Head of Propaganda in the Irish War of Independence, and prominent in the Playboy Riots), Gearoid O’Lochlainn (Avant Garde Playwright and actor, and early participant in Danish film) and Maire ni Siocháin (all interesting characters in their own right). She played in a range of Irish language original plays and translations, as an amateur member of An Comhar Dramaoichta. From 1928 she worked with Michael McLiammoir, appearing in many of his productions, but playing opposite him as Grainne to his Diarmuid in his play “Diarmuid agus Grainne” in 1934. She was a stalwart of his Irish Language Theatre (referenced in his Biography “All for Hecuba”) in the 30s. Continue reading “Maire Ni Oisín 1899-1957”

Welcome

My interest in family history intensified with the birth of my children several years ago, and have gone in search of my Hession relatives simply because it is them I know least about. And still there are some more romantic reasons, the name O hOisin links the family in the imagination  to a mythic celtic past, and then there are the half-remembered (and less believed) stories of Protesant bishops and bicycle riding folklorists that need to be verified. It started with a page on Facebook, and some vague ambitions – to trace back as far as possible, to identify the origin of the name, to find some characters, to find a Hession in every generation and link them to the events of the time, to understand more about my immediate ancestors. This remains a work in progress, and while it is quite a specialist project I hope, through these Hessions, to find something of more general interest.