Marie O’Neill

The ‘Forward and Back’ Project

In 1986 Marie O’Neill was involved in research and recording music and dances from Drimarone, in the Blue Stacks, Donegal for the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. Together with Donegal native, Charlie, her father, brother Paddy and daughter Ursula Burns this research resulted in a unique recording which highlighted the dances and tunes, involving the distinctive Donegal fiddling style. Along with songs detailing historical events, this recording was well received by the media. By 1987 Marie was on to the next project.

W.B. Yeats Project

There may be some debate about the music herein. However W. B Yeats has been my Bible, so I had better offer and explanation of how the thing has come to pass. With “Coole Park and Ballylee” my first Yeatsian effort I joined the Delphic player in Queens University in 1986, after I noted that the extra mural department was offering experience in stage production and emphasis on W.B. Yeats. Under the guidance of Dr. Louis A. Muinzer; I wrote and performed music for “The Cat and the Moon” which we presented in the solitary splendour of Thoor Ballylee.

Marie O’Neill’s An Appointment with W.B. Yeats (Blue Stack Records 1988) contains settings of:

  • A Cradle Song
  • To A Young Beauty
  • Coole Park and Ballylee
  • The Fiddler of Dooney
  • An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
  • The Rose of Peace
  • I Am of Ireland
  • An Appointment – FREE DOWNLOAD
  • Red Hanrahan’s Song About Ireland
  • Brown Penny
  • After Long Silence
  • Those Dancing Days Are Gone
  • The Ballad of Moll Magee
  • Girl’s Song
  • Young Man’s Song
  • Before the World Was Made

As I made no plans to start, now I make no plans to stop.

When a journalist asked me why I chose to set poetry of W.B. Yeats to music, I replied, for want of a better reason: “It was his turn.” So if I offend in particular, this is by the way of a blanket apology. My thanks to Anne and Michael B. Yeats for their co-operation and best wishes, to A.O. Watt Ltd., for their permission to use copyright works and thanks to all who have had to tolerate enthusiastic verbiage on the subject this past year.

An appointment with W.B. Yeats by Marie O’Neill was judged runner up folk album of 1989 by Ireland Radio Awards, Downtown, BBC and RTE. Davy Spilane won the folk section.

Appreciation by Louis Muinzer

No one will deny that Yeat’s poetry should be the subject of classes, seminars, articles and dissertations: one of the great creative achievements of modern literature, it deserves to be explored by all keen poetry-lovers both in detail and in depth. And yet we always need to be reminded that, after all, poetry demands participation as well as pondering. That is why I find the tracks of Marie O’Neill’s An Appointment such a joy: in them Yeats is not simply “read”: He is greeted as a companion whose lively words kindle the responses of a harpist, composer and her musical friends. Here, the poetry of the Irish master never lies inert on the page as some dead or passive thing: it springs alive in voice and instrument; it renews its life in the pleasures of performance.

One of the special delights of this anthology-in-sound is its range and audacity. The early lyric “A Cradle Song”, for instance, seems a natural choice for music setting, but “Coole Park and Ballylee” come as a surprise; in her setting of it, Marie O’Neill reveals that even the great verbal music of Yeats’ mature poetry responds to singing voice and sensitive accompaniment. Such a setting seems to open one’s ears to the great and still undefined possibilities of Yeats song.
The composer’s daughter Ursula even carried these possibilities into the idiom of the younger generation in two remarkable tracks. “An Irish Airman” and “Before the World was Made”. – Here, then, is an album that opens our ears and imaginations, a work to enjoy and to inspire new song. In it, Marie O’Neill, a talented and appealing artist, has evoked her personal Yeats and shared him with us.