We’ve waited a long time to see Irish Mythen. We were supposed to see her last spring at a house concert at the Homeport, but on the day of the concert she fell ill and ended up in hospital. So when we saw her name in the line-up for the Lansdowne House Concerts in Fredericton, we jumped on the opportunity.
If I have determined that I really want to see a performer, based on the recommendation of other music-lovers, I resist checking them out on YouTube or going to their website. I want to experience them with an open mind and heart, devoid of expectations. So when we went to see Irish Mythen last week, at the home of Paul and Liz McDonnell (Lansdowne House Concerts), I had no idea what to expect. From the opening notes of her first song, I was riveted. She’s a small, sturdy woman, with a warm, down-to-earth manner and a full, powerful voice that fills every molecule of air in the room. Every song has a story and the stories are as compelling as the songs.
Irish plumbs the depths of her soul in the lyrics she writes, to the extent that I would not have been surprised to see droplets of her blood clinging to the guitar strings.
In songs such as Fifty-five Years, Four Walls, and Innocent Street, she mines the extraordinary in the ordinary and strikes gold. A self-taught guitar virtuoso, she teases out moods and feelings that transcend words.
Irish Mythen has a particular fondness for elderly people and has seized every opportunity to gain insight from the people she has met along life’s pathways. She shared with the audience an adage from her homeland in Ireland:
When an old person dies, a library burns down.
She has taken the meaning of that statement to heart. Many of her songs tell stories of tragedy and triumph that would otherwise be lost to the world.
Irish only departed from her original material twice. Her rendition of The Fields of Athenrye was the most passionate I have ever heard, made even more poignant by the fact that a relative of hers was one of the people who was deported to Van Diemen’s Land because he had stolen food to keep his family from starving.
For her encore, Irish sang The Old Triangle a cappella. She has forever transformed it in my mind from a catchy number sung in bars, to a castigation of the brutal treatment of Irish inmates in Mountjoy Prison.
By the end of the evening, I felt like I had run an emotional marathon. Irish had the audience alternately laughing, cheering, and wiping away tears. While her voice and guitar skills are rendered competently on her recordings, I would travel quite a distance to see her perform live again.