The High Kings Provide A Feast Of Irish Songs

by Sean Hillen

A flawless rendition by singer Darren Holden of the well-known Irish ballad ‘The Town I Love So Well’ was the highlight of a lively concert by The High Kings at the Millennium Forum in Derry this weekend.

As this song of nostalgia was written by Derry-born musician, Phil Coulter, about childhood in his native city, and thus the home crowd would be expected to rise to it, the extended standing ovation and rousing cheers the talented Kilkenny singer received reflected the superb quality of his performance. It also immediately created a close rapport between audience and performers, leaving the versatile group with little difficulty raising spirits and enthusiastic audience participation during a lively, feel-good concert.

Founded 15 years ago, The High Kings are both talented vocalists and multi-instrumentalists, mastering banjo, guitar, keyboard, tin whistle, bodhrán, mandolin and accordion. They displayed their musical flair in abundance throughout the 90-minute show including Paul O’Brien’s haunting tin-whistle version of ‘The Lonesome Boatman’ and his plaintiff singing interpretation of ‘Caledonia,’ a modern Scottish folk ballad written by Dougie MacLean; as well as Dublin-born Brian Dunphy’s heartfelt performance of the love song ‘Grace,’ about artist Grace Gifford who married Joseph Mary Plunkett in the chapel of Kilmainham Jail hours before he was executed by a British firing squad after the 1916 Irish revolution.

For traditionalists, there were plenty of old well-known Irish classics in the quartet’s repertoire including ‘The Wild Colonial Boy,’a rousing Irish-Australian folk ballad about a bushranger in Australia who dies during a gunfight with local police; ‘Star of the County Down,’ describing a young man meeting a charming lady by the name of Rose in the northern Irish town of Banbridge; and ‘Black Velvet Band,’ about a man tricked by a woman and sent to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), a common punishment in the British Empire during the 19th century.

Finnbarr Clancy, whose father, Bobby was a member of The Clancy Brothers, an influential folk group who helped revive Irish traditional music in the United States in the 1960s, hushed the audience into silence with his beguiling version of ‘The Dutchman,’ about an elderly, senile man in Amsterdam being cared for by his partner, Margaret.

Creating an added dimension to the group’s performance were songs from the group’s upcoming album – ‘1845,’ about the Irish famine, sung a cappella, featuring the intriguing refrain, ‘Me mother’s hanging washing on the line’ and ‘Chasing Rainbows’ written by ‘The Script,’ a Dublin-based Irish rock band.

Photos & videos by Columbia Hillen

Urged on by an enthusiastic audience, The High Kings returned to the stage for an encore, performing ‘Ride On’ penned by Jimmy McCarthy, one of the most prolific of Irish song-writers, before finishing with their traditional show-ender, ‘The Parting Glass.’ 

And ‘ride on’ it is for this talented group – to a new album being released in June and a first-ever tour of New Zealand and Australia.


2 thoughts on “The High Kings Provide A Feast Of Irish Songs

  1. Amazing talent the High Kings are, seen them many times and they never disappoint the main reasons we will continue to see this great band!


  2. Have loved this group of High Kings for several years, as loved their forefathers,
    The Clancy Brothers! Keep the Faith-Hope to attend a Concert here in NYC @ USA someday!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.