Saturday, December 14, 2002

‘Aisling of Eire’ by Dorothy Keddington

Book cover: Aisling of Eire by Dorothy Keddington
Remember that scene in the 1983 film “Eddie and the Cruisers,” when Eddie Wilson tells Frank “Wordman” Ridgeway that they need each other like “words and music” need each other? “Words and music, man,” Eddie says. “Words and music.”

I couldn’t help recalling that phrase when reading Dorothy Keddington’s romantic novel, Aisling of Eire (Granite, 2002). You see, the book is packaged with an accompanying CD by Golden Bough and Men of Worth -- two groups specializing in the traditional music of Ireland and Scotland.

I found out about the project through being on Golden Bough’s mailing list -- and I thought the idea of creating what is, in essence, a “soundtrack” for a book, to be an unique and intriguing one.

The result is a collaboration where each component is enhanced by its association with the other.

To begin with, there’s the book: Aisling (pronounced “Ashling”) of Eire is the story of a novelist, Catherine Cavenaugh, who is researching the life of her great-great grandmother.

In the 1800s, Esther Clifford Clark ran away with her family’s coachman and traveled from Ireland to America. Intrigued by Esther’s story, Catherine is determined to make it the subject of a book and sets out to research the family’s background.

As Catherine uncovers clues about Esther, events from her own past are resurrected. When Catherine was in college, more than 30 years earlier, she attended a literature class in Ireland. There she met and fell in love with a man named Eamonn.

Catherine and Eamonn were separated through the interference of her father, and Catherine gave her daughter up for adoption. She specified that the adopting parents must call the girl Aisling, which is the Gaelic version of Esther, and that the golden “claddagh” ring Eamonn had given her must go with their child.

Unbeknownst to Catherine, her mother Grace has located the grown-up Aisling, and hired her as a genealogist to research Catherine’s family. This unexpected reunion takes Catherine by surprise and she does not, at first, tell her daughter who she really is.

At this point, Aisling of Eire becomes a love story with not one, but two heroines. Both women are lovingly and carefully drawn -- and the songs on the accompanying CD add dimension to Keddington’s characters.

“Song of the Celts,” performed by Golden Bough, seemed perfectly to capture the feelings of an adopted child whose background is a mystery and who feels an inextricable connection with a woman she knows only as a respected author: “I long to know my ancestral home; a yearning calls me to return/ To a land I have never known, other than the dreams that in me burn.”

Likewise, Men of Worth’s performance of “Nancy Spain” was a perfect counterpoint for Eamonn’s feelings of separation from the woman he had never stopped loving: “No matter where I wander I’m still haunted by your name,/ The portrait of your beauty stays the same./ Standing by the ocean, wondering where you’ve gone, if you’ll return again./ Where is the ring I gave to Nancy Spain?”

If you love Irish music like I do, then you already know how rich, in image and emotion, an Irish ballad can be. You already know that the toe-tapping rhythms of a jig or reel are infectious.

I’ve listened to live and recorded performances of this music for years, and have accumulated a lot of fond memories -- playing along with my “bodhran” or Irish frame drum, or impersonating a professional Irish dancing troupe with some enterprising friends (we were a hit at Friar Tuck’s Pub in Cotati). So listening to this CD, with its combination of traditional tunes and original compositions, was an enjoyable experience for me.

Not that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to experience this collaboration, but in the interests of feeling its full effect I tried, whenever possible, to have my CD player cued up and ready to go for when I came to the appropriate place in the book’s text. This wasn’t always feasible, but when it was, I noticed -- and appreciated -- how well the book and its “soundtrack” compliment each other.

Published Dec. 14, 2002 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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