Áit Ait (Irish for “strange place” or “uncanny valley”) are an experimental folk duo focused on reinterpretations of traditional songs – dark and deep, bright and sparkling; full of noise and life. Based in Minnesota, Áit Ait (pronounced “ahh-tch eye-tch”) is Aja McCullough (song) and Patrick Maun (sound). The two set out to explore the living tradition that is Irish folk music – ever evolving and always changing, a solid footing set in the past but looking towards the future.
Our new release Beneath the Cold Silent Dew in available now on Bandcamp, directly from us, and on major streaming platforms like iTunes, Amazon Music, Pandora, Hearnow, and Spotify.
Traditional songs often deal with themes of heartbreak, murder, and loss. Most of these songs are old, some really old, with origins that are often clouded and lost to history. We’ve chosen some of our favorites to share with you, and we hope you’ll find them as poignant and enduring as we do.
The broken-hearted lover is all too familiar, and in Lovely Ann we are introduced to the heartbreak through a gorgeous piece of lyricism based on Irish language cross-rhyme poetry. The song is attributed to Peter Magennis (1817-1910) of County Fermanagh, though variations appear in many ballad sheets of the time. “Her parents were to me unkind and altogether cruel / that I would not my mind reveal unto my dearest jewel / The reason why, because I was poor, one sight of me they wouldn’t endure / Neither could I approach the door where dwelled my lovely Ann”.
More heartbreak can be found in Shíl Mé Féin (I Thought to Myself), a song from the small Gaeltacht village of Rann na Feirste. We encounter a poor soul mourning the pitiable situation of finding his true love, only to find that “Kissing her lips like the blossom of a raspberry, but everyone who saw her was kissing her too”.
Miss Brown (also known as the Dublin Murder Ballad, Pretty Polly, or the Cruel Ship’s Carpenter) has been recorded by many; ours is based on those of singers Jeannie Robertson and Frank Harte. A truly frightening song of murder and haunting. “Oh sailor, oh sailor, come spare me my life / When out of his pocket he drew a sharp knife / And he ripped her and tore her and cut her in three / And he buried poor Mary underneath a green tree”
Everyone loves a noble thief and outlaw, and that’s what we get in The Newry Highwayman, a song from the genre known as “goodnight” ballads, which inevitably end in the gallows. In this example, our hero lives fast, dies young, and was a wild and wicked youth. “I never robbed a poor man yet, nor trusty tradesman caused I to fret / But I robbed lords and ladies bright, and brought their jewels home, brought their jewels home to my heart’s delight”.
The Banks of the Moy is a song of leader, agrarian reform campaigner, and politician Michael Davitt (1846 – 1906). A rebel song and a good one. “One day as I went on my rambles between Swinford to sweet Ballylea / I met a fair maid on my rambles, her name it was Mary Maghee / She sighed for the love of her country, Michael Devitt, her brave Irish boy / Who is now in a prison in Portland, Far from The Lovely Sweet Banks Of The Moy.”
I Am Stretched on Your Grave is a devastating song of loss. It was originally an Irish language song “Táim sínte ar do thuama” most famously translated by Frank O’Connor. “I am stretched on your grave and will lie there forever / If your hands were in mine, I’d be sure they’d not sever”.
When Two Lovers Meet (often called The Banks of the Lee), brings us more love and death, the eternal preoccupations of traditional song. “I plucked for her roses, blooming Irish roses / I plucked for her roses, the finest that grew / And I laid them on the grave of my own darling Mary / where she sleeps in the churchyard neath the cold silent dew.”
Eastersnowe, a song of young love and young death, is named for a townland in Roscommon originally known by its Gaelic name, Diseart Nuadhan. The song draws us in with lines like “my heart was captivated by the two black eyes rolled in her head”.
All songs traditional & arranged by Áit Ait.
Aja McCullough is a fantasy/sci fi writer and musician whose love of dramatic narratives, beautiful melodies, and all things weird, old and spooky, led her straight to the shipwreck-filled world of traditional singing.
Patrick Maun began his journey in experimental music while living in Vienna, Austria during which time he performed extensively across Europe. Returning to the United States he discovered the uilleann pipes and traditional Irish music.
It was only a matter of time before the experimental and the traditional met.
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