Just Who Is the Galway Girl?
Edmond Enright was born on the 19th of May in 1975 in the Irish village of Birr, County Offaly. A small town of less than 6,000 people, Birr has a castle that once was home to the largest telescope in the world, named The Leviathan of Parsonstown. There is a courthouse, several schools, a newspaper, a train station that shut down in 1963, and an abandoned workhouse. It has both rugby and hurling teams, the latter with the distinction of winning the All-Ireland. In August and September it hosts a number of festivals celebrating the area’s heritage, music, theater, educational activities, and hot air balloons. There is a theater and arts center that has been open since 1889 that presents music, dance, and plays.
While his given name may not ring any bells for you, Edmond Enright is a prominent singer-songwriter in Ireland who goes by the name Mundy. His first album, released in 1996, included a popular song used in the film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Four years later he was dropped by his record label as he was working on his second album, 24 Star Hotel. Using mostly his own funds, he started up Camcor Records, which he named for the River Camcor, a popular fishing spot that runs through the town of Birr, and released the album in 2002. It included a song titled “July” that received extensive airplay, and he appeared at a number of large festivals. The album earned triple platinum status in Ireland.
Up until a few nights ago, I had never heard of Mundy. Knowing it was just a few days away from this column’s deadline and without a clue nor a thread of inspiration to choose from, I took to meandering through the millions of images on You Tube in hopes of finding something old, new, borrowed, or blue. And this is what I found. Forty-nine seconds into it, I felt the tears rolling down my cheeks … a common occurrence when I’m in the company of incredible music.
On June 11, 2016, at 1 p.m. local time, Galway-based filmmaker Kamil Krolak recorded the world’s largest street performance of “Galway Girl,”’featuring a number of prominent Irish musicians that included Mundy; Sharon Shannon; We Banjo 3; Lackagh Comhaltas; Roisin Seoighe; the Galway Rose, Rosie Burke; and the widely known folk band Amazing Apples.
Steve Earle wrote and recorded “The Galway Girl” around 17 years ago while he was living and working for several months in Ireland. Sharon Shannon’s band, the Woodcutters, backed him on the track, and it appeared both on his own Transcendental Blues and on the great Sharon Shannon and Friends: The Diamond Mountain Sessions album in 2000.
In 2006, Mundy recorded his fourth album, Live & Confusion, at Vicar Street in Dublin, which covered his best-known songs along with an encore of “Galway Girl” with guest Sharon Shannon. According to Wikipedia: “The live version became a download hit in Ireland, and eventually a studio version was released, after it was popularized in a television and radio advertising campaign for Bulmer’s Cider. The studio version of the track reached number 1 on the Irish Singles Chart in April 2008 and stayed there for five weeks. It became the biggest single in Ireland two years in a row in 2007 and 2008.” This is the original video.
This quote from Earle sits on Mundy’s webpage:
“‘The Galway Girl’ [from Mundy’s live album Live & Confusion] is the one thing I’m sure to be remembered for. I owe a lot of that to Mundy … the biggest hit was his version. People probably won’t even remember who the hell I was, but they’re going to be singing that song in Ireland for a long time. I really do believe that. And that’s the only kind of immortality anybody can hope for.”
In an interview with Trish Keenan that he did for the Irish website meg back in 2010, Earle goes deeper into the details of the song:
“We recorded it with the agreement being that I could use it on my record and she (Sharon Shannon) could use it on hers, it was her band, you know, we did it in Dublin. It’s a huge thing for me. You know just for the record I haven’t had a drink in 15 years, and when I did cider never passed my lips. But it was one of those things. I normally don’t allow my music to be used in ads for drink but it was a lot of money for Sharon so I didn’t stand in the way of it. I could have stopped it but I didn’t, ‘cuz it was her. The peak of the whole thing was that we were asked to sing it at the All-Ireland final, it was the year that Galway played the draw with Kerry and then finally lost in the playoff. I couldn’t make it and you know I’m still pissed off about that!”
So who is the Galway Girl that Earle wrote about? Last year when Kamil Krolack was about to film the street performance, the Irish Music Daily ran a story about her. This is an excerpt:
“Shannon told the Will Leahy Show on the Irish radio station RTE2fm that Earle met the girl in question while he was working with Irish musicians. She said: “Steve wrote the song in Galway. He used to spend a lot of time there, just hanging out and writing songs and going to trad sessions. He made great friends with all the musicians there.
“We know who the girl is. I think Steve would like to have had a romantic liaison with her. She’s a great friend of ours but she doesn’t trade on it. She doesn’t want people to know.”
Mundy, who took part in the same radio interview, said Earle and the Galway girl still know each other and have met a few times since through work, but not in any romantic way, although some tensions may remain. “I was in the company of the two of them once and I was uncomfortable,” he said.
Although the identity of the girl had not been revealed, that changed last year. A book written by poet and musician Gerard Hanberry, On Raglan Road: Great Irish Love Songs and The Women Who Inspired Them, was published and included the story of Earle meeting singer and bodhran player Joyce Redmond, who was a regular at trad sessions back in Galway.
As reported by The Irish Sun, “She was in Quay Street when Earle approached her and asked if she could help him with a phone call he was trying to make. A few days later she met him again by accident on Dominick Street when he asked if she knew where he could find some traditional Irish music. She took him along to a few sessions.”
For the record, Joyce Redmond is not a Galway girl. She grew up in Howth, just north of Dublin. And to close it out, here’s Earle with Sharon’s band playing the song live at the Kennedy Center Gala for Irish Music.
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