Image:  Mick Fowler singing on Oulart Hill, Co. Wexford, March 2011.

The Wild Bees' Nest 

The Wild Bees' Nest  was a research and songwriting project involving a group of traditional singers from throughout Ireland. The project was conceived and devised by Michael Fortune and Aileen Lambert and supported by The Arts Council in conjunction with The Bealtaine Festival, The National Library of Ireland and the Irish Traditional Music Archive. 

Eleven singers hailing from Waterford, Cork, Tipperary, Galway and Dublin participated in the project:

Luke Cheevers, Fergus Russell, Tim Lyons, Pat Burke, Anne Parsons, Niamh Parsons, Paddy Daly, Tony McGaley, Micheál Marrinan, Mick Fowler and Tim Quan.

Image from left: Tony McGaley researching in the National Library, research material in the National Library, and Luke Cheevers in ITMA.

Stage One of the project provided the singer the opportunity, through focused research, to gather further information on a song of their choice. From October to December 2010 they researched material in the National Library and ITMA. This was in regard to both the background and events which inform the song and in relation to different versions of the song which exist on commercial and field recordings etc. On December 18th they performed the songs in question, at a concert in The National Library. 

Video: Short feature on the project which featured on the Six One News on RTE 1, 17th December 2010. Video courtesy of RTE.

Eleven songs featured in this concert, with subjects ranging from a 19th century battle between migratory workers from Leitrim with their Scottish and English counterparts to an ominous rendezvous in Kileevy, a song adapted by Dominic Behan from a poem by William Carleton, and further adapted by Tony McGaley. Castlehyde, the ancestral home of Douglas Hyde’s family, and now that of Michael Flatley, has been immortalised in a song of praise of the same name, and was performed by Tim Lyons. The song eulogises the grand house, until the last verse, where the writer as reprisal for non-payment ridicules its owner and ends with “I’ve met no nadger like Humpy Hyde”. Let this be a lesson to those who do not pay anyone with an artistic temperament!

Video: Short feature on the project which featured on Nuacht on TG4, 17th December 2010. Video courtesy of TG4.

The second stage of the project involved the composing of new songs in the traditional genre and culminated with a concert on May 31st 2011 as part of the Bealtaine Festival.  The subject matter of this diverse group of songs included the story of Dracula; The Cromleach in Howth known as Aideen’s Grave; the justice system of the nineteenth century transporting young men for the crime of poverty; the domination of the media in our national discourse; nineteenth century transport of young girls to Australia; a charity walk with Jimmy Saville in the sixties; an unapproved marriage by a tutor of the gentry in the seventeenth century; resistance to redcoats and punishment on a river Suir navigator in the eighteenth century; the mystery of the Ouzel Galley’s voyage in the late seventeenth century. To view video documentation from this concert featuring these songs click here

Video: Short feature on the project which featured on Imeall on TG4, 5th May 2011. Video courtesy of TG4.

All the singers are related directly and indirectly with the capital’s finest traditional song club, The Góilín, which has been meeting quietly and steadily for over twenty three years.

Unlike the noticeable popular upsurge in traditional music and dance in recent decades, the practice of unaccompanied traditional singing is less perceptible. Traditional singing is characterised by the fact that it is unaccompanied, and is almost always sung solo. This style of singing requires a special space for transmission and is reliant as much on the listener as the singer. It is essentially oral in character, transmitted in performance, and carried and preserved in the memory.

Image: From left - Tony McGaley, Luke Cheevers, Pat Burke, Aileen Lambert, Joan McDermott (Sound Recordings Officer at ITMA) and Anne Parsons in ITMA

Traditional singing is a living popular tradition. While it incorporates a large body of material inherited from the past, this does not form a static repertory, but is constantly changing through the shedding of material, the reintroduction of neglected items, the composition of new material, and the creative altering in performance of the established repertory.

While it is a tradition which is originally and essentially independent of writing and print, the collection in the National Library and The Irish Traditional Music Archive features a huge resource of material from ballad sheets and various collections and writings on song, as well as history and topics relevant to particular songs. This project utilises these resources to inject new life into songs in the traditional repertoire, and provide the information and inspiration for new songs.

Image: From left - Paddy Daly, Micheál Marrinan and Tony McGaley at the National Library

Aileen Lambert and Michael Fortune, who conceived the project, are experienced arts practitioners and have conducted numerous projects and commissions throughout Ireland over the past decade. Their attachment to story and song is manifested in the folklore collections and song projects which they conduct. Aileen is known in traditional singing circles while Michael’s folklore collections are housed in universities throughout Europe and North America.

Image: From left - Paddy Daly, Michael Fortune, Tim Lyons, Tony McGaley, Luke Cheevers and Fergus Russell in the National Library

This is part of an ongoing series of research based projects conducted by Michael and Aileen in conjunction with The Bealtaine Festival and The National Library. To view the 2009 project please visit

For further information please contact Michael or Aileen by email at or by phone: 053 9256885/087 7552593.  



The Wild Bees' Nest