Eire: Isle of the Saints

by John Doan

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Farewell 04:01


Guitarist and musical preservationist John Doan performs on the rare 20-stringed harp guitar, with an orchestral style full of subtlety, beauty, and power. Eire: Isle of the Saints is Doan's homage to the indomitable Irish spirit, a love letter to the Celtic spirit in us all.

In 1995 American harp guitar master John Doan travelled to Ireland on a personal odyssey to rediscover Eire as it was known to three of the Emerald Isles most beloved historical figures: St. Patrick, Turlough O'Carolan, and William Butler Yeats.

Eire: Isle of the Saints began as a musical diary of that odyssey, initially recorded as notes and tape recorded sketches as he visited each historic site. At the end of the journey, Doan spent a year lovingly translating the richness of this experience into music, and producing what we think will be a classic contribution to the burgeoning genre of Celtic Impressionism.

Each track is distinguished by superb musicianship and exquisite arrangements. Producer BILLY OSKAY gathered some of this country's finest players of traditional Celtic instruments to add life and color to Doan's musical picture book. Supporting Doan's featured harp guitar is Oskay on violin and viola, JIM CHAPMAN on Irish whistle, RANDAL BAYS on Celtic guitar, GREGG WILLIAMS on all manner of percussion, and piper ERIC RIGLER, known for his work in the film Braveheart, plus a host of others in supporting roles. The deluxe package includes a 20 page booklet with extensive liner notes by Doan, packed with history, anecdotes and personal musings on a journey into the Celtic spirit.

The stories illustrated in these tunes were recalled by retracing the steps of three touchstones of the Irish identity. Patrick was an authentic saint; Yeats and Carolan, revered on a level approaching sainthood.

The first two pieces are devoted to Yeats, the man and his works. "Where Horses of Faery Hide," with its mythic overtones, is led by crystalline harp guitar treble strings that soon blend with tin whistle over a stately guitar melody. The music evokes a moment when Doan stood transfixed by a lakeside field of purple heather. Overwhelmed by beauty in all directions, his thoughts turned to Yeat's famous poem "The Lake Isle of Innisfree."

"Yeats Country: Where William Lies" was inspired by a visit to Yeats' grave in County Sligo. The music contrasts bittersweet intimations of mortality (embodied by a melody that shows off both the upper and lower registers of the harp guitar) with a lively, lilting fiddle and whistle tune of the kind that young William likely heard growing up there. The next six pieces touch upon milestones in the life of Saint Patrick. The first, "Wake Waiting for the Dawn," signals the end of the pre-Christian order, an event prophesied by Druid priests and fulfilled by Patrick's arrival. Other tracks symbolize Patrick's mystic conversion after being taken from Britain as a slave; his decision to serve God's purpose in Ireland, at the edge of the known world; his defiant march to confront Eire's High King Loaghaire on Hill of Tara (complete with a rousing original chant in ancient Gaelic); a visit to the ruins of a castle cursed by Patrick, who made mankinds first recorded stand against slavery; and a stirring anthem to the Irish people who embraced Patricks gentle message of peace, hope and charity.

Amidst these spirited pieces is the wistful "Farewell," a moving experience of the yearning and resignation to fate that must have been in the heart of the young slave-boy who would become Saint Patrick. Spare and beautiful, it is performed only with Doan's signature harp guitar, producer Billy Oskay's violin, and subtle orchestral keyboards.

"Farewell" was chosen as the lead track on the first of the enormously popular Hearts of Space Celtic Twilight compilations in 1994.

Rounding out the set are two tracks that offer tribute to Turlough O'Carolan. O'Carolan was born to a poor family during the darkest days of the 17th century, when the Irish were suffering through their most trying era. Under the oppression of their conquerors, harps were symbolically smashed in public in a vain attempt to crush the Irish spirit.

O'Carolan was blinded by smallpox as a teenager; unable to make a normal living, he took up the harp. With his gift for melody, wit, and verse he soon became Ireland's most popular composer and its last great Bard. To this day his songs are keystones in the repertoire of every Celtic harpist and a pillar of the Celtic legacy in music.

O'Carolan brought light into the darkest days of Irish history. The epitaph at his grave within the old church of Kilronan reads: Turlough O'Carolan Harper, Composer, Poet, Singer "Our Great Solace in Our Great Need."

Eire: Isle of the Saints is ultimately the gift of a pilgrim soul called home by a mystical land and its resilient people. Together, they have moved him to create some of the finest and most memorable music that ever rang out from his enchanting instrument. John Doan was an eleven year old living in Venice, California when he began playing guitar. Given the setting, it's only natural that his earliest passion was surf music. He later became interested in classical guitar and earned a degree in Music Perfomance from Cal State Northridge. John furthered his musical education after moving to Oregon, where he earned a Masters in Musical Education from Western Oregon State and served on the faculty. He studied renaissance lute in Paris and baroque lute in The Netherlands. Playing lute set the stage for mastery of his true calling: the harp guitar.

The version of the harp guitar that John plays is a 20 string instrument created at the end of the last century in Europe and America. It supplements the standard guitars six fretted strings with six unfretted sub-bass strings, but its most distinctive sound is the crystalline harp tones of the 8 treble strings that complete the instrument. These high strings ring with bell-like clarity and have magnificent sustain.

The harp guitar was widely popular in turn of the century America as a parlor instrument and was available from famous makers like Gibson and Martin. It gradually fell out of favor but is now the subject of renewed interest thanks to the recording and performing efforts of Doan and others.

John has performed with a diverse range of artists from Burl Ives to Larry Carlton, and his virtuoso playing and arranging has attracted praise from no less a guitar luminary than Chet Atkins. He has starred in two much-loved television specials produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting: A Christmas to Remember With John Doan and A Victorian Christmas With John Doan, which was nominated for an Emmy. He lives near Salem, Oregon with his wife Deirdre, where he is an Assistant Professor of Music at Willamette University.

Eire: Isle of the Saints is John's second recording for Hearts of Space. His first, Wrapped in White: Visions of Christmas Past, is a collection of Christmas Carols freshly reinterpreted and arranged for dozens of forgotten 19th century instruments, released in 1995.


released September 21, 1997


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Hearts of Space Records New York, New York

Hearts of Space Records | A Valley Entertainment Label

Launched in 1984, this record label was created as an extension of the weekly syndicated radio show Hearts of Space. Centered around contemplative music, the label features music from the ambient, new age, electronic, world, Celtic, classical, and experimental genres. ... more

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