Joe Heaney was a sean-nos singer born just over one hundred years ago near Carna in Connemara. He sang in both Irish and English, and would contribute to John Cage’s Joycean work Roaratorio.
This is one of his most famous pieces , a song he brought to wider popularity. More on the song here:
The song is best understood as a conversation between a number of participants including Peter, Jesus, the Blessed Virgin, and the Roman soldiers. This device advances the story with the greatest possible economy, allowing us to focus on the emotional intensity of each moment, from the viciousness of the soldiers to the disbelief and distress of Mary and finally to the quiet stoicism of Jesus, offering comfort to his distraught mother.
This is surely the most famous of the songs that Joe brought to public notice, and one of his own favourites. Along with Amhrán na Páise and Oíche Nollag, this lament reveals his deep reverence both for the spirituality of the subject-matter and for the tradition that his grandmother and others like her held up for her grandchildren and her community every year. As Máirtín Ó Cadhain wrote following Joe’s first public performance of this song in Dublin, In Caoineadh na dtrí Muire he brings home to us the joys and sorrows of Mary with the intimacy and poignancy of a Fra Angelico painting (quoted in Angela Partridge, Caoineadh na dTrí Muire: Téama na Páise i bhFilíocht Bhéil na Gaeilge, Dublin 1983, 4).
It seems to have been the case that singing this lament was, for Joe’s grandmother and other women in the community, not so much a performance as a very personal, painful, emotional experience. Angela Partridge, recording the song in 1975 from a near neighbour of Joe’s in Aird Thoir, Máire a’ Ghabha (Máire Bean Uí Cheannabháin), describes how the singer broke down in tears in the middle of the song and was unable to continue, saying ‘Tá mé goite chomh fada ansin is tá mé in ann… mar léifidh tú scéal ar ‘chuile mháthair, mar nach mbeidh ‘chuile mháthair mar sin lena mac féin? Gortaíonn Caoineadh na Páise mé an-mhór.’ (I’ve gone as far as I can… for you know it’s the story of every mother, for wouldn’t every mother be like that with her own son? Caoineadh na Páise really hurts me.)