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Bright Star of the West traces the life, repertoire, and influence
of Joe Heaney, Ireland's greatest sean-nos ("old style") singer.
Born in 1919, Joe Heaney grew up in a politically volatile time, as
his native Ireland became a democracy. He found work and relative
fame as a singer in London before moving to Scotland. Eventually,
like many others searching for greater opportunity, he emigrated to
the United States, where he worked as a doorman while supplementing
his income with appearances at folk festivals, concerts and clubs.
As his reputation and following grew, Heaney gained entry to the
folk music scene and began leading workshops as a visiting artist
at several universities. In 1982 the National Endowment for the
Arts awarded Heaney America's highest honor in folk and traditional
arts, the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship. Although
Heaney's works did not become truly popular in his homeland until
many years after his death, today he is hailed as a seminal figure
of traditional song and is revered by those who follow traditional
music. Authors Sean Williams and Lillis O Laoire address larger
questions about song, identity, and culture. They explore the deep
ambivalence both the Irish and Irish-Americans felt toward the
traditional aspects of their culture, examining other critical
issues, such as gender and masculinity, authenticity, and
contemporary marketing and consumption of sean-nos singing in both
Ireland and the United States. Comingling Heaney's own words with
the authors' comprehensive research and analysis, Bright Star of
the West weaves a poignant critical biography of the man, the
music, and his continuing legacy in Ireland and the United States.
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