Field Notes – Shamrock City

The people in Butte are of course a great audience for any kind of Irish music, but it’s hard to describe what it felt like to have the internationally known Irish band Solas in Butte, at the Front Street Station, performing songs about Butte and Butte history. When Mick McCauley sang the ballad of the life of Michael Conway, who met his fate in “… Butte, Montana, the richest hill on earth…” there were tears in the audience.

Michael Conway was a distant relative of Solas co-founder Seamus Egan, and his story (pieced together with lots of help from Ellen Crain and others at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives) was the genesis of Shamrock City, the band’s current album and film project. Seamus said this about Butte.
“There’s no place in the world like Butte – it’s a place like no other town in America. There’s a spirit and a strength here, and a connection to its past, that you don’t see very often. In fact…I’ve never seen anything like it.”

And Winifred Horan, whose playing is so beautiful she makes me want to either burn my fiddle, or rededicate myself to it, said: “We’re just starting to realize how powerful this material is. People are coming up to us and saying, ‘Yeah, we get it.’ Tonight, playing in Butte, I can’t tell you how powerful it was, because we were actually playing to the DNA of the people we were writing about and singing about. The people we are singing about – they’re still here, and that blood is still flowing through their veins.”
After the concert, a gentleman came up to Win and presented her with a violin – a gift, not a loan. (Better than roses, I told her.) There are a lot of junky fiddles floating around, but this was not one of them. It was a beautiful instrument.

Before I drove home, I went uptown to grab a quick dinner at the Pekin Noodle Parlor. As I was leaving, I ran into a couple of the band members, including Mick McCauley.
“It’s strange,” he told me. “Tons of Irish-Americans go back to Ireland to look for their roots. But we’re kind of doing the opposite. We’re Irish, but we had to come to Butte, Montana to help us understand who we are.”