SOLAS have risen to become one of Irish-America’s most popular bands over the last few years. Formed in 1996 and with many members coming and going over the years, its been the backbone of Seamus Egan and Winnifred Horan, that has kept Solas at the very top of their game. They mix their celtic roots with americana and country and other influences too numerous to mention but on this album keep those influences in the background to make ‘Shamrock City’ the Irish folk album of the year already.
It is unimaginable for us now to think of the horrors immigrants from Ireland faced when they arrived in the USA back in the dark days of the ‘famine’ and immediately after. Escaping a country which could but was not allowed to support them and having to leave the green of Ireland, only to find the only jobs available to them were the dirty and dangerous and low paid ones and yet still suffer prejudice and discrimination on top of it.
The story of ‘Shamrock City’, their 11th album, is a story of all these things but also of the hope, resistance and humour that those immigrants had and is the band’s most ambitious project to date. The album tells the story of Michael Conway, the great-great-uncle of Seamus Egan. Having left Ireland in 1910 he arrived in Butte, Montana aka Shamrock City (named so for the influx of Irish immigrants). 5000 miles from home in Roscommon only to find work in the copper mines. A family story of immigration, mining and murder.
Most of Butte’s Irish came directly or indirectly from West Ireland, predominately County Cork, but in large numbers from Mayo and Donegal as well. Six years after arriving in Butte Michael aged 25 was beaten to death by local policemen rumoured to be because of a row over fixing a boxing match.
An impressive list of musicians guest with Aoife O’Donovan singing the beautiful ‘Arbor Day’ and then fiery Irish-Scot folk veteran Dick Gaughan true to form on the angry ‘Labour Song’. Highly impressive fiddle work on the emotional ballads ‘Far Americay’ and ‘Welcome The Unknown’ by Horan and some fine instrumentals as well as the bluegrass influenced ‘Tell God And The Devil’, the LP’s standout track, and ‘No Forgotten Man’ make this outstanding album a must have for anyone with a interest in Irish music and history. Filled to the brim with stories its beauty is that it doesn’t stand as just one song or two but as a whole. As a testament to those 1000s of Irish who came to Butte. For many it was a death sentence and a sentence that came to them as young men. That sadness extends through Shamrock City but ends with the ‘No Forgotten Man’ and truly we shall remember them with pride. The live show is an interactive multi-media stage show featuring stories from and projected images of Butte that is receiving rave reviews so we can only hope that it wings ‘across the broad atlantic’…
One hundred years later, it’s their story, but the struggles of the working class and immigrants are the same.
Shamrock City is for those then and now that believe in a better life, and are willing to risk it all for a chance at something more. It is to the credit of Irish-America that many are able to trace their ancestors right back to places like those copper tunnels of Butte or the hotels and hospitals of the great cities. It is only to be hoped that they can also sympathise and support those that have today taken the place of the Irish in those dirty, dangerous and low paid jobs that once only Irish need apply.
Contact The Band
1997 — Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers
1998 — The Words That Remain
2000 — The Hour Before Dawn
2002 — The Edge of Silence
2003 — Another Day
2005 — Waiting for an Echo
2006 — Reunion: A Decade of Solas
2008 — For Love and Laughter
2010 — The Turning Tide
2013 — Shamrock City