Updated: Feb 11
A celebration of an ancient Irish Goddess through a unique blending of folk and soul music, my new single "Abigail/Tomhas Ghobnatan" was released on February 3rd.
After two years studying the women that populate Ireland's history and folklore, I'm ready to share the first tale from my voyage of discovery; specifically, the story of the ancient saint or Goddess Gobnait, encountered in the wilds of Ballyvourney. The song marries age-old traditions surrounding the medieval saint with my own modern interpretation of her.
In terms of actually writing the track, I was supported in 2021 by Music Network’s inaugural RESONATE Residency which allowed me to spend time devising work and performing at the Ionad Cultúrtha an Dochtúir Ó Loinsigh in Ballyvourney, in the Cork Gaeltacht of Muskerry, creating a suite of music dedicated to local history and tradition – this new release forms part of that suite, which will be released in full later this year (fingers crossed!) Recorded in 2022 by a stellar all-female line-up at the world-famous Grouse Lodge (Muse, Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones), the track earns its name from a tradition known as “Tomhas Ghobnatan”* or, in English “Gobnait’s Measure”.
*pronounced toe-uss gub-nutt-un
You can't visit Ballyvourney without tracing the steps of so many others: across the bridge over the Súlán River, up the hill to Gobnait’s Well, Gobnait’s Tree, and Gobnait’s monastic site – it’s a really beautiful, spiritual experience. So despite not particularly aligning with organised religion, I was moved to fascination by the frequency of the saint’s appearance all over the countryside.
I learned that Gobnait is the patron saint of bees and smithing, and was credited with miracles that protected Ballyvourney from attack and disease.
“Gobnait” is an Irish translation of the Hebrew name Abigail (meaning bringer of light), the anglicised version of which is Deborah. I added the name “Abigail” to the title to make the track more accessible to non-Irish speakers, but rejected the idea of removing the Irish language entirely, as it was after all created in the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking part of Ireland) about a woman who had her home there, she would have spoken the language.
Gobnait’s measure/Tomhas Ghobnatan is the name given to a piece of ribbon measured along the length, around the feet and around the neck of a medieval wooden statue of the saint by worshippers who come to
Ballyvourney on the 11th of February each year for Gobnait’s Day. They then might bring their blessed ribbon to Gobnait’s Tree and hang it there as an offering, give it to someone in need of healing, or keep it themselves for protection from harm.
When I heard of the tradition, it made me think about our “measure” of a person: how we judge each other; how women have historically been judged and punished in Ireland based on criteria established by people claiming to be good and righteous; and how if we were to live life the right way there would be more scope for redemption, openness, forgiveness, kindness… Gobnait is anathema to the deep-rooted cruelty experienced by so many in this country.
The song itself is what I'd term a “non-sacred prayer” to Gobnait, and a celebration of the virtues she represents to me. It plays out as a love song, and so it should; it’s a song of adoration for the people in my life that embody these qualities. I was inspired by the stories of Gobnait, local devotion to her, and the idea of "Gobnait's Measure" to write this track in the style of a love song to a woman who embodies the virtues of kindness, healing, and forgiveness. The listener can ignore any religious context if they choose, because this really is a love song in the traditional sense.
The track features Hannah Nic Gearailt, a collaborator on the song, on piano. It also features my oft-time bandmates Lucia Mac Partlin on violin and Clare Martyn on drums, newcomer Heather Nash on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Ailbhe Dunne on bass. It was recorded, mixed and produced by Alex Borwick, the in-house engineer at Grouse Lodge in Westmeath.
The recording of "Abigail (Tomhas Ghobnatan)" was made possible through Arts Council funding received by fellow songwriter and aspiring producer, Dubliner Gary O’Nualáin. I'm beyond grateful that this recording was made possible through Arts Council funding received by Gary, whose aim in bringing it together was, in part, to platform women in Irish music. We could never have accessed a studio as beautiful as Grouse Lodge, created a work on this scale, or carved out the time to produce the track, without that very generous funding and support.
Listen to Abigail (Tomhas Ghobnatan) wherever you listen to music, here: https://songwhip.com/emma-langford/abigail-tomhas-ghobnatan
And buy it direct from me on Bandcamp: https://emmalangfordmusic.bandcamp.com/track/abigail-tomhas-ghobnatan