Left Behind: Songs of the 1916 Widows

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Updated: December 10th, 2015

Left Behind:

Songs of the 1916 widows

Written by composer and curator Simon O’ Connor, and commissioned and presented by vocalist Michelle O’ Rourke.

Left Behind is a new collection of songs to mark the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Drawing on the experiences of women closely connected to the conflict, including the wives of prominent rebel leaders, O’ Rourke and O’ Connor have created a unique suite of compositions that offer an emotional, human perspective on a narrative that is too often told in baldly male heroic terms. Beginning life as simple vocal/piano pieces, these songs have been transformed with the addition of O’ Connor’ s former bandmates from celebrated Dublin rock band The Jimmy Cake.

This small ensemble brings a volatile, dramatic energy to the retelling of the stories of Lillie Connolly, Grace and Muriel Gifford, Agnes Mallin and others. “So much of our engagement with history is purely political, and so rarely we allow ourselves to read between the lines to find human realities,” says O’ Connor. “Incredible recent work by historians like Sinead McCoole, Diarmaid Ferriter, Roy Foster and Catriona Crowe allow us to consider the human cost, the real life narratives of the revolutionary period that we can empathise with and still understand today.

“More so than any art form, music can place us squarely in this emotional space,” adds soprano Michelle O’ Rourke. “With these songs, we hope to give life to some of these feelings, these emotions and the sense of loss felt by many women and children who were left behind by men who were dominated by what they felt was a higher calling.”

“The moody, slender, ethereal settings of Left Behind … held together by O’Rourke and the extraordinary beauty of her voice.” Michael Dervan, The Irish Times “The night felt like an exercise in story-telling of lives often forgot… The songs were stripped of superfluous flare in favour of a stunning stillness which revived the beauty of these tragic, untold tales.” thinair.net Simon O’Connor studied composition under Donnacha Dennehy, Roger Doyle and Kevin Volans. His musical life began late as a teenager in punk bands, developing to solo electronic music and avant-rock groups, most notably The Jimmy Cake.


Michelle combines her classical training and background in Baroque music with an adventurous eclecticism and a passion for collaboration. In recent years Michelle has been involved in the commission, premiere and touring of works by Linda Buckley, Garrett Sholdice, Benedict Schlepper-Connolly, Judith Ring, Naomi Pinnock and Andrew Hamilton, amongst others. Recent activities have included the presentation of solo vocal works by Irish composers as part of the 2012 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and 2013-2014 Association of Irish Composers‘ Irish Canon series. She continues to commission new works and to collaborate regularly with living composers.

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