By Eric Alper.
Back during the Covid lockdowns, award-winning songwriter and musician Tara Dunphy spent much of her time walking in St. Peter’s Cemetery in London, Ontario, getting to know the stones and imagining the stories of the people whose names she read aloud. “I heard somewhere that so long as you say someone’s name, they’re never truly gone, so I tried to get everyone at least once” she explains. One stone kept grabbing her attention. “It bore two names,” she continues. “Thomas O’Meara, with a birth and death date, and below that it read ‘Beloved husband of Bridget O’Brien, 1885.’ Only a birth year, no death year.”
No matter the weather, 30 or minus 20 degrees, Tara was at the cemetery every day. And with every reading of the names, she just couldn’t shake the lingering question of what had truly happened to this Bridget O’Brien. “Did she marry someone else after Thomas died, and chose to be buried with the new fella? Did she pass away years later, penniless, unable to leave the money to have her name put on the stone? Is she still alive, having found the fountain of youth? I never found out, but one day a song just presented itself, almost as if Bridget wanted the question asked. Bridget O’Brien, where have you gone?”
“Bridget O’Brien” is the latest single from Canadian contemporary folk group, Maggie’s Wake, a band that emerged out of a shared vision for both honouring and building upon the foundation of traditional folk and Celtic instrumentation to create a constantly evolving sound that is truly fiery, limitless, and unique. Fronted by Tara Dunphy (The Rizdales, Luther Wright and the Wrongs) on tin whistle, flute, fiddle, guitar, banjo and lead vocals, and fellow award-winning musician Lindsay Schindler (Rant Maggie Rant, Trent Severn) on fiddle and vocals, Maggie’s Wake is additionally solidified by the powerhouse backing combo of Stephan Szczesniak on percussion, Andrew Kosty on bass, Dean Harrison on piano and accordion, and Kenneth Palmer on guitar.
Blending high twang, rich harmonies and soaringly haunting vocals, “Bridget O'Brien'' brings back to life the imagined untold tale of the once passionate Bridget O’Brien, from the perspective of her devastatingly heartbroken husband, who calls out from his grave, “Bridget O’Brien where have you gone/I’ve been lying here, waiting for you for so long/Praying each night you’ll return with the dawn/Oh my Bridget, where have you gone/Oh my Bridget, where have you gone?”
The lyrics go on to paint the picture of the enchanting woman he longs for: “Bold and unruly, she couldn’t be tamed/When she kissed me, my heart was claimed/So we boarded a liner and made our way west/Across the wild ocean, we rode every crest/Of the waves with abandon, I was beguiled/When we landed she carried our child.” Before long, however, the love story becomes an abrupt tale of painful tragedy and loss. “A baby born quiet and cold as the ground/That we buried him ‘neath in this town/Her eyes lost their fire, her heart lost its flame/She left me one dark night and never again/Would I feel the soft touch of her lips against mine/Or the love of my Bridget O’Brien.” The song leaves us with the even further chilling lines “And I asked for your name to be etched in this stone/Should one day you find your way home”.
Considering the merging of strong roots in honouring traditional folk and celtic music, a fearless ability to embrace a vast range of influences, and a songwriter as mystical and engaging as Tara Dunphy, it comes as no surprise that Maggie’s Wake was the winner of the 2023 Forest City London Music Awards in the category of Folk/Roots. And just as we are left wanting more from the inconclusive story of Bridget O’Brien in their latest release, we are indeed also left wanting more from Maggie’s Wake.
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