Reading My Way Around the World

Wednesday 30 April 2014

Zozimus says Zing went Ziggy's Zombies sung by Zap Mama!!

This is the last day of the 2014 A to Z Blogging Challenge 

I had great fun trying to find music connections for Z so I thought I'd do another list for this one ... I've done lists of songs for days of the week here and for months here and here but never for a letter before and there are some corkers.

In the Irish language, there is no Z in the alphabet so none of the songs begin with it .... but there was a balladeer ... popularly known as Zozimus.   Born Michael Moran (1794 - 3 April 1846), he was  born in Dublin and lived there all his life. At two weeks old he was blinded by illness. He made his living reciting verses which he had composed in his own lively if semi-literate manner.

Some of them still survive, such as

"Saint Patrick was a Gentleman"
Saint Patrick was a gintleman, he came of decent people,
In Dublin town he built a Church, and on it put a steeple;
His father was a Callaghan, his mother was a Brady,
His aunt was an O'Shaughnessy, and his uncle was a Grady.
Then success to bold St. Patrick's fist, He was a saint so clever,
He gave the snakes and toads a twist,
And banished them for ever.

One of my favourite female vocal groups is Zap Mama from French speaking part of Belgium ...  Have listen.

Some great Z songs (in my opinion anyway) ...

Zing Went the Strings of My Heart from Judy Garland (there are many other versions of this, but Judy has a special place in my heart)

Zombie - the Cranberries 
Ziggy Stardust - David Bowie

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Yellow and going to miss Y'all

Day 25 of the A to Z Challenge = Y 

A Y song .... Touch of Your Hand 

Without a doubt my favourite colour is Yellow ... It cheers me up and brings sunshine into the house ... Many years ago I lived in a house with a yellow front door and it cheered me up no end coming home to that house.   

cowslips in the lawn

Right now the garden is full of yellow, 
although blue is starting to take over as the bluebells come into their own.  

Do you remember putting buttercups up to your chin 
to see if you liked butter?  lol

I read somewhere in the past few days to leave dandelions as long as you can in the lawn as it's great food for the bees and butterflies and as it turns to seed the birds get much needed sustenance too...  Sounds like a great excuse to not mow the lawn for a couple of weeks :) 

primroses just starting to go off 

As we near the end of this A to Z challenge I'm going to miss y'all - (sorry for borrowing an Americanism there...) It's been a real challenge, but also a real pleasure to read so much good information, meet so many interesting people and visit so many new places.

Monday 28 April 2014

A Xylophone called Ethel

Misty Morning
My first real band was called Misty Morning - Nigel, Willie, Ivan and myself.  

We decided that we needed something to enhance the sound of two guitars, bass and sometimes piano. So one Saturday afternoon we headed into town to buy some percussion instruments.

Included in this treasure trove was a Xylophone.  

While we were down town a few pints were partaken of, and in a fit of hilarity we decided to name the new instruments!! The Xylophone was duly named Ethel.

Well!  We thought this was hilarious, as you would when you're 18 or 19!  
tha's me playing the xylophone on stage with Misty Morning
Poor Ethel only got used about twice or three times because we couldn't stop laughing every time we brought her out on stage.   Sadly the band met its demise when we moved on from university - good fun was had though.

This post is part of the 2014 A to Z blogging challenge 

Saturday 26 April 2014

W is for Walls

I've been participating in an A to Z Challenge for the month of April - check out some of the other participants from all over the world. 

My song beginning with W is the Way Young Lovers Doour reworking of a Van Morrison song.

The West of Ireland is littered with stones - left over from the Ice Age.  It's part of what forms the remarkable landscape of the Burren, Connemara, Donegal and Kerry.

In the old days when someone needed to farm the land or graze cattle or sheep on it, they put a lot of muscle into clearing the field in question… and the results are beautiful walls all over the countryside..   I love these walls - makes me think of lace.  

In Jim Sheridan's film of John B. Keane's play 'The Field', the main character , the Bull McCabe, pays dearly for his obsession with one field.  

Walls make good neighbours; they're there to keep us in and keep trouble out.   They divide nations and we build them around our hearts.  But sometimes they're nothing more than a wall!

Here are some Connemara walls from my recent visit over to the West ...  

There's dozens of lanes and no traffic - I went up this one to get a picture,
and naturally the only tractor on the road also had to come up it ….
and I ended up in a shuck! - that's a boggy ditch by the way!

And some inhabitants behind the walls

This wee chap looked like he was only a couple of days old. 

Friday 25 April 2014

Van the Man!

Well, what is there to say!  Here we are with only a few more days to go … and with my profession as a singer, I had thought about V being a blog about Vocals or Voices … obvious ….

But then I was listening to a live album from Van Morrison recorded at Austin City Limits Festival a few years ago  …. and I thought V! Perfect!

Van the Man as he's known here.
Belfast's greatest music export!
Notorious for walking off the stage if the audience are too noisy!
Uses almost all local musicians in his touring band.
Famous for Brown Eyed Girl ( I know her ... the girl it was based on),
And what about Gloria and Moondance.

I once saw him at our local blues festival playing in a 200 seater hall - Van approached the organiser and asked to play  - his full 10 piece band including Hammond organ and 3 backing vocalists crammed onto the stage where we've put on workshops and the local pantomime happens every year!   And it was the best gig I've ever been to.   I hadn't been much of a fan of his until this but afterwards he just had me hooked.

Have a wee singalong while you're reading all your other blogs today.

What's been your favourite live concert?
Is there one artist in the world that you'd absolutely love to see?

Thursday 24 April 2014

U is for Ulster and updating and unpicking

I've really agonised about the U post - couldn't thing about a suitable subject -- and as I don't really have a theme it added to my confusion ….

So first I thought about Ulster (Uladh in Irish - pronounced uh loo) - one of the ancient  4 provinces of Ireland - along with Munster, Connaught and Leinster presided over by the High Kings in ancient times.  You'll hear about Ulster legends and Ulster songs … all of Northern Ireland sits inside Ulster along with 3 counties from the Republic.
In Gaelic football, hurling and camogie, the teams compete for the provincial title first and then for the All Ireland.  Several cultural competitions also run along these lines and end up at the All Ireland Fleadh (fla) every year.  In rugby also, all four provinces have teams.  The Irish international team is made up of the best from the four provinces and is one of the few all Ireland teams - most other sports outside of these have teams from Northern Ireland as well as the Republic of Ireland.
We have great Ulster golfers too and they're world famous - Rory McIlroy came 8th in this year's Masters in Augusta, GA and for a while was world Number 1.   There's also Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell all world champions and all from our wee corner of the world.
Not to mention Liam Neeson, Roma Tomelty and Van Morrison (more about him tomorrow) - all Ulster men and women.

Then I've been updating ---
Have you ever gone about updating all your online profiles?   Takes ages ... I read a press release recently that said you could do it all in 15 minutes - baloney!!!   It took me 3 days!!   But at least now they're all looking sort of the same, I've gotten rid of several that I had totally forgotten about - who remembers Bebo?  And it left me with a very serious desire to never sign up to another online social media site again - ever!

And lastly I'd been unpicking - specifically my knitting …. made a mistake half way down the piece, and couldn't get it fixed without totally undoing a month's worth of work!!    Still it's done now.
But more generally unpicking my practices - my work, my creative path.

That's what this challenge that we've all been undertaking for the past 3 and a bit weeks has done for me.  I has helped me focus on what needed to be unravelled or updated or left behind.   Thank you A to Z challenge for this.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Tuning your voice ...

Singing Tips  - do you think you sing out of tune?

Singing is really therapeutic ...
So what's stopping you?
Have you been told that you sing out of tune?
Or that you're tone deaf?

Tuning problems may be quite easy to fix: 

Yeh right I hear some of you saying!  
It's the people who have to listen who'll have the problem ... 

It is not our normal state to sing out of tune 
One problem may simply be that you have  learned the notes incorrectly.  

Try This....

  • Go back and listen to the song you have the problem with.
  • Really listen - don't sing along with it.   
  • Just listen.   
  • Then repeat the problem phrase until you feel you've got closer to it.  
  • Now ... tape yourself ... on your phone or whatever you have handy.... is it a bit closer?

This is important : Women and men usually sing in different keys, so it is vital that you listen to someone in the same key as you  - so if you're a woman, make sure you listen to a woman singing the song; and if you're a man listen to another man singing it.   

If you're still unsure, ask a friend that you trust to listen to you singing the phrase... and just keep singing for yourself, or join a choir and get that muscle working ... You'll be amazed at how your confidence will grow and how much better you'll feel. 

Has that fixed your problem?

Other possible reasons for singing out of tune:
Over projecting - trying to hit the back wall of the hall with your voice .... do you still have your old school teacher in your head telling you to sing out?   If you change your focus of where you're singing to .... say, aim for the front row of the imaginary audience ... you'll find that you'll stop singing sharp.

Coffee -  too much coffee before you sing will make you jumpy and behave overly nervous and out of breath ... this again can make you sing sharp if you're not aware.

and the converse
Worrying about what your voice will sound like can stop you projecting at all and make you sing flat.

Let me know how you get on....

Tuesday 22 April 2014

S is for Songbirds - the First Ladies of Irish Song

 My S song is in Irish - listen here to Seoladh na nGamhna  (which means "herding the calves" and basically talks of a young one out bringing the calves home, meets a young man and the calves go home alone!!!)

Songbirds was a TV programme that I presented for Irish TV in 2006.   
It profiled the lives of 5 influential women singers from the 30s, 40s and 50s who sang the common folk songs of the day - 
Delia Murphy, Mary O'Hara, Margaret Barry, Bridie Gallagher and Ruby Murray.

Introduction to the series

The women profiled were Delia Murphy who was the first person recorded singing in Ireland in her own accent which makes her the mother of the Irish folk music industry.  Read my blog about Delia here

Mary O'Hara was a harpist who sang similar songs but in a very classical style.   She came from Sligo, was very beautiful and was featured in many TV shows in England in the early 50s.   Mary recorded many albums with the Clancy Brothers and had a fascinating life - started recording at the age of 18, married at 19, was widowed at 21 and entered a convent very shortly afterwards where she stayed for 14 years.   When she came out again she had another hugely successful career.

Margaret Barry was a wonderfully eccentric street singer, who came from a Spanish gypsy family, who was at the start of the folk revival in the British Isles, performed with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez to name but a few and is revered as a custodian of the traditional song catalogue.

Bridie Gallagher was the mother of modern Irish country and western music.   Again she sang much the same repertoire as the previous three ladies but added a country dance beat to most of the songs.  She came from the North of Donegal and became known as the girl from Donegal.   In the 1960s she did 19 tours to America for 9 weeks at a time and brought news from home to the legions of emigrants who had left Ireland for work.    
And last but not least was Ruby Murray - a pop singer from Belfast who until very recently held the record for having the most songs in the British charts at the same time - in 1955 she had 5 songs in the Top 20 - and not even the Beatles did that.   Her crown was only lost when Michael Jackson died and all his albums went back into the charts.  Ruby was gorgeous and I had the pleasure of working with her back in the 1980s when I was stage manager in one of the local theatres.  Her biggest hit was Softly Softly - Frank Sinatra asked to work with her, but sadly after 10 months at the top she spent the rest of her life working clubs and small theatres.   She died in the early 90s.

You can read more in depth information about all these women here.

Monday 21 April 2014


Rostrevor is a tiny village in the foothills of the Mountains of Mourne in Co. Down, Northern Ireland.

We live about 2 miles outside of Rostrevor and it is the spot about which Percy French wrote the famous song "The Mountains of Mourne".

It's also the location for part of the shooting of the recent movie "Philomena" starring Judi Dench.  And Game of Thrones is filmed very close to here.
A news article about Judy's visit here -
she actually found some relatives here in the village...  
Here are a few of the highlights for me....

Fiddlers Green Festival takes place here at the end of July every year and starts off with a concert up in the mountain at a clearing called Fiddlers Green which is the name for fishermen's heaven.

Setting the scene at Fiddlers Green

A lot of the Festival events happen on the water and the mountain and it attracts the best of Irish traditional and folk music both as headliners and visitors.  One of my favourite events is a day when guys with boats bring others out on the water.  And a friend of the festival who swims every day in San Francisco Bay out to Alcatraz, comes here every year to swim across the lough symbolising the union between north and south.   the further coast that you can see in this picture is in Co. Louth in the South of Ireland.
Messing about on the water during Fiddlers Green Festival

When we first moved here I was fascinated by the Fairy Glen .... the river is the Glenshee which translates as Fairy Glen and the walk along the river can take you away into another land without too much imagination being used. 
The Fairy Glen
 It's almost a pilgrimage for visitors to walk up to Clough Mor - the big stone - which was thrown by Finn McCool legend has it!   the boring people tell us that it is a remainder of the ice age but Finn's story is much more likely!!!!    I wrote a blog about Finn and the Big Stone here...
Clough Mor or the Big Stone at the top of the mountain behind the village
Looking down on the village

It's a very picturesque place and I fell in love with it the instant I first visited.  

You can read more at The Rostrevor News Page

Water Street

Saturday 19 April 2014

The Queen of Connemara

The Queen of Connemara - Delia Murphy

If I Were A Blackbird was one of Delia's best known songs - hear a little bit of it here

Delia Murphy (1902 - 1971) was born and raised in Co. Mayo, and made her first recordings in 1938 - The Spinning Wheel and 3 Lovely Lasses from Bannion coming from the earliest batch. She became Ireland's first and arguably greatest musical ambassador and her contribution to the folk revival of the 50s and 60s was immeasurable. Her simple ballad style and endearing presentation on stage made her an almost overnight success on radio. Married to diplomat Tom Kiernan, Delia travelled the world, finally settling in Canada, only returning to live in Ireland in 1969.

With Tom, they were posted to the Vatican during the War years where she was involved in many escapades involving the escape of allied soldiers - later Tom became the first Irish Ambassador to Australia and Delia brought back many songs that later moved into the Irish Tradition. 

Among here many recordings was a song called the Queen of Connemara about a boat ... and this was where her nickname came from.

Delia's website is maintained by her grandson, the uilleann piper Ronan Browne at

Delia Murphy was without doubt the single most influential singer to have recorded traditional songs in Ireland and she influenced a generation of singers that followed her. 

I made a series of documentaries for RTE television and with the help of guests from the various strands of Irish music we reconstructed the biographies of Delia and the other first Irish ladies of song who were recording in and around the 1950s.  The series was called Songbirds and I will write about it in a later post.    Our newer recordings of these well known songs (many of which I've shared here through these A to Z posts) is available through my website at along with more information and a DVD of the series if you'd like to read more about her and the Songbirds series. 

Here's my version of If I Were A Blackbird

Friday 18 April 2014

P is for Pottery

A song for today about Places  
The Old Maid in the Garrett

I grew up in a Pottery village ... Belleek China is world famous for collectors - and my father worked in the Pottery all his life - he started at 13 sweeping floors and was General Manager when he retired at 70.

The Pottery pretty much ruled life in the village when I was growing up ...  The hooter would go at 1 for dinner break and again at 5 when the workers were finishing up - so whoever was at home would have the meal ready by the time they got back to the house.

The Pottery had and still has a policy of 'no seconds', so anything that didn't reach the standard was destroyed ... And moulds were broken after the allotted number of pieces were made there .... A real treat for my brother and me was getting some old moulds to play with.  And my father loved to experiment with different soils in the area to see if something else would work instead of having to import the kaolin from Cornwall, and further afield in later years.    So we made many little dogs and pigs and other ornaments from clay out of our garden or out of the field and then it would be taken in to the kilns to be fired along with the real stuff!

I've always adored the fragility of parian ware and collect a few pieces.    Here are some of my treasures.

Today is the 16th day of the A to Z Blogging challenge for April.  Letter P.

Do you collect anything?
Is your home town famous for anything?

Thursday 17 April 2014

Oisín and the land of Tír na nÓg

Listen to Farewell My Own Dear Native Land

The Legend of Oisín and Niamh and the land of Tír na nÓg.

Oisín (pronounced Osheen) was the son of the legendary giant Finn McCool (who lies buried on the mountains in front of our house - see my post about Finn here).   One day he was out hunting with his father and in the distance he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen sitting on a magnificent white horse and immediately fell in love with her.

An Irish stamp depicting Oisin and Niamh
She said her name was Niamh (pronounced Neeve) and she was the daughter of the king of Tír na nÓg - (pronounced Teer-nah-nogue, it  means land of the ever young in Irish) a mystical, magical land across the seas, where time stood still, no-one ever grew old and everyone was happy.

Niamh said she had heard about this brave warrior, Oisín and asked him come with her and although he was torn to leave Ireland and his father and family, he had fallen in love with the beautiful woman and agreed to go with her.

Legends are used widely as images in Ireland
They were very happy together for many years, but deep down Oisín had a longing to see his family and home again.   Niamh told him he couldn't go back but eventually she agreed, if he would take her horse and make sure never to step on the ground because if he did he would never be able to return and although only a few years had passed in Tír na nÓg, back in Ireland more than 300 years had gone by.

Many publishers have stories
for children of these legends
When Oisín arrived back across the seas to Ireland everything had changed, the castle where he had lived was falling down and the Fianna (pronounced Fe-anna) no longer hunted in the woods.  (The Fianna were a group of elite warriors who protected the High King.)   He saw some old men who were trying to move a rock and rode up to them and asked about Finn MacCool but was told that they were long since passed away.  He leaned from his horse to help the old men, but slipped and fell to the ground and in an instant he aged the 300 years that had gone.   Oisin died very soon afterwards brokenhearted, but not before passing on the stories of Finn, the Fianna and Tír na nÓg.  And these are the stories that we still know to be true.

There are many great sites with legends of Ireland - I think Ireland of the Welcomes is lovely and has great information.

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Wednesday 16 April 2014

N is for Northern Ireland

Have a listen to The Homes of Donegal which I recorded with guitarist Steve Cooney.   I grew up looking out over the hills of Donegal.  

I had planned to write today's post about Northern Ireland, but when it boiled down to it I didn't know where to start explaining the enigma that is this place without either confusing the life of you my lovely readers, or ending up in a political rant, or both, and getting extremely depressed as a result!!!  So here's a wee intro to my Northern Ireland (or if you want to sound like a local - Norn Irn)
The Giants Causeway
(built by the giant Finn McCool!)

I grew up on the border, just inside Northern Ireland, - my mother comes from Ballyshannon in Co. Donegal (in the South) and my father from Belleek in Co. Fermanagh, 4 miles away in the North.

Our  home house was about 100 yards from the border ... the dividing line being a sheugh (pronounced shuck - a tiny boggy stream) and most of our neighbours had land on both sides of the stream.   In fact one neighbour's house is right on the dividing line - so if he goes out his front door he is in the South (or the Republic) of Ireland and if he goes out his back door he's in Northern Ireland!!!   Very handy for smuggling!!  of which there was and still is a roaring trade.

And loads of jokes about it …
A man walked past the border post most days pushing a wheelbarrow of manure …. the guards weren't too keen to check the contents but suspected he was smuggling something …. Every day without fail he walked past them and they poked something into the barrow checking for contraband.   
A long time later one of the guards met him and asked him if, and what, he had been smuggling - he'd been smuggling wheelbarrows!!!!!   Hahahaha.

It made no difference to us growing up, until all the unapproved roads were closed by the Army and our friends in the south went to school in Co. Donegal and we went to school in Fermanagh.

While it was a very unhealthy atmosphere to grow up in through 30 years of The Troubles, mostly it's now just incredibly fruststrating since we all think of ourselves as living in Ireland - even the most hardened Unionist - but we're part of the UK.   So to send a letter to the nearest town a few miles away it has to go airmail because it's officially an international mailing - our banks have different currencies and the only ones winning there are the banks - and mobile phones when we head down to Dublin for some shopping, welcome us to Ireland!!!!   We're already in Ireland you idiots!!!

Still, we have the best of both worlds - great music, and all the culture of this wee island, the excellent health and education systems of the rest of the UK and for the most part we can ignore the twits who run the government in London and save our despair at the shenanigans of our own politicians-in- training.  What other country has a First Minister and Deputy First Minister who have to do everything together to equally represent both sides of our community!

For my part, I'm happy to be in the North - I just wish that more visitors to Ireland would venture across the border and experience our wonderful scenery, humour and cities.  So come and say hello if you're ever in this part of the world - you'd be most welcome.
Botanic Gardens in Belfast behind Queens University.

Some facts - Northern Ireland has 6 counties out of the total of 32 in Ireland.   It has a population of just under 2 million in an area the size of Holland.  
NOrthern Ireland lies within the ancient province of Ulster with 3 more counties of the province in the Republic.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

My Lagan Love

Day 13 of the A to Z challenge and the letter M ... and also one in my series about old songs ....

Where Lagan streams sing lullaby
There blows a lily fair
The twilight gleam is in her eye
and the night is in her hair
and like a lovesick lenashee*,
she hath my heart in thrall
nor life I own, nor liberty
For love is lord of all

Have a listen to  My Lagan Love

One of my all time favourite Irish songs, My Lagan Love was written by Joseph Campbell (no relation) (1879 - 1944), also known as Seosaimh MacCathmhaoil or Joseph MacCahill.  He came from Belfast and his grandparents came from the Irish speaking region of Flurrybridge in South Armagh (source Wikepedia). In the early 20th century he started collecting songs along with Herbert Hughes and in 1904 came across the melody to which he put these words.  Joseph started the first Irish College in America after spending years in prison in the Curragh after the 1916 rebellion.   A wonderful documentary about his life was recently shown on TG4 here.

And often when the beetle's horn
Hath lulled the eve to sleep
I steal unto her shieling lorn
And thru the dooring peep.
There on the cricket's singing stone,
She spares the bogwood fire,
And hums in sad sweet undertone
The songs of heart's desire.

I've been singing this song from the year dot ….(I recorded it for the TV series Songbirds and it's  on my CD "Farewell To Cold Winter") …. it was a regular piece in feises and I won a few trophies for it … but the older I get, the harder the song is to sing….  I'm including lyrics at the end here that I found when researching this song ... and although I've often heard and sung a third verse, until recently have never seen the verse about the barge …. so I've added it on with a variation on the 3rd and 4th verse if that makes any sense!!!

*For clarity … a lenashee is a type of fairy - it should be written leanaun sidhe ..

Her welcome, like her love for me,
Is from her heart within:
Her warm kiss is  felicity 
That knows no taint or  sin
When she was only fairy-high
Her gentle mother died;
But true love keeps her memory warm
By Lagan's silver side.

The Lagan of the song, I was always told, was actually a stream in East Donegal rather than the river Lagan in Belfast. However the inclusion of this extra verse very firmly locates it on the River Lagan in Belfast - Lambeg is between Lisburn and Belfast and Drum was  a lock on the canal there.

The English is of a style that was much in use at the start of the 20th century … very flowery and with lots of references to mythology … an attempt at gaelicising the English that was in use at the time.  Both Herbert Hughes and Joseph Campbell were leading lights in the Gaelic Revival - an attempt to bring back Irish culture.   In fact Joseph's name was a gaelicisation of Joseph Campbell, rather than the other way around and the confusion over Joseph MacCahill was another anglicisation of the Irish name!   Confusing or what!!   Whichever, the language, for me, always added greatly to the mystery of this song coupled with the beautiful air which makes me think of turf fires and boggy landscapes.  

There are many great versions of My Lagan Love …both as written and with new words ....  the gypsy singer Margaret Barry was recorded by Ewan McColl in 1956 singing it - listen here.

But the loveliest I've yet found is from Kate Bush - with new lyrics written by her brother … here's a link to the video.

And then several folk artists sang it as "The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood" which in essence is also the same song, different words..   Here's a link to the wonderful Sandy Denny singing that one.

Here are the alternative lyrics that I found which put a totally different spin on the song .... very interesting ..
Where Lagan streams sing lullaby
There blows a lily fair
The twilight gleam is in her eye
and the night is in her hair
and like a lovesick lenashee*,
she hath my heart in thrall
nor life I own, nor liberty
For love is lord of all

Her father sails a running-barge
'Twixt Leamh-beag and The Druim;
And on the lonely river-marge
She clears his hearth for him.
When she was only fairy-high
Her gentle mother died;
But dew-Love keeps her memory safe
By Lagan's silver side.

And often when the beetle's horn
Hath lulled the eve to sleep
I steal unto her shieling lorn
And thru the dooring peep.
There on the cricket's singing stone,
She spares the bogwood fire,
And hums in sad sweet undertone
The songs of heart's desire.

Her welcome, like her love for me,
Is from her heart within:
Her warm kiss is
That knows no taint of  sin
And, when I stir my foot to go,
'Tis leaving Love and light
To feel the wind of longing blow
From out the dark of night.