Creating Intimacy through Traditional Irish Music in Waking Ned Devine

Intro to Celtic Music

Film Paper

11/25/13

The music featured in Kirk Jones’ 1998 “Waking Ned Devine” ranges from live music being played at a pub while the characters converse, to background music composed by Shaun Davey and Kirk Jones to set the mood, to the crossover popular traditional Irish music song “Fisherman’s Blues” written and performed by The Waterboys. The intimate portrait of the small village of Tullymoore in Ireland that sees one of its residents win the lottery is coupled with brilliant storytelling through the use of music. 

The characters participate in traditional Irish drinking songs on more than one occasion, which lends itself to proving the authenticity of the film. For a film that was filmed exclusively in Ireland with an ensemble of some of the greatest contemporary Irish actors the film maintains the small village ambiance despite a riveting story. 

Kirk Jones wrote, directed and oversaw the soundtrack of a film that feels not only authentically but more importantly genuinely Irish, despite being English. He managed to capture the soul of Ireland through the music as well as the dialogue. The film did receive a good amount of critical and public acclaim but due largely in part to the music. It feels like a quaint movie despite winning Best Feature for the film in 1998 at The New York Comedy Festival  

The beautiful solo flute compliments the thunderstorm after a party thrown to feel out who the lottery winner could be brings up no answers. The tune transforms from an air to a reel after a joke is made between the two main characters. Going from a beautifully slow air to a spritely reel seamlessly is one of Joneses signature affects. Slow to fast then slow again helps to set the mood surrounding genuine conversation between close friends. 

When Jackie goes over to see Ned after he misses the chicken dinner, a singular violin creeps up the scale, mimicking Jackie’s movement into Ned’s dark living room. The use of the violin to portray the lead up to the climax is extremely common in filmmaking but the violin played in this scene is so obviously a fiddle. It’s these minor details that convince the audience that this film is authentically Irish.  

While Jackie sleeps, the quiet voice of a woman singing an air in Gaelic seems to solidify the authenticity for the first time. The Irish language is only in song, none of the characters speak a word of Gaelic the entire movie but its use in musical accompaniment is an intentional use of music to set the scene. 

The Piob Mhor which was at one time outlawed in Ireland is a common instrument played at funerals. It is used throughout the movie either on its own or in accompaniment with other instruments, harmonizing, reminding the audience that the film is about a death. During Ned’s funeral mass the priest sings a hymn in Latin, once again using language in song as a means of proving authenticity. 

The chase scene that was always my favorite as a child due to the elderly man racing naked except for his brown oxford shoes and some socks on a motorcycle through rural Ireland comes with a great fiddle piece that mimics the speed of the motorcycle. 

At one point a minor character is seen walking through the village playing a tin whistle as Ned’s coffin is carried through the village adding to the authentic ambiance of the film.  As a helicopter looms overhead more whistles join the tune as well as some percussion and fiddle. 

During the celebration for tricking the Lottery official, the entire village meets in the pub. The fiddle and bodhran play an up tempo duet while smoke lingers in the air. The village gathers round, some dance while others stand watching with smiles on their faces. As the duet comes  to a close the fiddle player bows so passionately one of his strings pops. The village cheers and a hornpipe delivers the final scene, Jackie, Michael and friends lifting their glasses to the late Ned Devine as “The Parting Glass” takes the audience out and the credits roll.

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