Tyrone singer/songwriter Bernadette Morris tells David Hennessy about growing up surrounded by Marys, writing with Eleanor McEvoy and why Irish people should never be welcome as we know what it is like to be unwelcome.
Bernadette Morris has returned to follow the success of her widely acclaimed debut album, All The Ways You Wander with the new single The Legion of Marys.
The track sees Bernadette pay tribute to the Marys she grew up surrounded by Marys as her father and his brothers each married a Mary.
Bernadette told The Irish World: “I’ve subsequently found out that a fourth brother that I thought was married to a Kate but she was Mary Catherine so actually four brothers married four Marys.”
As family expanded, subsequent Marys were added to the family line and nicknames were used to differentiate between the different Marys giving the song it’s chorus, ‘Noel’s Mary, Jim’s Mary, big Mary, wee Mary, old Mary, young Mary, auntie Mary, cousin Mary..’
“God love her, old Mary wasn’t even that old. As soon as she had a baby Mary, she was called that. We could never decide if old Mary or big Mary was more of an insult.
“People really connect with the song. People have been getting in touch saying, ‘My mother was a Mary’. It’s funny because when I played it to my mother she goes, ‘No one will know what you’re talking about,it’s nonsense to everyone else’. She thought it wouldn’t make sense to anyone else. But there you go.”
At its heart, the song is for Bernadette’s mother Mary who was left to raise a large number of kids on her own when her husband passed.
“It is a tribute to her. She had ten of us and then my dad in ’91 so she had very small children to raise.
“I was ten and there was six younger than me so you can imagine seven children under ten in a household.
“I had written a song about my dad called Here Lies a Man and every time I sang it I was conscious she was the one sitting there. She had done a lot of the heavy lifting, a lot of the work getting us to lessons and raising us.
“I thought I could honour her in some way. It was a long time in the writing. I had talked to John Spillane about it, I’d talked to different people about it. When it took off was when I decided to tell the story of her life.
“I think she’s coming around to it now but she’s a typical Irish mammy. She doesn’t like the attention.”
The song was co-written with Ríoghnach Connolly (Afro-Celt Soundsystem) and the forthcoming album will also boast a collaboration with Eleanor McEvoy.
“You can be guaranteed every song will have a story. It’s how I love to learn songs. It’s how I love to write them as well.
“Eleanor is a phenomenal songwriter and singer. I’ve been a fan of hers for years, from the Woman’s Heart days.
“I did a small tour of Australia a few years ago. I played the National Celtic Festival over there and the lady who looked after me was also Eleanor’s agent in Australia.
“I said, ‘I’d love to write a song with Eleanor. Could you put in a good word for me?’ Val sent an introductory email.
“When Eleanor was playing local to me in Tyrone, she invited me along to the concert which was fantastic. Then we arranged to get together in Dublin and do a bit of a co-write.
“It was so enjoyable. She is such a professional. She co-writes all the time so for her it was just another co-write I suppose but for me it was brilliant to watch her in action and to work together.”
The song If They Build Their Wall seems to be a direct response to Donald Trump and addresses issues like xenophobia and racism.
“It’s a song about immigration and how building a wall is not what most kind and open people want to do. We don’t want to build walls to keep people out.
“The Irish have travelled the world. We have gone everywhere so we know what it’s like to not be welcome, ‘No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish’. We were on the receiving end of it for so long, it really annoys me when Irish people are at all racist because we don’t have a leg to stand on with that. We were that person. We’ve gone everywhere. You find Irish people everywhere and not always for good reasons that we had to go.
“It’s a bit of a protest song saying, Let’s stand together. Humanity and compassion is much more common in Irish people than the opposite.
“There’s another song called Shores of My Home which is about Lough Neagh. Growing up in Ulster, a trip to the seaside was not always an option so trips to Lough Neagh were our days out and I now live here. I kind of thought I would pay tribute to that. It’s a place where people go for a bit of reflection, sun, swimming and all the rest. I always love being by the water.”
Irish speaking Bernadette works as a freelance TV director and producer for TG4, RTE and BBC, working on shows such as Gradam Ceoil.
She is appealing for the pictures of their Marys for use in the video for The Legion of Marys.
“I’ve put a shout out to people to send me photographs of the Marys in their lives.
“I’d love Marys from all over. Like the Irish, the Marys have travelled too.”
You can send pictures to [email protected].
The Legion of Marys is out now.
For more information, click here.