Music of the Ghosts

A few hundred years ago – according to legend – an inhabitant of one of the Blasket Islands off the west coast of Ireland heard a strange, eerie tune floating out of the night air. He grabbed his fiddle and tried to imitate it, creating a tune that was eventually named Port na bPúcaí – the music of the Ghosts. And there the tale remained, with the resulting tune becoming part of Ireland’s rich heritage of traditional music.

Until the mid 1990s when musician Ronan Browne was going through some tapes, and to his great surprise heard the opening notes of Port na bPúcaí. What was on those tapes? Recordings of the songs of killer whales, which are well known to swim by the Blasket islands on their migrations.

We can’t ever know for certain that the tale of the composition of Port na bPúcaí is true. But if it is, then think of that islander, out alone at night, hearing the mysterious songs of the whales wash across the island and frantically scribbling down the notes of a tune from another world.

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