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Across the Great Divide Sounds Good

Kelly Wilton
The Montreal Downtowner
January 13, 1993

As the ballad, The Curse of the Immigrant, sends shivers up my spine, I can't help but feel lucky that Brendan Nolan still strums his guitar in a small Irish pub tucked away on University Street.

The song sums up this Dublin man's struggle about being caught between two countries, the one he left, Ireland and the one he has adopted, Canada.

Nolan's new tape, Across the Great Divide, is a compilation of songs about immigration, the biggest plight facing Ireland.

"We have sold more of his tapes than anything else since it was released," said Guy Lavoie at Cheap Thrills record store on Metcalfe.

Five of the 12 songs on the tape are his own, each belted out with vigorous emotion. The songs will touch all who have left their country to try and find a better life somewhere else.

One of the songs young Irish immigrants will relate to is The Flight of the Earls, which recalls the exodus of the great chieftains centuries before at the Battle of Kinsale. However, the song says that the young people emigrating today are forced to do so because of a 20 percent unemployment rate. "It is not murder, fear, nor famine that makes us leave this time. We've got nothing left to stay for ...and there isn't any work for us to do."

Far from Their Home is a haunting song about Grosse Isle, an island up the St. Lawrence near Quebec City which was used as a quarantine station in the 1840's. Many people who had fled the during the Irish potato famine perished here before they were cleared to enter Canada. Today, hundreds of unmarked graves dot the island.

A federal government plan to turn Grosse Isle into a tourist resort has sparked furore in the Irish community. In Nolan's words, "we don't want to see hot dog stands near the graves."

Gerry O'Neill's fiddle, which thrilled audiences at the 1976 Olympic ceremonies, enriches the tape along with whistler Toby Kinsella, flutist and Orealis band member David Gossage, keyboardist and former Janis Joplin band player Ken Pearson and bodhran player Dale Kelly.

Nolan can be caught putting smiles on friendly faces Thursday through Saturday at The Old Dublin pub. Across the Great Divide can be bought at Phantasmagoria, Cheap Thrills or The Old Dublin Pub.