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This is the first in a series of articles taking a look at songs I have written down through the years. So have a listen to the song and I’ll write a bit about the background and the inspiration for writing it.
First up is Smokey Stoor of Scariff, a song I wrote in 2002 shortly after I arrived in East Clare, about Scariff’s chipboard factory. Like many people coming to live in and around Scariff the Finsa factory came as a bit of shock. If the wind is blowing in your direction the sight and smell of the fumes is unmissable. Like most “blow-ins” to the area, my hippy tendencies were outraged by what seemed like obvious pollution and health concerns. However when you talk to the local population, the majority see the factory as the huge employer it is in the town and one that has helped their families through grim times, past and present.
A word about stoor
Sticking a Scots word in the title and chorus of the song doesn’t give this song a great chance of entering the Irish folk tradition – it was a slightly tongue-in-cheek nod to the fact that I’d just arrived from Edinburgh, but it was also a word I felt very accurately described the dusty fumes emanating from the chimney piercing the sky. I’m amused now to look at the full definition (listed below), courtesy of the Online Scots Dictionary. On one hand I have actually mis-spelled the word, but on the other hand I was never aware that there are secondary meanings relating to conflict, stress and strain – all very appropriate to the nature of discussions about the factory.
n. Dust, a layer of dust, any fine powdery substance. Dust in motion, flying, swirling dust. A pouring out of liquid, a steady outflow or stream, a gush. Strife, conflict, a struggle, contest, battle. The strain and stress of a struggle, a wrestling with adverse conditions or hardship. Commotion, hubbub, to-do, pother, fuss, turmoil, disturbance. A storm, a tempest, wild weather, a blizzard, storm of snow.
dim. stourie, stourock Whirling dust.
A song that divides
Quite soon after writing the song, I discovered that its performance usually got a great reaction from “blow-ins”, but generated a pretty negative reaction among locals. I’d hoped the song contained a balanced view, but in reality, although it generated lively debate at times, it appeared to accentuate divisions between people rather than building bridges. I recall performing it at a songwriters night in the Iniscealtra Arts Festival, Mountshannon, possibly in 2004 – I felt at the time it would be a bit cowardly not to sing the one song I had with real local context. However rather than generate debate, I think I just managed to upset the sponsors of the evening: Finsa Forest Products, the chipboard factory owners.
Integration in East Clare takes time – after a few years I’d made a fair few friends with direct or indirect connections to the factory. Mainly for this reason, it’s been a good while since I’ve felt comfortable belting out this catchy little ditty. Having said that, I’ve enjoyed giving it another listen today – it really takes me back to a particular time in my life.
Footnote for the future
The song finishes on a positive note: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I note with interest that recently there have been discussions involving Finsa, local politicians and woodland activists looking at the feasibility of using existing Irish stocks of hemp as a more sustainable raw material alternative to the chipboard in their products. That is the sort of constructive development I hope comes to fruition, showing that a community doesn’t have trade-off their environment for employment.