The new Emma Langford release “Abigail (Tomhas Ghobnatan)” is the first tale of her voyage of discovery after two years studying the women that populate Ireland’s history and folklore. Photo: Ruth Medjber
Described as a “non-sacred prayer” to Gobnait, the new Emma Langford release is a celebration of the virtues she represents to the artist
Set to be released across all platforms this Friday, February 3, the song marries age-old traditions surrounding the ancient saint or Goddess Gobnait, encountered in the wilds of Ballyvourney, with Langford’s own modern interpretation of her.
Emma was supported in 2021 by Music Network’s inaugural RESONATE Residency which saw her spend time devising work and performing at the Ionad Cultúrtha an Dochtúir Ó Loinsigh in Ballyvourney, in the Cork Gaeltacht of Muskerry, creating a suite of music dedicated to local history and tradition – this new release forms part of that suite, which will be released in full later this year.
Following the two-year journey, Langford’s first release from these works – recorded by a stellar all-female lineup at the world-famous Grouse Lodge which has seen artists such as Muse and Shirley Bassey before her – takes its name from the tradition known as “Tomhas Ghobnatan”, or “Gobnait’s Measure” in English.
“You can’t visit Ballyvourney without tracing the steps of so many others: across the bridge over the Súlán River, up the hill to Gobnait’s Well, Gobnait’s Tree, and Gobnait’s monastic site – it’s a really beautiful, spiritual experience,” The Limerick songwriter said.
Despite not particularly aligning with organised religion, the singer-songwriter was moved to fascination by the frequency of the saint’s appearance all over the countryside. She learned that Gobnait is the patron saint of bees and smithing, and was credited with many miracles that protected Ballyvourney from attack and disease.
Gobnait is the Irish translation of the Hebrew name Abigail, and Langford chose to include it in the song title as a way to make the track more accessible to non-Irish speakers, but didn’t remove the Irish language entirely, saying, “it was created in the Gaeltacht about a woman who had her home there, she would have spoken the language.”
Worshippers of the saint who visit Ballyvourney on February 11th for Gobnait’s Day, refer to the ribbon as Tomhas Ghobnatan because they measure it along the length, around the feet, and around the neck of a medieval wooden statue of the saint. They then take their blessed ribbon to Gobnait’s Tree and place it there as an offering, present it to a person who needs healing, or put it on their own rear-view mirror for safety.
Hearing of the tradition, the musician said it made her think of the “‘measure’ of a person”:
“How we judge each other; how women have historically been judged and punished in Ireland based on criteria established by people claiming to be good and righteous; and how if we were to live life the right way there would be more scope for redemption, openness, forgiveness, kindness. Gobnait is anathema to the deep-rooted cruelty experienced by so many in this country.”
The new Emma Langford release is described as a “non-sacred prayer” to the saint or Goddess, and a celebration of the virtues she represents to the artist.
The song plays as a love song, a song of adoration for the people in the artist’s life that embody these qualities.
“I was inspired by the stories of Gobnait, local devotion to her, and the idea of “Gobnait’s Measure” to write this track in the style of a love song to a woman who embodies the virtues of kindness, healing, and forgiveness. The listener can ignore any religious context if they choose, because this really is a love song in the traditional sense.”
The track features Hannah Nic Gearailt, a collaborator on the song, on piano. It also features long-time bandmates Lucia Mac Partlin on violin and Clare Martyn on drums, newcomer Heather Nash on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Ailbhe Dunne on bass. It was recorded, mixed and produced by Alex Borwick of Grouse Lodge.