GLORIOUS: Cara Dillon at her homeplace

Back Home in Derry with Dungiven songstress Cara Dillon

A unique homage to place combining words and music requires social media age dexterity but armed with a Spotify account I found myself back home in Derry this week courtesy of songbird Cara Dillon.

'Coming Home' is a gloriously produced, hardback book replete with compelling photos and comforting words, in both prose, poetry and verse, representing a new string to the Derry songbird's bow.

Part homage, part prayer, 'Coming Home' — and its songs demand to be listened to in concert with the literary interludes — represents more than just another career peak scaled for the multi-talented Dillon; this is the conquering an entirely new mountain range. 

SOOTHING BALM: Cara Dillon's book and album wanders Derry boreens

SOOTHING BALM: Cara Dillon's book and album wanders Derry boreens

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And yet, the author and artist travels hardly further than her own front door where, of course, as the Monaghan poet pointed out, all of civilisation, in its many wonders and multiple woes, can be found. 

Indeed, it's better than that. Trapped far from home during the Covid lockdown strictures, Dillon resorts to her fevered imagination to recapture her memories of her Co Derry home and upbringing - helped by lengthy phone calls to her (then) 92-year-old mum.

Words scribbled in early, isolated mornings evolved into polished poems and from there to recording studio offerings - with evocative, graceful musical accompaniment. Didn't Patti Smith have this idea first? 

Certainly, the Gotham goddess would approve of these words from 'Clear the Path': "We are the daughters of women that we will become/The trailblazers whose lives will never be done/For they stood on this self-same soil/Buried the seeds that germinated, birthed and fed/A new generation of tiny intricacies/And forgotten family traits and oft-remembered eyes."

In a place obsessed with past — and rightly so for don't our roots help us grow — Dillon's performance of these seductive pieces has struck a chord with audiences across Ireland - and further afield. Those same fans will take to their heart the candid vignettes in 'Coming Home', particularly in relation to the passing of her father and the birth of her children. 

It's not all beer and skittles - Dungiven, Co Derry had its own share of sadness during our hard times, endured more by the author's parents than her generation, thank God. Writes Dillon while recounting those days: 

"Throughout the seventies and eighties, I didn't experience any great personal suffering as a result of the Troubles. My parents, aunts and uncles, on the other hand, experienced more than their fair share of heartache, danger and endless worry during those troubled years in County Derry. But those are their stories, not mine — and although their experiences have been hugely important throughout the landscape of my youth, they haven't defined my world view; in fact, quite the contrary. I was lucky to have been brought up with a loving family and feel I was somehow sheltered from it. They'd lived through Bloody Sunday, internment, the shootings, the beatings, and had shown over and over again that resilience and true community spirt could pave the way for a better future. I was a part of that future, and even at the age of five, when I was brought along as the town gathered to pray for the local hunger striker, Kevin Lynch, I was aware of the closeness and the power of the community."

Not without reason has the Irish Echo - and isn't the craving for someplace even more fierce among the Irish of America - hailed Dillon as a singer whose work "will stun you with its beauty".

I had double delight in disappearing into the mystic with Dillon's twofer of words and music but then I have a special grá for Derry - isn't my 94-year old mother a daughter of Ballymulderg Beg beside Ballyronan on the Lough Shore? Her father and uncles were scattered to the four winds (one, sadly, journeyed no further than the cemetery in the neighbouring Loup) after a deadly attack on their home during a previous period of suffering; the oldest brother, absent during the raid, was expelled from the new state after his release from a prison ship. Absent menfolk, the farm and the link to Derry were lost.

All that is in the past and our family bears no animosity to any person for those awful times. Nevertheless, through generations, that loss still, incredibly and inexplicably, hurts. Perhaps that's why on this Independence Day – and election day — I have found personal solace in the art of Cara Dillon, a soothing balm on old wounds. 

May you have you own 'Coming Home' with this glorious ensemble. 

'Coming Home' by Cara Dillon. £25. Available from An Chultúrlann and all good bookshops. More information