Original Music

RED_forwebIn 2016, Robert Emmet Dunlap began staging a performance and expanded story of his much acclaimed and recorded song, “Mick Ryan’s Lament”. Check out the Mick Ryan’s Lament page for more details.

“Notes from Home” CD

"Notes From Home" CD by Robert Emmet Dunlap

Notes from Home” is the first CD of original music by Robert Emmet Dunlap and includes Bob’s classic song “Mick Ryan’s Lament.” Mick Ryan’s Lament has struck a chord with people worldwide and has been recorded by many artists, including bluegrass legend Tim O’Brien on his 2001 CD Two Journeys, and by Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott on their 2012 CD, We’re Usually a Lot Better Than This. It has also been recorded by hit songwriter Dillon O’Brian, gifted singer and instrumentalist Ken O’Malley and The Twilight Lords, world-renowned fiddler Kevin Burke with Ged Foley, country artist Ray Doyle, and Cape Cod favorites Stanley & Grimm (Sean Brennan and Nikki Engstrom). The song, recorded by Ray Doyle, was included in the documentary film, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, about the Vietnam war. It was performed in March, 2016 by Tim O’Brien at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, Ireland, as part of their Imagining Home Concert Series in recognition of 100 years since the Irish Rebellion.

Notes from Home” was produced, recorded and performed by Bob (with Kathi on drums, percussion, vocals)  in the “old house” in South Boston. To purchase the CD and/or hear sound clips, please visit the Store page. Bob and Kathi have been performing concerts of the original material. Their concert at the Sandwich Town Hall was recorded by Sandwich Community Television. Click here to view the show.


Several people have asked about the songs, so Bob wrote a bit about them here.

About the Songs
(Click on each song title for Bob’s lyrics)

1. This Old House is a three story brick townhouse in South Boston, bought by my great-grandfather, John McCarthy in 1913, after he had settled in Boston, having emigrated from Butlerstown, West Cork, Ireland. He and my grandfather, Gerald Emmet, close out “Notes From Home” singing a rebel song in the parlor in June of 1941. I should have stuck with my plan to open up with it, so if you could think of it as a prelude as well as a finale, that would help ease my guilt. Dozens of cousins, nephews and nieces followed over the next few generations; the devout, the drinkers, and the dancers, often all three in one. Some would stay for weeks, some for months, some for years; sharing their joys and sorrows, their stories and songs. One cousin arrived at the house in her early twenties and stayed the rest of a long lifetime. Which brings us to…

2. Maggie’s Song My cousin Madge, who fled the tans, the troubles, and the town she loved so well, for a Boston that in the roaring, radical, and reactionary 20’s, was still a place where very often “no Irish need apply”. She was my grandfather’s first cousin, the family’s direct and permanent connection to the “Old Country”, and my personal guru on all things Irish and many things musical. She was a hard woman from hard times on the long road to who knows where, and I’m eternally grateful that she shared that road with me. More than anyone, she taught me that songs and tunes were not just a reflection of popular culture and an industry of “personalities”, but a hard-wired connection to our past and present, both public and private, and…

3. Something That Rings True

4. What It Is that rings true, to me at least, is music. My religion, I suppose; a blessing and an addiction for as far back as I can remember, and beyond. One thing I do believe is that there’s more truth to be found in the songs that are passed down than in the “history” that’s printed up.
Sometimes it’s a hymn, sometimes it’s a joke; most often it’s the blues in one form or another.
Sometimes the hymn is a dream, and you awaken to the joke and the blues, and that’s…

5. Circus – three rings, no waiting, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream…

6. Big Bill Currency is a blues from a cellblock, which is as good a place as any to find the blues. The story escaped one day when the first line came into my head to the tune of an instrumental number we’ve been playing for years we called “the March of the Asparagators”; mythical critters who were half vegetable, half reptile, all mean and green. Bill’s name comes from a radio report of a bank robber who escaped with “big bill currency.” Best getaway driver in the business, I assumed. Tried my best to give it a happy ending – hope to record it live with a dixieland band someday. Dad would have liked it; clarinets run in his side of the family, as well as tall tales (as on asparagators).

7. The Colonel and The King is an American fairy tale about the music business, with a handsome young Prince and a mean old ogre. Like most fairy tales, it starts out once upon a time and ends up Grimm.

8. Mick Ryan’s Lament is a ghost story about two brothers who escape post-famine Ireland for the Land of the Free, and fight for the Union in the War Between the States. Mick stays in the army and ends up dying with Custer at Little Big Horn; forever haunted by, and to, the tune of “The Garryowen.” (official tune of the 7th Cavalry and the fighting 69th, and God knows how many military units full of Irishmen fighting for flags that were not green, and lands that were not Ireland). Woke up with the first verse in my head, along with a splitting headache, after a night of drinking Bushmill’s at the Celtic Arts Center on Hollywood Boulevard in LA, USA. Finished it before the hangover was history. Sometimes we do suffer for our art. Thanks, Lads.

One reason I’d ended up at the Celtic Arts Center is that before moving to sunny California I had lived a year in rainy West Cork, living with cousins and playing music most nights with Noel Redding (bass player in the “Jimi Hendrix Experience”) at…

9. Shanley’s Bar with Mossie Shanley on piano, and a cast of characters who I cherish to this day. Seventeen years later, Kathi and I returned to Clonakilty and got to play music with Noel and Moss at Shanley’s. The next year they both passed away. I remained three thousand miles away in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the State of Shock and Denial until one day I wrote this song. I recorded it soon after; me and the guitar, and the memories. Thanks, my friends, for the memories and the music.

10. Every Day we wake up in a world full of worry and wonder…and whatever we want to make of it. Taking a spin on a small sphere; get your bets down and swallow the rules.

11. Love Turned Upside Down Is love still. Damn, I gave it away.

12. This Old House-Different Day Hopefully, a fun and funky take on the opening song, featuring drums, percs and harmonies from Kathi. And some echo on the strat…

13. Safe Home – A short prayer, an Irish blessing, two of the best words in this or any language. I promise to record the full version soon.

14. “Auld Lang Syne” A short clarinet and guitar intro for my Dad, leading into New Year’s Eve at the old house with the McCarthys, (1940-ish?). I swear I can hear my Mom, her mother and two sisters, Madge and more. My grandfather was an avid amateur sound recorder, and thankfully he left us this, as well as the aforementioned rebel song “God Save Ireland”. At the end he says “that’s the first time I ever heard Popsie (his father) sing”. Thanks Papa…Thank you all.


1. This Old House
Robert Emmet Dunlap, Prodigal Salmon Music, ASCAP
Copyright 1993

This old house kept the family together
Through a flood of blood sweat and tears
This old house stood through all kinds of weather
For over a hundred hard years

This old house has seen all kinds of trouble
So much heartache, too much pain
But it always remained our shelter
Through sweltering heat and torrential rain

When Boston was buried in snow
And the cold northeast wind it would blow
Thank God we had somewhere to go to be warm
And to ride out the storm

This old house, it’s been part of a neighborhood
Part of a history, part of a truth
This old house, it’s seen all of life’s mystery
Birth to death, age from youth

No matter what bridges I’ve burned
No matter how far I may roam
I’ll never forget what I’ve learned
There is no place like
This old house

Through the years she’s been reeling with fiddles
Swinging with clarinets, rocking with bass
Through the tears and the laughter, amid all this
Singing and dancing, a magical place has been
This old house

No matter what bridges I’ve burned…

2. Maggie’s Song
Robert Emmet Dunlap, Prodigal Salmon Music, ASCAP
Copyright 1991

Growing up on the Irish Riviera
Where the next pub is in Galway
Just three thousand miles away
And every Sunday we would pray
For those who chose to stay

Yours is still the first voice I remember
Singing songs I came to know so well
And all the Irish stories you would tell
Of the beauty and the glory
The famine and the hell
The risings and the rebels true
Who ‘oft in battle fell

And bold Robert Emmet, the darling of Erin
Bold Robert Emmet, he died with a smile

Maggie, were it not for you
I’d never have seen those four green fields

Maggie, were it not for you
I’d never know the part that’s real
You helped us see beyond the shamrocks
And the annual parade
Made us feel connected
To the Third West Cork Brigade
We won’t forget the debt yet to be paid

The years that brought so many to our doorway
The tears that bought the flowers for the graves
Some try to forget, that isn’t your way
Sure, if we forget what’s gone before
What is there to save

And Maggie were it not for you…

3. Something That Rings True
Robert Emmet Dunlap, Prodigal Salmon Music, ASCAP
Copyright 2000

I dreamed that you had lived to see
All of old Ireland free
And I dreamed that you were looking down
And smiling once more for me
I miss your songs and stories
Your voice so strong and true
Now, it’s Easter week at the Gate of Heaven
And I’m singing this song for you

‘Twas the music made you happy
The music made you smile
Helped you through the thick and thin
‘Cross many a long and lonely mile
The joy with which you’d dance and sing
The stories you would tell
There’s something in the music that rings true
Just like a bell

It’s a long way to Tipperary
It’s a long, long way from here to Clare
It’s a long, long time since the old brigade
Was fighting over there
It’s a long, long road a winding
And a long, cold ocean, too
‘Twas a long hard life in a cold, cruel world
But the light came shining through

’Twas the music made you happy…

4. What It Is
Robert Emmet Dunlap, Prodigal Salmon Music, ASCAP
Copyright 2003

What is it that’s sweeter than honey
What is it that’s stronger than hate
Finer than funny, richer than money
No matter the place or the date

Quicker than drinking to turn off the thinking
Surer than sunshine to brighten your day
It still is my strength and my weakness
A blessing in most every way

Music could get us all dancing
Music could let us relax
Music could help us to keep looking up
No matter the fears or the facts

It comes from both sides of the family
It comes from both sides of the street
It comes through the airwaves like magic
With a heart and a soul and a beat
It came from wherever we came from
To the land of the wild and the free
Across the Atlantic, from Cork to New York
From Africa to New Orleans

It still is our solace in sadness
Still is our drug in despair
Through good times and bad, happy or sad
As long as there’s life she’ll be there

Quicker than drinking…

What is it that brings us together
While history tears us apart
While we’re selling our soul
Down a river of gold
We sail on with a song in our heart

5. Circus Time
Robert Emmet Dunlap, Prodigal Salmon Music, ASCAP
Copyright 1995

Don’t wake me up while I’m in wonderland
I’m juggling way too much to lend a hand
I tried so hard so long to understand
‘Til I just couldn’t stand no more

Won’t lose my balance
I’m not going to fall
I may not gain the palace
But I can walk the wall
Don’t have to swallow much
To taste it all
Whatever life has in store

Cause it’s circus time when the bell rings
All us clowns run around and play
Round in circles, chase the brass ring
Walk the wire for one more day

Take your ticket and you pay your price
There’s no free ride this side of paradise
It isn’t often that a dream
Even seems to come true

But as long as I can get away
I will come back and play another day
Drift into space and I can play
‘Til the clowns come home

Cause it’s circus time…

6. The Ballad of Big Bill Currency
Robert Emmet Dunlap, Prodigal Salmon Music, ASCAP
Copyright 2003

When first I came to New Orleans
I found out what “having the blues” means
She was a sultry southern belle
And there’s no way in hell
That she looked shy of seventeen

The music played so sweet and low
There wasn’t any way that I could know
That when the mornin’ came around
I’d hear that siren sound
And they were coming down for me

The girl was looking for some boo
And she told everyone that I was too
Then when she pulled that .45
The room just came alive
And all barbecued hell broke loose

The girl has now turned thirty-five
I guess we’re lucky just to be alive
We’ve got a son in the Marines
I guess that what that means
Is there’s a bright side to this tale

So if you come to New Orleans
You want to join me for some rice and beans
Just get yourself thrown into jail
‘Cause ’til you pay your bail
You won’t get nothing else to eat

When first I came to New Orleans…

7. The Colonel and The King
Robert Emmet Dunlap, Prodigal Salmon Music, ASCAP
Copyright 2000

Once upon a time there was a boy from Tupelo
There was a rhyme and reason to his story
Oh, how he could smile, how he could dance, how he could sing
Somehow he knew he could be King

One day he met a man named Parker
A roly-poly oily carny barker
This lying Dutchman only really loved one thing
He loved to hear that register ring

He said sign on the dotted line
And all will be yours, except what’s mine
Called himself the Colonel
Though it did not mean a thing
And flashed a big old diamond ring

He took that truck driving old boy right by the hand
And did his best to shoo the rest of his merry band
Banish his buddies, build a fence around the boy
Turn a tornado into a toy

All and all, it would have been a better thing
If Colonel Parker had the chickens
And Colonel Sanders had the King

Well, it ain’t no sin
To want to make a million bucks
And the King could not be satisfied
Driving them old trucks
But all his Cadillacs couldn’t make him less alone
The night he died upon his throne

All in all, it would have been a better thing…

8. Mick Ryan’s Lament
Robert Emmet Dunlap, Prodigal Salmon Music, ASCAP
Copyright 1993

My name is Mick Ryan, I’m lying still
In a lonely spot near where I was killed
By a red man defending his native land
At a place that they call Little Big Horn

And I swear I did not see the irony
When I rode with the Seventh Cavalry
I thought that we fought for the land of the free
When we rode from Fort Lincoln that morning

And the band they played the Garryowen
Brass was shining, flag’s a-flowin’,
I swear if I had only known
I’d have wished that I’d died back at Vicksburg

For my brother and me, we had barely escaped
From the hell that was Ireland in ’48
Two lonely young lads who had learned how to hate
But we loved the idea of Americay

And we cursed our cousins who fought and bled
In their bloody coats of bloody red
The sun never sets on the bloody dead
Of those who have chosen an Empire

But we’d make a better life somehow
In the land where no man had to bow
It seemed right then, and it seems right now
That Paddy he died for the Union

Ah, but Michael he somehow got turned around
He had stolen the dream that he thought he’d found
Now I never will see that Holy Ground
For I turned into something I hated

And I’m haunted by the Garryowen
Drums a-beating, bugles blowing
I swear if I had only known
I’d lie with my brother at Vicksburg

9. Shanley’s Bar
Robert Emmet Dunlap, Prodigal Salmon Music, ASCAP
Copyright 2004

I had two friends across the distant tide
Unlike as any two could be
Noel Redding traveled this world far and wide
Mossie Shanley raised a family

And when I met them at this family’s bar
I’d come so far to feel so free
One played piano and one played guitar
And it was one sweet scene to see

People were packed into this tiny space
But they seemed happy as can be
As they listened to the music
And the music spoke to me

And it said, welcome home, it’s been so long
Since you sailed that shining sea
So raise a glass and we shall sing a song
That your grandfather sang for me

And we three friends we played into the night
And all the world was right as far as we could see
We must have rocked that room a thousand times
Sharing our songs and company

And it’s a feeling like in heaven
When you know that nothing can go wrong
You can let down your defenses
And you can sing your song

After a time I went back ‘cross the tide
To the other side of my family tree
And then one friend, and then the other died
And their leaving took a part of me

So if you ever go to Shanley’s Bar
Where all the stars come out to play
Drink a toast to Clonakilty town
Tell them I am on my way

And it’s a feeling like in heaven…

10. Every Day
Robert Emmet Dunlap, Prodigal Salmon Music, ASCAP
Copyright 2002

Every Day we wake up in a world full of worry and wonder
Get up, get down, get jacked, get going, get old
Living our lives like there’s some kind of spell that we’re under
When they planned this planet, probably broke the mold

Every day’s a blessing, every year’s a curse
You ride in on the tide, and you ride out in a hearse

We’re just spinning ‘round like crazy
Chasing the future from the past
Running ‘round in circles, going nowhere fast
But there are things that make us happy
And there are things that make us weep
Things we take for granted
Things we take for sleep

We’re always aiming at the heavens
Shooting for the moon
We may get somewhere, somehow, someday
But it won’t be soon

Every day’s a blessing, every year’s a curse
Sometimes it gets better, and sometimes it seems worse

We’re just spinning ‘round like crazy
Can’t tell the future from the past
Running ‘round in circles, thinking nothing’s gonna last
But there are things that make us happy
And there are things that make us weep
Things that keep our heads above water
When we know we’re in too deep

You can play it like a game
You can take it like a test
Pray to heaven and to hell with the rest
But we’re all in this boat together

We’re all in this boat together, we’re all flying on this plane
Stuck here on this sphere, go ‘round once a year
Then we may go ‘round again
But there are things that make us happy
And there are things that make us weep
Things that keep our heads above water
When we know we’re in too deep

We’re all in this boat together
Flying on this plane
All under the gun, circling the sun…

11. Love Turned Upside Down
Robert Emmet Dunlap, Prodigal Salmon Music, ASCAP
Copyright 1991

Whenever I hear your name
And it sounds the same though it’s someone else
I’m lost in a crowd or up on some cloud
I hear it and my cool just melts
Temperature starts to rise and when I close my eyes
I see your face, a memory I can’t erase

After what we’ve been through
I can’t think of you without feeling bad
Things that we said go ‘round in my head
Most of it still makes me mad
Love got so turned around
Still when I hear the sound of your name
I feel the same, and I always will ‘cause

Love turned upside, love turned upside down
Love turned upside down, is love still

Like a reflection you see in a mirror
Everything left is right, far away but nearer

After what we’ve been through
I can’t think of you without feeling bad
Things that we said go ‘round in my head
Most of it still drives me mad…

13. Safe Home
Robert Emmet Dunlap, Prodigal Salmon Music, ASCAP
Copyright 1991

Keep your eyes on the road on your long drive home
Keep your mind on your goal from the start
Keep a smile on those lips every mile of your trip
And keep a sweet song in your heart

Well, I know that the journey is long
And I know that you think that my worrying is wrong
Well, I wish that my faith was that strong
But what little I have I will send in this song

Safe home is the best I can say
Safe home, all the rest would just get in the way
‘Til I see you again, ‘til that long journey ends
Safe home

Safe home all the love that’s there waiting for you
And the love that’s still here will shine through
And carry you on it’s wings until it brings you
Safe home