Helena Blunden Sings Pie Jesu
A remarkable but accidental discovery has come to the attention of Ghost watch Ireland of a bundle in the Irish linen mill unearthing a recording almost a century old and archive newspaper reviews of singer Helena Blunden. We invite you to listen to this recording of Helena Blunden singing Pie Jesu which was made on 24 January 1912, just three months before her tragic death. We also publish an original review of her singing which appeared in a parish magazine a week after Helena's performance. News of the discovery of the recording and reviews was withheld until we received expert opinion which confirmed that the find was authentic.
Previously, Irelandseye.com had published
an account of the life and death of Helena Blunden. This young linen worker
died in a Belfast Irish linen mill in 1912 and there are many people who believe her ghost still haunts the building to this day. The printers who are now based in the former Irish linen mill alerted
us to unusual, eerie encounters with its ghostly inhabitant. Visitors to Irelandseye.com
were invited on the Ghost Watch to view a live
broadcast by web camera from a room in the linen mill and to report if they
saw Helena's ghost or if they witnessed unusual, strange sightings. The web camera has
been running 24 hours a day, seven days a week and has attracted some three million visitors. We have published visitors' reports throughout and continued
to research the history of the mill and its ghostly inhabitant.
We are now able to broadcast a recording of Helena singing Pie Jesu which was made three months before her death. This antique recording on a brown wax cylinder was found by the print manager in the mill in August 1999. Our research already revealed that Helena aspired to be a singer but this initially seemed to be a romantic, innocent young woman's notion. We have also uncovered remarkable evidence that indicates Helena's talent as a singer was already acknowledged. A selection of newspaper reviews describing Helena's performances in Belfast, Dublin and London were found with the wax cylinder.
A visit to the mill is always intriguing, even haunting. The glass rattles eerily in the window frames when the wind blows. The lift gate screams like a banshee when it opens onto a floor. The reminders of the past are everywhere. The walls have been painted on the first and second floors but on the upper floors and in the basement, the walls ,are as bare as they were in 1912. The linen mill is a listed building with many external and internal original features still in place. The lift, staircases and windows were installed in 1912 and have never been altered. While preparing for builders to start refurbishment in the basement, the printers came upon many of their own forgotten treasures, hot metal printing kits, first edition books and boxes of photographs depicting early twentieth century Ireland. Yet for decades, employees and mill owners had been walking pass Helena's hidden treasure every day.
In 1912, the fire buckets were filled with sand and hung on the wall by the direction of the first owners. With the introduction of fire extinguishers, the fire buckets became redundant but remained in the linen mill, at the top of each flight of stairs. During recent renovations, a fire began on the third floor. The print manager grabbed two of the fire buckets and emptied sand onto the flames. He discovered a cloth bundle buried in one of the containers. The bundle consisted of a key, a strange tube and a collection of newspaper cuttings wrapped in linen. We do not know when it was hidden in the bucket or who used the bucket as a hiding place.
At first it was not obvious what the tube was. The cylinder was enclosed in presentation paper but part of the inscription was indistinct. A forensic examination revealed that the recording was made on 24 January 1912 by Barra MacNasÌge from The Capricorn and Cornucopia Music Publishing Company. The newspaper pages all referred to solo singing performances by Helena Cecilia Blunden. One of the reviews was taken from Saint Malachy's Parish News and described Helena's rendition of Pie Jesu which was performed at the Confirmation Mass in Saint Malachy's Chapel on 24 January 1912.
We were very excited by the discovery of the recording and the reviews, amazed that the sound was intact and that we were able to listen to Helena's voice. The recording lasts only 2 minutes but even listeners with no musical appreciation have been moved by the powerful, haunting phantom-like rendition. It had taken us several weeks to have the recording assessed and confirmed as genuine. We consulted Charlie Dawson, emeritus professor and musicologist who lectured at music schools in Belfast, Dublin and New York. He said: " The singer displays an outstanding octave range. There is a maturity and depth of voice which indicates that the singer has taken lessons and has benefited from a classical voice training. The soaring and descending vocal is at turns plaintive and assertive. Overall, the singer's sensitive interpretation shows a significant and stirring talent. I am not particularly fond of this movement in the Fauré composition but I find this interpretation impressive".
We are certain that the recording and newspaper pages belonged to Helena Blunden. The newspaper extracts were published during 1910-1912. We checked archive newspapers in Ireland and England. Listen to Helena sing Pie Jesu and then read the review, which was written about this very performance and appeared in Saint Malachy's Parish News on 31 January 1912.
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