Conserving the endangered songs of the Irish Traveller Community in the UK

"When I'm gone,
it's gone"

Thomas McCarthy

‘"The songs are a celebration of love loss life and death with a true spirit of survival.’

The idea of the Last Man Standing project came about through an opportune meeting between Thomas McCarthy and Brian Despard at a live event in 2016. Thomas performed a number of songs learned from his traveller heritage and explained that he had a large repertoire, many of which have never been recorded.

In the ensuing discussion it became clear, that this rich heritage and catalogue of songs needed to be preserved for future generations.

Thus The Last Man Standing (LMS) project was set up to preserve and document the endangered songs of the Irish

Traveller Community in the UK.

There are 3 main areas of Sean Nos in Ireland;

North West Ulster, Galway in the West and Waterford on the South East coast.

Traditionally Sean Nos singing is in the Irish Language but as the Travelling community has, through migration and emigration, developed its own unique decorative style of singing that breaks tradition, because it is sung in the English language

Thomas McCarthy

Thomas McCarthy is a singer and storyteller from the Irish Travelling community.

His knowledge of these songs has been handed down through the generations. His grandfather, Johnny McCarthy and his mother Mary McCarthy taught Thomas the songs and the correct singing technique from a very young age. Through the years Thomas has gained such an extensive knowledge of these songs, he is now the heritage bearer of a tradition that is in serious danger of disappearing

Originally from Birr, Co.Offaly in Ireland, and coming from many generations of singers of the travelling community. Thomas migrated to the UK with his family at the age of ten. Prior to this Thomas had been learning the songs from his grandfather Johnny McCarthy, who in turn had learned them from his father. As far as is known, this tradition stretches back to Thomas’s great, great grandfather Honest Tom McCarthy. As well as being influenced by his grandfather, Thomas learned the songs from his Uncle John, another song collector who was, reputedly, also an noted conversationalist.

Thomas’s biggest influence and mentor was his mother Mary McCarthy. She came from a long line of singers and knew thousands of songs. Thomas learned these songs from a very early age as she would sing constantly around the home throughout his childhood. Mary taught Thomas the correct ornamentation to use while singing and would berate him if he rushed it. She would make him go through a song up to 50 times before she would say “you’re all right”. Thomas’s mother passed away in 2010 and his Uncle John in 2017.                                                          

He is the heritage bearer of these songs and as there are no others taking up the tradition, he is truly, the Last Man Standing.

TG4 Singer of the Year Award3
TG4 - Singer of the Year 2019
Thomas McCarthy
Thomas's Mum Mary McCarthy
Uncle Tommy Ryan
Uncle John McCarthy
Grandfather Johnny McCarthy (R)



This collection of previously unrecorded songs thus far for Last Man Standing Project. Please feel free to download (see link below) and freely distribute this collection as it will help to preserve this valuable cultural heritage for posterity.


All songs (trad arr.) and performed by Thomas McCarthy

Produced by Brian Despard of Deafear.

Recorded at various closets, broom cupboards and living rooms across North London

Recording facilities: Deafear mobile unit.

Recording engineers: Brian Despard; Shaikiya Hersi assisted by Eylem Mindikoglu

Aided and abetted by Mike Norris, Karen Smith, Jason Calderon, Lim Abbas, Susan Cummins, Odai Quaye and Clemence Robert.

Please visit our page to download any or all of the songs


Our Team

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Participants Testimonials

"It's an interesting opportunity to immerse yourself in a new cultural experience and discover such an ancient musical genre"
Jason Calderon
Digital Recording
"It's been an interesting experience for me, I believe it is extremely important to keep all forms of musical heritage alive through projects such as this"
Eylem Mindikoglu
Assistant Audio Engineer
"The Last Man Standing project is unique. For the first time songs that have only existed in the oral tradition, can be listened to and enjoyed by lovers of folk song everywhere. Reminiscent of great folk collectors of the 20th century, Cecil Sharp and Alan Lomax, the lives and loves of ordinary people will live on because of this work".
Mike Norris
Digital Recording and Editing
“I think the Last Man Standing project has been fantastic. The sessions have been hands-on, so I’ve grown in confidence in an area of life and skills I knew nothing about. It’s hard to try new things when you’re a disabled person because your mistakes amplify ...but the people at LMS have made that ok because they feel like family. It’s been fantastic to grapple with my Romany roots, which I’ve been able to do during this project. It’s invaluable that this music will leave its legacy.”
Karen Smith
Digital Editing


Brian Despard

Project Director   |   Audio Consultant

Shaikiya Hersi

Audio Engineer   |   Digital Editor




Founded by audio engineer Brian Despard and outdoor events professional Annie Whyte in 2014, DeafEar Productions was originally set up as a mobile audio recording and editing facility, whose clients include The Irish Embassy London, Roca Gallery and The London Irish Business Society.

The team expanded in 2014 with the addition of audio engineer Shaikiya Hersi. At this point, Deafear began to develop and deliver bespoke audio projects for a variety of events and programmes, including:

–   The National Railway Museum York (sound design for “The ambulance trains of WW1″exhibition).

–   The Imperial War Museum (sound design for the engine room on HMS Belfast).

–   “An investigation into the development of Somali music and the adaptability of Somali musicians”.

–   “A Tottenham Soundscape” a sound design project tracing the technical developments in domestic, social and working life in Tottenham, North London from 1950 to 2015 through the eyes of teenagers on a museum school trip.

–   “The Listening Post” the installation of an audio listening post to enable disabled people to take part in a local museum tour and have access to other information.

DeafEar is dedicated to project development and delivery within the cultural sector.

Paul Butler


Juliet Deborah

Financial Administrator

Paige Balmi

Communications Officer


The Selby Trust was set up by local people 25 years ago in a former Haringey school building to function as a multi-purpose community enterprise centre.

The motto is ‘Many Cultures, One Community’ and is guided by five key objectives:

–   Community Facilities Managemen

–   Community Development Centre

–   Community Economic Development        

–   Community Safety and social justice   

–   Community Environmental Development                                

The Selby Trust has been actively engaged in community and economic development through the vehicles of social enterprise, safer neighbourhoods and community environmental schemes.

The Trust is also actively involved in community partnerships that include heritage projects, training and volunteering.

The Selby Trust has a long history of implementing inclusion and diversity; for example it hosts 40 grassroots community-led start-up social enterprises. It is firmly rooted in Tottenham, located in the North London borough of Haringey.

Barbara Lisicki

Project Manager   |   Director






Barbara is an experienced trainer and consultant with a background in teaching, youth work and policy development and review. She has years of valuable practical experience in supporting arts and cultural organisations in their development towards inclusion and accessibility.

Barbara started her company, enterTrainers Ltd in 1990. The company combines professional training, consultancy and project management with a promotional element, developing and touring disabled artists and performers across the UK, Europe and around the USA. She was a founder member of The Tragic But Brave roadshow performing her own work as stand-up comedian, Wanda Barbara, alongside artists who were all leading exponents of Disability Arts and culture.

Since 2013 Barbara has developed a new strand of international work. With the British Council she has travelled to Brazil, Japan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Indonesia and China. Her work there has ranged from giving keynote speeches at international conferences, training staff, working with the Olympic and Paralympic Committees of Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 and writing and directing theatre in Jakarta 2018.

 With support from

Fund a broad range of projects that connect people and communities to the national, regional and local heritage of the UK. They fund heritage projects. Heritage can be anything from the past that you value and want to pass on to future generations.

"Ever since a portable television could be connected to a car battery our musical tradition disappeared practically overnight"

Thomas McCarthy

Deafear Productions would like to thank Paul Butler, Paige Balmi and Juliet Deborah and all the staff at The Selby Trust, for their assistance whenever needed; Barbara Lisicki of enterTrainers Ltd for partnering with us on this amazing journey, her creative contribution and project management; and of course, The Heritage Lottery Fund and Lottery players, without whose help and support this project would never have happened.

We would especially like to thank Santhosh Chandran, for his support and guidance; Sona Mahtani, for her belief and vision; Annie Whyte, for her rock solid support; Donald Dempster of Dempster Design, for his patience and hard work.

Finally, we must give a huge shout out to all the Last Man Standing volunteers.

It has been an amazing journey with an eclectic and talented group of people. Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and your invaluable contributions. We could not have done it without you.

Contact us

Please ask and we will try to answer

The Last Man Standing project is unique. For the first time songs that have only existed in the oral tradition, can be listened to and enjoyed by lovers of folk song everywhere. Reminiscent of great folk collectors of the 20th century, Cecil Sharp and Alan Lomax, the lives and loves of ordinary people will live on because of this work.

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