Following in Lord Byron’s Footsteps
Tess Callaghan is from Ireland, but is currently living in Rome. Although Tess had a stable career working in law, the desire to do something creative was too powerful to ignore. She is now a full-time singer-songwriter and playwright. Tess’s most recent project “Stanzas” led her to Italy where she is following in Lord Byron’s footsteps.
Whether it was back in the 1800’s or now, foreigners have found something special in Italy that they can’t find at home. For Lord Byron and Tess, they found inspiration surrounded by Italy’s beauty, history, and interesting people.
Lord Byron spent the last eight years of his life in Italy where he produced some of his best works. As we approach the 200th year since his death on April 19, 1824, we hope you enjoy getting to know Tess and her mission to celebrate his poetry and life through music.
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I love your apartment. Where are you sitting today?
I am on the side of the hill overlooking Rome in the basement flat in a villa in Monte Verde.
(2:02) Where were you born and raised?
I am a singer songwriter. I am originally from a junction in Dublin called Cabinteely. I was born in Dún Laoghaire. The long story short is that my Dad got a job in Hampshire (England) and so we moved there when I was about 9 years old. We lived half of the year in England and half in Ireland. I managed to miss all of the school tests because we’d leave two or three weeks before the exam. I had to take all of the tests early and then of course, got asked by my friends for the answers!
I spent my teenage years between Basingstoke and Cabinteely in Dublin. Then I went to Trinity College in Dublin and studied law. It was quite a dry topic, but interesting. However, I wasn’t convinced about pursuing a career as a lawyer. I am a creative by nature so I basically began thinking about what I wanted to do in a creative context. The feeling to do something creative got stronger. I was at a law practice in London and making the right impression, but I didn’t have this in my heart. I then switched to part-time and began to write and record songs.
I got picked up by someone who was in a publishing house in London. He encouraged me to write songs and keep doing what I’m doing. That was a few years ago and now I have ten self-recorded and produced albums down the road. Recently I got the Byron bug.
(5:05) I’m really enjoying being here in Rome and the freedom to get around is great. I am combining the tourist thing with the writing.
(6:13) When was your first visit to Italy?
My first visit was in 2005 and I went to Rome. It was only four or five days, but I realized that this was a place that I really wanted to explore. I really like the language, vibe, and history. I also love the sun, Mediterranean, and good food. It’s still a vivid memory when I arrived. I can remember the dance song that they were playing on the airport bus.
I think Rome is still a dance music center. It was nice to hear different music than Dublin and London. It was the sense of adventure and to come to the center of the ancient worlds!
(8:00) Did you feel a sense of place from the first visit?
I think I did. I knew I’d come back. I remember that I went with a friend to a terrace somewhere in Rome. We had a beautiful view over the city, and I thought then that I’d definitely be coming back.
After a couple of years, I came back every year for about ten years. The next place that I visited Venice and I really loved it. The last couple of years I’ve been in Florence and then south to Lecce. I’ve enjoyed the different cultures in each region, the manners, words, and ways of interacting. You do notice the subtle differences that if you spend time to each place. Of course, if you ask a local, they may not think it’s that subtle!
Maybe in my family history there were boats that would stop in Cork on the south coast of Ireland. Sometimes people would get off the boat, look around the town and stayed like the Macari family who stayed in Cork rather than continue to the U.S.
(11:43) Lord Byron
The connection to me and Byron (Mr. B.) is that I was in Germany near Frankfurt and wanted to find motivation for my next project. Then his poem, “She Walks in Beauty” just came to be with the melody.
We made that video during lockdown and edited in my kitchen – both of us wearing masks. Byron didn’t spend that long in Venice, but produced some off his earlier works, “The Childe Harold’s”. He had a fateful encounter. He was walking through St. Mark’s Square and went to a famous café. As he walked in he saw a young woman about 19 years old and her newlywed husband who was 60. Byron and Teresa eventually became lovers.
(17:06 – 23:27) Listen to more about Lord Byron’s work “The Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” that made him famous and more about his life.
(23:28) He was a prolific writer and was respected by the lead writers of the day.
(24:14) About Byron’s time in Italy
He didn’t want to go to France because there were a lot of people from London flooded Paris. His life in Italy began with Teresa. Byron also became involved with a revolutionary group, Carbonari.
Byron also lived in Ravenna for a couple of years.
(26:26 – 31:00) Many people would say that Lord Byron wrote his masterpieces while in Italy like “Don Juan”.
[Hear Tess speak about the history of the idea of music arrangements of Byron’s poems. Or read Angie’s article about Lord Byron here.]
Following in Mr. B’s Footsteps
(32:00) I thought to myself why not take a few that resonated and tended to be more romantic ones and set them to music.
(33:03) I’ve kept the text. I was lucky to meet two videographers in Lecce and we made a few videos with me in turn of the 19th century dress.
(36:57) How long have you been in Italy?
I arrived in Rome a year ago with a foothold in London. At the Keats-Shelley House by the Spanish Steps, there’s a library of first edition books from about the 1820-1840’s. I was shown a book that had never been opened. There was a range of opinions of Byron. I’ve done a lot of research, but the main source has been a book by Thomas Moore, Byron’s friend called “The Life of Lord Byron”.
(47:15) Tess speaks about the play she wrote about the destruction of Byron’s memoir.
(50:32) Living and staying in Italy.
I plan to stay until the middle of summer. I would ideally like to have a place in the west of Ireland and a quiet town in Italy.
(52:23) I can stay indefinitely (as Ireland is part of the European Union).
(55:40) What is your definition of an expat?
I see an expat as someone who is without any compulsion. I don’t think Byron knew that he was going to stay in Italy. I would someone who still has a strong connection to wherever they are originally from. They haven’t changed their daily routine, but has moved to enjoy the climate, but possible a better client.
I think that expats tend to look for similar people to socialize with. In Byron’s case, he went out of his way to avoid the London-set. He made a real effort and I believe he was fluent in Italian. If someone is really exploring and adventuring in a place and not making a real effort to find people of similar background, I don’t think I’d call them an expat.
(59:45) What advice would you offer to people who want to move to Italy?
I would suggest that whatever your interest is (in my case music) to get involved. For example, when I first arrived in Rome, I was determined to find some local cuisine. I went to a place in town and there a couple beside me. It turned out that they were both in theatre and I ended up spending Easter dinner with them. I found by going out you get chatting and people are curious about you. Give it time. Submerge and enjoy.
(60:00) Learning Italian
For me to learn a language, you just have to start speaking it. I haven’t taken lessons. I listen to the news and just throw myself in. Quite a few Italians speak English too.
What you do notice are that there are people who have lived beside each year for decades. That’s what is nice is that even though Rome is a big city, it isn’t that transient.
There are lots of community festivals. I didn’t notice that in London or Ireland. Italians are proud of their local culture.
(60:07) Besides friends and family, what do you miss?
I miss cheddar cheese. In Ireland, we are known to be open and hospitable. I miss that here. In Ireland people like to find out where you’re from. There are quick exchanges and banter. I think Italians are more reserved. In some ways, it takes longer to know Italians better. I miss the beautiful green countryside. Although, I do love the change of seasons here.
I also miss the very long evenings in the west of Ireland. Sometimes the sun goes down at 11:00 pm. Here there isn’t really twilight – the sun goes down like a shutter.
England is a great place too. The English have a great sense of humor.
There’s so much to love about Italy and a lot to discover.
(1:13) I think the price and kind of meals that you get here is fabulous.
(60:14) What are your career goals now?
At the moment I’m working on a number of projects. I’m finishing up Stanzas. I have new projects like one about the mythological Amazons that lived in West Asia. I’m also working about a project called The Wild Atlantic Way.