Onwards…

a few words of a kind…

Archive for the category “Irish-America”

Another Leaving…

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My bags aren’t packed and I’m not ready to go. It’s my last few days in Ireland and autumn is slipping in. It’s my favourite time here, the country feels settled, tourists have mostly flown and Ireland has come back to her own —— the home boys and girls. We seem to be more Irish, more ourselves. There’s talk in Gerry O’Donoghue’s butcher shop about hurling and greyhounds. In Paddy Burke’s farmer’s store down the street, conversation is about how Arab stallions have destroyed the true breed of the Irish draft mare and the Connemara pony. A Saudi sheik is mentioned as the culprit.

“Longer bones and taller horses make anxious prima donas,” Mr. Burke sighs.

In Keane’s hardware shop the talk is about how the scarcity of mackerel this year.           
“They’ll be in with the next full moon,” Brenda the shop assistant predicts.

Friends are texting about meeting up. I’ve just done an interview for the Limerick Leader newspaper and my mate Gerry is coming over to record me doing a voice over/intro to Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’ for his radio show…maybe put down some spoken word. Time is tight. But it’s a beautiful evening and I go outside and sit in the sun, make another to-do list. JP pulls up in his black BMW and hops over the wall, no gates or gaps for this boy. He’s on the way to a gig and gasping for a cup of coffee. We drink java in the sun and catch-up on music and love. Then he’s off to a ceili in Kerry.

When JP leaves, I tidy up the living room to get ready for the recording. To set the atmosphere, I light a fire. Cool as a breeze, a robin flits into the room and I wonder if it’s a sign that I’ll win the Lotto. The Christmas bird perches on the back of a súgan chair and looks at me for a few seconds, then takes flight and collides with a cluster of metallic wind chimes. Poor bird does a panicked few loops around the room and flies out the door to Ireland. One of Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’?

Gerry arrives and we get the work done and chat. There’s a text about doing something at the Electric Picnic next weekend. Sorry, I’ll be gone. That’s life. Things always rev up when I’m preparing to leave. I wonder how many more times I’ll make these transatlantic trips. I’m an emigrant whose soul never leaves Ireland. But the body has to travel for work.

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One night before I left, I had dinner at home with my daughter Róisin. Afterwards, we sat by the fire and chatted about many things. Then she said,

“Dad, does it get harder to go back as the years roll on?”

I had never thought about that before and after a few seconds, I nodded and looked at the fire. There were no words for the pain that followed the realisation. She hugged me and said she’ll miss me loads. I nodded but couldn’t stem my tears.

There’s a text from Aindrias. He can go to the studio on Monday afternoon and lay a few tracks for the spoken word experiment. Time is tight. The bags aren’t packed and time is tight. We settle on just having dinner instead. After that I won’t see him until next summer. It’s time to bite the bullet, get back to packing and find that passport with the golden harp.

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Lisdoonvarna via The Hand

The leaves are beginning to curl at the edges, there’s a nip in the air and crows are cawing like supporters at a sad All Ireland final. Here, there, everywhere, lonely hearts and bouncing hearts are stocking up on perfume and aftershave, condoms and Viagra, praying to Jude and Josephine, rehearsing chat lines and touching up hairlines. Love is in the air, it’s Spa Time…to us locals, that is. To the outside world it’s Lisdoonvarna Match Making Season.
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Big business nowadays, Lisdoonvarna became famous some hundred and fifty years ago when a Doctor named Foster discovered therapeutic springs there. The doctor swore the waters could cure anything from arthritis to zoomorphism, and soon people began to flock to the town in late summer and early autumn, to get tuned up for the winter chills. ‘The Spaw’, as it became known locally, was the perfect place to unwind after the summer slog: mineral baths, sulphur tonics and the likes worked wonders on tired bones and weary souls.

drinkers2To cater for the Victorian masses, hotels were built that made so much money in six weeks, they could afford to close down for the other forty-six. The Spa became Ireland’s first health resort and saints and scholars smiled at the new consciousness dawning on the land. But the waters worked other wonders, and the tonics soon had people looking for bedmates to help keep the winter chills away. Lisdoon became a place where you could waltz all night, drink till dawn and get the bus home in the morning. The Spa season became two months of madness, when the town danced from dusk to dawn, keeping three shoemakers on the go full-time, mending heels and worn soles. Marriages were made, marriages were lost, hearts were shattered, new ground was broken.

Even in today’s hi-tech world of the Internet, lusty chatrooms and dating sites are buzzing about the Spa at this time of the year. My friend Jay Spelman accidentally discovered this virtual world of Spalovers when he was trawling for a soul mate on a wet Sunday afternoon. Jay is recovering from a messy divorce and only dipping his toe in the water again. It astounded him that in all corners of the globe, people knew about Lisdoonvarna. Surfing the chatrooms became his nightly kick, logging on at half-ten, the same time he used go down to the pub in the last century. He took the moniker Spaman and threw in comments about the town and environs, making it known he was local. And just like he had drinking buddies in the pub long ’go, he now had friends online like ‘Brown Eyes’, ‘Sore Toe’, ‘Sexy Sixty’, ‘Miss Dickie’. He became known as a Spa expert, taking hours to explain the difference between the Lisdoonvarna Music Festival and the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival. In chatrooms, if anyone wants to know anything about Lisdoonvarna they ask Spaman. He gives recommendations to those intending to visit the town: Where to eat, drink, stay, avoid…and what to do, say and hope for. Then he got into a jam and called me: he had ‘met’ an American lady online and she was coming to Lisdoonvarna the following week.

“Tell me more,” I encouraged.

“Well like, I can’t meet her in the Spa,” he said, “Everyone would know my business…they’d know that I was ‘on the pull’, so I’m meeting her in Ennis on Tuesday.”

“Next Tuesday? The day after tomorrow?”

“Yes,” he muttered quietly, “and I was wondering if you’d sorta come along with me…”

“You want me to be the ‘gooseberry’?”

“Not really…just to lend a bit of moral support…I haven’t had a date since I split up with Stella…”

I agreed because I didn’t want to hear another monologue about Stella.

On Tuesday morning, Jay called for me and we drove to Ennis in his van. He was spruced up in sports jacket, white shirt, blue tie and Dunne’s Stores slacks. He chain-smoked all the way to town and I could get little out of him regarding the lady, except that she was fifty-five and five foot-six. That made her both older and taller than Jay and when I pointed this out he sighed and lit another cigarette. He was heavily doused with cologne, and seemed to be wilting as we approached town.

We got to the hotel fifteen minutes before the date and sat in the bar from where we had a good view of the lobby. I ordered a pot of coffee because Jay was in the jitters and pretty much speechless. All my efforts to find out about Internet dating met with sighs and shrugs. So what’s her name, I asked eventually.

“Kelly O’Shea,” he said in a half-whisper, “she’s Irish-American.”

“Well that’s good, at least she’s hardly a whacko then.”

He whimpered into panicked rabbit mode. We waited and watched people coming and going through the hotel lobby. The Cathedral bell pealed time and Jay shivered. Stay cool, I advised and he nodded and went outside for a smoke. No woman like the one he described came, but a heavy-set lady with a coiffured white head and studded denim jacket appeared at the front door. I pointed her to Jay when he returned and he shook his head. Ten more minutes passed and the lady still stood at the door. Jay got edgy and muttered that he had been stood up. Again. Happens every time, he sighed, shaking his head. Then, over the intercom we heard the sweet tones of a receptionist say,
“Will Mr. Jay Tobin please come to the lobby…Mr. Jay Tobin, your party is here to meet you.”

We stared at the lobby, empty apart from the white-haired woman in denim.

“Oh fuck,” whined Jay.

“You have to meet her,” I pressed, “she came all the way from America…”

He closed his eyes and sweat pressed through his forehead. The receptionist paged him again and the lady looked around with an anxious face.
“Go on Jay, ” I encouraged, “she might be a millionaire…”

“I can’t…” he stuttered, “I fucking can’t…”

Then he looked at me with those sad rabbit eyes of his and said,
“Would…would you go and meet her…say I’m sick or something…please…”

“You’re a horrible libe,” I hissed, “and a terrible bad ad for Clare tourism…she could complain you to The Gathering authorities and have you exported.”

“Please…please…I have to go to the jax…I’ll be back in a while…just hang with her til I get back.”

I left the seat and went to the lobby. As I approached, the lady smiled and came towards me.

“Jay,” she drawled, “so good to meet you…”

We shook hands, she looked me up and down and I lost my ability to speak. On every finger there was a ring or two and she gripped my hand like a frisky sixteen year-old, though she was a good sixty if she was a day. I looked around to see if any neighbours happened to be in sight and noticed that Jay had disappeared.

“You never told me about the beard,” she chuckled, “and you look just like Van Gogh with that long coat and black hat…”

“Welcome to Ennis, Kelly…” I said.

“Like a drink or some tea?” Kelly asked, beaming up at me.

“Sure,” I replied and we walked to a discreet table in the bar.

“I’m really glad you came,” she said with a smile. I nodded and forced a smile. “Well, as I told you in my last e-mail, I’m searching for my roots, and I’d like to retire to Ireland and meet someone I could have a relationship with…”

All I could do was nod. A waitress came to the table and I ordered a brandy for myself, and tea for Kelly. After a sip, words came to me.
“So how have you been?”

Fine, she said and told me her life story: widowed twice, no children, just a sister in a retirement home in Florida. She’d like to give it one last try, grow old gracefully with an Irishman. A North Clare matchmaker had arranged for several men to meet her, she said with a glint.

“But I haven’t made any commitments…I thought I’d meet you first…your e-mails were so sweet…and thanks for all your information about Lisdoonvarna.”

I shrugged and wondered where in Hell was Jay. Then she asked me about ‘my farm’ and I told her about Jay’s spread, adding sixteen horses and forty head of cattle to the mix. She moved in the chair and said she liked to ride horses and told me about the lovely western saddle her first husband had. After that I ordered another brandy and told her about the lake in the middle of the farm and how we used swim there in the long hot summer nights. The acreage grew until I was the second biggest landowner in West Clare and said that my grandfather had sold the Cliffs of Doneen to the Council for a song. There was no going back after the fourth brandy and Kelly took my hand gently and said,

“You’re such a nice man…I should tell you though…I was very skeptical about this Internet dating business…I mean Jay, one never knows.”

I nodded and agreed, “You’re right, one never knows…”

“So before I came to meet you, I went to the police station and said, ‘look, I’m meeting a man called Jay Tobin from Tobarwiska in the hotel…here’s his telephone number…so if I don’t come back and say I’m OK, you know who he is…’ I hope you don’t mind, Jay…”

It took a few minutes for it to sink in and then I had flashes of the Guards tapping pens on desks, recalling all they knew about Jay. It was a horrific vision, because they knew a lot. Kelly gave me a kiss on the cheek and whispered,

“So I’m going back to the police station to tell them I’ve met the nicest gentleman in the world…and when I return maybe we can learn more about each other…”

When she returned I was gone, but later I heard from Jay that she found the note I left on the table beside her tea-cup. He said I dropped him in the shit and he hasn’t spoken to me since.

“Darling Kelly,

Sorry I had to rush away, I just got a call saying cattle broke out. I would love you to come to dinner tonight at my house, I’m cooking roast duck with all the trimmings. We can crack open a bottle of champagne in the hot tub and watch the stars. Maybe take a ride up Mount Callan if you’re up to it. Below is a map how to get to my place. Be careful making the right turn at The Hand. I look forward to seeing you and call if you get lost.

all the best,

Jay”



photos copyright of Clare County Library



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Irish Diaspora: The Scattering & The Gathering

51skBtRrXBL._SS500_Back in the late 1990s, Dermot McMahon, a Clare businessman had an idea to put together a book about the county’s emigrants. Called The Scattering, the book tracked 78 emigrants and sent a team of photographers around the globe to snap them in their adopted environment. In 2000, the late President Hillary launched The Scattering at Shannon Airport. It was a fitting and poignant venue, as most had left home from there.
A few of those featured in the book were back for the launch, including Martin Hayes and myself. There was much hand shaking and curious looks from well wishers. There was music, tea and sandwiches and the proceedings were broadcast live on ClareFM. I remember having quiet chat with Martin and we recalled the first time we left SNN and wondered how many more times we would walk under the departures sign. I figured we were the last generation that would leave, emigration was at a standstill and Ireland was doing well…

I was wrong, very wrong. Fast-forward a decade and Ireland had boomed, burst, was on the ropes, reeling from shocking changes. The country was in crisis — financially, politically, spiritually and culturally. The Irish were emigrating again and everyone was broke.

To help the country out of the fix, in July 2009 the government convened The Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh House in Dublin and invited the brightest Irish minds and others who had a Midas touch. It was the brainchild of David McWilliams, enfant terrible of economists and author of a few books on Ireland’s rise to fall. One of the elements that came to the fore most strongly in Farmleigh was the ‘potential for leveraging our cultural identity in support of economic regeneration‘. With this in mind, on March 2, 2010, Taoiseach Brian Cowan appointed Gabriel Byrne as the first Cultural Ambassador for Ireland. Probably Cowan’s most enlightened decision, this was a pro bono job, with expenses and would be for three years.

gabeByrne was a popular choice at home and abroad, and he set to work immediately. He played a central role in Imagine Ireland, a year of Irish arts in America sponsored by Culture Ireland. He organised several events that explored Irish identity, including a retrospective of Irish films at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and a series of documentaries about Ireland at the Lincoln Center. The Irish government invested €4 million in Imagine Ireland. Byrne did background work as well — he spoke with studios and filmmakers about making films in Ireland, and with Liam Neeson he produced ‘James X’, a play by Mannix Flynn about clerical sexual abuse in Ireland. By this time, Ireland had a change of government and when the new Taoiseach, Enda Kenny had harsh words for the Vatican, Mr. Byrne praised him for his courageous stance.

government1In June 2011, while Imagine Ireland was making waves in the US, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs announced that Certificate of Irishness would be available to applicants in the autumn. It was estimated that there were 70 million people of Irish heritage scattered all over the globe and the certificate would be a moneymaker. It would be aimed at those whose Irish ancestry went back beyond their grandparents, those Irish who are not eligible for an Irish passport. The new identification would grant them special tourist and travel deals as well as being a concrete acknowledgment of their Irish heritage. FEXCO, a Kerry-based company would provide the certs in association with the Department of Foreign Affairs.

While we were digesting this news, wondering would the idea fly or flop, a bigger announcement was made. At the Global Irish Economic Forum in July 2011, Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar unveiled The Gathering and told us that: “The Gathering will be a year-long program of events, festivals and fun designed to bring record numbers of visitors…an invitation to the world to come and join in Ireland’s renewal.” (Renewal, Leo? Remember what happened to the last New Ireland?)

The Gathering was predicted to generate an extra $399 million for the Irish economy and would cost $5 million. With an 80 to 1 payback, the government was home and dry. Every town and village in Ireland would be asked to participate in the events, aimed primarily at the Irish Diaspora, as well as people with an interest in the country. Fáilte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn said, “There are a lot of people with Irish connections or a fondness for Ireland who have a vague plan to get here some time — we want to light a fire under them and get them here in 2013.” (Right Shaun, you mean burn them…even before they arrive?)

TradFest And so the show was on the road. The Irish Diaspora was the market and Irish-America was the main target. It’s not known if the mandarins in Dublin had any contact with the Irish Cultural Ambassador, Mr. Byrne about the project. As the year wore on, we heard that: ‘The Gathering is the people’s party. It will kick off in spectacular style at the New Year’s Eve Festival in Dublin and will be celebrated through gatherings of the people and Ireland’s major festivals during 2013.’ (WTF? The people’s party? And the country up to its nose in debt? Was this some sort of ‘pack up your troubles and smile, smile, smile’ routine?)

Gabriel Byrne’s resignation as Ireland’s Cultural Ambassador was a surprise. In an interview with The Irish Times on December 11, 2011, he announced that he was stepping down at Christmas. He had been almost two years in the job and said,
“I just don’t have the time between my career and that.”

The Minister for Arts, Jimmy Deenihan said Byrne made “an outstanding contribution to the country” in his role. “His inspirational leadership of Imagine Ireland is helping to restore Ireland’s reputation at a critical time, breaking new ground for the next generation of Irish artists and helping them to find new audiences for their work in the US…The doors he has helped to open for Ireland and Irish artists in America this year offer huge opportunities for the years to come.”
That was the last we heard about Gabriel for a while.

The Gathering preparations went full steam ahead in 2012. Jim Miley, former general secretary of Fine Gael, was appointed as Program Director on a €168,000 salary. An ad agency was commissioned to spread the word and ads began to appear like spring snowdrops in newspapers and magazines that might be picked up by The Diaspora. On the ground, communities were encouraged and cajoled to create events, invite long-lost cousins home from Texas. 2013 would be The Year of The Irish. We were told that the world was coming to Ireland and urged to be a ‘part of it.’ Discover Ireland crooned: “Irish roots. Tall tales. A love of everything about the Emerald Isle, from Molly Malone to fields of green. Whatever the reason, come to our fair land for The Gathering 2013 and you’ll be part of something special.” (Something special? A heat wave?)

The first time I saw The Gathering logo I was reminded of a light show at a Mr. Floppy rave in San Francisco, late 1980’s. I thought the thing was alive and quickly looked away. But it became ubiquitous. The online edition of The Irish Times had several on its home page, same with other publications. Using this retro-techno version of our sacred triple spiral as a branding tool is distasteful at the very least…it may not bode well for The Gathering. Bad vibes from the ancients…
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The Gathering campaign was officially launched in the US on September 22, 2012. Táiniste Eamonn Gilmore and Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar came to New York to do the honours and to give out a few Certificates of Irishness. Irish-America was invited back to Ireland for a big hooley. You could come anytime of the year, it didn’t matter because the Irish were up for the craic 24/7. There was no sign of the former Cultural Ambassador at the event. And the bad news about the Certificate of Irishness was kept under wraps. In one year, just over 1,000 of the potential 70 million clients had forked out €40 to have a framed computer generated page on their wall. Did the government get it wrong about the Diaspora? Is the Diaspora smarter than the government thinks?

During the run up to the American Presidential election, TodayFM was broadcasting The Last Word with Matt Cooper live from New York. On November 5th, Gabriel Byrne was a guest on the show and dropped a few bombs. He said The Gathering was ‘a scam’, a ‘shakedown’ of the Irish Diaspora. Talking about his work as Cultural Ambassador, Byrne went on to say the he was “really disappointed the way all those contacts, all that hard work was just dropped and it really made me disillusioned and disappointed with this Government who go on about their love for culture, for arts and actually really don’t give a toss about it.”
The former Cultural Ambassador had gone rogue.

The Government and The Gathering heads and the tourist handlers went nuts. Project director Jim Miley denied the plan was a shakedown, and said while Byrne was “a man we all know and love, and he has his opinions — they are one man’s opinions”. Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar said: “the response to the Gathering has been really great in America” and then described Byrne as “popular with women of a certain age group” (WTF, Leo?) TD Michael Ring called Byrne ‘unpatriotic’. The only politician who came to Gabriel’s defense was President Michael D Higgins. He said Byrne was a “magnificent Irish person” who merely wants the Government’s flagship tourism initiative – which he branded a ‘scam’ – to have a deeper connection to the diaspora. Then somebody leaked Byrne’s expenses to The Irish Times. During his term, Gabe chalked up €15,845 for hotels, flights and chauffeurs. So what? He was doing the digging for free. I know a former county councillor who ran up twice that amount in a year and all he did was go to cattle marts and funerals. The expenses ‘leak’ overshadowed news that the government was pumping another $5 million into the The Gathering.

Byrne’s comments about The Gathering were widely reported. They struck a chord, both with the Irish at home and abroad and people began to wonder about this yearlong celebration. They frowned at the ads. The campaign seemed on the sick side of slick. The photos looked odd. We were being branded. Mad men showing the world what we were not like. This was the ‘Renewal’ that Leo mentioned. Discover Ireland horsing out crap such as “Gather ’round everyone – time to talk about The Gathering. C’mere and we’ll let you in on something. We’re planning something big. BIG big.” (oh Sweet Jesus…)

The Gathering organisers are active in social media and recently a picture of a Gathering ‘trad music session’ went viral among Irish musicians. It was a cheese-smile photo, clearly staged by models and day runners. There was not a genuine musician among them. How they held the instruments showed they were from Central Casting. Although The Gathering has given funding to the Willie Clancy School and other worthwhile events, it has already riled musicians and artists.

A recent thread on Twitter about the year-long celebration brought mostly negative comments —
“Gathering feels like a grubby moneymaking racket. We’re citizens, not commodities.”
“it seems like we’re pimping out our heritage and pimping off the emigrants.” “I don’t like how the politicians are promoting it.”
“the campaign is embarrassing and outdated. This event has no connection to either Ireland or the diaspora.”
“Anybody returning for the gathering is an idiot as it shows they support the morons running this country.”
Hmmmm…

Being still part of The Scattering, I came home to Ireland for Christmas. The Delta flight from JFK to Dublin was full and almost all were ex-pats. These were part of The Scattering, a much different tribe from those expected to attend the Gathering. Entering the arrivals hall in Dublin I felt a gush of welcome. Hundreds of smiling faces, everyone there to welcome Paddy and Biddy home. A boombox played Fairytale in New York, some sang along and a guy waved a sign that read GODOT. Screams of joy and hugs and kisses, nobody has a welcome for their own like the Irish. If only The Gathering could bottle that, the Yanks would never leave.

When I got home, junk mail about the Gathering was there before me. Every house in Ireland received the same. The photos were frightening — models with horse teeth smiles and the mind altering logo spattered everywhere like bird shit. One piece included two postcards invitations which we were encouraged to mail ‘to a friend or loved one overseas to come and visit Ireland in 2013’. All one had to do was affix a stamp and drop in the mail. The mailer said ‘It’s up to you.’ so I hung it on the wall to bulk up the Christmas cards.
Taoiseach---Tanaiste-launch-The-Gathering-Ireland-

Last night a few of the lads came to my place for a session. It was stormy and wet and I had a good fire blazing. We sat around and played tunes for a while, then drank tea and chatted about gigs and stuff like that. Sneezer frowned at The Gathering card over the hearth and said,
“Every house I’ve been to over the Christmas has these shagging cards on the wall like fugging Post-it Notes.”
“I’ve them on the wall too,” admitted Murphy, “I got no Christmas cards this year. Email has fucked all that up.”
“I can’t think of anyone to send them to,” I said.
“Me neither,” sighed Murphy, “I was half-thinkin’ of sending one to the ex, but she might take it up wrong…”
We were silent for a while and then Sneezer took flight.
“It’s a pity that poor ol’ Hunter Thompson passed away,” he said. “If he were alive, I’d arrange that hundreds of invites were sent to him. Hundreds. You know, do a lil’ fundraiser for the postage. I mean, it’s up to us…and the government want the world to come to Ireland, why not invite Hunter? He loved a good party and was always up for the craic. He’d stay for the whole year,so he would. Hunter’d light plenty fires, drink whiskey, back horses, buy drugs, make loud noises, shoot his AK47 at stop signs, lop a few grenades here and there and frighten the crap out of politicians and civil servants. They’d probably deport him, you know…but he would make The Gathering a memorable one.”
Murphy nodded and said,
“Maybe Hunter would be the only one that showed up. I’m getting worried that nobody is posting these fuckin’ cards to anyone.”
Me too.



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No Rhyme, No Reason

Yesterday I got an email from a friend in London. It was a newsy note that ended,
“Life is fragile, give it plenty love.”
The ending struck a chord with me, because I had earlier been wondering about the fragility of life in light of two well publicized suicides — that of Gary Speed in the UK, and Kate Fitzgerald in Dublin.

Gary Speed.

Gary Speed

Gary Speed was 42, a highly respected footballer and manager of the Wales soccer team. Hours before he took his own life last weekend, he was on BBC1’s Football Focus show and in great form, promising to come back again before Christmas. A friend he spoke with after the show, said Gary sounded happy and full of life. Hours later, his wife found his body hanging at the family home outside Chester. There were no suspicious circumstances. No message, no goodbye note.

Kate Fitzgerald was 25, an Irish-American, she was born in San Jose, California and moved to Ireland with her Irish parents in the 1990’s. She studied journalism at Dublin City University, and became a member of Democrats Abroad, after watching George Bush demolish Kerry in a 2004 US Presidential debate. By 2007 she was the organization’s chairperson in Ireland, and had built its membership from 200 to 1400. She was a regular commentator on Irish radio during the 2008 US Presidential election and came to the States for Obama’s inaugeration.

Kate Fitzgerald

Work stress and a relationship break-up spun Kate Fitzgerald’s life upside down and she began drinking heavy. Under the influence of alcohol and antidepressants, she signed herself into St Patrick’s University Hospital in Dublin, on July 18 of this year. St Pat’s specialises in mental-health issues, substance and alcohol abuse. After she was discharged from hospital in August, she sent an email to Peter Murtagh of the Irish Times, which was signed Grace Ringwood. The email contained an article on suicide, and Grace was insisting on anonymity should the Irish Times decide to publish it.

Mr. Murtagh wrote back and they made contact by phone. She told him her real name and he recognised it, as the Times had previously published an article by her. She was a good writer and seemed more mature and confident than her 25 years. Murtagh said he’d recommend that the Times publish her piece, but he would disclose her real name to the editor. She seemed pleased with that and followed up the conversation with an email a few hours later, in which she said she enjoyed writing and looked forward to contributing to the Irish Times in the future.

On Friday, September 9th, the day before World Suicide Prevention Day, the Times published her piece, anonymously, as she requested. A few days later her father, Tom Fitzgerald, called the newspaper and said he was certain the suicide article had been written by his daughter Kate. She had taken her own life on August 22nd, a couple of hours after emailing Murtagh. He may have been the last person she spoke to. There was no goodbye note, no explanation. She was only a few weeks out of hospital.

The fragility of life, the balancing act of the mind. Two talented people calling time long before it’s due. Two people who seemed to be in good spirits, when they spoke to others, just hours before taking their own lives. I wondered how this could be. I looked back at the suicides which had impacted my own life and still came up with no answers.

Paddy was my dad’s cousin and one of his best friends. He had a fine farm, a small shop in the village and was engaged to a local hair stylist. I was in primary school at the time, and remember when their relationship ended, because there was a lot of talk in our kitchen about the engagement ring being returned to Paddy.

One spring Sunday, he came to our house after Mass for the usual cup of tea and a chat with my dad. It was lambing season and he was going to the farm, in case foxes or carrion crows were preying on newborns. After that, he was meeting his ex in a local hotel, and she was returning the ring. He seemed in good humour and said he’d see us later, but I never saw Paddy again.

That afternoon a man came with the news that Paddy had been found dead, half his head blown off. I’ll never forget that. The man was a family friend and he was shocked and distraught. He explained that even though the news was devastating, he couldn’t stop laughing and said it was like his brain was working backwards. I’ll never forget that either, or the trouble that my dad and his friends went to, to ensure Paddy’s death would be registered as an accident, rather than suicide. It was my dad who delivered the news to his ex, as she sat in the hotel lobby, waiting for Paddy. In later years I asked dad about it. He conceeded that Paddy took his own life, but the why remained a mystery. “I suppose something snapped in the poor fella,” he said.

Jack was a grouchy old man, a life long dole recipient who lived in a council house with his son’s family. He always wore a brown suit and tweed cap and held court with other dolers in an alleyway near the post office. He was king of the corner-boys and delighted in lobbing smart remarks at decent and innocent people. I didn’t like him. One evening I was coming home from fishing and I met Jack on the road. He had a coil of rope over his shoulder and he stopped to chat with me, which I thought was unusual. He was friendly and spoke about good fishing spots and what the best flies were for that time of the year. We continued on our separate ways and I went home for my tea.

Some hours later word came to town that Jack was found hanging in Mrs. C’s cowshed. The widow discovered him there when she brought the animals home for milking. The news stunned me. I was confused and tried to convince myself that it must have been an accident, hadn’t I spoken to him earlier? And he didn’t seem cracked or crazy, if anything he was more than normal. I couldn’t reconcile things, and the image of that coil of rope over Jack’s shoulder has never left me.

Maurice was a few years older than me. He worked in London and came home for two weeks holidays every summer. Wearing the latest fashions, he cut a dash, maybe too much of a dash for our town. We hung out with him in the shoemakers workshop and he told us about a book he was writing. It was about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, years before the cliché was coined. I was fascinated and figured the book would be banned in Ireland. At the time I was playing in a local band with a cousin of Maurice’s and we absorbed every word he told us about the London scene, the clubs, the hustlers, the whiz and the gizz. He promised to come to a gig we were playing in Lahinch at the weekend, and we were excited that he was coming to hear us.

I heard about Maurice’s suicide from his cousin. Maurice had hung himself from a tree in the Old Glen, a place he loved to walk. We were numbed, helpless and bewildered. How could he? He was in the middle of the scene in London and seemed to be enjoying life with no problems. What went wrong? We never found out. He left no note. As a mark of respect we cancelled the gig, it was the only gesture we could make.

Who we meet on the street may not be who they appear to be. Everyone suffers, everyone wants to be happy and free from sorrow. But for some, the pain gets so great that it blocks the light of the soul. Life is fragile alright, and I wish we always knew how to go with the flow, and avoid the submerged rocks and demons. As Jerry Garcia sang in ‘Ripple’, “If I knew the way, I would take you home.”

In the wake of Gary Speed’s death, Irish journalist Eamonn Maillie spoke to psychiatrist Dr. Phillip McGarry about secrecy and depression. Here’s their conversation.

A Musical Youth in West Clare

The Tulla Ceili Band, 1952, Georgie on piano, far right

I read the news today, oh boy, and learned that Georgie Byrt had died. It put me thinking about my musical journey and the musicians I played with, back in West Clare during the 60’s and 70’s. Piano player and taxi man, Georgie was from my hometown of Ennistymon and the first time I ever played on stage, it was with Georgie and Mickey Hogan’s Dance Band. I was fifteen and scared and excited as if I was going on my first date.

Mickey Hogan had invited me to his house a week or so beforehand, and I figured it was just to play a few tunes; he played the fiddle and tenor sax and had the reputation of being a maestro. I brought my electric guitar and amp and we played for an hour or two — tunes and songs that my parent’s generation danced to.

After the session, his wife served us tea and plain biscuits, and we chatted. It turns out Mickey was checking my musicianship, and asked if I was free to play at an upcoming wedding with his band.  I said yes, yes of course. We shook hands and his wife said that a musician would always find a wife. She told how she fell in love with Mickey when she danced to his music, forty years beforehand.

“It was the uniform that got me,” she said, “Mickey had a beautiful band uniform, snow-white with gold buttons and I was smitten.”

At the wedding, Mickey wore a red tunic with gold buttons and the rest of us wore blue blazers, which he supplied. Mine was oversized, and I had to turn up the cuffs so I could play the guitar. I forget who the other band members were apart from Georgie, who told me to stand near him. When Mickey announced the next number, George would whisper to me, something like: “Key of G and there’s an E minor in the second part.” That’s how the evening went. The band blasting out tunes and songs, and Georgie telling me the keys and the chords. Georgie was a gentleman, may he rest in peace.

Ennistymon, 1961

For a town as small as   Ennistymon, there were more  musicians than houses. Fiddlers, drummers, piano players, accordionists, sax players, trumpet blowers, guitarists, flute and whistle blowers — you name it, we had it. Some musicians had regular gigs with bands like the Tulla Ceili Band and the Kilfenora; others were hired hands and could flit from trad to country to old-time, jazz to soft pop. We were crossover musicians, guns for hire and in spite of my father’s disapproval, I was sneaking out and playing with some outfit most weekends. School took a back seat and I used fall asleep at class on Mondays. Eventually it was too much for my parents and they decided to pack me off to boarding school in Galway, telling me to ‘mind the books and forget about the music for the time being.’ Of course I didn’t, both parents came from musical families and music was in my blood.

A few weeks before I left for boarding school, I was invited to join a ‘pop’ band in Miltown Malbay, a few miles down the coast from Ennistymon. It was Fintan Malone’s band and called The Merchants. Another Miltown guy — Alsie Clancy was the singer, Malone played lead guitar and Willie Healy, a friend from Ennistymon played drums. We had no bass, but it didn’t occur to us that was odd, as we rehearsed Kinks, Beatles and Rolling Stones songs in Malone’s Markethouse. We were rebels, playing rock and roll in the sacred shrine of Irish traditional music. In shop doorways around the street, local teenagers listened to us rehearse, and when we had a few dozen numbers together, we did our first gig.

That was on a Sunday afternoon and called a ‘hop’, something less serious than a night gig, which might have freaked parents and Fr. Kelly. The gig went well, even though we fluffed a few numbers. I made a shambles of a Kink’s song ‘Tired of Waiting’ and Malone cracked up laughing and the drummer lost time. Alsie took a song in the wrong key and we couldn’t find where he was until the second verse. It must have sounded woeful, but the Miltown crowd was loyal and clapped rather than booed. Afterwards, Mrs. Malone had dinner ready for us, and excited as Oscar winners, we plotted our course to the top of the charts. We also decided to let our hair grow long.

Miltown, 1973

The following summer, we were a tight outfit. Willie Healy got a job in Dublin and our new drummer was my good friend Jimmy Hill. We practiced a few of times a week, Jimmy and myself hitching to Miltown, often staying the night in Malone’s house.

Every Sunday night we did a gig in the Markethouse and it was always crammed. We did a mixture of pop and rock, dressed in mod gear, inspired by Limerick band, Granny’s Intentions. In West Clare we were hotshots, an up and coming young band which priests were wary of. Getting gigs in parochial halls was tough work and a lot of padres turned us away from their doors. But we got other breaks — playing support to top band in ballrooms around the county. For those gigs, we had a roadie-cum-driver called Christy Body, who had a sister called Annie.

People in West Clare still talk about The Merchant’s gigs, and hindsight makes the band appear a lot better than we were. One night, a group of Girl Guides from Limerick who were at camp in Spanish Point came to our gig and screamed every time we played a number from the charts. It was like we were the Beatles, the way they crowded around the stage, beaming and waving at us. The local girls were a bit miffed and there were a couple of cat-fights. When I began ‘I Saw Her Standing There,’ the place went gaga, and I struggled with stage fright until Malone joined in the chorus.

Since I was a toddler, I spent the summers with my grandmother and grandfather — Susan and Tommy O’Sullivan — in Lahinch. Grandma played fiddle and concertina and tried her best to get me interested in traditional music. She played tunes every night of her life and my grandfather tapped a box of matches for percussion. She used finish the session with a reel called ‘My Love is in America,’ but granda didn’t tap for that one. Many years later she told me she had fallen in love in America in 1922, when she was on the run from the Black and Tans at home. Grandma never forgot the cop from Cork who arrested her for picking flowers in Central Park, on her first Sunday in New York. He let her go and asked her for a date. She fell in love, came home to do her duty in the Civil War and never went back to New York. I’d say she went to bed thinking of him every night,  after playing that tune. She called my guitar ‘the yaw-yaw’, inspired by the Beatles ‘She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.’ She rooted out an old mandolin she brought back from America and encouraged me to learn it, but my head was with the Beatles, Dylan and the Stones.

And then I was struck on the Road to Damascus…or rather the road to Miltown. It was in the month of August, when Miltown hosted the ‘Darling Girl from Clare Festival.’ Every night there were big crowds in town and we were gigging heavy, we had groupies and girlfriends and were waiting for our big break. I hitched from Lahinch with my guitar and got a ride to Spanish Point crossroads, about a mile from Miltown. It was late afternoon, warm lazy weather that brings out the best of West Clare. I walked towards town, in the distance I could hear music playing from the speakers mounted on telegraph poles, ceili bands, flutes, pipes, fiddles. This used be the fashion, to ‘warm the town’ and invoke a festive feeling. Paddy Flynn was the local DJ and PA expert. I wasn’t paying much heed to the music, probably thinking of the girl I would meet after the gig, a good-looking chick called Bríd, who wrote love poems and gave me one every night we met. The old railway station was on the outskirts of the town and here was the first telephone pole which had a speaker. As I was approaching it, Paddy Flynn put on a record that I hadn’t heard before. It began with harmonica, guitar, mandolin and maybe another instrument. Then a guy began singing and the first words brought me to a standstill.

‘Sullivan’s John to the road you’ve gone,
Far away from your native home…’

Sweeny's Men — Johnny, Andy and Terry

The hair stood on the back of my neck. I leaned against a stonewall and listened, not with my ears as much as with my heart. Something came over me and I’ll never forget those few minutes. I remember thinking, ‘who is that?’ Then Paddy Flynn played a tune I knew — The Exiles Jig— by the same group. I’d never heard traditional Irish music played like that, with counter melody and harmonies weaving around the tune. It was Sweeny’s Men — Johnny Moynihan, Andy Irvine and Terry Woods — musicians who I would become friends with a few years later. Traditional Irish music suddenly became relevant to me, after listening to it for well over a decade.

I don’t recall how our gig went that night, or if I got a love poem from the girlfriend. The following day I took out the mandolin grandma had brought back from New York and asked her to teach me The Exiles Jig. I remember her blessing herself and saying,

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what has come over you?”

She got the fiddle and we sat in the kitchen while bread baked in the oven. She showed me how to tune the mandolin and then played The Exile’s Jig until I got it. Then she taught me Banish Misfortune, Patcheen Flanagan’s Jig and Hardiman the Fiddler. Local tunes which rose easily from my  genetic memory. Later I went up to the attic and practiced on my own.

That night when she took down the fiddle, we played my new tunes and granda tapped the box of matches. I vamped along and picked a note here and there when she played her own selection. As she drew the notes at the beginning of ‘My Love is in America’, granda put the box of matches in his pocket. And for the first time, I felt the wistful longing and loneliness she channeled into that tune. I had finally arrived at the Well.

Tom Barrett, Susan O'Sullivan and Kevin Houlihan


All Clare images courtesy of Clare County Library


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HEADS: Good Intentions…(novel extract)

Heads, my novel, was published a few days ago for Kindle, iPhone, iPad and other reading devices. It’s about the adventures of an Irish artist and his comrades in California. The first thousand words or so of it are below. Download more via the links at the end. You can read the complete novel on your computer with the free Kindle app. Heads costs $2.99 to download.



Attacked by a priest — an Irish priest — in broad daylight, in a pub in Berkeley. Jazz cowered in the back of a taxi, his painter’s overalls were ripped, his face hurt and the inside of his mouth stung and tasted of blood. The taxi was taking him to San Francisco, trundling down San Pablo Avenue in the early evening traffic. It was sunny, tee-shirt weather, but he was cold, shivering, hunkered down in the middle of the back seat, glancing at the doors to make sure they were locked. That priest could pounce again. He should never have had anything to do with him.

Jazz

His first impression was that the man was a basket case, or at least not the full shilling. That was the day Jazz and his roommate Kirby came over to the Berkeley Flea market from San Francisco. That was a few months ago, a sunny March Sunday, warm as summer. Flowers bloomed everywhere and young women smiled at them. Jazz even remarked that it was a special kind of a day. As they walked across Ashby intersection, a vehicle hooted and the driver waved. They saw ‘Church of the Sacred Heart’ emblazoned on the door of the red minibus and Kirby said, “It’s Father Ned.”

A younger Fr. Ned

The van pulled over and Kirby introduced Jazz to a middle-aged Irish priest in a white t-shirt and black Ché beret, which had a little silver cross instead of the star. An older Irishman named Tiny Ford accompanied Fr. Ned. They all shook hands, spoke about the glorious weather and Irish affairs. Jazz read ‘God is Good!’ on Ned’s t-shirt. Kirby admired the transporter and the priest joked that the only way he could get his flock to participate in parish affairs — from church to cemetery — was to bus them there himself.

“The cattle truck I call it,” said Tiny, dabbing sweat from his neck, “Christ lads, but ’tis very warm.”

“It’s a full-time job,” said Father Ned, adjusting his beret, “and I’m kind of rebuilding the parish up again…I’m afraid my predecessor went overboard here and there.”

“A terrible man,” muttered Tiny.

“Very sad,” Ned sighed, “he had a new church almost finished and everything. Beautiful job, spectacular…and then scandal broke. Funds dried up…so I’m trying to build things from the ground again. But I’m afraid we lost a lot of good people.”

“It cost us a fortune,” whispered Tiny and the priest muttered,
“That’s enough Tiny.”

“So how’s the church coming along?” Kirby asked, changing the subject.

“Almost finished,” Tiny coughed.


“The Stations of the Cross is our next big job,” Father Ned said, “I want them painted, a huge mural…sort of like what you’d see in the middle ages…and that will appeal to the Hispanics as well.”

“Mural?” Jazz said.

“That’s right,” said the priest, “They’d be spectacular. If you don’t have a top-class venue today, you won’t be able to hold an audience…there’s a lot of competition out there for souls nowadays…televangelism is ruining everything. It’s a free market, especially here in California.”

“So you want to paint the Stations of the Cross?” Jazz said, offering cigarettes. Tiny and Kirby accepted, the Padre passed.

“They’re lovely painted,” he said, “and they’d be brilliant in the new place…”

“Beautiful place, you should see it,” coughed Tiny.

“I’d be interested in a painting job like that,” Jazz said.

“Really?” Father Ned said, looking closer at him.

“Yeah, I’m an artist. A painter.”

“Is that so? And have you ever done anything like this?”

“Religious work?” Jazz said. After a second he remembered, “I did a Christmas card for the Shamrock’s Football Club.”

“Was it you who did that?” said Father Ned, eyes softening, “God Almighty, that was a gorgeous depiction of the Mother and Child.”

Jazz said thanks. That little card was his first paid art work in America. Inspiration came when he saw a young Palestinian woman sip coffee in Café Nidal. He drew her as the Madonna, gave her a veil and a dimple on the cheek, and then put an infant at her breast. Kirby’s boss, O’Toole the builder, sponsored the design and paid Jazz three hundred dollars for his labor. That was four months ago and he hadn’t done much since then.

Fr Ned's Visualisaton


Jazz and Kirby rode in back of the red bus to Father Ned’s new church, located in the Berkeley foothills. Tiny said the Hazeltons, an old moneyed Catholic family who made their fortune from apple juice, had donated the site. He had often drank it and it was powerful stuff. Organic, added Father Ned, wheeling the bus up in front of the new church, a large round building with a low mushroom roof and a carrot spire. Post-modern, explained Father Ned, Von Traghad was the architect.

The doors were heavy, hammered brass and opened into a marble-floored lobby with alcoves and narrow stained glass windows. Two stone holy water fonts flanked the entrance to the church proper, and Tiny opened the doors like a bellboy. It was the oddest church Jazz was ever in and reminded him of a boxing stadium. The altar wasn’t at the head, as normal, but on a platform in the center, surrounded by circles of banked seats. Tiny pointed at the ceiling, a complicated web of timber beams and supports, with a stained glass spiral that cast colored patches of light on the altar.

“Awesome,” whispered Kirby.

“And the stations will go there,” Father Ned said quietly, pointing to a tall band of smooth plaster that circled the building, about twelve feet from the floor. He led Jazz to the wall and they both stared in silence at the blank ribbon.

“Can’t you just see Jesus up there,” whispered Father Ned, “the Crown of Thorns…Pilate…the heavy wooden cross…warm humid day in Jerusalem…the jeering crowd…that climb to Calvary.”

Jazz nodded, he could see it alright. The Padre explained Von Traghad wanted the stations to begin at the door, continue clockwise around the church in a complete circle. Jazz frowned and had a flash of Michelangelo’s anguished face gazing upside down from a scaffold.

“What’s the budget?” he asked.

“We were hoping to get it done for ten thousand…that’s what the architect estimated. That’s about what the Mexican lad would do it for. And he’s good. Does loads of murals in the Mission.”

“It’s a lot of work. When do you want it done?”

“Soon as possible…I was hoping to have the church consecrated by Papal Nuncio Mahaffy when he comes to San Francisco in May for the Bishop’s Convention.”

“But that’s only a few months away…”

“I know,” said Father Ned, “but it would be a great coup to have Mahaffy open the place…a lot of the big boys will be around for that convention. We could get a lot of mileage out of it and get our name out there in a positive way, for a change.”

Jazz looked around the church. It was years since he had done murals and he had never worked on such a large scale before. He’d chance it. Twelve feet off the ground, he’d need help with a platform and stuff.

“Tiny will look after that,” Father Ned said. “You come up with a blueprint and estimate and we’ll take it from there.”

That’s how it started.

The other J-man



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THE WEST


John O’Donoghue & The Pogues: a match made in San Francisco?

The Art of the Con

The Art of the Con

John ‘The Bull’ O’Donoghue, former Minister for the Arts, Sports and Tourism, resigned as Ceann Comhairle on the same day the Pogues played in San Francisco. Normally these two events would be mutually exclusive, but with the recession, everything is connected.

The Bull racked up a half-million euro tab over his few years as mandarin for d’Arts and had an extravagant lifestyle, at the expense of the Plain People of Ireland. A martyr for top-shelf brandy, best of wine, fatted lamb, caviar, horses, plane hops, limos, banquets, nothing was too good or too sacred for The Bull. He consumed all before him like a Pac man, while Irish artists waited for the crumbs that fell from his department. How many stories might that half-million euro have helped write? How many tunes could it have composed? How many songs could have it sung? The Bull’s expense account could have kept an artist in clover for 50 years and raised spirits in the process. Instead, it fattened himself and his herd. It’s a triumph for Irish journalism that he was exposed and forced to resign. Take a bow, Sunday Tribune but don’t rest on your laurels.

pogues_cloverA long white stretch limo was pulled at the curb outside the Pogues gig and it reminded us of The Bull and how he loved long shiny cars. We suddenly felt charitable and wondered if he should be rehabilitated rather than despised as a parasite. Then we had a brainwave: what if the Bull could drive the Pogues limo!! Maybe Shane would lend his Mexican Air Force cap to him…just while he’s behind the wheel. He could be cured. Cruising a half million miles up highways and down autobahns and boreens, the Kerryman would get plenty therapy from the lads. Plus, he’d still have a touch of the high life, he’d still be rubbing shoulders with stars and starlets…still be supping good grog, but not at the taxpayers expense. He could get really into it…maybe get promoted to roadie status.

Pogues, SF

Pogues, SF

The idea was exciting and when Mr. McGowan came onstage that night, a red plastic tumbler in each hand, we saw an expanded role for The Bull: he could be Shane’s batman!…carry the bevs for him, place them on the small table at the front of the stage and make sure to top them up now and again. He could light cigarettes for Mac…and anything else for that matter. In fact, The Bull might even test the mike for Shane. Wouldn’t it be a thrill to see him front of stage saying, “One, one, one, two, two. Check, check.” And maybe in true punk form he’d get showered with rotten tomatoes or eggs…

pogues6As the Pogues ploughed through their greatest songs in San Francisco, and Mac weaved this way and that, the idea of The Bull being part of the scene became more clear. The band might even give him a cameo part — take a bit of weight from Spider by having the Bull bang the tin beer tray against his head. And I know this is pushing it a bit, but maybe The Bull could play a bit of bodhran? On say, ‘The Irish Rover’? Would the lads let him join in the chorus? What about ‘Dirty Old Town’? Can’t you just see him on stage, belting out the refrain, sweet Cahersiveen etched on his face? Would he ever get to lash out ‘The Boys of Barr na Sráide’? His very own party piece…

On second thoughts, it may be better to keep him from the limelight for a while. It might be wiser to have him set up the backstage for the band, make sure everyone’s tastes and mores are catered for, and that there’s plenty of everything. He’d be good at that, he’s been freeloading for years and knows every rope in the book. He wouldn’t have an assistant, just an iPhone which he’d have to learn to use…there’s probably a Fás course for that. He’d have to know at any time, where drink, smoke and get-well cards could be got. And he’d have to learn to mix Tequila Dropkicks, Whiskey Windfalls and Brandy Bomb-Bombs…maybe learn how to hand-roll cigarettes. He’d get a much better education with the lads than he’d get hanging around the crowd in the Dáil bar.
IfIShould

We know it’s a privilege to work with the Pogues, and some might say that The Bull doesn’t deserve the chance. We understand all that, but feel it would be for the Greater Good, if he were rehabbed rather than punished or left to waste away on the backbenches of government. As some perverted form of entertainment, the Kerry voters will continue to return his whale carcass to the Dáil, forever more amen. It would take a few Pogues gigs to persuade them to release The Bull for the sake of art and culture. The band could play The Puck Fair, The Rose of Tralee, Listowel Races, Cahersiveen Winkle Festival. The Bull could play support for them at the ’Sive gig — it would be a perfect homecoming for the Prodigal Son.

It’s a win-win situation. The job would be good for The Bull: he’d still be flying around the place, ride limos and drink until maidin geal. He would be indentured to the Pogues. And here it should be said, the band would be better for his rehabilitation than U2. Like, Bono and The Bull could talk shite to each other all night and next morning…but there would be no shite talk with the Pogues. Everything would be straight up and politically incorrect.

The Pogues are The Bull’s only hope. And I know this is stretching it a bit far…but, what about Mrs. Bull doing a bit now and again? Remember, she was also part of his act and liked to jet away too. She’s a lovely singer and maybe she could do the female vox on Fairytale? And when Shane waltzes off stage with her, would The Bull know it’s only rock and roll? Or would he lose the head, like he did in the Dáil, and end up on YouTube again?



Pogues SF photo: Seán Chon


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De Dannan

that's the way I remember them best...

that's the way I remember them best...

The De Dannan row has being simmering for years and most people close to the Irish trad scene were aware of the tensions between some former members of that band. It went into the public domain over the last few weeks and erupted on the airways Wednesday of this week on RTE’s Liveline. Sad situation really, when one recalls the great music, song and fulfillment De Dannan gave us all since the 1970’s.

On the surface, the row is over the name De Danann. When Alec Finn and Frankie Gavin — the last two original members of the band —went their separate ways in 2004, Mr. Finn ‘registered’ the name, which he says was to stop exploitation by others. Incidently, it was banjo player Charlie Piggott who originally came up with the name for band. Over the years, band members had come and gone, some to greater things. Each new member added an ingredient to the De Dannan sound, but the perception was, that the cooks were Messrs Finn and Gavin.

There was a lot of chatter between jigs and reels about the breakup of the Gavin – Finn marriage. A mendicant singer penned a ballad called Frankie and Alec, based on the old Frankie and Johnny song. The weary and the perceptive knew there would be blood down the line, that it’s a long road that doesn’t have a turn. Plus there were a few casualties on the roadside who had tumbled from the De Dannan bandwagon over the years.

Things came to a head recently when Frankie Gavin and De Dannan were billed for a concert at the 2009 World Fleadh in Castlebar. The World Fleadh is produced by Eric Cunningham who plays percussion with Frankie’s new ‘De Danann’. Advertisements announcing gigs for ‘Frankie Gavin & De Dannan’ appeared in the Hot Press magazine.

Solicitors for Mr. Finn wrote to the magazine pointing out that the name was registered by Finn as a business name pursuant to the Business Names Act 1963. The letter asked that the magazine not exhibit or publish or use the words “De Dannan” in any “advertisement, placard or leaflet” without consultation with Alec Finn. That was followed by an interview by Mr. Finn with Hot Press in which he said: “This is not De Dannan. If you want to go and spend your money on something that is not De Dannan, go. But don’t be taken in that you are actually going to see a reunion of the old members of De Dannan.”

Then a piece appeared in the Irish Times about the resurrected De Dannan in which Mr. Gavin said: “…the fact is, it’s difficult to make a living playing music. If it’s a business and a trade name that I’ve built up over 30 years, I think that I would have every right to use it.
“The name De Dannan commands quite a bit of respect, and all the people that I’ve chosen to play in the band over the years have gone off and had separate, individual careers, with great success, in most cases. So I don’t see what the problem appears to be with me starting up a new De Dannan and getting a new kick-start.”

Frankie Gavin + 'De Dannan' 2009

Frankie Gavin + 'De Dannan' 2009

Other papers fanned the flames and the issue snowballed like a divorced couple arguing over the name of their starter home. Then the fracas hit Live Line, Ireland’s confession box, the afternoon call-in radio show hosted by Joe Duffy.

On air Alec said he ‘owned’ and registered the name and that Mr. Gavin was taking the punters for a ride if said punters expected to see the old De Dannan on stage. He said Mr. Gavin had hand picked a group of young musicians to be the band. “If the Rolling Stones were billed as ‘Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones’ and the other musicians were a bunch of unknowns, would you go and see them?” he asked.

Then Johnny Ringo McDonagh came on the air from a pub in the Aran Islands. He was a founding member and percussionist with the band and agreed with Mr. Finn, that Mr. Gavin had no right to use the name De Danann. Next, singer Dolores Keane was on the radio, saying she was disappointed with Messrs Finn and McDonagh…she was De Danann’s first singer and would be guesting with Mr. Gavin and the new line-up. Ms. Keane intimated that it was her song Rambling Irishman which put De Dannan on the map back in the 1970’s.

The Mist Covered Mountain album cover by Alec Finn

The Mist Covered Mountain album cover by Alec Finn

Like a stealth bomber coming out of the clouds, accordion player and radio producer Tony McMahon was on air and I could feel the nation bracing itself. He announced that Gavin was the driving force behind the band and Johnny Ringo was “a first-rate accompanist, Alec is a second-rate accompanist. You’re not . . . in the same league.” He followed up by saying McDonagh and Finn were not musicians, they were only accompanists.

My phone was jumping with calls and texts, requests for flack jackets, nuclear bunkers…nobody was safe. Mr. McMahon recalled that when he broadcast De Dannan first back in the 1970’s that the only information his researcher could find about Mr. Finn was that ‘he came from Yorkshire, lived in a castle and kept hawks.’ Buckets of jelly were hitting the fan and the issue of the De Dannan name was lost in the mix. But then again, maybe the name was never the issue, just a symbol of the real issue.

In the heel of the hunt, only Mr. Gavin and Mr. Finn know what the real issue is. They were close — onstage and off — ‘thick as thieves’ as the saying goes. And like a lovers’ quarrel, common sense goes out the window when blood boils. God help us, but Ego and self-righteousness are a terrible curse. There are no winners in this one, apart from the listeners who were rolling on their floors laughing at the on air spat.

Come to think of it, there was a full moon last night…maybe that brought out the crackedness. It was the Lughnasa full moon, and Lugh was the brightest god of the ancient Tuatha de Dannan. Payback time for taking god’s name in vain?



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Ireland: Boom, Burst…Revolution?

PASCHAL MOONEY + C&W DIEHARDS ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

PASCHAL MOONEY + C&W DIEHARDS ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

Yesterday afternoon, I was looking at the grey sky, wondering if it would rain, when I heard an unusual sound for this part of the country. The sort of sound you’d associate with Mr. Whippy’s Ice Cream Van — a jingle in the wind, a few indistinct words and another jingle. It brought me back to my childhood and I fumbled in my pockets for a few euros…nothing like an ice cream cone to raise the spirits. And it was coming down our road! But as it came closer, I recognised the music…low grade Country & Western…and the voice, oh the voice…the syrupy sound of Paschal Mooney, radio DJ and Fianna Fáíl politician. Mooney’s Tunes…he’s running for election…wants to represent us in Europe. I ran inside and locked the door, turned Jimi Hendrix up to the limit to block out the nightmare. It’s election time in Ireland — hounds are off the leash and putting their mark on every lamp post, telephone pole and street corner. All politics are local, it’s all about being King of the Bog.

ELECTION POSTER POLLUTION, GORT, COUNTY GALWAY

ELECTION POSTER POLLUTION, GORT, COUNTY GALWAY

They say a country gets the government it deserves, but I doubt we deserve anything like the calibre of runners seeking office here in the upcoming Euro or the local county council elections. We know from recent exposés on corruption, cronyism and plain stupidity, that Ireland cannot keep doing ‘business as usual’; but yet the same kind of klutzes are out there salivating for votes. There are a few exceptions, but the klutzes out spend and out bark them. Ireland is broke. Not just financially, it’s morally bankrupt, spiritually drained, depressed and psychically disabled. Maybe it’s our Karma. Maybe we’re gullible, or naive — we never seem to learn from experience, never seem to be able to spot the sharks, whether they’re politicians, civil servants, builders, bankers, lawyers, etc in Armani suits — or thugs and perverts in religious robes decked with silver crucifixes. When we spot them it’s too late, and unimaginable carnage has been done. Then we have a tribunal, tomato throwing in the Dáil, talking air-heads on radio and TV. And in the distraction, there’s a nasty new stew being cooked by another cabal in some dark corner.

FIANNA FAIL BILLBOARD AT FREAK SHOW ENTRANCE, GORT

FIANNA FAIL BILLBOARD AT FREAK SHOW ENTRANCE, GORT

It seems that once we got our freedom, we just replaced the brutal and incompetent British administration with our own brand of the same. And to guide the incompetents, we gave the Catholic Church a special place in our constitution and a kick in the butt to the Prods at the same time. Nice one guys… So, if our government ever needed help, all they had do was nip down to the Cardinal and he’d call God for them. And of course by having the Church on side, obedience was total. Like it or lump it, for most of our Independence, Ireland has been ruled by the prayer book and the political stroke. We may rant and rave about how bad the Brits were, but some of our own rulers were not much better. Craftier maybe, but just as sinister and two faced. And yet in spite of them, the Plain People of Ireland managed to survive, thanks in large part to help from our exiles and emigrants abroad.

Over the last year or so, Ireland has been turned on her head. The once lauded Celtic Tiger has slunk away, tail between it’s legs, like a dog who’s done the dirty on an Ikea sofa. Many Irish bankers, builders, politicians, religious orders, civil servants, lawyers and other professional high flyers have been exposed as people of low moral standards, scammers and parasites. The true standard bearers are our artists, musicians + writers. Culture, heritage and landscape make up the spirit of a nation and thankfully, we’ve some of that left. Though there’s more karma to reap up ahead for the madcap and sacrilegious deeds of building of highways and pipelines through sacred places, blighting beautiful spaces with McMansions. To quote singer/songwriter Steve Wall: “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone/ the gombeen sold her for a song/ is it too late to right a wrong? I hate to lose her…”
Listen to Romantic Ireland's Dead & Gone: The Walls


ABANDONED BUILDING SITE: AKA 'TOXIC ASSET' = TAXPAYER BAILOUT

ABANDONED BUILDING SITE: AKA 'TOXIC ASSET' = TAXPAYER BAILOUT

Last week, the image of Ireland being an Island of Saints and Scholars was nuked forever with the publication of the Commission into Child Abuse Report. It stunned the country. Posted online, it was read worldwide and told how the Catholic orders treated the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society for decades. On Saturday morning, government member Dr. Michael Woods was on radio, spinning his part in the compensation deal for the victims. He came across as a slippery shithead and frustrated his interviewer, the cool and calm Rachael English. Woody seemed on a different planet, and he may as well have been talking about farm animals rather than innocent children. After the segment, Ms. English said she was taken aback by the public reaction to his spiel. All the while, people were queueing in Dublin to sign a book of solidarity for the victims of abuse. Now politicians and clergy are doing a backtrack dance. Too late guys. You’re all guilty, come out with your hands raised above your heads.

MR FINNERTY TRIES FOR THE YOUTH VOTE WITH THE AID OF HEINEKEN.

MR FINNERTY TRIES FOR THE YOUTH VOTE WITH THE AID OF HEINEKEN.

Something is going to ‘give’ in Ireland, and it could happen soon and happen suddenly. There’s an emotional undercurrent here, a deep sense of hurt and injustice. A widespread feeling that the country has been let down by it’s elected leaders, by the church, bankers and paragons of society. The Irish people were lied to, hoodwinked, sold dummies and now they’re being told they’ll have to pay for someone else’s mistakes. Maybe they’ll refuse. In other parts of the world, these ingredients would spark a revolt.

What’s going to happen? We don’t seem to have any leaders, no Fionn MacCool, Brian Ború, Wolf Tone in the locker room. We’ve lost all street cred with our age old European old allies — the French and the Spanish. There will be no more Armadas and no matter how many songs we sing about Napoleon, he won’t resurrect and send us a Saviour. And we’ve ripped off the Irish Americans and sold them theme park culture and synthetic shamrock for way too long. And yet they are our only hope: Irish America, Old Ireland needs you…send us your brightest and your hippest. You could start by sending us Prosecutor Patrick FItzgerald to sort a out a few smart asses here. And ask him to bring his fiddle, there will always be a place for him at the Clare trad sessions. He knows our tunes.

Speaking of Clare, I’ve a friend there who’s a postman. He is a good bell weather for what’s happening in the country, he delivers the personal news — good and bad. A few years back he alerted me to the Boom time bomb when he quietly mentioned over a pint about having an to deliver ‘an awful lot of letters with windows to certain people’. Another time he told me that a ‘certain party’ were refusing to accept certified mail from certain other parties. He becked his head towards an area locally known as Millionaire’s Road. Everyone up there had massive six plus bedroom houses, putting green lawns, two cars in the drive, decks, barbecues, verandas — the whole Celtic Caboodle. Now several of the houses are for sale, marriages have gone on the rocks and there’s weeds growing where SUVs used park.

I met him during the week while driving through Lisdoonvarna and we had a chat and a catch-up.
“Tell me,” I said, “what sort of reception are all these political flyers getting when you deliver them?”
“People are tearing ‘em up without reading ‘em,” he said, “they’re pissed off with every political party. Doesn’t matter if it’s Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin, Labour or Fine Gael, people are tired of them all. They see them as crooks and scumbags.”
“Lord God,” I muttered, “what’s the solution…”
“Jaysus, I don’t know,” he said, “but I’m thinkin’ we’re classa headin’ for a revolution.”

WELCOME TO GORT, HERITAGE TOWN, EPICENTRE OF IRISH LITERARY REVIVAL

WELCOME TO GORT, HERITAGE TOWN, EPICENTRE OF IRISH LITERARY REVIVAL




The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse: Read + Download Reports



Special thanks: Steve & Joe Wall

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