ROLLING DOWN MEMORY LANE – EP. 6

While it could never, ever be said that yours truly now has a love/hate relationship with both sport and farming (God willing it will always be the former in both cases) feelings definitely have changed towards them in most recent times.

With sport, while it should be a case of absence making the heart grow fonder, in my mixed-up, upset state, it has been the opposite sort of feelings that have taken hold.

Upset, frustration and loneliness mixed with anger and bitterness. Allow me to explain. At the time of typing, I haven’t seen my beloved Susie in 5 weeks. Yes it is wholy understood that there are others in similar and indeed infinitely worse predicaments.

However, unless your heart has been constructed by Kilsaran, most will surely understand why being apart from someone who has made such an immeasurable difference to my life, and indeed my very desire to live, is walloping the occupant of this seat so desperately hard.

What may surprise a few, though, is that, in terms of missing the love my life, greatest upset is squarely with myself. Now, the following is NOT a dig at my family, who have, as ever, gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure myself and the folks are safe, looked after and wanting for nothing.

I think and hope they know how much their efforts are appreciated. When all this madness comes to an end, if it ever does, their kindness will be rewarded. Individually and collectively.

No, anger is solely at myself. For being so slipshod. In not giving Susie a letter indicating she was essentially required to assist in caring for me. However, even that wouldn’t have untangled the emotional mess in my head. Simply as it was known that her own family would he both worried for and needing her close to them.

Having said all that, in the heart and souls of both of us we know that it won’t do our relationship any harm. In actual fact, gut instinct is to envision this whole distressimg chapter of our lives will leave things irreversably stronger. It’s dealing with the interim that is currently proving my Everest.

WHAT’S NORMAL ANYMORE?

If times were different, the way things used to be, sport would undoubtedly be the first port of call to escape from life’s travails. That not being an option is something I’ve never had to deal with before. Earnest hope would be that once this nightmare is over that will never be a problem again.

But then, what is normal anymore? Whatever it may be, pondering same does not explain or justify the emotional meltdown which has enveloped me – to a far worse degree inwardly than outwardly – since the restrictions were introduced.

Having said that, it won’t alter my opinion that in some cases the stipulations are a bit excessive. In hindsight, Cheltenham shouldn’t have gone ahead, or if it did, it should have done so behind closed doors.

That leads me to the second facet of disappointmemt, racing behind closed doors seemed to be operating successfully and may have been hastily ceased. Leaving sport out of it, though, what grated the most is what can only be described as a complete contradiction. On one hand, the country is at a complete standstill, while at the same time ports and airports remain open. Go figure!

One last point about the racing side of things, while all activity in Europe appears to have halted, elsewhere, and in America and Asia in particular, is seemingly carrying on as normal. So who’s right and who’s wrong?

The other area where I think there could have been a slightly different approach is in relation to funerals. Having had two bereavements within the extended family circle recently and at least three other funerals that would also have been attended, the thought just occurred to me that different approached could maybe have been tried.

Most churches are fairly large buildings, so, for example, could there not have been system where capacity is limited to, say, 50, which would surely allow for effective social distancing. Or perhaps even allow a restricted number of mourners be in churchyards provided social distancing could be and was adhered to. Just my thoughts.

NO PLAN B

Anyway, to return to topic, while sport being completely off the agenda has never been an issue before and please God soon enough never will be again. That said, there have been times in more recent years, when the heart simply hasn’t been there to attend GAA matches or race meetings on a given day.

If trapped – and there is scarcely a better way of describing it – in an elongated spell of such feelings, my go-to form of therapy has always been farming. Either tipping around our own place or out observing our agricultural neighbours.

Alas, the current circumstances mean there is no Plan B available. Not only due to the ongoing (and likely to be extended) lockdown situation but also due to uncertainty as to my own farming future. That is, if I have one at all.

Given the outlined situation, alternative forms of distraction or therapy or entertainment or whatever one might title it, have had to be found. Here, Susie needs to be thanked more than there may actually be words to do. Between reconstructing this website and installing Spotify for me, which both, by the way, have played huge parts in giving my life a purpose again. Thus taking me out of a very dark place.

SOMETIMES THE OLD ONES REALLY ARE BEST

Mention of Spotify leads us to what I suppose could be called Plan C. The following is an abridged version of the situation: since June last year, working on this website has been the outlet which has sustained me. Well, that and working on a couple of books. Of late, however, the complete lack of current sport has necessitated the unearthing of new ways to remain productive and some way sane.

Which is, after all, where this series of perambulations into the past got their oxygen. So far they’ve all been about sport, no shock there I here you say. To be truthful though, even looking back at old sporting greatness has left me pining for something to either go and watch or a current event to take in on the box.

Reference was made earlier to racing which is currently ongoing in at least parts of the US and Australia, while it was discovered yesterday that there is a darts tournament ongoing somewhere but there didn’t appear to be coverage anywhere thereof. Thus, as a solemn promise was made to oneself never to stray into betting on the sport of kings Stateside (a punt was had, mind you on the composition of the next Government!), it was decided to stray away from sport for this outing.

In between installments of this series, the majority of the sport-less times have been whiled away working on my autobiography. And all of that work has been done with Spotify keeping me in my own zone while rattling away on the keyboard. In so doing acting as a throwback to when I was in school – particularly primary – when completion of homework had to be accompanied by music.

One of the more common digs thrown at me when in school by way of belittlement (only by a minuscule minority it must be stressed) was that I spent too much time with ‘old’ people. Guilty as charged, and it wouldn’t be changed for a thing. It was, however, frowned upon within the peer group.

Roy Orbison has been a favourite of mine since I was a kid

Luckily enough for my own sake, they wouldn’t have known that my interests in music and television were and are also what they would have considered ‘ancient’. Indeed they were oldies, but that didn’t mean they weren’t and aren’t still brilliant. In contrast, much of what passes for music nowadays is but glorified noise.

Most of the time when homework sessions were underway it was the likes of Roy Orbison (pictured) or Elvis Presley or Queen or Paddy Reilly or OMD keeping me company. Not only does that illustrate the vastly broad type of musical genres which appeal to the occupant of this seat, when it’s factored in that all of the above would have been listened to on cassettes it’ll give you some idea of how long ago we’re talking about.

By the time secondary school came along, the same music was still my favoured form of comfort. Difference being nearly all of it was on CDs which had replaced a lot of the old tapes which had either been lost or spun out, literally. Standard operational procedure during the couple of weeks I was doing my Junior Cert was for me to cram late, often very late, for whatever exam was up the next morning. The process would then have been repeated during whatever breaks cropped up between tests.

As the school was no more than a stone’s throw from our house, for any breaks there were I used to potter off home. Retreating to my kitchen/office to wolf in a bit of grub and get down to some more cramming. With the music machine fired up for company. And three songs in particular playing on a loop – Mission Impossible, We Are The Champions and Simply The Best. A complete contradiction? Absolutely, but think of it as reverse psychology at its finest!

THE MEATH DUBLINERS!

As some, or many, of you will now know, things didn’t go well for me in secondary school. Particularly after the State exams had been completed. To the extent that, by the October midterm of 1998, no more of the place could be stomached. It’s known that there was plenty of stories doing the rounds as to why I left – or was sent, depending on who you talked to – but most of them fluctuated between being insanely wide of the mark and bordering on libelous.

Was comfort and healing sought – and attained – in a certain premises? As sure as the Pope is a catholic it was. However, it’s crucial to point out at this stage that the said establishment was far from the only bolt hole in which your columnist sought refuge.

The beloved old football field, and time spent with its owner, the late Tom Yourell – the nearest I ever knew to a grandfather – lit the pathway to aid my escape ftom the darkest of holes.

For, you see, that whole area of the village was nearly a mini community all onto itself. There are a few such pockets around the locality. Which ensured that, on the very rare occasion himself might not be available for a conference, it would be just a matter of waiting to see who might rock up to or outside the shop with whom some time could be put in.


The Dubliners: Arguably Ireland’s greatest band and one with whom I felt a special connection

One particular evening towards the end of the summer of 2002 – which transpired to be Tom’s last summer at home before he went into the nursing home – there was no sign of the boss about. So I did what was always the done thing in such a situation, wait around. That evening, I struck it lucky. For who should ramble across the road to the shop only Vincent Poleon, Lord rest him.

Now, for a long time prior to that evening, Vincent had been imploring me to come over to his home for a drink with himself and his late wife Anne. Well, this was the ideal opportunity to finally give in. Actually, give in is the wrong way of putting it, but you know what I mean. All appeared to be going swimmingly until he discovered that the wheelchair couldn’t in fact be got into the house.

Not to be deterred, the instruction was to wait outside the garage door. A short time later, the big red door rolled up where I was greeted by Vincy with an old vinyl record player and Anne with about a dozen cans of Guinness and an absolute mountain of sandwiches. Now, a garage party was one thing, but, when it was discovered there wasn’t a table in the shed of suitable height, it was time for more improvisation.

My host discovered that he had a bench saw – yes you did read that correctly – which be a perfect fit for the wheelchair. Thus, the big stainless steel cutting weapon became my bar counter for the night. Anyway, Anne was a sister of the great John Sheahan of The Dubliners. They were both surprised that not only had I heard of them but they were (are and always will be) in fact my favourite band.

That would undoubtedly have been out of step for somebody my age wouldn’t be changed for the world. In fact, having the special connection through Anne and Vincent only bolstered the affinity still further. Even more poignantly so after they had both passed on. And then, there was the fact that two of them were ‘Meath Dubliners’! Again, that is not a typo.

John lives, or at the very least did for a period, in Kilbride, while the man with the wizard’s fingers, Barney McKenna, was born in, a regular visitor to and returned to Trim to be laid to rest. One of the big regrets I have in my life is not joining my late uncle Jem at Barney’s funeral a few years ago.


DIZZY FINGERS: Nobody could make magic with a banjo like ‘Banjo Barney’ himself

A BEAUTIFUL CONUNDRUM

Acquiring even the feeling of a special link to John Sheahan left a beautiful conundrum in my head. At this point, it should probably be admitted that, with me, Luke Kelly resides on a pedestal above not only above all other members of The Dubliners but all other musicians from anywhere or any era. And will forever do so for very personal, emotional reasons which will become more obvious hereafter.

I’ve often been asked over the years how I came to like The Dubliners because it would have been very much out of step with others my age. It’s an interesting topic to ponder. The answer is, I think, multi-faceted. Certainly part of it was because when I was growing it was always The Dubliners or The Wolfe Tones or Paddy Reilly solo or Phil Coulter spinning on the old player in the sitting room.

As I got older, though, my understanding of and interest in those who have been the main focus of this offering have broadened considerably. There is often, now, rueful regret that the night with Vincy and Anne didn’t happen years earlier. So as to further envelope myself in the songs and stories of the lads and their times. All of which I’m sure – well the printable bits at least – would’ve made into one hell of a book. Incidentally, what you are presently reading will form part of one of two books being worked on simultaneously by yours truly, but that’s a story for another day.


The Marino Waltz featured in a Bord Na Mona ad nearly 40 years ago

Apart from Paddy Reilly singing The Fields Of Athenry, I think the first recollection that’s retained of the beloved ballad group or anybody associated with them was when The Marino Waltz played by John featured in an advertisement on television for Bord Na Mona nearly four decades ago. After that, there’s no doubting what ignited what has gone from a fondness for their music to something of a musical obsession with the group and – more so – a desire to learn more of their back story.

BBC 4 is one of those channels that very often gets skipped past on the Sky box. This corner would strongly urge against that. Particularly on Friday and Saturday nights as the usually have either great concerts from the past or documentaries about heralded musicians/bands from years gone by. It was something which fell into the latter category which turned the head in this seat and began a journey of discovery which, it is hoped, still has many kilometers to travel.

A documentary about the relationship between The Dubliners and Top Of The Pops. It was known that Ronnie Drew had appeared on the programme with The Pogues doing the best and most widely recognised version of The Irish Rover. However, it was the story of another hit for the group that really stoked curiosity firstly about the number in question and then, on a broader scale, those who performed it.

Some said it should have been my anthem

For those unaware, reference is being made to Seven Drunken Nights! During a particular phase of my life, there were those who said it should have been my anthem! How much of that was in jest was often wondered. Anyhow, besides the fact that it’s a bloody good and hilarious tune, what drew me to it was knowing that, in the height of its pomposity and over-lording, Holy Catholic Ireland banned the song. With one Bishop declaring that it was a mortal sin to go and see these “Bearded, drunken, lewd people” and that they, and anyone who listened to them would all go to hell.


Seven Drunken Nights – Controversial Classic

If the aim of His Grace was to dissuade the public from listening to the song and the band, you presume that not only did his mission fail miserably (Thank God) but actually ended up having the complete opposite effect. Which, one can only assume, is what attracted the attention of the broadcaster over the river to the song and the story.

BEAUTIFUL, POIGNANT, HEARTBREAKING

For this fan, at least, it all comes back to Kelly. They may have started out life as The Ronnie Drew Group but, when he returned from England and linked up with them, Luke became the epicentre of everything which made them successful, acclaimed among their peers and beloved by millions.

Think of the hits with which he is most closely associated: Raglan Road, The Auld Triangle, Monto, Joe Hill, A Song For Ireland and Thank You For The Days to list just a handful. There’s another one, mind you, which is quintessentially his though written by and for somebody else.


Not many things in life can leave me speechless but…

I refer, of course, to Scorn Not His Simplicity. Written by Phil Coulter for his late son who suffered from Downs Syndrome. The writer is the only one other than Luke I ever heard performing the song and, with greatest respect to the wonderful Derry man, he of the unmistakable flame-coloured mop made it his own.

Beautiful. Poignant. Heartbreaking. It tells the story of a young lad looking at a world he may never be part of. While scorning at those who stare but see only the disability, not the person of whom it is only a small part.

To say it strikes a chord and that I can relate to it and indeed see plenty of myself therein would be akin to stating that Saturday starts with an S.

Writing this piece has brought back a lot of memories. Some golden with happiness, others desperately sad. What it has also done, mind you, is tempt, nay, drive me to delve more in the story of The Dubliners.

Shortly before the country began to grind to a halt, my gang in the local RehabCare went on a trip to Glasnevin Cemetary, but I missed out due to a mechanical mishap with my vehicle. But as soon as this chaos ends, it will be one of the first items ticked off the ‘To-Do list. Whether some of the lads wouldn’t mind going in again or an alternative crew will have to be rounded up.

The first grave I’ll visit? As it simply says over his resting place “Luke Kelly – Dubliner”.

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