Over the festive season, a pint (or three) was enjoyed with a friend who – like so many – was forced to go to foreign shores for work. A night with the man in question – and his neighbour who is a dab hand with a tin whistle – usually begins as a catch up and reminisce and ends up in a good old fashioned singsong.
Your columnist might be no Christy Moore but is never averse the belting out a bar with enough black fuel aboard! My two companions have a fair repertoire of party pieces but two in particular seem very apt at the minute and never fail to leave the eyes at the very least a bit misty!
The whistler can make the instrument almost sing and is as good as anyone this one eye has seen. Finbarr Furey’s The Lonesome Boatman is as beautiful and at the same time hauntingly moving a piece of music as one is likely to encounter. And, if the local rendition of that one wasn’t enough to stir the emotions, when the other half of the double act unleashed Four Green Fields, they are always bound to hit overdrive.
And this time, such feelings seemed poignantly apt. Foremost among my returned friends thoughts was the thoughts of his son having a lonesome encounter en route to following his dad out of the country. Yet, for all the obvious sadness such a turn of events would bring about, the singsong was in fact a pointer to a form of comfort and a sign that better times may not be that far off.
Nobody can really like leaving home. For a holiday, maybe, but methinks that the link to home and desire to return never dissipates. Many people, when away, seem to acquire a new interest for music, stories, news and other stuff from home. Furthermore, no matter where there are Irish in the world, they always seem to find each other.
Thus, music from the likes Christy Moore, the Furey brothers, Luke Kelly and The Dubliners, the Clancy brothers and many more serves as a needed and cherished link to home. At this point, as ever, yours truly will attempt to put a bit of a local spin on things. Hold on to your hats – it may come as a shock to some to know that one or possibly two of The Dubliners had strong Meath connections!
The late Barney McKenna – surely the greatest tenor banjo player of all time – was laid to rest in Trim in April 2012. Though he himself was born in Dublin, the family hailed from Trim and ‘Banjo Barney’ always kept the connection while John Sheahan has family living in Dunboyne to this day and Jimmy Norman – a cousin of the incomparable Luke Kelly – also resides in the area. Small links, granted, but ones to cherish and be proud of nonetheless.
Of course, The Dubliners took their final bow with some excellent performances on various television stations over the festive period. And, while it is one of my great regrets that Ronnie Drew or Barney were never met in person, but hopefully some day if John is over this way visiting I might run into him. No, not literally, don’t worry!
Anyway, to return to the singsong. Aside from our songs providing a link to home for Irish folk away from home, unlike some of what passes as music nowadays, the best of the traditional Irish numbers contain real meaning and subliminal messages. They prove that there really is hope in songs and stories.
In terms of stories, I need only look to another far away friend, Alan Dowdall. Alan and myself were in the same class all through school but he has been in Australia for a good few years now. Always a good man to pen a few lines of poetry, he was home this past holiday season and penned another masterpiece underlining the special and unique parts of Dunboyne life he was most looking forward to.
Among them was meeting the occupant of this seat for a jar. To my great regret, we never did get to meet up, but hopefully someday soon we will meet, chat, swap poetry and break into song. For it is in song the greatest meaning lies.
Take ‘Four Green Fields’ for example. Although a terribly sad song in one sense, the very end thereof provides the hope referred to earlier. “My four green fields will bloom once again…” Apart from underlining – as this corner has often done before – that farming and agri business can, does and will always play a vital role in the recovery of and maintenance for a good economy, on a simpler level, it says that things always turn for the better and there’s always a way to bounce back. Now raise a glass and sing to that!