Tuesday, 17 November 2009
Thinking of My Father
My Father was a very unassuming, quiet man who loved nothing better than to play the fiddle and bring my Mother, Seán and myself to sessions and Fleadhs all over Ireland. I was actually present as a five year old toddler at the the Fleadh in Athlone in 1953, and every Fleadh after that until 1966 because of my Dad's efforts. His yearly vacation always fell on the first two weeks of August, the timing was perfect, and after the All Ireland in Ennis in 1956, we never missed a Co. Clare fleadh either.
I brought my Father to America for a visit in 1971 and arranged to borrow a fiddle for him to use during his stay. My partner Michael "Jesse" Owens and myself had a nice gig playing at Candlewood Lake in Connecticut and I rented a fine house way back in the woods. Some mornings as Theresa prepared breakfast we would take the fiddle and box and head to a favorite rock we had found and play for the raccoons and birds until we got the shout from Theresa to come for the food. At night, I would invite my father on-stage and he enjoyed playing a few tunes with us.
Theresa and I arranged to be on the flight with him to Ireland when he returned home and that gave me another month in his company. Having had a great visit it was time for me to return to New York and we had a very emotional parting as I could not oblige him when he asked me not to return to the states. It was very hard to return to my life abroad.
As was the tradition, Mother and Father headed to Longford after Christmas, for the Wren Dance held each year at the original homestead of my Mother's people, the Hanlys of Curroole, Newtowncashel Co. Longford. Besides some great local musicians such as James Hanly, Dan Kelly and Peter Carburry--to name but a few--we would also have musicians visiting from such far away places as east Galway and Co. Westmeath, that had included Joe Cooley, John Joe Gannon and Willie Reynolds.
It was December 29th, the day was advancing and my Father made several requests of my Aunt Brigie about bringing the cows down from the fields for evening milking. It was much too early but in the end she agreed to get it done, and so my Father, Brigie and her son James headed for the fields. The process was one of the daily rituals on the farm, and Brigie requested that Dad and young James stand guard at a gap at the end of the field by the road, to stop the cattle from going through it as she herded them down that way. As she headed off into the distance to round the herd, Dad spotted a baby lamb with it's wool caught in the briars. The animal was bleating and struggling to get free, and my Father leaned over with his tobacco knife to free the lamb, and as soon as he did, he just fell over on the green grass and died.
The shocking news got to me in New York that morning and I was devastated, having only said my goodbyes to him after our long time together in America and Ireland a few months before. It was my misfortune to encounter bureaucracy as I tried to return home, and it was impossible for me to fly back again to Ireland for the funeral.
Playing music during 1972 was nothing but pain for me, because no matter what tunes I played, I was reminded of my father. I tried to avoid playing tunes that reminded me of him, and it was impossible, and there were disastrous nights when I would be on-stage and the music would remind me of him and I would shed tears in the club as I continued to work at the music.
I had my legal situation resolved six months later and returned to Dublin for his first anniversary. I talked with him at his grave, and always play music that reminds me of him.