2009 was a special year of remembrance for The Dubliners. It marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Luke Kelly's death; Ciarán Bourke's twenty-first anniversary, and signalled the passing of a year since Ronnie Drew's untimely departure.
An appropriate time to remember and honour their departed friends, The Dubliners assembled photographs, audio and video clips from the archives to capture the spirit of the original group, featuring Luke, Ciarán and Ronnie — a journey going back through forty-seven years. They presented these reminiscences as an integral part of a special tribute concert entitled, "A Time To Remember" — a unique collaboration between the original group and the current line-up. After a special premiere in Dublin in July, they toured this show throughout Europe, beginning in Austria in September.
During their annual five-night residence at their favourite Vienna venue, "The Metropole", the atmosphere and emotional reaction was such that the group was urged to record this significant event. This was achieved through the enthusiasm and coordination of their Austrian agent, Milica Theessink. The venue was wired; the atmosphere was electric; the craic was ninety, with music, stories and poetry flowing like rivers from reservoirs of memory.
This double CD is the result — "A Time To Remember"
One day when visiting his home, he showed me an antique dining table his wife had bought at an auction. I immediately recognised it as an exact match for a set of chairs my wife had purchased at another auction that week. The suite had obviously been sold in two separate lots.
In jest, I suggested that he should have my chairs or else I should have his table. Without hesitation, and totally ignoring my protests, he had the table out the door and secured on the roof rack of my car. "It's yours", he said, and that was it — no further discussion. That was Luke.
Cold as the wind
That carried your ghost.
Silent as the songs
That remain unsung.
Lonely as an echo
From the Jail of Cluain Meala.
Solitary as your silhouette
Going home by railings
After closing time.
Upright and defiant as your stance
When you challenged the puppets of power:
"For What Died the Sons of Roisin?"
Like your voice …
Unweathered by time
This granite gravestone.
Your epitaph — a simple claim;
Between the two great mysteries,
Your place, your name.
© John Sheahan, Marino Music
28th January 2004
Ronnie had an impish sense of humour. In the early days, when I still had my day job with the ESB, I was anxious to get on the road for home after country gigs, but of course there was always the inevitable 'one for the road'. On one occasion, after a gig in Tipperary, I attempted to close the bar after several 'last' rounds by surreptitiously tipping the barman a fiver. However, my plan failed and on the way home I told Ronnie what had happened. "Ah!" says Ronnie, "I saw what you were up to — I gave him a tenner to keep it open!"
What's it like Ronnie — your new life?
Is it the way the old masters painted it —
Floating on a damp cloud
In the company of winged creatures
Listening to non-stop harp music?
I could paint you in,
But not your expectations:
"Would somebody for Christ's sake
Get me down from here and show me
The fountain of champagne — I thought this
Was meant to be a celebration!"
I'll paint a different picture instead:
I see your spirit, freed at last
From earthly shackles,
Soaring to a new consciousness —
Communicating with Kavanagh
Without the encumbrance of words;
Without the embarrassment of being barred
From four Baggot Street pubs …
All is clear now …
Ulysses simpler than the Lord's Prayer;
Beckett no longer waiting for Godot,
And Joe O'Broin sidling over
With an impish grin:
"How'rya Ronnie, you brought me fame at last.
I heard Cliodhna and Phelim picked me poem
For the end of your mass,
But you needn't have hurried …
There's no closing time up here —
Just one continuous holy hour"
Now Deirdre comes into focus,
Bridging and healing a painful absence.
Unhindered by bodies,
Your spirits embrace and entwine
In a never-ending spiral of joy,
Leaving behind the three
Great imponderables that tortured you:
'What is life?';
'What is art?'
And 'Where the fuck is Barney?!'
© John Sheahan, Marino Music.
20th August 2008.
Ciarán wasn't a normal drinker, nor did he drink normally. He took a scientific, almost artistic interest in tasting the unfamiliar drinks, that he discovered on our early European tours. Before drinking a new liqueur, he would take the glass, hold it up to admire the light filtering through, take a sip, savour it, and ponder the probable ingredients before delivering his considered judgment. One night in an old pub in France, I asked him what he would like to drink. He eyed a long line of liqueurs on the top shelf and replied: "I think we'll start over on the left hand side!"
Long haired, wayward chieftain
Sloping in from Celtic mist;
Recycling myth and legend
Through the holes
Of a battered tin whistle.
Desk-bound harness untackled,
You surrendered to the lure of living.
Like a moth to a flame, you followed
The warm glow of music and the craic.
Bhi an Ghaeilge agat on gcliabhan,
(You had Irish from the cradle)
Beguiling Peggy Lettermore;
Lamenting Eanach Cuain;
Embroidering and stitching
Your story to the night air
With guitar and harmonica,
In old shebeens where time was barred,
You toasted life with
Preab San Ól.
Whiskey-flavoured yarns flowed and
Meandered from byways of memory
Till dawn broke the spell
Through a smoky haze.
"Well that ties a knot on that one"
You'd say, saluting the dawn
And the gift of another day.
When fate struck a cruel blow,
You bore your lot with stoic acceptance.
With shepherd's crook, your footsteps
Found their echo in half remembered places,
Till they faded, all too soon,
Back to the shadows of a Celtic twilight.
© John Sheahan, Marino Music
1st May, 2009