When I interviewed Mickey for my radio programme The Story and the Song I asked him what inspired "Only Our Rivers . . .
“Well, Mattie” he said, “I can’t remember that there was any one particular thing that sparked it off. Except that growing up in south Fermanagh was a very melancholy time. And it was a sort of spiritual Chernobyl in many ways; in that every day you went out you’d be running into B-Specials on the road and they’d be asking you your name and who you were despite the fact that they were neighbours of yours. And there was a general sort of disillusionment and disappointment. And I think what really triggered it was looking at the older generation; people of my father’s age and my mother’s age and seeing this terrible apathy and acceptance of a society that was totally dominated by a sectarianism and a bigotry. And being young- it was the sixties- and all sorts of revolutions were happening. It was, I suppose, an expression of an anger that knew nowhere to go and it came out of that."
He is modest about the success of Only Our Rivers Run Free. “It’s a question of writing the right song at the right time and having it recorded by the right person.”
Christy Moore recorded it on his first Planxty album in 1971 and Mickey credits Christy with its success, “Because Christy’s career was taking off in a big way it afforded an authority and a whole importance to the song . . suddenly it became an anthem for the dispossessed and assumed an importance that I had not necessarily seen. And it has gone on to be regarded almost as a traditional song; a universal song.”
His advice to young songwriters? “Keep trying. It happened to me. It could happen to you.”
For many years, along with his two brothers he worked as a journalist in the Capital. This experience is summed up in the opening lines of his
For twenty frantic, fruitless years
I worked in Dublin town,
Reporting for newspapers
I was busy writing down
All the words of politicians
In the endless quest for truth . . .
About thirty years ago he took a year’s leave of absence. Moved to Kerry, married a Kerry woman and he’s in Listowel ever since. What does he think of the culture capital of Ireland? “Ah, Kerry is the Kingdom in all respects.”
He was a great friend of the late John B. Keane but when I point out that John B. said that it is easier to write in Listowel than not to write, the man from Ballinaleck replies, ”I would disagree with John B. there. I need anger to write and I think that perhaps when you are living among very friendly, very sociable, very contented people it’s inclined to drain any bit of anger and any bit of angst out of your Soul.”
His first album Peter Pan and Me came out in 1992 and Joined Up Writing followed in 2000; then Mickey MacConnell live at John B’s in 2002.
What Mickey thought of John B. comes across vividly in the following song which he wrote shortly after the great playwright’s death:
Kieran Goss who accompanied Mickey on albums says, “I’m delighted to see somebody writing about Mickey.” He refers to Mickey’s “sheer perspective” and “sheer humanity.” With reference to Mickey’s penchant for keeping a low profile Kieran points out the positive side to such reticence “ . . .it means there is no commercial pressure on what he produces.”
Cormac MacConnell, a noted songwriter himself, says he is “ sick, sore, and tired of being asked 'Are you a brother of Mickey?'".
The last word must go to Kieran Goss, “He writes with an honesty and a passion that I have rarely heard . . .we need more songwriters like Mickey McConnell.”
HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL
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