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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

      What was I doing since I saw you last. Where will I begin?

      There was the Sean McCarthy Memorial in Finuge, Co. Kerry. In the words of Committee Chairman, Jimmy Deenihan, “A core objective of the festival is to keep the memory of Sean McCarthy alive and to celebrate his contribution to ballad writing & singing in Ireland and beyond.”

      Space doesn’t permit me to list all the music sessions, art and rambling house activities that took place during the festival. There were a record number of entries for the song writing competition.

      The winner was John Kinsella. The prize was sponsored by Mike and Sue Nilsson. Mike and Sue are no strangers to Kerry, however, living half the year in Ballyheigue and half the year in LA. A native of Chicago, Mike is the grandson of a former creamery manager of Ballyheigue. His grandmother, meanwhile, hailed from Ballinorig, Causeway.

      The prizes for the Storytelling competition were sponsored by Sean McCarthy’s nephew, Lionel. The winners: Shared: First Prize Tom Moore Moyvane €500.00 & Francis Kennedy €500.00 Listowel. Joint second; Daisy Kearney, Glin & Paddy Regan, Cork €250.00 each.

       With the culture of Kerry still going round in my head I returned home and read an autobiography of a famous man who had a Kerry grandfather. An Poc ar Buile (The Life and Times of Sean O’ Se), published by The Collins Press, is the story of Sean’s life from his birth in 1936 to the present day.

       “A nickname is the heaviest stone that the devil can throw at a man.” So said William Hazlitt. A nickname can be a blessing or a curse. Sometimes a bit of both. It can also be a bit of craic, especially if it has rhyming potential. Because “An Poc ar Buile”, which he recorded in 1962, was the song that launched Sean to world fame he was, in parts of Cork, known as “The Pucker.” In 1986 he was singing, in Salzburg, with the choir of the Salzburg Cathedral. One day during rehearsals a Cork couple went into the church. When the singing stopped the female of the pair went up to Sean and in her strong Cork accent said, “Seano boy when I came into the church and I heard the voice I said to me husband, ‘It sounds like the Pucker, and when I came up the church sez I, ‘It looks like the Pucker’, and then when I seen you up close I sez to him, ‘ Jesus that is the pucker’, I’ll go away now and light a candle that you’ll sing good tonight ”.

       The only words that the venerable Austrian conductor could decipher were, “Pucker,” Pucker”, “Pucker”, which he confused with a term much favoured as a crutch-word of the crippled conversationalist in Ireland. He said to Sean, “She does not like your music, yes?”

       Be he describing his father’s death, teaching in Baltinglass or one of the many characters around west Cork or any one of his many trips abroad Sean the wordsmith is evident. He describes St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, “ . . .with its many domes shaped as the flames of a bonfire rising high into the sky.”

      Nowhere in the 196 pages is there a bad word written about any person, place or thing. (Although he was slightly underwhelmed when he discovered that Macroom oatmeal wasn’t on the menu in Las Vegas.) And with my nit-picking hat on I couldn’t find one typo.

      Sean is a wonderful storyteller who can hold his own with any living seanachai in Ireland yet he doesn’t mention it in the book. Of course I couldn’t let that go. I contacted him and asked him about the omission. He told me that when he started singing the main event was the Variety Concert usually featuring a well-known artist at the top of the bill. There would be a number of supporting performers and at the time Sean would feature as the tenor.

      “The concert would last for about two hours with an interval halfway though. The likes of me would sing two songs in each half and that was the nights work. Then the scene switched to the lounge bars and one would be expected to perform for up to an hour nonstop. I introduced storytelling to give the audience variety and to make life easier for myself. Also it was not something I planned, it just happened. I do not consider myself a seanachaí or even a storyteller. I just tell long slow burner stories, the kind of jokes I heard growing up in West Cork.”

      A modest answer indeed from a man who can enable the listener to not just listen to his tales but, in the words of that great storyteller, Kelly Swanson," . . .Step into his stories ."

      My home place of Lacken has been truly put on the map by the KnockanStockan Festival . It is an Irish independent music festival now in its tenth year. Each year the festival takes place overlooking the Blessington lakes in Lacken. In 2008, KnockanStockan won "Best Small Festival" at the Irish Festival Awards.

       The community of Lacken, Kylebeg and Ballinastockan have become an integral part of the festival since it began in 2007. The support and co-operation of the residents has been and still is vital to the continual growth and success of the festival. KnockanStockan believe that giving back to the community is top priority. To date they have helped to raise thousands for numerous community and youth initiatives within the area, that includes a new school, and contributions to the Lacken Community Development Association. The association is doing sterling work to get the community centre up and running but would still welcome from the Lacken diaspora. They can be contacted

      Since 2010 KnockanStockan produced a series of compilation CDs. The first in the series featured music from Enemies, The Hot Sprockets and Spook of the thirteenth lock. The CD was on sale for €9.99 from the online 'knockanshop' along with various other merchandise and memorabilia.

       Long may KnockanStockan live.

       Dublin playwright ,Eddie Naughton, has written a dramatic fascinating two-act monologue play “Inishfallen Fare Thee Well,” which captures Sean O’Casey’s early life in poverty driven Dublin where he survived near blindness, deprivation and the political turmoil. The play opened on 08th August in the New Theatre, in Dublin. O'Casey is played to perfection by Ronan Wilmot. He mightn’t be impressed with my saying that he makes the perfect 78 year-old O'Casey, but he does. Ronan has played parts in many O'Casey plays at home and abroad. In 1980, with the Royal Shakespeare Company he was in Juno and the Paycock and Judy Dench was playing the principal role. Before curtain up in the New Theatre he got a message from Dame Dench which read, “ . . . If I was not just about to start filming, I would come over to see you. I know you will be wonderful, as always.” Inishfallen Fare Thee Well” is ninety minutes of, faultless, theatre magic and is available to tour in Ireland and abroad. Ronan Wilmot may be contacted at:; Ph: 00 353 1 6794336; Cell phone: 00 353 86 8671405.

      If you are of a certain age you will have a yearning for old films, to try and re-capture your youth. You may have difficulty finding them on DVD. The following is a short list of some of them available from Christopher Smedley at Vicpine:

  • The Plough and the Stars (1936)
  • Shake Hands With The Devil (1959)
  • The Search for Bridey Murphy (1956)
  • The Railway Station Man (1992)
  • The Country Girls (1984)

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