Robbie O'Connell

Singer, songwriter

Humpty Dumpty Time!

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

In light of the U.N. report today on Climate Change, I thought it might be time to update this list. My additions are at the end.


With over fifteen types of foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big share of the market for itself. – Business Week, August 2, 1968

There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable.  It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will. – Albert Einstein, 1932

The phonograph has no commercial value at all. – Thomas Edison, American inventor, 1880s

If excessive smoking actually plays a role in the production of lung cancer, it seems to be a minor one. – W. C. Heuper, National Cancer Institute, 1954

They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance. – Last words of Gen. John Sedgwick, spoken as he looked out over the parapet at enemy lines during the Battle of Spotsylvania in 1864

Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote. – Grover Cleveland, U.S. President, 1905

I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language. – The San Francisco Examiner, rejecting a submission by Rudyard Kipling in 1889

Just so-so in center field. – New York Daily News after the premiere of Willie Mays, 1951

I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper. – Gary Cooper, on declining the lead role in Gone with the Wind

You better get secretarial work or get married. – Emmeline Snively, director of the Blue Book Modelling Agency, advising would-be model Marilyn Monroe in 1944

There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home. – Kenneth Olsen, President and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, in 1977

Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value. – Marshal Ferdinand Foch, French Military Strategist and Future World War 1 Commander, in 1911

(Man will never reach the Moon) regardless of all future scientific advances. – Dr Lee De Forest, inventor of the Audion Tube and Father of Radio, in 1926

(Television) won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night. – Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century-Fox in 1946

We don’t like their sound. Groups of guitars are on the way out. – Decca Records rejecting the Beatles, in 1962

For the majority of people, the use of tobacco has a beneficial effect. – Dr. Ian G. Macdonald, Los Angeles Surgeon, as quoted in Newsweek, November 18, 1969

This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us. – Western Union internal memo, in 1876

The Earth is the center of the Universe. – Ptolemy, the great Egyptian astronomer, in the second century

Nothing of importance happened today. – Written by King George III of England on July 4, 1776

Quotes on Climate Change by U.S. Politicians:

I don’t think we have conclusive proof that humans are at the center of [global warming]. – Newt Gingrich

The greatest hoax I think that has been around for many, many years if not hundreds of years has been this hoax on the environment and global warming. – Ron Paul

The idea that man made gases, CO2, are causing catastrophic global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people. – Senator James Inhofe (R-OK)

The idea that man, through the production of CO2…is somehow responsible for climate change is, I think, just patently absurd when you consider all the other factors, El Nino, La Nina, sunspots, moisture in the air. – Rick Santorum, June 9, 2011

The weight of the science indicates that if there’s any human behavior involved, it’s a modest amount. – Tim Pawlenty

The science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet to me is just nonsense. – Rick Perry, September 9, 2011

I’m not one to attribute every activity of man to the changes in the climate. There is something to be said also for man’s activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet. – Sarah Palin, October 3, 2008

We in the Senate will continue to fight for legislation that will give the certainty that no unelected bureaucrat at the EPA is going to make efforts to create jobs even more difficult than the administration already has. – Mitch McConnell, April 6, 2011

Happy St. Patrick’s Day 2014!

Barney McKenna R.I.P.

I was saddened yesterday to hear of the death of Barney McKenna, the great banjo player and founding member of the Dubliners. It brought back a memory of hearing Barney play Roisin Dubh in my parents house when I was about twelve years old. He put so much emotion into the tune that the tears flowed freely down his cheeks as he played. Whenever I heard Barney’s name over the years, I always saw that picture in my mind.

The Stampede

On December 4th, 2009, Liam Clancy passed away. It was the end of an era. He was the youngest of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem group and for the past couple of years was, as he said himself, “the last man standing.” I knew that he had been seriously ill but his death still came as an awful shock. I still can’t believe that someone so much larger than life is no longer with us.

Liam was my uncle, my mother’s brother, but he was also a friend, a mentor and an inspiration. No one could inhabit a song like Liam could or enchant a room full of people with such masterful presence. As I worked with him over the years, we had many great times together and a few not so great. But it’s the great times that I want to remember now.

Back in 2007 I was co-writer of a book called Clean Cabbage in the Bucket and Other Tales from the Irish Music Trenches. One of the pieces I wrote, The Stampede, was about a very memorable day Liam and I had back in the winter of 1996. I would like to add it here as a tribute to Liam as it recalls, for me, the Liam that I knew.

As Tomas O Criomhthain said of the people of the Great Blasket Island in his book, The Islandman, “Ni bheidh a leitheid ann aris.” We will never see his likes again.

Knockeen Dolmen, Co. WaterfordThe Stampede

In the fall of 1996, I got a call from Liam Clancy asking me if I would come over to Ireland to perform with him at the post premiere party of Neil Jordan’s film, “Michael Collins.” A grand nephew of the film’s hero, also named Michael Collins, was one of the city councilors in Waterford City, so this was a special premiere. The plan was to have Liam Neeson, the star of the film, make an appearance prior to the screening of the movie and at 10:30pm we would all repair to the Granville hotel where Liam Clancy, Martin Murray and I would perform for an hour.
The concept of time in Ireland does not conform to any known scientific laws. It was midnight before the crowd assembled at the hotel and a little after one a.m. when we finally got started. We found that the audience was more interested in talking about the film than listening to us, so we finished up our set and headed back to the bar. Ironically, some of the same people who talked all through the concert now wanted to hear more music. A classic Irish session was soon underway, and when I left for bed around six in the morning, it was still going strong.

I awoke at two the following afternoon, feeling as fragile as an empty egg. After I figured out that I was still alive, I cautiously made my way to the shower where a half hour under a cascade of steaming water revived me enough to go in search of breakfast. I cautiously made my way to the hotel dining room where Liam joined me, a little later. His condition appeared even worse than mine so we picked at our food and didn’t say much.

There are certain kinds of hangovers that make you philosophical. Your everyday perspective has shifted and everything seems infused with deep meaning. Even the most mundane things appear profound. You suddenly realize how wondrous the mechanics of a flush toilet are, or, you watch mesmerized as a seagull hovers overhead then dives down to snatch a discarded orange peel. Phrases of songs that you never knew start playing in your head; lines of poetry that you have not thought of for years suddenly surface. This alternative perspective on reality is a gift not to be wasted, and we were not the boys to let an opportunity like this pass us by.

It was November, the sky was clear, and the thermometer was hovering around freezing point. We decided that it was a perfect day to take the long way home. In Ireland, that means driving on the back roads and stopping at small country pubs along the way. It’s a rural adventure that is best indulged in on crisp winter days when the sky is blue, the muddy roads are frozen and every country pub has a big fire blazing. These frosty days are also perfect for connecting with the old world; visiting graveyards and ruined castles, or searching for Sheila na Gigs. An hour or two of tramping through frozen fields and climbing over brambly ditches can make a hot whiskey taste like the nectar of the Gods.

I realized that our back-roads itinerary would take us close to the Knockeen dolmen. I persuaded Liam that he had to see this archeological wonder. It’s a three thousand-year-old burial mound comprised of giant standing stones of granite, capped with a monstrous twenty-ton boulder. This may not be the average person’s idea of a good time, but in Waterford, my hometown, we revere our ancestors, particularly when a hot whiskey is involved.

But the Knockeen dolmen is not easy to find. It lies hidden on farmland, surrounded by a maze of narrow winding roads—roads from which careless travelers may never return. We were on the third wrong turn when we noticed several dogs wandering around. That’s not an unusual sight in rural Ireland where dogs have their own social network, independent of their masters. You will often pass dogs on the road as they are hurrying to business meetings or staggering home from the pub. But there seemed to be more dogs than the usual wandering around. I knew that Liam was no dog lover and I could sense his anxiety level rising. At last, I spotted a familiar old iron gate and announced triumphantly, “This is it!”

“Okay. Where is this thing?” Liam asked, with all the enthusiasm of a flat pint.

“We just have to climb over this gate, cross the field and hop over the wall, and it’s right there,” I replied.

“You must be joking,” said Liam, looking wide-eyed at me. “Do you expect me to climb over that gate in this condition?”

It took a while, but with the aid of several snide remarks about his manhood, and assurances that there were no dogs in the vicinity, I managed to coax him into the field. We still had to walk about two hundred yards to the far wall where the dolmen awaited. The field was sloped; the higher ground on our right and the lower part rolling down for a quarter of a mile to our left. The grass was tall and spongy under foot, so, with heads down, carefully scanning the terrain for cow pats and soggy spots, we advanced from tuft to tuft.

“This is great,” I said, with forced exuberance. “Plenty of fresh air to clear the head.”

“Where the hell is it?” Liam asked, impatiently.

“Just inside that ditch,” I said, pointing to the wall about fifty yards ahead.

Suddenly, we heard a long note from a horn or bugle, immediately followed by a deep rumbling sound. We looked up the hill. A huge herd of frightened bullocks was stampeding directly towards us. It was exactly like a scene from an old cowboy movie, minus the clouds of dust. We looked wildly around. Not a rock or tree was in sight; nothing but the open field.
“Jesus Christ!” I screamed. “Run!”

We were running like hares when we spotted a telegraph pole, fifty feet ahead. It didn’t look like much protection, but it was all there was and our only hope. We made a dash for it. With hearts pounding, we lined up behind the pole, trying to make ourselves as thin as possible. Terrified cattle thundered by on either side of us. Hundreds of hooves battered the ground, just inches away, like the roar of a massive waterfall. The smell of hot, hairy animals filled our nostrils. Specks of mud dotted our clothes. We stood there, panic stricken, limbs trembling, adrenaline racing through our veins. It was Armageddon for certain; at least for us. Then, just as suddenly as it had begun, it was all over.

The silence that followed seemed unnatural. We were so shaken, we just stood there waiting for the panic to subside. We could not believe we had survived. We stared at the cattle, now milling uneasily at the lower end of the field. If that telephone pole had not been there, we would have been trampled to death for sure.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” said Liam. “But we’re almost there,” I pleaded. “Just take a quick look over the wall.” We had almost paid a dear price in this effort, and I was not about to give up now. Reluctantly, he followed me as far as the wall.

“Is that it?” Liam asked, with little more than a glance at the ivy-covered heap of stones. I nodded.

“Right, then,” he said. ‘Let’s go.” There was no arguing with him. He’d had enough.

Still keeping a wary eye on the cattle now huddled in the lower corner of the field, we crossed back the way we had come. As we were getting into the car, the bugle sounded again and we realized what had had happened. There was a foxhunt in full pursuit somewhere nearby. Though we couldn’t see them, we could hear the muffled shouts of the riders and the faint barking of the hounds. That explained the unusual number of dogs we had seen earlier and the spooked, charging cattle.

“Where are we anyway?” asked Liam. “What’s the nearest village?”

“Dunhill is about three miles,” I replied.

“Great!” says he, “Harney’s is just the place.”

The whole surreal episode was still very much with us and we were both in need of a little something to settle the nerves. A short drive brought us to Dunhill and Harney’s pub. A fire was blazing in a big stone fireplace, and feeling a bit more relaxed and secure, we sat up at the bar. It was mid afternoon and there were only two other customers. One was reading a paper while the other stared into space. Jim Harney, the proprietor, appeared behind the bar. He was delighted to see Liam.

“I can’t believe it,” he said. “We were only talking about you last night. Paddy Barron is staying here and he was asking about you.” He went on to explain how Paddy, an old friend of Liam’s, was home from the States for a short holiday, but had gone to Dublin that morning and was not expected back for several hours.

“He’ll be really disappointed to miss you,” Jim said, setting two creamy pints of Guinness on the counter. We both put twenty-pound notes on the bar but Jim insisted that the drinks were on the house. We chatted with the other customers; one of whom we learned was a psychiatric nurse unwinding from a hard week’s work.

I have often noticed that the search for mutual acquaintances seems to be of primary importance among strangers in Irish pubs. Maybe it’s that old suspicion of the outsider that still lingers in the countryside. But after a few minutes, we established that we had some friends in common and we settled into conversation.

Two more pints appeared, and still our twenty-pound notes remained untouched on the counter. We related the story of the stampede, which was already assuming mythic proportions for us, but the locals were unimpressed. It didn’t sound like such a big deal to them. But reliving the ordeal, we realized just how narrow our escape had been and how lucky we were. It gave us that heightened awareness of being alive and seemed like a cause for celebration. Liam spotted a dusty old bottle of Midleton Special Old Malt whiskey on the top shelf. Never having seen that particular brand before we thought a little taste would be appropriate to the occasion. We insisted that Jim take the money this time. He quickly poured out two very generous glasses, but to our embarrassment dismissed our efforts to pay.

“No, no,” he said, shaking his head. “Sure that wouldn’t even cover it.”

This was getting awkward now. We wanted to stay, but we couldn’t just sit there drinking and not paying. Liam had an idea.

“Well,” he said, “If you won’t take the money, we’ll have to sing for our supper.”

I went out to the car and brought in Liam’s concertina and my guitar. We relocated to the other end of the room where yellow flames were dancing away in fireplace. The few people who had been sitting at the bar moved with us. Liam picked up his concertina and played a couple of O’Carolan tunes.

Turlough O’Carolan was the last of the great Irish Harpers who traveled the countryside in the early eighteenth century, visiting the big houses and entertaining the Gaelic aristocracy. These bards were held in high esteem and both revered and feared. If they considered themselves well treated they would write songs of praise for their patrons, but they were equally quick to defame those who did not meet their expectations.

Our miraculous pint glasses never seemed to be empty and we sat there in the firelight singing shut-eye songs and playing sweet old tunes. At one point, someone was moved to quote a couplet from Tennyson’s “Ulysses.” Liam instantly sprang into action.

“It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth among these barren crags.”

To the surprise of all, he recited the whole poem, all seventy lines, from start to finish. It was a masterful performance. His voice was full of emotion particularly when he reached the final lines:

“Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

I could see huge tears flowing down the cheeks of the psychiatric nurse. She looked stunned. Evidently, she was not accustomed to this kind of fine madness. I sang a song of my own which had been inspired by the nearby village on Dunmore East:

“I was walking the road to Dunmore,
One evening as often I’d done.
And my heart was as heavy as stone,
I was thinking of times that are gone
When we walked arm in arm on the shore
And we watched the waves roll on the sea
Never thinking that there’d come a time
They’d be rolling between you and me.”

Although I had often performed that song, it was as if I was truly hearing it for the first time. Every song and tune that afternoon felt timeless and perfect. It was like stepping back in history, I thought. Surely, it must have been just like this for the old bards. We were in the zone now. Not even the arrival of several boisterous customers coming in for an after work drink could break the spell.

A little later, Jim’s wife, Mary, appeared. “Come on now,” she said, “Your dinner is on the table. Just leave the instruments there, and we’ll take care of them.”

She marched us upstairs and sat us down before a table laden with steaks, potatoes and vegetables. There was food enough for a dozen hungry men who had worked the fields from dawn to dusk. Bottles of wine were opened, glasses were filled, and with appetites sharpened by pints of Guinness and Special Old Malt whiskey, we attacked the feast manfully.

The dinner was nearly finished when the door opened and Paddy Barron stepped in. Hugs, handshakes and good-natured insults were exchanged. Another bottle of wine was opened, and then the stories began.

“Remember the time we…”

It was fascinating stuff. I heard stories of poets, musicians and “great nights” in Greenwich Village; tales of wild and crazy characters, most no longer living. After an hour or two (I’d lost track of the time by then) we headed back down to the small bar on the other side of the pub for a session. The instruments were waiting for us. Even if we had wanted to leave at that point it would have been rude to do so after all the hospitality we had received. So, we extracted a promise from Jim that he would let us pay for our drinks from here on out. Then we picked up our instruments and settled in beside the fire. Within minutes the room was packed with regulars and it soon turned into a mighty session. Several local singers eagerly joined in and we carried on singing and playing way past the official closing time.

At about two o’clock in the morning, ten hours after we stopped in for one drink, we finally took our leave. After a lengthy string of farewells, we stepped outside. The sky was riddled with stars, and frost was settling on the roadway. The world seemed strange, different, like it does when you leave a dark movie theatre and step out into daylight. It took us a couple of moments to get our bearings and to locate Liam’s car.

Anxious to avoid any police cars on our homeward journey, we discussed the pro and cons of the different routes we could take. Liam handed me his car keys.

“You have an American license,” he said. “You better drive.”

If there was logic to this, I failed to see it, but it had been such an extraordinary day that I did not argue. We drove carefully and slowly, kept to the deserted back roads, and eventually we made it home safely.

Do Look Back

Bob Dylan Don't Look BackLast week I watched Don’t Look Back, a documentary of Bob Dylan’s 1965 English tour. I had been aware of the film for years but had never managed to see it. A day later, I happened upon a PBS special of Murray Lerner’s wonderful footage of Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, 1964 and in 1965 when he famously angered many in the crowd by having an electric back up band.

Also last week, David McDonough very kindly gave me a present of the recently released double CD of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem In Person at Carnegie Hall- The Complete 1963 Concert. It was an interesting convergence of events for me, and a very enjoyable one, to experience these two classic acts at the top of their game before all their imitators jumped on the bandwagon and tarnished the brilliance of the originals.

As a kid, I never particularly liked Bob Dylan even though I loved many of his songs. Possibly, I was just a bit too young to get the Dylan bug when he first arrived on the scene and the cultural divide between Ireland and the USA was also an obstacle. However, looking back now I see that it was the press coverage of him that turned me off. They made him out to be a self proclaimed Messiah and a spokesman for his generation. I did not realize what a distortion that was and I saw him as a something of a charlatan. I was stunned a few years ago when I read his autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One and discovered that he was constantly battling the image the press created of him. The movies I recently watched reconfirmed that discovery and I found myself seeing him without bias and finally appreciating the talent and freshness that caused all the hype in the first place.

Listening to the CD of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem at Carnegie Hall in 1963 was also an eye opener. It is a powerful performance recorded with just two omnidirectional microphones. The sound is stunningly good and full considering that the only instruments were a nylon stringed guitar, a five string banjo and an occasional tin whistle. However, it is the singing, the performance, the poetry, the banter and the unbridled enthusiasm of the St. Patrick’s day audience that make it so special. That was something that could not be counterfeited by the imitators.

I had simply forgotten how good they were then. As an eleven year old in 1962, I had attended their first Irish concert at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin so I should have remembered. I can still feel the thrill and the excitement of that magic night. Looking back now, I realize that concert probably changed the course of my life.

Fifteen years later, I joined a new iteration of the Clancy Brothers with Paddy, Tom and Bobby and later, after Tom’s death, with Liam. I was part of the group for nineteen years but we never achieved the kind of magic you can hear on that Carnegie Hall CD. We had many great nights, and some not so great, but the chemistry of the original group could not be duplicated. I think Tommy and Liam found some of that chemistry as Makem and Clancy but even the reunion of the original group in 1984 failed to capture it all.

It’s no different with Bob Dylan. There are still flashes of it in his shows but without the backdrop of the early 60’s and the vigor of youth, it’s simply not the same thing. One of the great things about living in this media age is that we have the benefit of time travel. That is really what it is to watch or listen to these classic recordings of a bygone era. So I say, do look back. Look back and enjoy the magic as it is captured in the convergence of time and place. It will never happen again.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I hope you all have a great one.

On the high seas

This year’s Irish Music Cruise was a great success. I really enjoyed playing with Aoife, George, Matt & Shannon. Since we were setting out from Los Angeles, Willie Quinn organized a great concert for us in Santa Barbara beforehand. We had a great time but were surprised to find the weather was cold and wet. It was weird to see snow on the mountains around Los Angeles and it didn’t really feel hot until we got to Acapulco. We spent a few days at sea but we had some great sessions on board the ship. Cabo San Lucas is a strange place. When you go ashore they greet you by putting an iguana on your head. Thanks to Hamish Burgess for the photo.

We had some great additions to the roster this year with Danny Doyle, Fiona Walsh and Ciaran Sheehan. Danny’s show about the 1916 Rebellion was brilliant. The only downside of the week, for me, was the Patriot’s loss in the Super Bowl. I still can’t believe they got out-coached and out-played but hats off to the Giants for playing so tough. They won it fair and square. The 2009 cruise will be in the Caribbean and we will get to visit a lot of Mayan ruins. I’m really looking forward to that. The information should be up soon at Irish Music Cruises .

I’ll be doing my first gig in Bristol, RI next Saturday at the Stone Church Coffeehouse.
The Clancy Legacy will be back at the Kinsale Inn
in Mattapoisett on Sunday March 2nd for an afternoon show at 4.00 PM. There are a bunch of other shows coming up in Michigan, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Massachusetts and West Virginia and you can find all the relevant on my Concert Calendar.

Keep an eye out for a Concert Film and Documentary, called Absolutely Irish, by award-winning filmmaker, Paul Wagner. The world premiere screening will take place on March 2 nd at the Irish Arts Center in New York. It is edited down from about 8 hours of performances we did last April and features an amazing cast: Mick Moloney, Susan McKeown, John Doyle, Seamus Egan, Eileen Ivers, Karen Casey, Liz Carroll, Joanie Madden, Athena Tergis, Niall O’Leary, Darrah Carr, Tim Collins, Jerry O’Sullivan, Mike Raferty, Billy McComiskey, Brendan Dolan, Rhys Jones, Mac Benford and Jo McNamara. And, oh yeah, I’m in there too. I haven’t seen the film yet but it was an incredible concert so I have high expectations. There’s a clip of the Fiddlers on You Tube. The full show should be on most PBS stations in the month of March. It will also available soon on CD and DVD.

The Blackstone River Theatre in Cumberland, RI is hosting a photographic exhibition, called In the Heart of the Hibernian Metropolis by Fionan O’Connell until March 20th. Fionan is my first cousin and an amazing photographer as well as one of my favorite people on the planet. You can read more about the exhibit and see some of his work at Fionan O’Connell.

I’m getting together this week with Aoife and Donal Clancy to work on material for a new CD. We hope to do some recording next month and get a Clancy Legacy CD out by the end of the year. With all our different schedules, it’s tricky finding times when we can get together but with a little luck we should be able to do it. By the way, we will be playing together at the Dublin Ohio Irish Festival this August.

I’m looking forward to the Irish tours this year. I’ve had enough of winter and I can’t wait to be in Ireland in May. The WGBH tour is sold out but we still have a few spaces available on the Celtica, Best of the West Tour May 19-28. Wandering around the west of Ireland in the month of May is hard to beat and you can join us if you wish by contacting Celtica Tours.

St. Patrick’s Day Rant

I warned my readers in the beginning that this blog might contain occasional rants. So far I have kept the lid on but no longer. When I see our great rite of spring referred to as “St. Patty’s Day,” I am ready to blow a gasket. Where did this abomination come from?

St. Patrick’s Day is fine if a little formal. “St Paddy’s Day” is comfortable and unpretentious especially for those of us with a healthy skepticism of religious formality. But what kind of fiend coined “St. Patty’s Day?’ Every corpuscle of my Irish blood rebels against this Disneyized, Hallmarked, Fox-newsed abomination. Like the anemic spawn of a morning television show presenter and puerile sitcom star, this appellation has all the insincerity and triviality of a game show. I never once met a man called “Patty.” It might suit a hamburger or a peppermint but not the patron saint of Ireland even if he was a Roman Briton. This has to stop. Don’t let them get away with this.

I know that other problems like global warming and the war in Iraq and Nero in the White House may seem more pressing but 1600 hundred years of Irish history and culture are at stake here and deserve to be treated better than minced beef.

Okay, I think I’m all better now, at least until next March.

Luckily, Aoife, George and I got out to Chicago on Thursday night last to meet up with Matt & Shannon. If we had waited until Friday, we might very well have been stuck here in Providence with the snowstorm that disrupted flights for four days. We had lovely gigs Glen Ellyn, IL, Wausau, WI and Schaumburg, IL and great weather to go with them. Many of our friends on the east coast had to cancel gigs because of the weather so we felt very fortunate.

Isn’t it odd that in thirty years of traveling around the USA and Canada in the month of March, the only gigs ever cancelled due to bad weather were in Dallas, TX and Richmond, VA? We had some close calls in other places. I remember rushing off stage into a taxi on Prince Edward Island in a mad dash to the airport to get out before a blizzard hit and crunching through the snow on Third Avenue in New York when a taxi could not be found at any price. But overall the show went on regardless and people turned out no matter what the weather. I guess it’s all part of March madness and I don’t mean basketball. So here’s to Naomh Padraig and the rites of spring!

Christmas 2006

Ten days ago, we finished the last of six Christmas Celtic Sojourn concerts at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston to sold-out crowds. Congratulations to Brian on establishing this as an annual Boston Christmas tradition in just three years. I participated in the first one at the Somerville Theatre in 2003. It was just one show and I never imagined that it could grow so quickly.

It was interesting to get a glimpse of what it is like to be in a theatrical run of a musical or play. There are many hours of technical preparations before the curtain rises; sound checks and lighting cues, prop placement, exits and entrances. All these things have to be planned for twenty musicians, singers and dancers, a task that was handled with impeccable skill and diplomacy by the director, Paula Plum. For a couple of days before the show opened, we did a lot of sitting around and waiting on stage or in the dressing rooms. But there was great camaraderie between the cast and we had a lot of fun as well. The hardest part was seeing so little daylight. There were nine high-definition television cameras there to record the final show so it should be on a TV near you next Christmas. They taped almost three hours of material for a one hour show so hopefully one of my bits will survive the edits.

At one point in the show, Brian and I talked about the Irish Christmas traditions that we miss here in the USA like 26th December, St Stephen’s Day, and the custom of going off with the wren or the “wran” as it is usually pronounced. The Wren Boys can still be seen in many parts of Ireland. In the old days, groups of young men would kill a wren and place the body in a holly bush. They would then dress up in costume and carry the holly bush and wren around to neighbor’s houses and sing the Wren Song outside the door. This usually resulted in an invitation inside for food and drink. Coins were also collected to defray the cost of burying the wren.

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds
St Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze
Although he was little, his honor was great
Jump up me lads and give us a treat

As I was going to Killanaule
I met a wren upon the wall
Up with my wattle and knocked him down
And brought him into Carrick town

Dreolin, dreolin where’s your nest
‘Tis in the bush that I love best
‘Tis in the tree, the holly tree
Where all the boys do follow me

Up with the kettle and down with the pan
And give us a penny to bury the wren

I followed the wren three miles or more
Three miles or more, three miles or more
I followed the wren three miles or more
At six o’clock in the morning

I have a little box under my arm
Under my arm, under my arm
I have a little box under my arm
A penny or tuppence would do it no harm

Mrs Clancy is a very good woman
A very good woman, a very good woman
Mrs Clancy is a very good woman
She’ll give us a penny to bury the wren

In more recent times, we would forego the wren part and just disguise ourselves with greasepaint and homemade costumes and go wandering around to country pubs singing and collecting money for local charities like Meals on Wheels. We’d often have a convoy of ten or fifteen cars roaming around little villages like Kilmoganny, Tullahought and Ballypatrick.

My uncle Bobby Clancy, Aoife’s dad, was our our fearless leader. He had the ability to persuade even the shyest person to improvise a costume and join in the fun. I remember one year when I was about 7, Bobby appeared at our house in Waterford to take us “off with the wran.” My mother was delighted but my father, who was not an extrovert, adamantly refused to participate. But Bobby was relentless and he finally convinced my father that he could disguise him so that even his own mother wouldn’t recognize him. He told him that he didn’t have to sing; all he had to do was collect the money for the Meals on Wheels. So with a blackened face and a floppy woman’s hat and a toga, my father set out with the gang. Still fearing that he might be recognized, he had solicited a promise from Bobby that they would stay well away from any pubs in the city. True to his word, Bobby packed us all in his old black Ford and headed off to the village of Kilmacow in county Kilkenny. We stopped outside a pub and started singing before going in. So far, so good. The pint-drinking patrons received us warmly. My father went around with a tin can collecting money. There was another little room off the main room in the bar and as he stepped through the door, a voice piped up, “How’re you Sean? Did you have a good Christmas?”

He was mortified. I’m sure his face must have turned a bright red beneath the layers of black greasepaint. He wanted to murder Bobby, who found the whole incident highly amusing. I don’t remember what happened after that but I know that my father never again went out with the wren.

During the show’s run, we stayed at Jury’s Hotel in Boston, a ten-minute walk from the theatre. It was a bit like running the gauntlet with all the smokers standing outside on the sidewalk getting their fix. The smoke smells even more toxic outside, maybe because you don’t expect it. It was such a relief to step inside for a breath of fresh air. How things have changed!

I read in today’s paper how iTunes had to shut down temporarily over Christmas as it was swamped with orders. If you just got an iPod as a present, you might be interested to know that my CD Recollections is now available on iTunes.

I will hardly get time to blog again before December 31st, so I’d like to wish you all a very Happy and Wonderful New Year!

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