by Gabriel Fitzmaurice
Like most youngsters of my generation (I was born in 1952), I came to music through Elvis Presley, the Beatles and the Stones. In college I discovered Leonard Cohen. So it was no surprise that when I began teaching (at 19 in Avoca, Co. Wicklow) I joined a rock group, Juniper Woode, the relief band at the Centre Ballroom in Arklow. We played pretty much standard fare, but we were writing our own songs too. Eventually we were invited by Tweed, a leading pop group at the time, to become their regular relief band touring the country with them. At the thought of it, we broke up! I had no intention of giving up my teaching job to go on the road. Tony Byrne, our drummer, had a steady job in Tyrellâs Shipyard and was intent on staying there. E. J. Cranny (who later gigged with Declan Synnotâs Gandydancer), Danny Kenny and Colin Manifold (who later went into the music wholesale business) were in favour of going with Tweed. So we broke up.
I returned to my native Moyvane, near Listowel, to teach in the local National School in 1975 and quickly discovered that the best music that was being played in the North Kerry/West Limerick area was Irish trad. I determined to learn it. Gerard Buckley, an All Ireland champion accordion player, took me on to gig with him as accompanist in Dónal OâConnorâs Sliabh Luachra Bar in Listowel, a Mecca for Irish traditional musicians and lovers of the music. Little by little, I was learning and was emboldened to take up the mandolin becoming three-times champion on it at Fleadh Cheoil Chiarraí (1975-78).
Irish music was becoming hip in the 1970s. Seán Ã Riada, Planxty and the Bothy Band had had a huge influence on youngsters like Gerard and me. I remember the night we really took off. It was at a concert in the Marian Hall, Moyvane. Gerard and I had put together a group consisting of Gerard on accordion, Donie Lyons on concert flute, Tony Dalton on banjo, John Buckley on bodhrán and myself on guitar and vocals. It was the first time anything like that had been heard in Moyvane and we brought the house down. The atmosphere was electric. I remember the standing ovation but, more especially, the late Dinny Mulvihill throwing his cap in the air in exhilaration and pure joy. In later years we would be joined by the great flute player, Donie OâSullivan of Carrigkerry in West Limerick, and we played every Monday night in Mossie Browneâs Pub in Athea to huge and appreciative crowds.
That was our heyday. We were young, single, carefree and enthusiastic. We played as if our lives depended on it. We were so close musically that we could read each otherâs thoughts while we were playing, anticipating our every twist and turn.
Now weâre in our sixties. John Buckley is dead; Donie Lyons is an All Ireland champion traditional singer and an esteemed adjudicator at Fleadhanna Cheoil; Donie OâSullivan plays with Taylorâs Cross Céilí Band; Tony Dalton, having spent many years playing in Doolin, has retired to his native Athea; Gerard and I do the occasional night for charity at Flynnâs Bar in Knockanure and Máiréadâs Bar in Moyvane. We still get a kick out of playing the old tunes in the old way for, as Paddy (Offaly) OâBrien has pronounced: âThere is no new way to play Irish traditional musicâ.