Michael Dowling RIP
On May 10th 2011 a light went out in the cultural and traditional life of North Kerry with the passing of Michael Dowling, Listowel. Michael was a Tarbert native who moved to Derry, Listowel when he married his wife Maureen McCarthy in 1956. He had a deep appreciation for all things Irish; the language, the culture and most especially the music. He gave a lifetime of service to the Listowel branch of Comhaltas Ceoiltóiri Éireann, one of the longest established branches in County Kerry. Michael became chairman of the branch in 1968. The Listowel Branch of CCE is probably best known for hosting 14 All-Ireland Fleadhanna Ceoil between 1970 and 2002. Michael was chief steward for the first Fleadh Cheol in Listowel in 1970 which was a resounding success. He was chairman of the following 13 highly successful Fleadhanna Cheoil. In total he served as Chairperson of the branch for 40 years and served as President up until his passing in 2011. He gave a lifetime of commitment to the organization working tirelessly to promote and preserve the traditions and the music.
Aside from hosting the All-Ireland Fleadh, the branch also took part in many Scoraíocht Competitions as well as Listowel’s annual St. Patrick's Day parade. Michael was St Patrick in the parade for 30 years. He attended the St Patrick Day Parade two months before his passing and despite his illness he enjoyed the day tremendously and maintained his unbroken record of attendance. As chairman of CCE Listowel he was involved in the building of the Seanchaí Centre Listowel and took great pride in its completion. He dedicated himself to the very successful Seisiún Summer Show which began in St. John's Theatre in the 80’s, then moved to the Seanchaí Centre and eventually found a home in the Listowel Arms Hotel. He loved nothing more that to play the role of the fear an ti and to play his bodhran or the spoons, to sing songs and tell a few “yarns”. He loved to make people laugh and had an endless repertoire of stories and recitations which he was always happy to perform. He was even known to take to the floor for some old time sean nos dancing.
In his younger days himself and his wife Maureen, who herself was a beautiful traditional singer, loved to go to the "Irish Nights", to sing and to dance. A night was never complete without dancing a polka set with friends. A dairy farmer by occupation, he was often hampered in his exploits by having to milk the cows first and indeed he told many a funny story about rushed journeys to different Fleadhanna, concerts and competitions and the fun and craic that was had. There was a constant stream of visitors to our home among whom were talented musicians, singers and dancers, friends all, united by a love for the traditional music, song and dance. There was many an impromptu session and as children we were oblivious to the high profile of some of the visitors. Looking back now it is fair to say that some of the giants of the traditional music scene both nationally and locally performed in our kitchen. Maureen would make the tea and both body and soul would be satisfied.
Each year Michael organized a group of Wrenboys to go on the wren on St Stephens Day and collect for charity. Many of these wonderful people have also passed away but their names are well remembered by many in North Kerry for their dedication to the preservation of Irish music, culture, and tradition. Every September Michael organized the All Ireland Wrenboy Competition during Listowel Harvest Festival. He was the man who kept the audience entertained between the groups, singing "The Boys from Bar Na Sraide" or a humorous recitation or a few “yarns”. After his death a treasure trove of old envelopes with yarns handwritten on the back of them was discovered in his many different coats, all well worn from use but well preserved for the next outing.
Michael will be remembered by many for his highly infectious hearty laugh that filled the room with joy. He will also be remembered by those who worked with him on committees, as a patient even-tempered, calm and hardworking person . He had a way of getting around people and getting things done. At his funeral, the Director General of Comhaltas, Senator Labhras O Murchu in a beautiful eulogy summed up the man well when he said that "not alone was Michael there to do the organizing but he was also there to do the clean up". A true leader and one who would never ask someone to do something he wouldn't do himself.
Sadly Michael’s passing has left a huge gap in all our lives and especially in the CCE family in listowel. So closes the book on a life well lived and as we celebrate this year the return of a Munster Fleadh to Listowel we remember Michael Dowling and the many others like him who are no longer with us but whose hard work and dedication has kept traditional Irish music, song and dance alive. No doubt they will be with us in spirit in July and the music will evoke in all of us the fondest of memories of those who have gone before. “Michael Dowling’s Reel”, composed and crafted by the Listowel native and wonderful fiddle player James Duggan, will hopefully play out as a celebration of all who served Irish music and tradition so well and for so long. Ar dheis De go raibh a n-anama.