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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Salvaging

WRITING THE NOTES FOR THE DUBLINERS' ANNIVERSARY ALBUM WAS A SPECIAL DAY

I WORE My HEART ON A SLEEVE

Recently I chanced upon a copy of Ireland's Own. The front cover made me sad: it carried a picture of the original five Dubliners. Some of them are no longer with us. An article gave their history in some detail because it was the 25th anniversary of their first performance. It was impossible to have forgotten it and I will tell you why: one afternoon when in Mulligan's looking in the mirror attempting to have great thoughts, Ronnie Drew came in and he said: "You must do me a great favour. We are bringing out a record to commemorate the 25th anniversary of our birth. You will do me and the lads a sleeve for the record." The bargain was made and was promptly forgotten about.

Then one afternoon when in a hotel bar in Glasgow, a call came through to me from the Evening Press and told me to hold the phone for the manager of Harmac Record Productions. The voice came through and said "Have you that sleeve ready?" "No but it will be ready soon -- will 500 words do?" The voice at the other end exploded, "500 words . . . We need 1,500 words and we need it now." "Give me your address and your phone number." He did and he banged the phone down.

A promise had been made but there was little hope of keeping it. And so a hotel porter was sent to bring me a writing pad and a big white envelope. Then I sat down and wrote a string of stories that had a lot to do with music but little to do with The Dubliners.

The words were counted and there were only 100 left. These were devoted to my friends and then the envelope was addressed with great care and I gave my friendly porter enough money to cover the quickest way to send it. My hope was that the Pony Express might get through.

That was on a Thursday. When back in the Evening Press on Saturday afternoon, a square box arrived for me. I knew then that the Pony Express had got through, I opened the box and was surrounded by colleagues saying "Give me this. Give me that. Give me this one." Soon there were only five records left. About 10 had gone.

Then I visited Mulligan's in the hope of salvaging a few for myself. The act was repeated there and within five minutes there was only one left. That was the special record.

I began to read the sleeve with trembling mind. To my surprise and my delight, it had come out word for word. Somebody in the office had deciphered my crazy handwriting and underneath that record there was a white envelope containing a cheque that was five times more than expected.

It made me very happy that my old friends had not been let down. Luke Kelly was especially close to me. We used to meet fairly often and we used to borrow money regularly from each other. It was always paid back.

Mine was put in a mug on the top shelf in Grogan's. Luke used to put his money in a big white envelope on the third shelf addressed: From one genius to another. The regulars in the bar must have been surprised that in their midst they had not only one genius but two.

A few years later, Luke went across the river and into the trees and it was arranged that a show in his memory be put on at the National Concert Hall. Another request arrived to write the introduction. It was a sad task but I got on with it. And thus there are two links with the memory of a great group. It was a kind of secondhand fame but makes me feel very proud.

SAD

The Dubliners were known to me before they came together. O'Donoghue's pub in Merrion Row was Ronnie's favourite haunt. He used to sit there in a quiet corner practising on the guitar.

Eventually, Barney McKenna became a regular and so the group began to grow. They gave their first small performance in the back room of that pub. And after a while as they improved, it became a special occasion.

A musical magazine published in London gave them a great review and they took off. And soon they were high in the charts. It was a piece of luck but they deserved it.

That evening in the hotel in Glasgow was the day after we had astounded Soccerdom in Ibrox Park by beating Scotland by the only goal.

In the meantime, my old friends have gone from success to success. When looking back at the sleeve, it reminds me of a German proverb: "When Lady Luck comes to your bedside, she kisses you lightly on the cheeks and flits away. When Lady Bad Luck comes to your bedside, she sits down and takes out her knitting."

On the hectic weekend of the sleeve and the Pony Express, Lady Good Luck sat down and took out her crochet.

It makes me feel sad now that The Dubliners, in reality, are no more. Barney occasionally meets me in Mulligan's. We have the craic but underneath it there is a sadness. All that can be said is: "Thanks for the memories and it makes me proud that we were so close."

Fogra: Dublin City FM has been putting out an excellent sports programme every Tuesday evening. David Hooper has been anchoring a very informative 30 minutes on all things athletic with occasional help from my colleague Feidhlim Kelly. And our best wishes go to Frank Greally as he continues to publish his invaluable magazine Irish Runner.

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