IN nominating Kilfenora Céilí Band leader John Lynch as Clare Person of the Year for 2009, the Clare Association in Dublin showed their regard “for tradition, heritage and history, for ordinary people and small places and familiar things”.
So said the well-known Kilfenora man when he addressed the large gathering.
“I didn’t grow up playing music. I didn’t have a fiddle or a banjo. There was one fiddle on top of the dresser across from the range. That was my father’s. My aunts, Betty, Noreen and Judith, went to England in 1957 and my uncle, Gerry, went to the States in 1959. When he came back for a visit in 1963, there was a celebration. I was eight and I was on the outside looking in, disappointed that I couldn’t play,” he said.
“I remember Sunday mornings, milking the cows before going to mass in Kilfenora and listening to Ciarán MacMathúna on the radio,” Lynch continued.
“I remember the céilís in Kilfenora on Christmas night in the early ’70s and people coming from all over the county because there was nowhere else to go. I remember my father playing in Jimmy Morgan’s Pub in Corofin on Sunday nights, Jimmy dancing the first figure of the set to start off the night. I remember Joe Cooley in Lahiff’s Pub, how he had to pick up his accordion when the music was in flight and the tears coming down his face when he was too weak to play any more and I remember being on the outside looking in”.
“I started to learn the fiddle but changed to the banjo because of Jim Ward and Kieran Hanrahan. I wanted to be part of it. Even when I was teaching in Kildare, I wanted to be a Kilfenora man. I wanted people to hear the Kilfenora Céilí Band again. I wanted people to be talking about Kilfenora. I wanted everyone coming to Kilfenora again like they did on Christmas night,” he told the attendance.
“Little places like the cross of Spancilhill, the falls of Doonass and the bogs of Shanaheever are known to all of us now because of someone who didn’t want to forget. There wasn’t any song about Kilfenora then but there were plenty of tunes about its people and places – Harry’s Lock, Slattery’s Grove, Limestone Quarry, The Blue Meadow, The Herd in Bed, The Clogher Reel, Mccormack’s Fancy. I wanted to play those tunes all over Ireland so that people would remember the Kilfenora and Kitty Linnane,” he went on.
Pointing out that he was honoured to be chosen as Clare person of the year, he noted, “In choosing me for this honour, you are showing your regard for tradition and heritage and history, for ordinary people and small places and familiar things. On behalf of those small places, those ordinary and wonderful people, I thank you.”
Earlier, association chairperson Liam O’Looney had told the gathering that the Kilfenora band had a long history of Lynch involvement.
“John’s grandfather, John Joe, and his father, PJ, were in the band and also many cousins. There is no doubt but that the band’s style is unique and it has maintained that style for generations.
“Not alone are we honouring John Lynch and the Kilfenora Céilí Band tonight, we are honouring generations of great artists that play in that special way.”
Speaking to The Clare Champion, John said “This award is a great recognition of the band and the effort that the band puts in. We really do appreciate it very much. It’s lovely to be honoured by your own people because when we go outside of Kilfenora and Clare, we represent Clare in our tradition and in our history and our heritage.”
In the year past, the Kilfenora band were outside of Ireland on seven occasions. “It’s great to meet Clare people when we are away from home. For the older people especially, it brings them back to their youth because we play a lot of selections that the previous band played. It brings them back to their youth and you can see that they appreciate it very much. We played for a concert in Omagh a few weeks ago and the warmth of the welcome we got was special,” the band leader explained
John was fullsome in his praise for Clare people. “The band has played the concert hall in Dublin three times and it has been sold out three times and that’s Clare people supporting their own. We are doing it again on March 16 and there has been no advertising and it’s already three-quarters sold. It’s lovely to come up and meet your own people.”
He added that it’s been a tremendous year for the band. “We were playing every single weekend up to September and then we were preparing for Glór and we had two sell-out concerts there with our own people. We went out of the country seven times. We were in Brest, Paris, the Glastonbury festival, we did a Mediteranean cruise, we played in Camden town. We have been all over the place and for this there is great credit due to the band members. We feel we must honour our tradition and we should represent it as best we can when we go out. Without the support there would be no band because there would be nobody to play for. I am a Clare man, I love Clare people and I love the people of Kilfenora. It’s as simple as that,” he said.
Paying tribute to the Muintir an Chláir, Lynch said that “they do so much for the people from Clare in Dublin and they are also involved very much in fundraising for charitable organisations. It is a great comfort for people from the county to have an organisation like Muintir an Chlair in which they can rely on for support and friendship. Liam O’Looney and his committee are to be commended,” he concluded.
Reaching out to friends from the past
Roslevan native, Gerry Roberts, moved to Dublin just over 40 years ago. He said the Clare Association annual event provides him and all Clare people with an opportunity to meet others from the county.
“I met people here tonight that I hadn’t met for over 20 years. Dublin is a big place and you don’t meet that many people from Clare, except at a hurling match. This function is an ideal opportunity to meet up with others from the county,” he said on Friday night.
Gerry grew up in Roslevan near where the Greengrove (now the Roslevan shopping centre) was. “I was involved in athletics and hurled a little. Recently the Doora-Barefield club hosted a lovely function for those who were in the championship winning team from 1958 and it was a great occasion. They had a dinner for us and I met people at that function that I hadn’t met since I played the last game. I loved hurling but I didn’t have the same interest when I moved to Dublin. I knew everybody when I was at home but it’s different when you go away from the lads you knew,” he recalled.
Gerry worked as a draughtsman with Clare County Council for a while before moving to Dublin where he worked with consultant engineers for some years. “Then I set up a business importing log houses from Finland and we are at that for 20 years. We built all over the country and we have built some in Clare.”
After hurling, Gerry turned to squash. “When I got a bit older I opted to play squash. Not alone was it an outlet but it was a good game. You could lash the ball and it came back to you and it helped to keep me fit,” he explained before recalling how he used to bring groups from his Dublin club to Clare.
“We had some great matches in the Auburn Lodge. We would spend the weekend in Clare, play the local club, have a social evening with dinner and music. They were most enjoyable occasions,” he recalled.
While Gerry doesn’t have any family members living in Clare now, he still retains strong connections with the county. “My wife is from Ennistymon and we have a home in Liscannor, which I travel down to a few times a year. It’s great to get down to Clare and I love that part of the county. I look forward to the trips and to a game of golf with some friends in Spanish Point,” he concluded.