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Damien Dempsey: The poet laureate of Ireland’s forgotten

October 25, 2016

Damien Dempsey beats his chest and exhorts you to feel the pain and love he feels

I’m very grateful that a version of this review appeared on the brilliant Liverpool music website Get Into This. They are great supporters of live music and music writing in the city.

DAMIEN Dempsey is a big, bruising boxer with the beautiful heart of a poet.

He’s a modern bard who links the historic ballad tradition in Irish folk music to a youth culture equally at home with hip-hop, reggae and rave.

He is a genuine one-of-a-kind: a sympathetic, ruggedly sentimental singer songwriter who has managed to make folk music relevant again in an Ireland ravaged by the negative aspects of globalization and corporate greed.

On Sunday evening in the Liverpool Philharmonic Music Rooms, amid the dancing bodies and the throaty communal football chants of “Damo! Damo! Damo!”, he was the perfect closing act for the 2016 Liverpool Irish Festival. Read more…

PODCAST: Ian Lynch of Lynched – the best folk band working anywhere today

October 12, 2016

Lynched are an absolutely spellbinding folk band who have gained plaudits for their album Cold Old Fire, a remarkable mixture of old Dublin music hall songs, traditional ballads and original compositions.

Coming from a punk tradition, they found folk music later than many, but it hasn’t held them back and as a live act, they are almost without compare.

I spoke to Ian Lynch about how the band started, their repertoire of songs and the new traditional scene in Ireland today.

Lynched appear at the 2016 Liverpool Irish Festival on Sunday, October 16 in the Philharmonic Music Rooms. Tickets and further details available here.

PODCAST: Linda Ervine on learning Irish as a Northern Protestant and her film What the Focal!

October 12, 2016

I recorded this podcast with the brilliant Linda Ervine prior to a screening of her film What the Focal! at the 2016 Liverpool Irish Festival.

With heavy autobiographical overtones, What the Focal! follows the life of Maggie, a Northern Irish Protestant who decides to learn Irish against the wishes of her husband and community.

She appears at St Michael’s Irish Centre, Boundary Lane, Liverpool on Wednesday, October 20 at 8pm. Full details here.

New European Identities

October 12, 2016

This is the piece that I wrote for the New European about forms of national and regionalist identity in Europe.

View this document on Scribd

Liverpool and Brexit

October 12, 2016

A piece that I wrote for the New European about what Brexit might mean to Liverpool and the Merseyside region.


Michaél Ó Muircheartaigh: A tribute in text and sound

September 15, 2016

(This piece was first written and published in 2010.)

IN THIS era of wall-to-wall sport coverage, where every hack commentator turns to the US or wherever for a gimmick to set them apart in a crowded market, one man (and one voice) has set himself apart – Michaél Ó Muircheartaigh.
A Kerry man who has been one of the key voices of Irish GAA sports on RTE radio since 1949, he has, mercifully, never been one to let his own opinions intrude in the key job of a radio commentator – vividly describing a match for those who can’t get to see it.
While British soccer commentators are seemingly in thrall to imparting their own op-ed opinions on what is going on – step forward Alan Green, no cares what you think, you boor – Ó Muircheartaigh, 80, has established himself as a real time storyteller and, if I may be excused a cliché, a painter with words.
Some of his classic quotes are here.
His rapid fire, high octane delivery and encyclopaedic knowledge of the games perfectly captures the spirit and energy of gaelic football and hurling. His frequent interruptions in Irish into English commentary, his shout outs to ex-pat Gaels listening in across the world and brilliant turns of phrase have marked him out as being, literally, one of a kind.
The key has been that he has always been himself. He’s never had to assume a gimmick. The fanatical passion for the games, the poetic Kerry accent, a great way with a story and a bit of craic, have elevated his commentaries from the run of the mill to being dramatic, evocative records of a game cherished by its members and supporters.

Without getting misty eyed and sentimental about being an ‘exile’, the stress of being away from home has been lightened by tuning into Radió Éireann of a Sunday and hearing the man in his pomp. On Sundays over the years, I have been in cars in Europe and pubs all over the show, manfully tuning the fading radio commentaries just to hear what’s going on at Croker, Clones or Pairc Ui Chaoimh.

He knows the players and the managers, the mentors and county board presidents and has a story about them all, if he needs. He knows wee, old sick women listening in the Bronx and Brisbane, working men in Kilburn, Kerry and Kildare, Congressmen in Washington, politicians in Brussels and greyhound fanatics in Dundalk – one and all have the same status for Michaél.Much rot has been written about how the modern GAA has been a feet-on-the-ground force for normality in an Ireland developing rapidly thanks to globalisation.
Misty eyed nationalists in New York Yankees hats, Nike trainers and GAP jeans, looking around the modern Croke Park – one the biggest and most advanced sports stadia in Europe – have regaled us about how the GAA is a touchstone to how we were in a simpler, gentler age and how we have to cherish the romantic past, blind to the inevitability of progress. Well, take down the adverts for Middle Eastern airlines and multi-national soft drinks companies and maybe I’ll cede that one.

But Michaél really has remained that touchstone with the better parts of our past.

The passion for what were unfashionable games for many years, the great lyricism of his delivery and ability to conjure vivid pictures of a game while recalling the glorious past have set him apart. It is telling that the two great commentators of our times were himself and Michael O’Hehir, the authentic voices of GAA broadcasting.
Perhaps the codification and rules of our games, which have made them fast paced and combative, have helped in producing legendary commentators, but Michaél has been more than merely the sum of what was put in front of him to describe.
He is a lover of people and life, of stories, storytelling and craic and vividly celebrating the enthusiasm and fervour of the men and women who are are the GAA. He’s one of the few in this world who no-one has a bad word on.
To listen to him shouting a great, fast paced commentary over a big crowd, his voice competing with the spectators, words charging like a racehorse over the radio, you get a vivid, tangible sense of the drama and spectacle of a big GAA occasion. Hats, flags, scarves and headbands and Michaél Ó Muircheartaigh are GAA days for me.
The listener knows in technicolour what Armagh fans on the hill in Clones are seeing or what those in Semple Stadium, Thurles, are feeling in the final moments of a Tipperary v Cork Munster hurling final or just how amazing it is to see Henry Shefflin or DJ Carey hook a sliothar over a bar from miles out. His voice compels us to love these great, unique Irish games. Nationalism without the punch.
As you have gathered, this is not an objective piece of journalism, but nor is it hagiography, we really will never see his like again.
Michaél does his last All Ireland Final on Sunday when Down take on Cork, fittingly two of the ‘aristocrats’ of modern gaelic football – but t’is a pity t’wasn’t the men of the Kingdom, his home county of Kerry.
Slán Michaél.

September/ October books: cycling, football and hard boiled masterpieces

October 28, 2015


Didn’t get through so many books in September and October given the return to teaching, writing two journal articles (and a bastard research grant application) which took an enormous amount of reading, and taking on a James Ellroy monster doorstop of a tome.

David Winner, Brilliant Orange: the neurotic genius of Dutch Football. 2000. Bloomsbury.

One of those 1990s/ 2000s serious evaluations of football as having something in common with the (high) arts. A pleasing journalistic affair full of brilliant interviews with the key people in the Dutch footballing renaissance of the late 1960s.

It’s rich in detail about the roles of Rinus Michels, Vic Buckingham, Johann Cruyff and Luis Van Gaal in the rebirth and sustenance of the modern era of Dutch football. With hindsight, the stuff on Cruyff also tells us much about his role the recent renaissance of Barcelona.

However, all the ascribing of inherently Dutch national characteristics in modern art and architecture as influencing its football culture all seems a bit Private Eye Pseuds Corner. At one point he notes that, because the Dutch need to hold back the water that threatens the low lying nation with dikes, they are spatial neurotics, and thus this obsession with space makes them revolutionary thinkers about football positions and led to Total Football (pp47-50).

That is pseudo-intellectual pish, but this book is well worth a read for its interviews with some remarkably prescient and important figures in the development of modern football. Read more…



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