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A letter from Peadar to Seán

An article written in the form of a letter from Peadar to his father Sean. First appeared in the Sunday Independent February 1998)

I smelt you here again last Tuesday. Here, in your room, where I now work, I could feel your presence as that familiar cigar smoke whiff wafted around the room. God, a lot has changed since you died on the third of October in 1971. Of course, we seven here are no longer the children you left behind, and we no longer fret over our mother preferring to join you so soon afterwards. It did cause quite a rendering for her as to which to be with: her children or her other half. The cancer was horrendous and she suffered immensely but then, knowing her, she probably never told you that part when she reached heaven up there with you. There better be a bloody heaven. So many have parted this mortal coil that I quite often feel a little like ‘Oisín i ndiaidh na Féine’.

Do you remember those last few years where you felt the reaper kept looking over your shoulder? It was so palpable that Ruth felt you had a death wish and this left her, your wife, very frightened. You studied death with the connivance of you friends Paití Thadhg Pheig and Tadhg Ó Muláin, two who were in that gateway at the time. But then pre-cognisence is such a hassle sometimes.

I have my own kids now. Four of them. I married a wonderful woman from Clare who is cracked about hurling and football. And Clare have finally collected the ultimate trophies in Croke Park in recent years. Your father would be a happy man. Anyway, I find that I am quite a different father to you. Where you never really held us or fooled around with us, I find myself the opposite. Us boys in the family also seem to have turned out pretty handy at the old house work. None of this inspection of knives and forks that you were fond of. The wooden spoon is only used for stirring the porridge, which is still the same Macroom oatmeal, by the way. But then life has changed so much since you died. Every family is tiny nowadays: two or maybe three. But we still have two schools in Cúil Aodha. Do you remember the ‘bacharam’ about keeping them open in the sixties? Do you remember how you used to badger people like George Colley and Padraig Faulkner for the odd factory or whatever? Ireland seemed much smaller that time. Everyone seemed to know everyone else..

All your talk of the Pale seems to have come to pass. There certainly are two cultures, two strands or tribes of people in this country today. Them up there and us down here. All things Irish have become trendy world wide, so the airbrains in the Pale are suddenly interested and buying what irishness they can, to add to their style. Of course the real Dubs still exist in pockets but the metropolis has grown so much that it sometimes is hard to find them. Your old work pals in RE/RTE have a huge place out in Montrose now. Two channels if you don’t mind and the radio waves to boot. There is a lot of bullshit moving around there as usual but mind you some of the old reliables are still there, ploughing away. Believe it or believe it not Gay Byrne is still top dog there and I would have to say that he is a friend and has been loyal to you and yours. Poor Gerry Victory died. Like you, I don’t think people really appreciated his work. Mind you, now you are becoming quite famous again. Well, some of your work is. You wouldn’t believe who is singing or playing Mná na hEireann. There is a list of pop stars and bands as long as your arm. Mike Oldfield, Kate Bush, James Last, Phil Coulter, Sinead O Connor, The Christians, a whole rake of them. Mind you, I don’t think the young fella in the street has a clue as to who you were or why you were famous. You have become some kind of an icon I suppose. Do you remember that habit you had of writing a tune or an air for Sean Ó Sé and the lads in Ceoltóirí Chualainge, and then not letting on where it came from, just to see if it would be accepted by the tradition? Well, it worked a treat. The country is playing and singing 'em by the new time. If we got a penny for every time Carraig Fergus was sung now we could build that airstrip you dreamed about. Maybe too many poets eulogised you and that put the coybosh on the situation. Schools, firms, streets, festivals, lectures, rooms, all kinds of things are named after you. But nobody remembers what fun it was to be in your company. The sound of laughter and enjoyment. The buzz of excitement as something new or different seemed to be always happening around you. Jaysus, God only knows where you would have stopped if you had lived. This bloody world would hardly be big enough for you. I could never get over the way you seemed to be able to go anywhere you wanted or to drift into any company you desired. But then again your were always great crack and quite different to the image of a heavy duty artist, genius, eccentric or whatever. Do you remember all the filming? Mind you not everyone in the business was impressed but I have heard it said that the best deer sequence ever shot in this country was the one yourself, Roy Hamond and “Divine Mother of God” Jack Spillane did at dawn in Killarney. I fiddle away at the old films myself these days. I have an inkling that your music is about to hit the fan shortly. Two Englishmen who have taken up the flag on your behalf have made a great film and recorded a whole pile of pieces of yours for the first time. You being as particular as you were in these matters, would be quite pleased with the orchestra used. It was an amalgamation of all the best players in this country North and South and a few from across the pond for good measure.

That reminds me of something else. Do you remember the boats. Your Galway Hooker got smashed that first winter after you died. What was it? Two Hookers afloat in Ireland, at that time? Well there are as many as sixty of those beautiful vessels sailing around now. I still have all those boating magazines you used to buy. And do you remember when you were trying to learn Mandarin Chinese? You had me at the other end of the table with the book while you practiced. I am at it myself with my own kid now. Italian this time. Well, you know, Ruth’s mother being Italian and all that. I haven’t got your ear for languages though. What was it? English, Irish, French Italian, a bit of German and smatterings of Russian. God, but Russia has changed. Gone is the Soviet Union. I wonder if the friends you had in Moscow still exist or if they would still want you, the choir, the ceoltóirí and all that caper. I am sure they would because as I said, Irish is now popular. There is even a whiff of elitism with the ever more popular Irish language, though the story in the gaeltachts might be slightly different.

That reminds me, the North is boiling away still and has broken many a heart. It is a far cry from 1967 with the Orange Lodge at that hotel, yourself and Gutherie planning the future of Dal Riada and Sean Ó Sé and the lads singing the boys of Kilmichael at the insistence of their hosts. In a way I am glad you never witnessed the worst of the last 25 years. Awful things were done to the Ulster people. You would have gone mad or been locked up with those strong emotions of yours. We all practice a kind of schizoid state of mind and seem to be in denial about our identity as a result. Do you know that there are a lot of people who would be very uncomfortable if you sang many of the old songs now. People are afraid they might be branded a republican. Imagine that in Ireland, if you please.

The choir is still hammering away here in Cúil Aodha. I have learned a bit more then the three keyboard notes you told me to press that day you got sick. Mind you now, we don’t do just your stuff, there are a few pieces of my own foisted into the repetoire. Funny how the crowd in Dublin never understood what you were up to when you left their great civilised world with its poets and artists and beautiful people. They whisper that you went to the drink and depression you know. Hard to figure really, I mean, I saw you under the influence twice ever. They never heard of our little family weakness in the liver area either I’d say. Fat foods and drink are dodgy at the best of times in that department. Some of us siblings just cannot touch the stuff without paying for it severely. You never did repeat anything. Once you had tried it out, it lost its interest to you. So you had done the European thing, done the arty farty bit, done the bourgeois bit, done the intellectual, and got struck down when doing the spiritual bit. Do you know that it is not Mise Eire that makes you famous abroad? It’s the pieces out of the first Mass. All over the world, every Sunday there are people singing your “Ag Críost an Síol”. There actually are pop groups singing them these days.

That old sergeant death still hangs around. One of our own kids, your namesake, Seán óg, has spent this, his first eight years of life, dancing with the reaper also. We would prefer him to stay with us a while longer, but if it should happen that you find your self dandling him upon your knee with St Patrick and Co, look after him for us. Tell “the mother” and the rest of the family and neighbours up there that we were asking for them. We are lucky in that we people around here feel close to ye always.

Beir Bua.
Do mhac,

P.S. You old pal Charlie fell off his horse again. He hurt himself but he is OK. It also happened to him during a bad patch, like the first time. History will certainly treat him kinder then than the present lot. He was always loyal to us after you went, even when the others were busy. Like you, he is a grandad now. It’s time they left him alone.

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