Aidan OHara was at the launch of Mick Moloneys book and CD at the Ferryman Hotel & Pub, Dublin, Thursday 18 April 2002.
Copyright © Irish Music Magazine 2002
Mick Moloney and I had planned to have a quiet chat at the Ferryman Hotel and Pub on Sir John Rogersons Quay, Dublin after the launch of his book and CD, Far from the Shamrock Shore (The Collins Press). As it turned out, it didnt happen; couldnt have happened, because the world and his mother turned out for the occasion at the Ferryman, and he was in constant demand. Anyway, we decided that wed meet just after noon next day at Studio 5 in RTEs Radio Centre where he was scheduled to do an interview with The
Rattlebag host, Myles Dungan.
I sat waiting on the other side of the studio glass while Mick and Myles chatted, and it was well after one oclock when he finally emerged. Now, Mick had already had a long session live on Radio 1 with Pat Kenny, and earlier still that morning, hed been interviewed on TV3s breakfast time programme. When I suggested to him that he must surely be all talked out by now, he said not at all, that he loved talking about the things that interested him, especially to anyone with similar interests. Thats Mick totally generous with his time and always ready to draw from his vast storehouse of information on the Irish in America and their music, and share
it with others. But back to The Ferryman.
It was a wonderful evening. Among his many friends were Micks musical sidekick from The Johnsons years (1960s), Paul Brady; everyone remarked on how well the pair of them looked, noting that panting Time toild after (them) in vain; and it was obvious how genuinely excited they were to be in each others company again. Many other friends who have collaborated with Mick in music and broadcasting over the years were there; they included RTE producer Harry Bradshaw, Nicholas Carolan, Director of the Irish Traditional Music Archive, Paul Rodgers from Tory Island (who sang a song because he hadnt brought the box with him), singer, Frank Harte, and Joan McDermott
of the group, Providence.
On being called on by publisher, Con Collins, to do the honours, Phillip King (of Hummingbird Productions & Scullion), said that Mick was experiencing his first launch because New York had nothing quite like it, it seems; Micks response was greeted with great laughter when he said, New York is waiting! Later, Mick did indeed confirm that, surprisingly, NY didnt have these sorts of launches, and that he thought it was something the Big Apple might usefully employ for authors and publishers, and not
least, for friends and media.
Anyway, there followed an enthralling interview in which Philip and Mick chatted away as if there was no one else present. In an almost offhand way, Mick presents his hearers with the most interesting ideas and thoughts, and afterwards, in discussions with others about what he had said, one recognises the full import of what he was describing and illustrating; in my own case, it was certainly made apparent on playing back the recording Id made of the two-way conversation, and of a chat Id recorded with him the
In the interview with Philip, Mick covered the book and CDs subject matter very neatly indeed, summing up in word and in song (he sang a couple from the CD) what he tries to get across in Far from the Shamrock Shore: depicting the experience of early Irish emigrants in the United States through popular and traditional songs. Of course, Mick Moloney is doubly suited and equipped to deal with the subject: firstly, hes a musician and a singer whos immersed in the folk tradition, and whos in huge demand all over the United States and Canada; secondly, hes the foremost authority on the subject and has a Ph.D. in Folklore; hes currently a visiting professor at New York University where he teaches Introduction to Celtic Music and
Irish-American Popular Culture.
Phillip asked Mick if working under the rigours of academe changed how he viewed the music, how he hears the music? Mick said that people tended to separate academic life from other kinds of life, and added: I dont really think there should be that much of a separation, frankly. Its just about finding out about things and refining our understanding of things, and helping to spread awareness. Thats what universities should be about; and where there should be public access, and a kind of free-flowing dialogue between people in the universities and those outside. For a long time theyve been elite institutes and I dont think they should be. And thats why Im delighted to see people like Mícheál O Súilleabháin in the University of Limerick extending public programming and making Art and
Culture part of the purview of universities.
Mick went onto say that he was delighted to be in NY University at the moment which has a wonderful Irish programme. And as we listened we were saying to ourselves, Oh, wouldnt it be great to be one of his students,
and why didnt we have teachers like Mick Moloney when we were young?!
Philip wondered what Mick thought about the state of Irish music in America today. It is amazing, he replied. And the fact that people are coming from outside the ancestral culture and becoming part of the musical culture. He said that when he arrived in America in the seventies, there were very few Irish-Americans playing; it was basically an immigrant tradition, he explained, and it was very much a subculture, people playing in one anothers homes and playing because they loved it. But that all changed in the seventies, he said, and young Irish-Americans like Seamus Egan, Joannie Madden, Eileen Ivers, Liz Carroll and Kathleen Collins,
started to play the music.
And then he made this incisive observation: It was contact between Ireland and America (cheap air charter flights) that created the context, plus the great revival of the music here; and Id have to say that Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann played a large part in that here, because the competitions were a way for the Irish-American musicians to come over and excel in; and once they had done that they could go back to America with the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval; yknow, that they had gone to the home country, and then people started to take them seriously. Arts agencies, people like the Smithsonian Institute, all the people who control cultural funding in America who said, okay, now were convinced that the ethnic culture is as strong as the culture coming over from the home country. And that was a pivotal breakthrough.
And ever since then people are playing the music, he said, because they want to and because they love it and because its fun. And because its hard, and because you have to learn it, and once youre sucked in, its a lifelong
commitment and its mighty crack.
On a prompt from Philip King, Mick added: I think that one of the great strengths of Irish music is that its never been a museum piece. Seamus Egan said this in an interview with Roy Esmond (Irish TV producer/director)- and he put it very beautifully: Its always been relevant for the times in which it exists, he said. And because of that relevance, and because its really something people can buy into, not because youre supposed to do it, or because its culturally valuable, but because its wonderful; and because its as artistically evolved as any tradition in the world. And Im very proud to be a part of it, I must say. So the music belongs to everybody now.
Phillip rounded off the enthralling conversation saying what a joy and a delight and a pleasure it was to have Mick here in Dublin for the launch, and he hoped that the book would sell millions, adding finally, And when are you writing the new one? But first, this book, Far from the Shamrock Shore, which is a gem.
Its a great way to learn about the Irish in America. There are scores of great illustrations: photos, period posters and song sheets; but here I must make one small criticism: many of the reproductions are reduced to little more than twice stamp-size, and that I found frustrating. I really wished I could have read the credits on the song sheets and the names in the line-up in the theatre bills and posters. Its just that the presentation and content are so good that I suppose its a case of, Please, sir, can I have some more?!