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Aidan O’Hara was at the launch of Mick Moloney’s 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 Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin after the launch of his book and CD, “Far from the Shamrock Shore” (The Collins Press). As it turned out, it didn’t happen; couldn’t 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 we’d meet just after noon next day at Studio 5 in RTE’s 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 o’clock when he finally emerged. Now, Mick had already had a long session ‘live’ on Radio 1 with Pat Kenny, and earlier still that morning, he’d been interviewed on TV3’s 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. That’s 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 Mick’s musical sidekick from The Johnsons years (1960s), Paul Brady; everyone remarked on how well the pair of them looked, noting that “panting Time toil’d 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 hadn’t 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; Mick’s response was greeted with great laughter when he said, “New York is waiting!” Later, Mick did indeed confirm that, surprisingly, NY didn’t 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 I’d made of the two-way conversation, and of a chat I’d recorded with him the following day.

In the ‘interview’ with Philip, Mick covered the book and CD’s 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, he’s a musician and a singer who’s immersed in the folk tradition, and who’s in huge demand all over the United States and Canada; secondly, he’s the foremost authority on the subject and has a Ph.D. in Folklore; he’s 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 don’t really think there should be that much of a separation, frankly. It’s just about finding out about things and refining our understanding of things, and helping to spread awareness. That’s 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 they’ve been elite institutes and I don’t think they should be. And that’s why I’m 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, wouldn’t it be great to be one of his students, and why didn’t 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 another’s 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 I’d 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’; y’know, 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 we’re 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 it’s fun. “And because it’s hard, and because you have to learn it, and once you’re sucked in, it’s a lifelong commitment and it’s mighty crack.”

On a prompt from Philip King, Mick added: “I think that one of the great strengths of Irish music is that it’s 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: It’s always been relevant for the times in which it exists, he said. And because of that relevance, and because it’s really something people can buy into, not because you’re ‘supposed’ to do it, or because it’s ‘culturally valuable’, but because it’s wonderful; and because it’s as artistically evolved as any tradition in the world. And I’m 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.

It’s 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. It’s just that the presentation and content are so good that I suppose it’s a case of, “Please, sir, can I have some more?!”

 

 

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