Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Reflection on the passing of my friend Dr. Bernard McGuire

 Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile” Albert Einstein. This was the sentiment which adorned the back cover of a NUIG Magazine for former students which, ironically, came in the post just last week. In considering an opening for these lines I thought how apt they would be to encapsulate the life of Dr. Bernard McGuire who passed away at his home in Felton, Boyle last Friday.
I first met Bernard in U.C.G. in the late sixties and became a member of the boxing club there for which Bernard was an active recruiter. It is a validation of the activity and adventures of that small club that a number of  members from that time were present at Bernard’s funeral this week almost fifty years later. His Donegal friend from then and always Ciaran McFadden gave a telling account, at Bernard’s funeral Mass, of how they met and the bond that emerged and continued. Ciaran spoke of the qualities of Bernard or Mac, as we first knew him, laced with anecdote and reflection of a good, generous man with a unique personality. Bernard would have been pleased with Ciaran’s summations and would have smiled at some of the evidential anecdotes.     
Of course it was easier for me as both Bernard and I ended up in the same town and our friendship matured. Not alone was he a friend but he was a caring compassionate doctor to our family and to many families in the region of Boyle.
Bernard was not just a fine medical doctor but was a man with a variety of talents as an active brain grappled with numerous projects down the years. In more recent times a major project of his was the harnessing wave power and that continues at a third level institution presently.  
I remember being with him when he first showed me what was become the site for his home of recent years. The site had been a mill, possibly with a hydro power history.
All that remained were some heavy sleepers crossing the river and the relic of an industrial building on the opposite bank.
He was to build a fine house there with which he had a major involvement. It was a fine achievement in a challenging location. As Ciaran said ‘Bernard was as much at home on a building site as he was as a doctor’. The final piece of that jigsaw was the Bailey bridge which he acquired, if my memory serves me right, near his North of England home of early years. He was rightly very proud of that bridge and liked to relate the story of its journey from Liverpool to Felton.      

He loved traditional music and challenged himself with the construction of some instruments, one being a concertina. I was aware of its progress and completion and last August I brought a connection of mine, concertina player Conor Tivnan, out to Felton to ‘launch’ the concertina as it were. Conor did the occasion justice and the concertina got his seal of approval. So Bernard could tick the box on that project. It is something Conor and I are so pleased now that we did that as you can imagine.

On a recent visit he talked of times in the north of England around Liverpool and his progress in education mixed with his experience of working on the motorways and an adventure with a dumper. I seem to be using the word ‘adventure or adventures’ fairly often in speaking of Bernard! He also told me of how he ended up in Galway. He talked of his original home in Sligo and reflected on a picture in the room of his brothers one of whom had died just a short time ago in Sligo.
 In retrospect it was a wider conversation than usual and his handshake as I left had a quality of finality. But I did not know or realise that then of course. Perhaps he did though. He certainly fought the good fight.  

 In conclusion I return to Ciaran again where he said “ Bernard took the cards that were served to him (in difficult times) and through his intelligence and discipline pursued a career that allowed him to do what was at the core of his persona, To Try Help Others.”  That he did in spades.

While it is an oft-used phrase I think it is truly reflective of Dr. Bernard McGuire. Ni fheicimid a leithead aris ann

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Boyle’s All-Ireland Fleadhs:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Boyle’s All-Ireland Fleadhs:

“I was in Boyle once… many years ago now. It was during one of the great Fleadhs… the best I was ever at…I remember it well…great days, great music.” I have had this reaction more than once whenever I mention that I’m from Boyle. The Fleadhs of Boyle live on in the memories of the thousands who visited the towns on those memorable weekends nearly thirty years ago. They act too as markers in the memories of those involved.

Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann had been founded at the turn of the fifties to nurture and promote Irish traditional music, song and dance. This promotion culminated in the great annual festival of Irish music, the Fleadh Cheoil. These had begun at Mullingar in 1951 and had been held, through the fifties, in towns such as Athlone, Ennis, Loughrea and Longford. Boyle’s turn came in 1960.

Surrounded by Music:While traditional music, native to the town, was scarce enough, Boyle was at the heart of a countryside immersed in music. Among those musicians were Joe and Paddy McDonagh of Ballinafad. They possessed a wealth of tunes which they passed on to the younger generation including Matt Molloy. Also from Ballinafad were Bertie and Michael Joe MacNiff. The sessions in Corrigeenroe revolved around Paddy Nicholson’s. Here was a fine fiddle player, Michael Lyons, who later emigrated to the U.S. while Jim McLoughlin played the whistle. Paddy Nicholson himself played the fiddle, while another great player was Phil McConnon. In nearby Doon were the McGlynns, Eugene, Joe, Pat and Owen and also Peter Gallagher. On the other side of Boyle, in Keash, were Peter and Joe Cullen, Michael Brennan and Mark Walshe. From Killaraght came Mrs. Meehan, Kevin Meehan and Oliver Knott. In Ballinameen there were Eugene Duffy, and Paddy Kenny with E. Lavin in Breedogue. Nearer the town was accordion player Paddy Cregg and flute player Eddie Cummins. From the town were the fiddle players John Dwyer and Paddy Morris and brothers Jimmy and Bernard Flaherty, originally from near Castlebaldwin, both accomplished accordion players. Then there was Kathleen Dwyer Morris who hailed from Ballindoon but became intrinsically linked with Boyle. These musicians flavoured the times as they played at Country House dances, American wakes, occasional concerts and rambling house sessions. They had their own local style dictated by restricted means of transport and local identity. In the fifties this changed and the Fleadhs accelerated the change.

Venue Selection:News of the great gathering of musicians at the All-Ireland Fleadhs, of the early fifties, began to filter back to Boyle. A branch of Comhaltas was formed, instigated by Micheal O Callaghan. He became the first Branch Chairman. Clareman, Garda Joe Leahy was Vice-Chairman; Des Kennedy was Secretary with Paddy Morris and Mrs. Margaret Nicholson acted as Co-Treasurers. Other core committee members included Mr. and Mrs. John O’Dowd; Jimmy and Tess Flaherty, Martin Candon and Kathleen-Dwyer Morris among others. Present, at that initial meeting, to lend encouragement, were Tommy Flynn and Pat Joe Dowd from Lough Arrow. This ambitious committee applied to host the 1960 All-Ireland Fleadh. Because of its youth, it had to overcome the national organisations doubts in its ability to do so at a special meeting in Birr.

Preparation and Anticipation:The town did not know what to expect from the event and could hardly have anticipated the immense size and impact of the occasion. It came as a shock to Boyle but the town rallied and won through on all fronts. The days immediately preceding the weekend were days of feverish activity. Temporary cafes, eating houses and accommodation venues, emerged, responding to the cajoling of the committee’s accommodation secretary, Jimmy Flaherty. Camping grounds sprang up as the town improvised to cater for the expected crowds. And they came, first as a trickle on Friday evening, to a steady stream early on Saturday to a flood on the evening and night and on Sunday morning, until the streets were filled with a happy, jostling throng.

Triumph:The 1960 All-Ireland Fleadh was a triumph for Boyle; a triumph of organisation, co-operation and atmosphere, which left a wealth of memories and established Boyle as a premier venue for the festival. Sunday morning opened to the crash of a thunder storm, which threatened the day. But, having given its salute, it passed on, as the parades and music returned to the streets, while the competitions proceeded in the many centres. Among the winners that weekend were many who were to become household names in the traditional music scene. Joe Burke, Matt Molloy and Josie McDermott were winners as were the Tulla Ceili Band. Locals too performed with distinction, including Frances Grehan, Sean Kenny, and Aidan Sheerin. The St. Attracta’s Ceili Band, Ballinameen; Buion Cheoil Mhuire, Drumboylan and Marian Band, Boyle were successful in the Roscommon County competitions.

A post-Fleadh account went thus “…the memory of it is still fresh in the minds of the thousands…and what memories they are… to try and sort them out is almost impossible for they come crowding into the mind in a confusion of sounds, faces and incidents that prevents the pictures from coming sharply into focus. The skirl of the pipes, the lilt and lift of the dance tunes, the ballad singing and dancing on the pavements, the laughter and noise of the happy laughing crowd seemed to hang over the streets of Boyle.”

Epilogue:The return of the Fleadh of 1966, held in glorious Whit weekend weather, confirmed and enhanced Boyle’s reputation. The opposition encountered by the committee to the Fleadh’s proposed return in 1972, in the nervous atmosphere of the Northern Troubles, was a big disappointment to them. While there were very good County and Provincial Fleadhs in this period, and an active branch, the possible repeat of 1960 or 1966 faded as Listowel took over the mantle. Neither has the number of Boyle musicians grown beyond the traditional families of Flaherty, Morris, Meehan and Grehan. The strongholds are still outside in places such as Ballyfarnon and Castlebaldwin. The local Comhaltas branch is dormant, with little prospect of coming to meaningful life. The twenty fifth anniversary of the 1960 Fleadh inspired the Editor of the Roscommon Herald (and motivator of the first festival, Micheal O’Callaghan) to ask, above a picture of a crowded town; “Will we ever see the like again?” I doubt it very much, so let’s hold on to the memories of ’60 and ’66.
“Ah yes, I was in Boyle once…. “
First published in the important Moylurg Writers Book of essays, on Boyle, Vol. 2, published Nov. 1993.
(Acknowledgements to Mrs. Margaret Nicholson and Mrs. Kathleen Dwyer Morris for their help with this article).

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

In Memory Of My Father

(June 14th 2009)

Though he died over thirty six years ago it seems as if I am still getting to know him. I should have done it then of course but it wasn’t fashionable and I was a younger member of the family. Also I felt I knew a lot more then than I do now. In getting to grips with my father he seems to slip through my fingers. I could not but say that he was a solid, hard-working, farming man. When he arrived at the scene of a problem the rest of us stood back we were confident that he had the answers. Invariably he had.
I know now that having the answers wasn’t quite so simple. He was never demanding or commanding. Indeed he was, for a man of his background, deferential. His solution might be pretty straight forward and we would wonder why we hadn’t thought it through. The answer was from his store of experience. He had his weaknesses of course and it surprises me, in a na├»ve way I suppose, that a genuinely solid and sensible kind of man drank too much. But I’m not here now to talk of weaknesses.
I have many images of him and think of how the poet Patrick Kavanagh, so effectively remembered his parents in his poetry, particularly his Mother and more obliquely his father in his poem ‘In Memory of My Father’; ‘Every old man I see in October coloured weather seems to say to me I was once your father’. It doesn’t happen thus often to me but I can easily recall pictures of my father at his best. I can see him in the tillage field with the knapsack sprayer on ‘the barrel’s edge poised’ as he sprayed the potatoes. He was skilled in the bog with the slean slicing the turf sods or with the shears snipping at sheep-shearing. He is in the hay-field, in his latter days, winding the hay ropes or in that period also when he had graduated to the end of the threshing machine where he bagged the grain. His forte was in harvesting, from the smaller fairs of Creggs, Ballygar and such places, his kind of cattle which he brought together like a football team for the big fairs held in Roscommon town. In a sense I can only post a flavour of the growing number of pictures, as they drift back, for these paragraphs.
We shared a number of lesser things like the adventures of the Cisco Kid in The Irish Press, and occasional articles on World War Two, like Stalingrad, in the Sunday Press. I seem to remember, in his company, the radio programme ‘The Ballad Makers Saturday Night’ though I shouldn’t go back that far and listening to the Derry Boxer, Billy Kelly, being robbed by the referee’s decision against Ray Famechon. He sang regularly from his small stock of songs such as; ‘I Dream of Jennie’, ‘The Galway Shawl’, ‘Noreen Bawn’ and ‘Lovely Derry on the Banks of the Foyle’ and enjoyed Moore’s Melodies and John McCormack.
He had been part of the Independence movement but spoke little of it. He was ‘a county footballer’ and followed the fortunes of Roscommon from a distance but rarely came to watch us play, which was a disappointment. I accompanied him to his last Roscommon match in Ballinasloe, around 1969, against Galway, when they did particularly badly. ‘Shadows on the wall’ he repeated as we headed back to the car in the Fair Green. There was a dividend in being the son of Pat Conboy. It’s a little ironic that I wrote about Roscommon football and the Independence conflict later and had so little information from him, who had been so involved, on those subjects. Before he went to Roscommon hospital for the first and last time, early in 1973, he had his last drink in Warde’s in Goff Street. He did not seem so ill that he was to pass away within a week. I could have stayed and been by his hospital bedside when he died and of course I regret that. Inexcusably I was to repeat that mistake later. I don’t know what he’d have made of the tricolour on his coffin and the volley of shots which were fired at his graveside. I didn’t rail against his death as Dylan Thomas did in ‘Do not go gently into the dark night’ but I missed him and would have particularly liked him to be around for some big occasions later in my life.
Next Sunday is Father’s Day so maybe some of you might meet up with your own dad in an ‘accidentally on purpose’ kind of way. Perhaps it will be in his local as opposed to yours and you could stay with him and not be impatient in rushing off to see your own friends. Make sure this time that you buy the extra drink in three. Perhaps you could ask him about some story, you’ve heard a number of times before, as if it were new. Maybe you could ask his opinion on something. He’d like that. Just make time, because it may surprise you that he’s probably your best buddy. In his mind he has wisdom to dispense from the well of life’s experience and your wellbeing is very important to him. Engage and be patient even if it is slightly challenging. Years hence you may remember the modest occasion and feel pleased by your awareness in making it happen.