In the course of my travels I’ve lost count of the number of bars in which I’ve sat, alone and happy, staring at a bunch of blokes having an uproariously good time. Alongside singular freedoms, being on the road brings an inherent loneliness to life. Even as I thrilled at being in that bar in that village in that foreign country, I envied those lads, hanging with their everyday mates, having a right laugh.
Like life itself, travelling is a wasted journey if you don’t learn how to be happy on the way. So I was very aware the other night that I was among those lads, those everyday mates who I’d coveted on the road.
Sitting between The Body and Whispering Blue, I was the Chelsea in a United-City Club Sandwich, and even though I was in a pub, I was completely at home, surrounded by my brethren.
I was, as the Irish are wont to say, ‘happy out.’ So I appreciated it. I enjoyed the moment and noticed the happiness coursing through me.
The bad times you never miss. They come up behind you and hit you over the head with a baseball bat, repeatedly and rudely until you beg for mercy. Yet our happy times are very likely more numerous and long-lived than any of us realise. We smile and share a chuckle, hug a brother or a friend and feel a rush of love back, yet walk away as if nothing happened.
So I try to make sure that I notice and appreciate the good. If my family are a gratefully-accepted given, then without doubt the greatest good in my life has been my friends.
At Public School I met and bonded with a fairly extrovert bunch of individuals who were kicking back in a mildly non-conformist way against the entrenched regime of the institution. Over the last 4 decades we’ve all remained in touch, becoming embedded in each other’s lives somewhere between family and other friends. We’re an incredible bunch, our friendships forged in the searing hot fires of teenage rebellion, and I am eternally grateful to have them in my life, as both individuals and a collective.
It’s over 20 years since I moved to Ireland and met Blitz, The Body and Whispering Blue, but such is my luxury and fortune that I’m able to think of them and all my Irish pals as new friends.
My awareness of how unusual it is to call friendships of 20 years’ standing ‘new’ came to a head a couple of years ago, when I was at a gig at the Roisin Dubh, hosted by Tuam’s revered poet and songsmith Seamus Ruttledge and Conor Montague, a.k.a. Monty, the creator of the hilarious series ‘Who Needs Enemies?’
The two lads were reminiscing on stage about how long they’d known each other, talking about 1994 and that little paper they worked on. All of a sudden something twisted deep inside me. I felt happy, swollen-hearted and deeply sentimental. Oh please god no don’t make me cry right here, please, no, not in front of all these fairly drunk people.
Thankfully with the help of another Jameson, I managed to keep my tears to myself, but I felt moved. Here were these old friends, locals talking of a shared past, and I, a lowly blow-in, had been there at that time.
Seamus had asked me to contribute to that paper, and ever the opportunist when there’s a chance to make money from my scribbling, I wrote four columns for it, under four different aliases. I wrote the drug-crazed biker Freebase Kevin; the Muse with the Views, Swami ben Carpenter; the ingenue blow-in, Poor Little Greenie, and my personal favourite, the petulant politico, Pink O’Bum.
Back then I didn’t really know who Seamus was, or even what he did exactly, but I dribbled a merry dance around the streets of Galway trying to find him and the money he owed me!
Even though I saw them as new friends, going by their time frames I have now earned the right to be referred to by that esteemed and comfortable title: ‘Old Galway Head’.
After that gig I said to Seamus that I’d love to participate in one of these events, and sure enough, last Summer I got the call. Would I read a piece at the charity fundraiser ‘A Night For Celia’?
That fun-filled, relaxed yet uproarious evening was last July, and following the success of several such collaborations between Monty and Seamus, I’m delighted to announce that their event ‘Far From Literature We Were Reared’ will close this year’s Cúirt International Festival of Literature this Sunday, April 28th.
Like all of Galway’s other festivals, Cúirt relies on and is inspired by talented local personalities from both Galway City and County, so it’s perfectly fitting that this year’s festival will finish with an irreverent and eclectic programme, from an array of Galway-based writers and performers - including this very ‘umble colyoomist.
Following on from the success of last year’s fun and frolicksome event, this cocktail collection of performances by well-known literary figures, musicians, comedians and emerging writers has moved from the cosy confines of upstairs to the main stage at the Roisin Dubh. Mixing Hennessy Award nominees with known miscreants on day release, the stage will be shared by poetry, song, comedy and fiction, in what will be one of this year’s Cúirt Festival highlights.
Together with music from Seamus, Willow Sea, Pearse Doherty and Michel Durham, there will be readings from Olaf Tyaransen; Kevin O’Dwyer; Laura Ann Caffrey; Fiona Farrelly; Helena Kilty; Paul McCarrick; Ruth Quinlan; Emma Comerford; Kernan Andrews; Aideen Henry; Paul McMahon; Alan McMonagle and myself.
Comedic satire will appear in the forms of the unique John Donnellan, grumpy taxi driver Hugo Seale and Street Theatre Artist, Midie Corcoran.
A mighty night is guaranteed. I’m really looking forward to being there, grateful and happy to be surrounded by friends.
Roisin Dubh: Sunday 28 April: 8pm 'til late: Admission €8/5