It’s Christmas Eve and it doesn’t feel quite like it.
I’ve been practicing breathing exercises I heard a psychologist recommend on the radio the other day as a way of dealing with the uncertainty that the scary rise in Covid cases is giving rise to in the last few days. Breathing slowly and deliberately does help to tone down the anxiety in what seems like a very fragile situation. It looks like we are set for a very heavy lockdown, yet again, as the virus sweeps the country. The ‘break’ to allow Christmas to have some sort of normality associated with it has been pulled back a lot and seems like it is destined to be pulled back further.
My heart goes out to people who are lonely, fearful and miserable tonight and to all the people who are working in hospitals and care homes trying their very best to care for people who are being ravaged by the virus. I know many families who are all split up and also people who have been separated from their elderly relatives for months on end. There are no easy answers, that’s for sure.
Meanwhile, Ireland has heaved a sigh of relief today as the United Kingdom and European Union finally, finally agreed a Withdrawal Deal which will offset some of the worst effects of Brexit on our little country here on the edge of Europe. It’s still unclear exactly how it will all pan out but, at least, it looks like we will be spared mega tariffs and huge problems in relation to trading with our nearest neighbour.
And all the while, I have been haunted today by memories of the great balladeer, Liam Clancy, who I was fortunate enough to see in concert a couple of times. He was some character and the song that has been playing under the surface today is The Dutchman as I remember hearing him sing it with immense feeling here in Waterford during one of his final concerts.
It brings me to the love and connection that can exist when dementia enters a relationship. So many of our most vulnerable older people who have been caught up in the Covid situation have dementia and I really feel tonight and every night for couples who find themselves separated after long years spent together.
Christmas Eve is a night when one cannot but think of one’s parents and tonight I remember so many precious Christmases shared with my late mother and father who I was fortunate enough to have until they were 89 and 91 respectively ( and living just around the corner from me.) They are happily in my heart tonight and I think of them not with sadness but with great love and appreciation.
Sunset at Garrarus caught me off guard today as it was all about contrasts, light and shade, closing in and opening out.
It evoked thoughts of Turner’s paintings, but even more thoughts of distance and togetherness.
Nowhere is the issue of distance and togetherness more apparent than in relationships where a person has dementia.
The moodiness of the scene made me think of my late father, who used the word ‘moody’ very much when it came to photographs and paintings. He had some form of dementia in his later years. This made for stormy moments but also moments of intense clarity and oneness.
I think of him with intense love as I listen to the great Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem singing The Dutchman.
The concept of ‘Poetry in Motion’ is one that resonates hugely with me and I even went as far as buying a rose back in February that had that name. It is now in full bloom and I’ve been thinking more and more about who and what symbolizes ‘poetry in motion’ most for me. It has been an interesting ‘internal’ debate because it has made me realise that what I seem to admire most is the natural ~ be it nature itself, natural talent or nature as it manifests itself between people. So, here’s my top ten (out of hundreds) in no particular order:
#1. Tennis player Roger Federer in full flow.
#2. Former Waterford County Hurler, John Mullane whose natural talent and passion was a thrill to behold.
# 3. Irish athlete, Sonia O’Sullivan, as she sprinted to victory on the world stage.
#4. The dimpled smile of Irish poet, Brendan Kennelly when he introduced his poetry at a reading I attended in Trinity College, Dublin when I was a Junior Freshman.
#5. The sheer talent and handsomeness of golfer, Seve Ballesteros, who I was fortunate to see playing at the Irish Open in Mount Juliet, Co. Kilkenny.
#6. Irish boxer, Katie Taylor, as she danced to Olympic Gold.
#7. The sea kissing the shore here in my beloved Co. Waterford.
# 8. The brilliance of Michael Flatley and Jean Butler as they performed in Riverdance.
#9. The great Liam Clancy with his natural talent as singer, story-teller and musician.
# 10. A deep, enriching hug with someone who truly cares.
I’ve just been down a labyrinth of memory lanes trying to identify the ‘Greatest Love Song.’ How on earth can anyone be objective about this, given that love songs really are all about associations to love, feelings of love ….. Love has so, so many guises ~ those yearnings, the missed heartbeats, eyes meeting, hands touching, hearts melting …..
A song that wouldn’t seem remotely like a ‘love song’ to anyone else could be the ultimate ‘love song’ because of the memories it conjures up and I’ve just been luxuriating in a bubble bath of those!
Having said all that, I keep coming back to one man and one song. I’ve written about my absolute admiration for Liam Clancy here before
A recent visit to Ring and Helvick, which are on the faraway headland which gazes back at me when I am on the beaches near my home in Tramore, Co, Waterford, stirred up memories of my all time favourite singer, Liam Clancy. Ring was the place where Liam Clancy chose to live after a long, illustrious career touring the world, until his death in 2009.
One only has to flick through his book, Liam Clancy: Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour (2002) to gain insight into the heart, soul and rollercoaster life of this man, described by Bob Dylan as ‘the best ballad singer I ever heard in my life.’
Watching the boats at tranquil Helvick Harbour, I found myself thinking about two occasions on which I was lucky enough to hear Liam Clancy sing. The first was in 1987 at The Grand Hotel, Tramore. I had broken my leg not long before that and was in considerable pain as I hobbled on my crutches into the historic hotel. The large room was packed with both locals and holidaymakers full of joie de vivre. Liam Clancy came in quietly, took his place with his guitar on a tall bar stool. The hush was palpable as we heard that unique melodic voice introducing his first song. Unforgettable moment ~ charisma, humility, poetry, trademark hat …..
He sang songs that he must have sung thousands of times with the passion of someone performing them for the very first time in public. He changed pace from heart-wrenching ballads, like The Dutchman to ‘come all yas’ that we have long associated with The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. Pain of leg forgotten for those magical hours and Liam Clancy’s warm smile and twinkling eyes carved a deep niche in my heart and memory.
I think of the thousands of kids with memories of weeks spent at Colaiste na Rinne (or ‘Ring’) learning Irish for the Inter and Leaving. Liam Clancy and his music will have been part of so many of their lives because this man, with his brothers and Tommy Makem, as well as on his own as a solo artist, was representing Ireland and Irishness all over the world for around five decades from the 1950s onwards. Weeks at Ring so often talked about as first weeks away from home; hot summer days; budding romances; life long friendshps.
I look again towards the Waterford side of the bay and recall the second time I saw Liam Clancy perform. This was in Garter Lane Arts Centre in Waterford around 2006. This time the room was small but again full to capacity. I had brought my young son to hear a master perform. The smile and twinkling eyes were even warmer, if that was possible, than they had been in the Grand Hotel twenty years before. Here was a man, who laughingly mentioned ‘senior moments’ singing from the depths of his being. He had no need for fancy sound systems. His melodious voice and intense love of words, music and life echoed far beyond that intimate setting in Garter Lane and somehow they seemed to be whispering back to me from the sea out by Ring and Helvick last monday. So many songs to choose from but The Dutchman stands out for me http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBIBGOTSI94