FolkWorld Live Review 5/99:

Lonesome in O'Donoghues

Finbar Furey, An Taoiseach and the launch of a Lonesome Boat Man

By Sean Laffey

Finbar Furey; press pic March 25 1999.
Finbar Furey launches his new EP in Dublin's most famous musical pub, Seán Laffey jostles for a story.

How strange the passage of time, O'Donoghues pub at the top of Baggot Street, must be Dublin's most famous music pub. Here in the late 1950s and early 60's heads would get together for a bit of a session. It was the start of the ballad boom, and Ted Furey traditional fiddler acted as a catalyst and link to bring the two worlds together. Here the Ronnie Drew group became the Dubliners. Luke Kelly at 18 was already singing; a poem hangs next to the bar, and one of the final lines refers to the budding talent of Mr. Kelly.

This pub has history, so much so that it is on the tourist map, Liverpool might have the Cavern, Dublin has O'Donoghues. Unlike many of the city's drinking establishments it hasn't been refurbished or given the retro look, it is still a genuine boozer. Only just, as one fisherman (yes Dublin is a port city and the odd salty dog does venture beyond Merrion square) was quick to remind me at the launch of Finbar Furey's latest EP. " I've been coming to this pub every night for 27 years, and this is the first time I have been asked to sit in the back room, I'm a regular for jeez sake!" he complained. At that moment in walks a young German tourist asks to take some photographs of the bar, is given permission, shoots of his compact and then leaves. "See what I mean" says the fisherman "no bloody respect for the place, you are supposed to drink in here, it isn't a museum." Good point, by all means visit our pubs, take pictures, but get involved, have a jar and a natter with the locals, memories last longer than photographs.

O'Donoghues; photo by Sean Laffey Around the bar are dozens of black and white photographs and large caricature sketches of those characters from the heyday of the ballad boom. Luke Kelly, John Sheahan, Ronnie Drew, all youthful, large heads on tiny bodies defying convention with a song. At the right hand side of the bar, is one of the most striking traditional photographs you will ever see. Finbar and Eddy Furey, shot when Finbar was only 17. The photographer must have been on the floor when he took it, the two lads are looking down on you from a great height, Eddie on the fiddle and Finbar, leaning backwards, clad in jeans, the pipes at an aggressive angle, cock sure, aggressive full of confidence.

Tonight, Finbar is shaking hands, greeting news-hounds, chatting to photographers, looking for a photo-opportunity. I don't see any photographers looking for an unusual angle, it is as if everything has mellowed. So why all the media interest. Guests is the simple answer, and Finbar has two very special guests that will ensure he gets full media coverage.

Jeremy Beadle the British TV personality is there, trying to spend money, and the bar staff will have nothing of it, all drink is on the house. The launch is sponsored by Miller, a beer which is being aggressively marketed in Ireland at the moment. Most folk it has to be said are drinking Guinness, sure old habits die hard, but the photo-shoot is done against the backdrop of Miller poster, and we are asked to hold a pint of Milwaukee's finest if we are being snapped. There is stout for drinking and Miller for posing.

Finbar Furey (left); photo by Sean Laffey Jeremy Beadle is all smiles, very personable, a self proclaimed London Telly Luvy, he gushes genuine praise for Finbar, "he's marvellous, he is one of your National treasures, I always see him when he plays in London" - copy duly taken down.

Then it's over to the main event, the big guest. An Taoiseach, Bertie Aherne, he walks in from the Oireachtas, its just across the road and with Dublin traffic he wouldn't risk the limmo. A few hand shakes, a cup of tea, no booze for Bertie, he has a helicopter to catch and a meeting in Stormont by eight. He says very little, wishes Finbar well, there's a hint of electioneering about it all, European and local elections are looming and hen there's the problem with the Good Friday agreement, lighten the news content, that should work a treat and play to your own constituencies. You see Bertie and Finbar are "North of the River", Dublin is really a city of two halves. Dublin, the Viking "black pool" grew up around the south bank of the river Liffey, and the Vikings and everyone since were fierce merchants. South of the Liffey, things are more expensive, there's more style, grand squares , leafy parks. North of the City, things are different, this was Baile Ath Cliath (Bal-ya Clee-ya) the Hurdle Ford, the home of the native Irish, it a land of tenements, public housing, inner city decay. Finbar and Bertie come from this territory, making your mark south of the river is a sign that they have both arrived.

Finbar Furey; press pic So what are they launching? A three track EP, three versions of Finbar's classic Lonesome Boatman, not the most difficult or complex pieces ever written for the whistle it must be said. But it is the tune that established the low whistle in Ireland. "Those yokes were invented for pipers so they might sound a bit like flute players" I overheard in a pub later that week. For this new CD, The Lonesome Boat Man has been given a club backing, restructured for the youth market. It works a bit, but we get to hear it on continuous replay for about an hour and a half, no-one is dancing at the end of it all. To be fair we are promised a new album later in the year

As I leave, I look back at the picture of the young Finbar, I have to ask where has all that defiance gone?

Photo Credit: (1 & 4) Finbar Furey, Press pic; (2) O'Donoghues; photo by Sean Laffey; (3) Finbar Furey (left); photo by Sean Laffey

Sean Laffey, author of this article, is the editor of the excellent monthly Irish Music Magazine, one of the best and most professional folk magazines around.

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