One of the joys of Come Here To Me to date has been interviewing people who we feel have made a real contribution to this city and its culture. We had the honour of publishing an interview with the late Philip Chevron of The Pogues and the Radiators of Space, and we’ve also discussed the city with people as diverse as the street artist Maser and inner-city historian Terry Fagan.
For us, these interviews are a means of collecting important social history from people who have proactively engaged with Dublin and who have stories to tell about the city and its people. For a long time now, I have wanted to interview Christy Moore, someone who has been a constant presence on the music circuit of the capital since releasing his first album under the stewardship of Dominic Behan in 1969. A veteran of iconic acts Planxty and Moving Hearts, Christy has also been an active campaigner in Irish political life for decades, standing beside and a wide range of causes in Irish life, ranging from the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s to the anti-drugs movement that emerged in working class Dublin thirty years ago.
Christy agreed to answer a wide variety of questions on his relationship with this city through the ages, ranging from the great venues of Dublin’s past to his encounters with people such as Seamus Ennis and Liam Weldon who are institutions in the traditional music heritage of Dublin. I hope readers enjoy it. I’ve followed the format of previous interviews here, with question in bold.
Before you we’ve spoken to Philip Chevron from Santry and Paul Cleary from Ringsend about their memories of Dublin in the decades that have passed, as a young lad from Kildare did you have much engagement with Dublin city growing up?
My earliest memories of coming to Dublin are back to the early 50s. Then I spent a lot of time with my grandparents Jack and Ellie Power who lived at Back-Weston near Lucan. Jack loved the old cowboy movies. We would go to The Carlton,The Savoy,The Metropole or to any of the fine cinemas that festooned the city centre. Back then cars could be parked on O’Connell St right outside a cinema. I recall the picture house queues, the excitement. I remember one singing busker who moved down the queue. Also a street photographer who was always snapping near The Pillar.I remember going to the Theatre Royal in Hawkins St, hearing the magic organ and seeing the Royalettes high kicking before the big picture. We always stopped on the way home at Pacitti’s Ice Cream parlour on Parkgate Street .There I had a young boy’s blushful crush on one of Mr Pacitti’s daughters. Later Jack would pull into the Ball Alley House in Lucan or The Dead-Man-Murrays in Palmerstown for a few swift pints.
My first visit to Croke Park was around this time too. The excitement of that is still palpable. The paper hats and rosettes, the Artane Boys Band, The Hawkers ( “anyone for the last few choc ices”). My grandfather was a proud Meath man. If The Royal County were playing The Dubs the pressure would mount. I remember seeing Snitchy Ferguson, Kevin Heffernan and Ollie Freaney playing for Dublin. Croke Park was an awesome spectacle for a young country lad. We always went there on Patrick’s Day to see The Railway Cup Finals. Back then those Inter-Provincial games were second only to All-Ireland Finals in terms of importance and crowd numbers.
Before he died in 1956 my father took me once to Lansdowne Road to a Rugby International. I remember seeing Gordon Woods and Tony O’Reilly play for Ireland against Wales when I was 10 years old. The atmosphere was quite different at Lansdowne Rd.You’d not find too many hip flasks nor rugs in The Cusack Stand.
Recently a box in our family attic unearthed a ticket for a Christy Moore gig in Ballyfermot from the early 80s, organised by the local folk society. Does Ballyfermot bring back any memories? I know you played there a bit, and the brilliant talent that was Liam Weldon was from there, while one of the most powerful images in your book One Voice comes from that suburb, from the day Bobby Sands passed away.
I recall a number of gigs in Ballyer. The one you mention and another one run by my sister Eilish in the Community Centre, I also recall one in The Cinema but my recall is a bit hazy on these. I well remember visiting The Keenan Family when we played together for a TV programme in The Abbey Tavern, Howth circa 1979. I also visited the home of Liam and Nellie Weldon to swap songs with Liam. Back in the early days of Ballyfermot Rock School I did a workshop and small gig there. One of the students that day was Damien Dempsey. I can still see the lovely wild head on that young fella.
One figure I’ve always been fascinated by is Dominic Behan, who worked with you on your very first LP, Paddy On The Road. Dominic always struck me, much like his brother, as a man who struggled with his own character at times but was very talented. It sounds like studio time with Behan and those around him could be quite the experience.
I first met Dominic “Domo” Behan in Shepherd’s Bush London in 1968 when we both sang at a concert in aid the Irish Civil Rights Movement. Dominic was pure Dublin to his very core.He mesmerized me with an enormous repertoire of songs, reflections and poetry. Himself and his wife Josephine were very kind to me. Like myself back then,he seldom put the cork back into the bottle. The sessions went on ’til the bitter end.I learned so much from Dominic Behan. He took the time and trouble to organize my first recording session. He set up the musicians and created the deal with Mercury Records. Sadly, we fell out “in drink” but I remember him fondly and always acknowledge the help he gave me and the hospitality I received in his home.
One moment that is often mentioned in passing but hasn’t really been discussed in much detail is the raiding of the ‘H Block’ LP launch in 1978, which I believe happened in the Brazen Head?
I got that album together on a wing and a prayer. The tracks were recorded at various locations. I begged, borrowed and stole studio time. Tom Ryan RHA gave me use of his H Block oil painting. Stephen Rea read Bobby Sands’ two poems, it was a difficult time with Special Branch harassment and death threats upon all H Block activists. Then when it was all done and dusted the Branch raided the launch in The Brazen Head and provided us with buckets of free publicity. They confiscated all the albums that were there that day (many years later I signed one for a retired Garda who was on the raiding party.)
The period when you were very much identified with the republican movement has received quite a bit of attention, but a range of issues were important to you that shouldn’t be overlooked, reading the newspaper archives your 1978 Late Late Show appearance singing about nuclear power ruffled a few feathers? Those Carnsore gigs would have been some of the most diverse line-ups you’ve played with?
The Carnsore Point Anti-Nuclear Festivals were times of great learning for many activists. The Movement itself embraced a broad range of political views. The Government, as I recall, was mainly Pro-Nuclear.People came from far and near to support the Anti-Nuclear Movement. I was very involved in the first festival and did a series of fund raising concerts in the run up to Carnsore. After the first Festival the Anti-Nucear Roadshow was formed. We toured 12 cities north and south. We played free gigs along the way to great audiences many of whom became involved in the movement to prevent 4 Nuclear Power stations being built around Ireland. Amongst others on the Roadshow were Donal Lunny, Matt Kelleghan,Freddie White, Johnny Moynihan, Rick Epping, Jimmy Faulkner,Susie Kennedy, Louise Kelleghan, Frank The Yank, Mister Clarke, Jack Lynch, Fergus Cronin,Art O’Leary, Art O’Broin. It was quite an amazing achievement by this collective, it commenced in the Assembly Hall Newbridge and finished in The State Cinema Phibsborough in December 1979.
Few people will have played as many venues in this city as you have, from solo gigs to the Moving Hearts days, which venues bring back particularly strong memories? I’m curious if you played Tailors Hall, which strikes me as such a forgotten bit of Dublin’s musical heritage, and I imagine the Hearts played a few venues that were a few notches of the amp above the more traditional folk venues?
I came to Dublin first in 1963. I immersed myself completely in (what was then called) the “Ballad Scene” . Across the 60s there were numerous venues and gigs around town.Among my favourites were The Coffee Kitchen in Molesworth St run by Betty McDermot. The Old Triangle was the “holy of holys” of the Folk Scene and was run by the legendary folk columnist Gerry O Grady. Slatterys in Capel St was an important venue and hosted different genres of music every night. The most popular and long running club in Slatts was The Traditional Club which ran every Wednesday for 20 years. You could hear Seamus Ennis, Joe Heaney or Sean Maguire there. John Reilly sang there once,perhaps the only gig he ever did. The Pavees Club played Thursday nights with The Keenan family and Liam Weldon as residents. Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny ran a club there on Mondays called “The Mugs Gig”. In late 1971 our band Clad took up residency there. By 1972 we had changed our name to Planxty.
There were Blues and Jazz gigs held in The Basement. At this time there were other venues running most nights of the week. The Baggot hosted all sorts of gigs from Mr Pussy to Paddy Reilly. The Embankment in Tallaght was legendary where Mick McCarthy ran gigs, plays and very late night drinking. At the time we joked that you could not leave The Embankment ’til you had drunk your fee. O Maras on Aston Quay, The Hitching Post in Leixlip, The Old Shilling had gigs 7 nights a week. There were late night concerts in The Grafton Cinema on Saturday nights and also regular concerts in Liberty Hall. UCD was then in Earlsfort Terrace and there were gigs there occasionally. The Tennis Club in Rathmines ane The Parnell Mooney were cool venues, the Wexford Inn was muck savage but also almighty crack. For a number of years in the early 60s there was The Studio Club which was run by Smokey Joe. I can’t remember what street it was on ( it opened late). It was a hippy funky elitist up-itself kinda joint .First time I ever smelt hash was in Smokey Joes. Heard really great music there too, a great guitar player called Johnny Carlton, I heard Louis Stewart there, Vincent Brown (Sculptor) played guitar there. 50 years on I can still hear Donal Lunny playing Carolans Concerto on his Harmony Sovereign Guitar, this was way back before Bouzoukis were heard tell of in these part, it was some place for a lad just up from the short grass.
The venues I remember best are The Meeting Place, The Baggot Inn and Mother Redcaps. Paddy Spillane was one of 3 brothers who ran their family pub in The Meeting Place, Dorset Street. He invited me to run a gig there around 1974. I started the Monday Nights there early in the year. At this time I had a band with Jimmy Faulkner, Declan McNelis and Kevin Burke. After a while we started playing the Saturday nights there as well. Then Red Peters started a residency there on Sunday afternoons. The Meeting Place gradually became a hive of activity, not all of it musical. There were a series of festivals run there over the years. I booked the first one which was a week long and featured Planxty, De Danaan, Clannad, The Tara Band, The Rob Strong Band and Freddie White, not bad for a room that could barely hold 130 people.
I often played The Baggot Inn in the 70s. When Moving Hearts first formed all our gigs were in The Baggott. We played there every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday for a long period in 1981.These gigs were memorable for us, we used to rehearse upstairs 3 days a week and there was always a lock in after the gigs.
Mother Redcaps was the best Folk gig in town for many years. I played many benefit gigs there. Heard great gigs there too. My sister Eilish ran clubs there as did many others. It stands idle and forgotten now have been bought by some tiger who closed it down and forgot to develop it.
I recently read a lovely piece of praise about you from the late Tony Gregory, who stated about you that “He’s the one person I’d never ask to do a benefit because he’s the person who’d never refuse”. The height of the anti-drugs campaign, and Concerned Parents in particular, is now 30 years behind us. That movement, and the states response to it, seemed to have a very profound effect on you?
I stood beside the late Tony Gregory on number of campaigns. After he was elected to Dáíl Éireann he invited me to Leinster House. I sat proudly with him for dinner in the Dáil canteen. Surrounded by the F.F. herd I recall what can only described as sneerful looks. But the smile was never too far from Tony’s lips. I wrote a song in support of the C.P.A.D. around 1984. I also attended court cases in Green St where I heard evidence from Dealers and Addicts being introduced to secure the imprisonment of Concerned Parents.
When I last saw you perform, you opened your set with Viva La Quince Brigada. Sadly the last of those Brigadistas, people like Mick O’Riordan and Bob Doyle, are gone from us. Do you have any memories of those men, or just what inspired you to honour them in song as you did.
I have never met finer people than the Brigadistas I have encountered since writing this song in 1984. Peter O’Connor from Waterford and his wife Biddy became dear friends as did a number of others whom I encountered along the way. I got to know Mick O’Riordan and his family too. It was reading his book “The Connolly Column” that inspired the song (which I wrote while staying near Malaga in a village called Frijiliana.) I found the courage and idealism of The Brigadistas both moving and inspiring. Having faced and survived Franco’s regime they returned to catholic Ireland to find that most doors were closed to them. Peter and Biddy O’Connor described in detail the prejudice and intimidation they encountered when Peter returned from Spain.
One of the names that graces the pages of One Voice is that of Margaretta D’arcy, who penned the powerful ‘Armagh Women’. You have always championed the cause of women in Irish society through your music and through your profile in Irish society, with so much emphasis on the men of the past it seems many women, their suffering and causes, had a particular effect on you?
Right through my life I have known and loved strong Irish Women. I have shared most of my life with my wife, Valerie Isaacson from Ceannts Fort in Mountbrown, Dublin. I grew up listening to my Mother, Nancy Power from The Yellow Furze by the River Boyne. My grandmothers were Ellie Power and Brigid Dowling,my sisters are Eilish Byrne, Anne Rynne and Terry Moore, my daughter is Juno.
I wrote “On The Bridge” for The Armagh Women after receiving a comm from the C.O. of Republican Prisoners in Armagh Gaol. I was happy to sing Margaretta D’Arcy’s song which I first heard sung by Geraldine King of Innishbofin. I still want to sing for Veronica Guerin, Anne Lovett, The Magdalen Launderies, The Dunnes Stores Strikers. It’s not a case of championing women, it’s more a case of seeking to balance the scales, to remember, to confront.
I think of you as much as a song collector as I do a performer of songs. Song collecting naturally brings to mind Seamus Ennis, who I know Easter Snow was written for. Do you have any memories of Seamus and the Naul?
I first heard Seamus Ennis in Slattery’s of Capel St. His mastery of the Uileann Pipes was spellbinding. When he played at his best he took us to a magical music place. We met again when he did a tour of Northern English Folk Clubs. I was living in Yorkshire and he stayed with me for a week…that was about 1968..in 1972 I was in Planxty with Liam O’Flynn who was living with Seamus in Terenure. At the end of his life I used to visit him out in The Naul. That’s when I wrote Easter Snow to his memory. Seamus was a mainstay of Irish traditional music. Among the greatest of Uileann Pipers he also played fiddle, whistle and sang.He was fluent in Irish.He spoke and loved ( and wrote beautifully) the very nuances of every dialect. As a collector and notater of our music heritage Seamus had few equals. His contribution to Irish music was never recognized in his lifetime except ,perhaps, amongst his peers. His visits to places, where the music was part of everyday life, were greatly cherished. In those far flung corners of the Island the arrival of Seamus Ennis was always celebrated. He should have been lauded and honored, doctorated, decorated and inducted. He should have been elected a member of Aosdána. What an honour it would have been for all those Irish artists to have Séamus Ennis in their midst.
My thanks to Christy Moore for answering these questions and for sharing his recollections of Dublin with us. Christy Moore will perform an outdoor concert at the Iveagh Gardens on July 11th, where he will be joined onstage by Máirtín O’Connor, Seamie O’Dowd, Jim Higgins and Cathal Hayden. For those who enjoyed the above reminiscences, I would personally recommend Christy’s book One Voice, which is available with free worldwide shipping from Kennys. It’s a treasure trove of images, lyrics and reflections.