By Gerry Moran
I’ve got to stop doing this. Doing what, Gerry? Presenting Oscars. Pardon? Yeah, I’m making a habit of presenting Oscars. Really? Yes, really. This time last year, give or take a week or two, I presented two Oscars to Mick Walsh and Jimmy ‘Brewery’ Rhatigan, two of the co-founders of the Monday night session (on the go for 30 years now) in John Cleere’s Bar.
No longer John Cleere’s Bar, of course which is why I presented an Oscar to John. But first a digression. John Cleere and myself go back a long, long way – to our first day in school in the Presentation Primary now the Market Cross Shopping Centre. First Holy Communion, Confirmation, Inter Cert, Leaving Cert – there we are, John and Gerry, and even when we went our different ways after the Leaving, John to Aer Lingus, me to UCD, we somehow ended up sharing a flat together in Homefarm Rd in Dublin.
A special memory I have of my school days with John is the day he took ill. We were in 6th class, our teacher was a Brother Grennan, a tyrant to put it mildly. One day John got sick and needed to be brought home and ‘Jack’ Grennan chose me to escort John to his house. It’s a fair distance from the CBS Primary School to Cleere’s Bar at Greens Bridge. But the three of us, John, John’s Raleigh bicycle and myself were in no hurry. Suffice it to say that I got back to school just as the bell was ringing to go home. That brief escape from ’Jack’ was precious and, to cap it all John’s mother gave me a tanner (sixpence) for my trouble. Trouble! An hour out of school and money into my hand. Bliss.
Back to the Oscar and John Cleere who earlier in the evening was presented with a well-deserved award at a civic reception in the Town Hall for his contribution to the music scene in Kilkenny, not least his co-founding of the Roots Festival which has become a massive success and a huge boost to the economy of this city.
Afterwards a get-together in the back room (or little theatre as many of us know it) of Cleere’s pub where Councillors Andrew McGuinness and Pat Fitzpatrick were fulsome in their praise of what John, along with his good wife Phil, had achieved over the decades.
After the speeches, and armed with my plastic Oscar, I decided to add my tuppence worth (sixpence worth even, payback time!) to the occasion because what John and Phil Cleere created was nothing short of phenomenal. Cleere’s Pub became not just a destination for musicians all over Ireland, indeed all over the world (as evidenced by the numerous accolades we enjoyed on the screen, compiled by John’s son, Brian (domiciled in Chicago) it became a buzzing, thriving cultural hub.
There was theatre, home to Bickerstaffe founded by Lynne Cahill and Richard Cook who gave us the Cat Laughs Comedy Festival and brought foreign cinema, subtitles, to Cleeres and who was filming around town these last few weeks for a series to be aired on Channel 4, I believe.
It was in this same theatre that the hilarious d’Unbelievables burst upon the Kilkenny scene, not to mention the numerous local productions. There were art exhibitions (not least by Phil Cleere herself whose work I frequently purchased); we had book launches and literary events: readings by Joe O’Connor, Paul Durcan, Pat Ingoldsby, Rita-Ann Higgins, President Higgins even (when he was mixing politics and poetry, an interesting cocktail) oh, and a few readings by yours truly.
And it was nice to be reminded by John that I was the first person ever to perform in Cleere’s. John invited me down one Arts Week to read some of my humorous verse which I did – for far too long and I duly apologised for that (even if the apology is 30 years, or so, overdue).
In the meantime I’m still reciting at the famous Monday night sessions now under the auspices of Johnny Holden and Paul McCabe, the new owners of Cleere’s and I wish you every success, lads. I also wish John and Phil Cleere every fulfilment and happiness in their future ahead. And so, an era has come to an end; John Cleere may well have left the building but Cleere’s, ‘Ireland’s biggest little venue’, will always be Cleere’s.