The Clancy Brothers, and Tullahought


Hello folks, I wrote this several years ago, for a newspaper. The golden nights, as described, Are gone forever.

The Clancy Brothers, and Tullahought – a small village in the south of Co Kilkenny.

It was about Halloween time, over thirty years ago, and we were all gathered in Tullahought of a Wednesday night – the biggest night of the week in Power’s Pub.

Jim was dishing out the pints, and Margaret – that great old character and musician – was leading the music, making her fiddle do her bidding.
A lot of local musicians were there, the craic flying along, when in the door walks the Clancy Brothers – all four of them – then at the height of their fame and powers. Men who had never forgotten their roots – who were world-famous – and are still spoken of with awe and affection to this very day.

There was no coaxing needed with these fellows, who would set up and sing for one man and his dog as quickly and happily as they would for an appearance in Carnegie Hall – the greatest music venue in all of America – where they performed for Presidents – and plumbers.
It wasn’t long before the instruments were brought in – a concertina and a couple of banjos – and that was it. No amplifiers needed – the great deep-forest sonorous dark tones were a Clancy trademark.

So, the music started up and rolled along. Then, at about twelve o’clock, when the night was really starting to fly, the most gigantic of thunderstorms struck the Tulla hillside – and out went the few glims! A big cheer for the mighty mountain-smashing thunder-god, Thor, who was obviously peeved by our heroes organ-deep singing! Other ‘gods’ on his mountain? Crash! Slam! He’d fix ‘em, so he would! But Margaret rummaged out a few candles, and Thor was down-faced – though he still raged and marched and furied hither and thither, splitting asunder the dark mountain skies over old Tulla.

Now, in the flickering candle-light, the scene attained an ethereal ancient quality, with the old pub still rattling under fire from Thor’s kettle-drumming artillery, and eerie blue flashes lighting the faces of the four lads, as they put on the show of our lives.

‘The Jug of Punch’ ‘Johnny McAdoo’, ‘Finnegan’s Wake’, and other rousing Irish songs were gloried into our memories by those bass-organ voices – interspersed with the softest, sweetest and most plangent of love songs – the most swooning of crooning laments for the death of youth and beauty – and the most gentle soft-chanted soul-embracing age-old madrigals of regret for loves lost, and years wasted.

All of those beautifully-expressed sentiments, emotions, and events, were redolent of the fates that made – or broke – our fragile lives, in those strange happy/sad topsy-turvy times; they were collectively known as ‘life’..

With the lightning flashing, the thunder rolling over Tulla like the mighty cannons of Armageddon, the candle light shimmering on the rapt faces of the oh-so-lucky listeners, and all our old childhood favourites being sung to us by Liam, Paddy, Bobby and Tom, we all knew that in that small old pub, out on the edge of nowhere, there was something unique and mystic happening amongst us – something that would stay with those of us who were fortunate enough to be there, to the end of our times.

Then, during a ‘Refreshment Break’{??!}, Tom Clancy beckoned me into the old pub kitchen – where a huge skillet of crubeens was simmering merrily away over an open fire, un-knowing of their empty-bellied fate.

Tom had known my mother – an acclaimed pianist – and enquired if she still played – as he and Paddy used call in to see and ‘perform’ with her – and try to buy our old quern! Sadly, she had passed away. Chatting to him over lovely pints, sitting at the old table, I told him of my love for poetry and drama. He could draw you out, could Tom.

He asked me if I’d like to hear a segment from one of his performances in Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’, in which he’d performed on Broadway. Of course! A dream!

Tom stood there then, at the end of the old pub kitchen table, with the heavens crashing and flashing, and the thunder growling and prowling like a great prehistoric beast all round our flimsy little shelter, and narrated and plotted and wrapped that unique Clancy voice around the wonderful words, navigating his way through O’Neill’s splendid work, as his brothers struck up the beautiful and plaintively sad ‘Skye Boatman’ in the room behind us. Aye, the barrel-chested, kind, and gifted Tom gave me a present that night that I’ve never forgotten – the loan of his rare melodious talent.
When I think of that singing – like the surging waves of a warm summer night-wind soughing through the branches and leaves of a mighty oak tree – I thank whatever God who would bother listening to me for placing me there amongst the whiskey-barrel deep-savannah Clancy voices – the men who turned mere words into hymns of love and loss and beauty, and poetry and prose into magic lanterns of music.
And with the elements lashing the skies and driving flying clouds storming over our dear old Tullahought’s hilly village, I knew that there would never be any performance or play in this life again that I could set against it.
For his finale, Tom recited his favourite Thomas Hardy poem – ‘Channel Firing’ – for me. I’ll just give two remembered verses here..

“Last night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins where we lay,
And broke the chancel-window squares –
We thought it was our Judgement Day.

The glebe cow drooled – still God cried – ‘No!!
It’s gunnery practice out at sea!
Just as before you went below,
The world is as it used to be’”

Tom didn’t know how prescient the great words were; he was with us only a few more years.
But I – and all who were present – knew that a little bit of a wishful hoped-for
Heaven had been shown to us, on that wild racing-cloud stormy night, in old Tullahought.

PS Power’s Pub is now re-opened, by Margaret’s nephew, Pat.
Crubeens are still served, and music again echoes round the ancient hillside.
All the Clancy Brothers are gone now, as is Tommy Makem.
Their likes will never be seen again.

Ned E


The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of The Kilkenny Observer.



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