On the sad day that Liam Clancy passed away, Garter Lane Arts Centre had a real traditional treat of a programme – The Frost Is All Gone – featuring a living legend of the Irish tradition, the box accordionist, Tony MacMahon. That special pleasure was tinged with a shared sadness for a Carrick troubadour who had spread the name of Irish music to the four corners of the mighty world.
The 70 minute sharing with video projections of a vanished culture, formed a poetic basis for the life and times of piper, Seamus Ennis, who gathered a wealth of tunes far and wide and swopped and shared a lifetime of musical joy, grief and loneliness and sadness in the process.
MacMahon is a purist and a major figure in traditional airs and values and his measured, dreamlike button work was a deep deep pleasure. Co. Waterford piper, Davy Power, delighted on pipes, tin whistle and fiddle and actor Eamon Hunt provided poems and narrative written by poet/novelist/playwright Dermot Bolger.
MacMahon opened slowly and softly with a majestic O’Donnell Abu, as a world of north Dublin was recreated with Sonny Broghan’s Jig and a heart scalding existence of steak and kidney pies as Ennis lived the price of making music in Ireland to sometimes empty pockets, keeping a tradition above ground with proper respect to the dead.
This was the exiled existence of the music makers in London, Leeds, Boston and New York, the lonely dreams of dreams, the sad piping of musicians tears for forsaken hopes and misbegotten misunderstood hopes and prospects. It was tangles and briars, few roses and often maudlin and noble with elegiac kind words and almost forgotten tunes.
You could sense the showing and sharing, the very act of continuation with a Patsy Touhey standing staring into a grave. Or there was a dandling tune to soothe a babe in arms – Madra rua rua rua.
Waterford, Tramore and Dungarvan were name checked with images of a child in a window – soon to become an exile, a nomad, a wandering hobo.
The night passed quickly and words of remembrance for Liam Clancy were said, as the teasing Cunla Dear, Don’t Come Any Nearer Me, and in the half light of the blue and yellow stage, I remembered Liam Clancy playing that same gig and sadly now his revels all are ended, as he joins the legion of the good in the hearth of Heaven.