Date Published: 31-Jan-2013
With the passing of Tony Small, Galway has lost a truly vibrant voice. Growing up the son of a tailor in Corrandulla, Tony was reared in a musical house. His brother Jackie was the host of RTÉ 1’s The Long Note, and is also a piper and accordion player of some repute.
Over 30 years ago, Mick Crehan, who runs The Crane Bar, struck up a friendship with Tony Small.
“The first time I met Tony I was playing with an outfit, we were touring around Germany,” he recalls. “Tony was playing with The Wild Geese. They were huge in Germany at that time. There was Tony, Peadar Howley, Norman White, Christy Delaney, Mick Ryan and later Eoin Duignan. They were wild in every way! Tony was a great frontman, a tremendous voice.”
At the time, De Dannan and The Bothy Band were also touring Germany, but as Mick says, ‘The Geese were always top of the bill.’ Tony had a deep affinity with Irish traditional music, but he also put his own spin on it.
“Tony had an extra quality that I find hard to put into words,” says Mick. “He had a vast repertoire of traditional songs and ballads, plus he was writing his own. He had great respect for tradition, but he always added something extra. He bred new life into old songs; he was very innovative.”
“I’d put Tony in the same league as Andy Irvine, who I have tremendous respect for. Andy did things with traditional music that I don’t think have been improved upon. Tony had that type of approach to the songs as well.
Tony Small and Gerry Carthy played the very first gig in The Crane back over 33 years ago. The occasion was re-lived at the beginning of January, when Tony and Gerry played together once more.
“Luckily for Tony, shortly before he died, Gerry was over from the States,” says Mick . “We had a gig here with Gerry, Tony, Jackie, and Sean Tyrell was here, and Johnny Mulhern, and Eugene Lamb, the piper. A fantastic gathering of old buddies.”
Last year, Tony Small released Mandolin Mountain. Recorded in Dingle by Donogh Hennessy from Lunasa, it saw Tony at the peak of his powers.
“It’s definitely his best work,” says Mick. “Nearly all the songs are written by Tony – or re-written. I had the privilege of launching it and writing the notes. There’s a huge variety of stuff on it, there’s philosophical songs, travellers’ songs, rakish songs, very deep songs. I think it gives you a picture of Tony and what he liked, and a very good picture of himself.”
Tony Small took a delight in music that was infectious. In an interview with the Connacht Tribune last November, he reflected on a lifetime’s playing.
“I’m able to sing and I’m able to play a bit,” Tony said. “I’m no virtuoso, but I love doing it. And I love sharing it. I do the best I can. What more can I do?”
Tony Small loved playing music, and had an effect that will endure beyond his lifetime. The Galway music scene has lost a truly gifted player. As Mick Crehan says, “he’ll be really missed.”
The way we were – Protecting archives of our past
People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.
Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.
She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.
Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.
Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.
When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.
Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.
And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.
All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.
“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”
That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.
For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here
Ruby ready to rock again and Bob is worth a big flutter in Gold Cup
Date Published: 06-Mar-2013
New edge to Galway hurling championship title pursuit
A battle of talent and the ability to pull in public votes
Date Published: 11-Mar-2013
Here is a question. And there is no holiday or grand prize for getting the answer. But can anyone name the people who have won The Voice of Ireland and what has become of them?
Over across the water in the UK they have The X Factor and while I hate the concept of it, it has produced a few stars even though they don’t last long in the whole scheme of things.
But The Voice of Ireland seems to generate false excitement with the winner ending up become more anonymous than they already were. And it is costing families a fortune in the process.
While the programme is a ratings winner, strangely, it has resulted in those getting through to the final stages investing huge amounts of money in the hope that they will receive enough votes to get through to the next stages.
So, suddenly, it is not about the voice or the talent involved, it is all about votes and who the participants can convince to pledge their support for them. So it is obvious that talent goes out the window.
It means that someone with half a talent could realistically win the whole thing if they generated enough support behind them. From now on, the judges will be taken out of the equation and it will be left to the public to generate income for some phone operator.
Those who get through to the live performances have to engage in a massive publicity campaign in an effort to win votes which makes this whole effort a pure sham. It is no longer about their ability and just an effort to win appeal.
While the initial process does involve some vetting of the acts, now it becomes a general election type exercise in which the most popular will win the competition and the judges will have no say whatsoever.
It is a bit like the recent Eurosong in which the judging panel across the country voted for their favourite song, which incidentally was the best of a very bad lot, but then this was overturned by the public who chose a relatively crap song to represent us.
But again, this was all down to convincing the public about who to vote for rather than having any bearing on the quality on offer. There are times that genuine talent becomes overlooked because of the need to extract money from the voting public.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.