He may be tiring of the ‘liberal agenda’, but Jimmy Crowley is as passionate as ever about the songs of his native city, writes.
Cork balladeer and song collector, Jimmy Crowley, has always been his own man. Dubbed ‘the voice of Cork’, he started collecting Cork folk songs in the late 1960s and early ’70s when it was neither fashionable nor profitable.
Through his band, Stoker’s Lodge, Crowley’s career kicked off with ‘The Boys of Fairhill’ in 1977. He proudly sings in his endearing slightly nasal Cork accent, doing for his native city what The Dubliners did for their home town.
“It was totally at variance with pop and rock’n’roll at the time,” says the 68-year-old Douglas man.
On the social and political front, Crowley finds himself at odds with the prevailing mood of the country, saying that he’s sick of the liberal agenda. In the abortion referendum, he voted against repealing the Eighth Amendment.
“I actually bucked my own trend. For the first time in my life, I took a conservative stand. I felt we were throwing everything out that makes us what we are. I got the worst kind of abuse from so-called friends. There’s stuff being hyped and spun in this country. I don’t know what the next trend is going to be. Maybe it’ll be euthanasia.”
The media, Crowley claims, is really dangerous. “You’ve got to be wary of trends and the media can create the next trend. I hate the way stuff is being spun. I would vote ‘no’ again in the abortion referendum. I think it would have been much easier to insert a clause in the constitution that in the case of a girl being raped, she would have every right to have a termination. That’s all. But people always want a bit more.”
Crowley feels that people were afraid to vote no.
They were carried along on this barmy unquestioning wave set up by the media, the Dublin 4 crowd. People are afraid to stand up and be old fashioned. The time will come when if you’re an Irish nationalist Catholic, you’ll probably be seen as a subversive in this country
But Crowley hasn’t turned completely to the right. He went to live in the US about 12 years ago, spending seven years there, based in Florida. Homesickness brought him home although he had some great times gigging in America. He says he wouldn’t like to live there with Donald Trump in power.
“He has done some good things but I would never vote for him. Bernie Sanders would have been my man.”
JIMMY CROWLEY’S FAVOURITE SONGS FROM HIS REPERTOIRE:
(Words attributed to John Fitzgerald, ‘The Bard of the Lee’, William Maginn and Fr Prout.)
“I love this song. It’s saying that Cork, often called the Venice of the north, is like the Garden of Eden.
“It was very much seen as a beautiful city. In the 19th century, you had people like Fr Prout and William Maginn writing about Cork in Fraser’s Magazine published in London. These men were friends of Charles Dickens.
“They had their own club, the Gutter Club, a bit like Cafe Lorca [Cork 1980s bohemian cafe]. The Gutter Club was on Fishamble Lane, off North Main Street. There, they would talk and drink and sing.”
(Provenance unknown. New lyrics by Pat Daly.)
“This is a ‘dandling song’, which parents would sing to a cranky baby with perhaps teething problems. You wouldn’t want to put the baby to sleep. You’d just want to entertain it. The name of the song is really a term of endearment. I’ve searched high and low to see who wrote it. it was a girl called Ger McCarthy who sang it for me and Pat Daly, a brilliant writer, rewrote some of it.”
(Words by John Fitzgerald with additional new music by Jimmy Crowley.)
“John Fitzgerald (1825-1910) used to walk around the bridges of Cork every day. As well as writing, he was a brilliant cabinet maker and wood carver who won a special prize at the Great Exhibition in Cork. I love this song. There are lines in it that always bring a tear to my eye. They include: ‘There is nought in the land of the slave or the free,/like the green hills of Cork and my home by the Lee./’
“I also like the line ‘I have dwelt with the red man in green forest bowers’.”
(Words by Pat Daly. Music by Jimmy Crowley).
“This song is about ghosts. The old people, as well as Aborigines and Native Americans, still believe that if you go to an area and really concentrate, you’ll pick up ghosts and the history will talk to you.
“Pat Daly came to Coburg Street and wrote this brilliant song. To me, it’s a great example of a contemporary Cork song that is still written within the old tradition.”
The ‘rose’ in the song has ‘Eyes of hazel, auburn hair’.
Crowley says he doesn’t know who Pat Daly’s rose was “but we all know roses like her whose faded petals still bear a languid ghostly scent”.
(Words and music by Seán O’Callaghan).
“This song is about the affection of a whole community for a black and tan dog, called the Armoured Car. Seán O’Callaghan from Fairhill wrote it in the early 1920s. He was an amazing man, the Shakespeare of the north side. He was a rake.
“He was also in love with his parish and with the Fairhill harriers. He went out on drag hunts and went to hurling matches and would go back to his club and drink porter and make up songs. He also wrote ‘The Boys of Fair Hill’.”
(Words by Billy Bullman).
“What I like about this song is that it shows we have a proletariat in Cork,” says Crowley. In his book, Songs from the Beautiful City, Crowley writes: “There’s plenty of social history here: working class solidarity, rent strikes and marches to the City Hall in the Sixties while the gas
restrictions mentioned assigned the birth of Gurrane to the dark days of the Hitler War.”
It goes: ‘There’s a spot in dear Cork city they calls/Gurrane,/ Far away from all the pubs and all the pawns,/ To get there you must hike it,/Bike it and you’ll like it,/Not a spot in dear Cork city just like Gurrane./’
Jimmy Crowley will perform four concerts at Triskel Christchurch from Thursday to Saturday, including two on the final day, at 1pm and at 8pm.