Culture That Made Me: Conal Creedon on showbands, punk rock and playing the saw

Cork author Conal Creedon tells Richard Fitzpatrick about some of his influences, from characters in his family’s shop to Ian Dury and Jim Jarmusch
Culture That Made Me: Conal Creedon on showbands, punk rock and playing the saw
Conal Creedon and his dog, pictured on Bridge Street in Cork City. Picture: John Minihan

Cork author Conal Creedon tells Richard Fitzpatrick about some of his influences, from characters in his family’s shop, to Ian Dury and Jim Jarmusch

Being first to hear the news of the world

I grew up over my family shop in downtown Cork [The Inchigeela Dairy on Devonshire Street]. We sold newspapers so I’ve been reading newspapers since I was a kid.

Our shop would open at, say, six o’clock in the morning and newspapers would be outside stacked up. It was almost a huge revelation to snap the twine and look at the newspaper to see what was after happening.

A story that happened yesterday could have changed dramatically by the morning. This was before 24-hour news cycles. News was slow. Headlines were a big deal. C

ustomers almost expected you to know the news because you were getting it first. People would come in and say, “So, what’s happening in the world?”

Single channel TV land

Growing up, it was pre-internet, pre-computer. Most households didn’t have a telephone, and those lucky enough to have television were limited to a single channel, broadcast in black and white a few hours a day.

More often than not you’d find yourself staring at a notice on the screen: “Is dona linn an briseadh seo.” (We apologise for the breakdown.)

Being inspired by an oral tradition of music, song and story the unfolding life and drama often drifted from the street into our shop and wound its way around our counter right into the little kitchen behind.

People came to entertain and be entertained. It was this oral tradition of music, song and story that became my greatest inspiration.

It would be nothing out of the ordinary for a song to break out in our shop – then total silence, as all those seated on coal bags and leaning on counters listening intently, hanging on every word of an unfolding epic saga of how a swan from the river waddled into Number 8 down the street just as the cat was having kittens, or how The Scarlet Pimpernel up the street planted the bomb in Coventry and later escaped from prison.

Gardaí, vagabonds and the showband era

Late at night, when The Hilton Night Club across the street closed their doors, the showbands would gather at our shop counter, elbow to elbow with off-duty Gardaí, villains and vagabonds before the long road home to Mullingar or where ever they came from. I guess it’s true to say that my gods have always been local.

My heroes ate Chester cakes and pints of milk at our shop counter.

Punk rock and a DIY mentality

When punk rock erupted it presented the perfect catalyst for the chemical reaction of youth, mind and energy.

I’ve always been drawn to the true originals: such as John Lydon, Poly Styrene, Ian Dury and without out doubt [local singer] Finbarr Donnelly.

The local music scene was bristling with energy, attitude and originality.

Singer Ian Dury
Singer Ian Dury

I was definitely most inspired seeing schoolmates exuding originality and doing their own thing on stage down 'The Arc'' [Arcadia ballrom].

The message I received was loud and clear: whatever I wanted to achieve, I had do it myself.

The Burning of Cork

About 15 years ago, I made this documentary called The Burning of Cork. It was about the night in 1920 when Cork was burnt to the ground by the Crown Forces.

At the time, there was little in the history books about it. I went to the newspapers in the library, looking them up on microfiche.

The funny thing was that as I was reading the newspapers on the days leading up to it, it was like Back to the Future. I knew what was going to happen on the fateful day.

Each day leading up to it, I was thinking, “Guys, can you not see what’s going to happen?” It seemed so obvious just from reading the headlines that something big was going to happen.

On 28 November 1920, you had the Kilmichael Ambush.

Then you had the city being put under curfew and you’d all these shootings and bombings on a daily basis. Sure enough you turn the page and the burning of Cork appears, 11 December 1920.

Jim Jarmusch and filling in the blanks

I’m not a massive film person but if you’re talking about things that shifted my head in a certain direction, I remember being struck by two Jim Jarmusch films, Night on Earth and Mystery Train.

I saw them rapidly, probably in the late '90s, one after the other.

I loved his style – how he dealt with narratives and trusted that the audience will fill in the blanks. That’s very much how my head works.

Jim Jarmusch
Jim Jarmusch

If I’m writing something I’ll say I’m not going to follow this to the end; I’m going to jump to the next piece and keep going. I think people are able to follow what’s going on.

Carousel and musical theatre

I love musical theatre. One of my favourites would have to be Carousel by Rodgers and Hammerstein. It’s a very dark show. I just love the big extravaganza with musical theatre. It’s all about suspending disbelief.

The moment you go through the door into the foyer the magic has to be in there.

It’s a bit like when you’re a kid and the first time you go to a serious football ground and you start hearing the click of the turnstiles, and the programme sellers.

You’re getting sucked into this magical world and suddenly you come out through the terrace and you go, “Wow, what’s going on here?” That’s what theatre is. It’s about the whole experience. It’s not about the script.

I think the front line of theatre has to be the actors because they’re the people who have to carry it every night. Live theatre is priceless.

Playing the saw

There was a guy down on Winthrop Street who used to play the saw, playing it as a backing track to songs. He had a regular saw for cutting wood and he held the metal part on top, bending it.

Then with a bow for a fiddle, he played it up and down the side. I used go around saying, ‘God, your man is brilliant.”

He was incredible as a performer. I’d always give him a euro. One Christmas, my brother gave me a copy of his CD. The point I’m trying to make is that the live performance is brilliant. The CD isn’t.

Theatre is all about live performance. The sound of your man playing the saw on its own didn’t have the same magic for me. It sounded like a cat getting knocked down!

  • Cónal Creedon’s Begotten Not Made is published by Irishtown Press.
  • Begotten Not Made recently won the Eric Hoffer Book Award in the US, and has been longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award (postponed due to Covid).
  • Creedon will soon receive the Cork City Cultural Award

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