One evening a couple of years back, Christy Dixon was listening to Clare FM from his home in Dublin when Joan Hanrahan played a slow-air track, ‘An Fhuinseogigín Rua’, on her show The West Wind. Dixon had learned the song going to school in Mullagh in west Clare but the memory was even more poignant because it reminded him of his time playing music with the famed Willie Clancy.
“My God,” says Dixon, “Willie loved the slow airs.”
Clancy had been living in London and Dublin but after he returned home to Miltown, he joined the Laichtín Naofa Céilí Band, which took its name from a holy well lying on the border between Mullagh and Miltown. Dixon, who played the fiddle, is the only surviving original member of the band, which competed all over the country, regularly against the renowned Kilfenora and Tulla Céilí Bands.
After winning the All-Ireland Fleadh in 1958, and the coveted Oireachtas competition in Dublin in 1959, the Laichtín Naofa were asked to record an LP of their music for the New York-based Dublin Record Company. The LP went on to make history — the first LP recording of a Céilí Band recorded in Ireland.
“They were great times, great people,” says Dixon. “Everyone knows Willie for his music, what few people know is that he was one of the funniest people you could ever meet. He was wonderful company, a great character.”
Clancy and his music made Miltown famous. The renowned Spanish Point beach just outside the town, which takes its name from the unfortunate Spanish Armada shipwrecks of 1588, enhances Miltown’s status as a tourist haven. The place has that unique amalgam of west Clare charm and raw beauty but a passion for football has heavily defined the culture and identity in this pocket on the western seaboard.
I lived beside the sea, but I never once swam in the Atlantic Ocean in my life. I only had time for football and traditional music.
Dixon was reared in Mullagh, in the parish of Kilmurry-Ibrickane, just four miles from the town of Miltown. When he left the national school in Mullagh, Dixon went to Ennistymon CBS for two years, cycling into Miltown before taking the old West Clare Railway to Ennistymon.
He was still only 14 when Dixon took up a job in Burke’s hardware store in Miltown. He moved into the town, where he began his new life, and football was at the centre of that new adventure.
Playing with the Miltown-Malbay club, Dixon won ajuvenile medal in 1950. Three years later, he was part of the Clare minor squad which reached the All-Ireland final, losing to Mayo. Miltown-Malbay were county senior champions that year in 1953. When they reached the final again in 1957, Dixon was on the team which lost to Kilrush Shamrocks.
Dixon finally won his first county title in 1959. He captained that Miltown side but a dispute saw that year’s replayed final against Cooraclare delayed until 1960. Miltown were only champions for a handful of weeks because they were dumped out of the 1960 championship shortly afterwards by Cooraclare.
Dixon left Miltown behind afterwards. He moved to Kilkee, where he met his wife, Nuala Neylon, before they settled in Ennis. Dixon thought he had left football behind him at that stage too until a three-man delegation from Kilmurry-Ibrickane showed up at his door one evening in St Michael’s Villas in early 1963. Kilmurry-Ibrickane had a young team and they felt Dixon’s experience could be critical in the club trying to win a firstcounty title in 30 years. Dixon accepted the invitation to return and play with his native parish for the first time.
“I had played no football whatsoever with Kilmurry-Ibrickane before 1963,” he says. “During my 10 years in Miltown, Kilmurry-Ibrickane never approached me. My father was a very quiet man. He loved football and said to me ‘Why don’t you play with the lads here? My answer was ‘It’s manners to wait until I’m asked’. When I was, I got a new lease of life with Kilmurry.”
Dixon was a key figure in Kilmurry-Ibrickane’s run to the 1963 final against Shannon Gaels. The Gaels had beaten Cooraclare in their semi-final but Cooraclare objected and the final was delayed for almost a year. Kilmurry-Ibrickane stormed through the 1964 championship until the county board, in their wisdom, decided to fix the 1963 and 1964 county finals for the first two weeks of September 1964.
Kilmurry-Ibrickane beat Shannon Gaels but they were only county champions for a week because they lost to Cooraclare in the 1964 final seven days later. “I never drank or smoked but it was Kilmurry-Ibrickane’s first county title in three decades and it was understandable why fellas would want to go celebrating,” says Dixon. “The majority went celebrating so much that we were found wanting the following Sunday.”
Kilmurry-Ibrickane won another county title in 1966 but Dixon had retired by that stage. He and Nuala had married in 1965 and had started a family. After Kevin and Therese were born, the family decided to move to Dublin in 1969 after Dixon secured a job at the Central Telephone Exchange. Their third child, Michael, was born shortly afterwards. “Dublin has been very good to me and my family,” says Dixon.
And yet, west Clare has always remained a huge part of his life. The Dixons have a mobile home in Spanish Point where they spend their summers. In July, they had their annual pilgrimage to the Willie Clancy Festival in the town.
A few weeks later, Dixon travelled to Cooraclare to watch Miltown play Kilrush in the championship. Tomorrow, he will tune in to Clare FM to listen to the county final between St Joseph’s Miltown Malbay and Kilmurry-Ibrickane.
The clubs haven’t met in the championship for almost a decade while it’s the first county final meeting between the two clubs. And Dixon’s story gives it a unique background narrative. “Last Sunday evening, Martin Lynch (Kilmurry-Ibrickane chairman) rang me,” says Dixon. “He said ‘They’re all talking about you down here, and your time with both clubs’. I can only imagine the banter there this week.”
Nobody understands the mentality of both areas better than Dixon. He is a Kilmurry-Ibrickane man but the 10 years he spent in Miltown were amongst the happiest times of his life. “I still have a very soft spot for Miltown, I make no bones about that.”
Miltown always felt the same about Dixon too. “In the 1964 championship, Kilmurry-Ibrickane played Miltown,” he says. “And there was never one word said to me about moving back.
I played well the same day and the only thing said about me was for a bit of craic. Joe Hennessy, a great Miltown man, was on the sideline and he shouted out at one stage ‘Look at Dixon out there, a pension book hanging off his ear, and he going through everyone’.
On the mantlepiece of his home in Baldoyle, Dixon’s two county medals are hanging on a plaque. It’s a unique connection to both clubs but the two areas have always been deeply interconnected and entwined; the majority of both panels went to secondary school in St Joseph’s Spanish Point.
Lynch told Dixon last Sunday night of the 20 Miltown kids who attend Annagh NS, which is in the parish of Kilmurry-Ibrickane.
“Both parishes get on very well,” says Dixon. “But there is no love lost on the football pitch. Don’t ask me who I want to win. If it’s a good match, and the best team wins, that will do me grand.”
Given his history and loyalty to both clubs, and the golden times spent with both burnt deep into his memory, Dixon couldn’t see it any other way. A pension book hanging off his ear and he going through everyone