Monday, 27 July 2015

Here's to The Catskills and O'Shea's Irish Center

            We were fired from The Casino on Cape Cod immediately after we stepped offstage. It came as a total surprise as we’d been hired for the summer and it wasn’t yet Memorial Day.

Not a good night for Turner & Kirwan of Wexford, we were flat broke, our money spent on immigration lawyers and a new van.

            After three nights of cadging drinks around Falmouth I called Mike O’Brien of the infamous Trinity Two - a mentor of sorts to us.

            “Fired again,” says he. “What did you do this time?”

            “Nothing, Mike, everyone loved us, honest to god!”

            “Oh yeah? Well, you’re in luck. The band here just got fired too, and the owners are looking for some bowsies who can make people dance.”

            “No better men,” I volunteered. “Where’s the gig and when do we start.”

            A man of few words, Mike rattled off, “O’Shea’s Resort, Leeds. Tonight!”

            “Where’s that?

            “The Catskills, buy a map. Be here no later than 7pm.”

            With that he hung up.

            Leeds was not as we expected. We sped through the village a number of times, eyes peeled for an Irish Grossinger’s replete with golf course and Olympic style swimming pool.

            Eventually we found the more utilitarian O’Shea’s Irish Center and thus began one of the great summers of my life. It didn’t start too auspiciously, for we knew none of the waltzes and foxtrots favored by the regulars. Luckily, a large group of young waiters from a nearby Italian resort dropped in and we bopped them ‘til they dropped.

            Within a week we were the toast of the town – such as it was – although I suspect people came as much to look as listen. I hadn’t shorn my hair or beard for over a year, and Turner’s cut was akin to David Cassidy’s on steroids.

            If we looked different, we fit right in as regards carousing, gambling, and all the other pastimes that back then attended the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Though it was the mid-1970’s, that summer the 60’s hit Leeds with a bang.

            Not that Jerry and Mrs. O’Shea seemed to notice. What a lovely couple! Forty years out of Kerry and you could still cut their accents with a knife. Mrs. O’Shea’s specialty was a formidable meatloaf that she served with great regularity; perhaps more to the point she had a kind word for everyone’s hangover.

She did insist that all her staff take three communal meals a day; this caused no end of problems at the breakfast table as few had hit bed before dawn.

            Mr. Jerry O’Shea had been a boxer. His favorite pastime was to feint the unwary with a left hook, then hammer home a straight right to the shoulder that caused near paralysis. Needless to say, his staff was always on its toes.

            Down the street in Gilfeather’s Sligo Tavern, the late, lamented Joe Nellany held court. Joe may have occasionally played his accordion without a lit cigarette dangling from his lower lip, but never in my presence.

Gerry Finlay and Tommy Mulvihill, the soundest of musicians and gentlemen, were stalwarts in his Sligo Aces, while in nearby East Durham, Dermie Mac belted out rockers and, to our considerable chagrin, was adored by the ladies.

We spent our Mondays at the free concerts in Saratoga Springs or in Woodstock where one blessed night we sat next to members of The Band in Tinker Street Café.

            We wasted away steamy days in the river below O’Shea’s; it was on the nearby rocks I began my first novel – it was god-awful, but it hooked me on this writing business.

            The O’Sheas have long gone. But I bet there are many loyal Echo subscribers who remember them, for everyone in Leeds devoured this paper in those serene pre-internet days.

            Eventually, the summer ended and we all went our separate ways. I didn’t return until the 1990’s with Black 47. The world had changed immeasurably but everything in Leeds and East Durham seemed much the same. That’s the glory of the mountains – peace, continuity and simplicity.

            To everyone up there this summer, I wish you the best, and let’s raise a glass for those no longer with us. Here’s to the Catskills!

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