Monday 25 April 2022


 It was a strange town but everywhere in Ireland was a bit strange in those days.  I’m talking about the 60’s and 70’s when I knew Wexford best.

Then again, I had a bit of an odd upbringing. My parents lived in one part of town and I lived in another with my grandfather.

Common enough in those days – for if a grandfather lost his spouse, the eldest grandson went to live with him for “company.” Hence, I grew up in a big barracks of a house almost in the shadow of medieval Selskar Abbey.

One cannot imagine such a thing happening nowadays when children are supervised so closely, whereas we roamed the narrow streets of Wexford and the surrounding countryside as free as the wind – and the rain.

I still have a fondness for rain. There was no shortage of it in my childhood, though Wexford in the “Sunny Southeast” was dry as the Sahara compared to the rest of the country where Noah in his ark was rumored to be regularly seen floating by.

Wexford was nothing if not historical. It was often trumpeted in the pubs that way back in the 2ndCentury Ptolemy had reported our burgh’s existence under the name Menapia. 

The Vikings didn’t give a fiddler’s and, on their arrival, hastily changed the name to Weissfjord; ‘twas they bequeathed many of us with red hair and freckles, or so the story goes.

The Normans arrived without invitation in 1169 and never left. They built Selkskar Abbey a year later.

Soon thereafter King Henry II came to do penance in the Abbey for suggesting to some ne’er-do-well nobles that they permanently shut the mouth of St. Thomas a’Becket.

Wexfordians took their religion seriously; in my day we had three large Catholic houses of worship, two Churches of Ireland, a Presbyterian kirk, a Methodist hall, a Quaker meeting house, and all manner of other spiritual establishments including Jehovah’s Witnesses, one of whom got soundly thrashed by a Catholic priest for infringing upon the good father’s franchise.

I myself was a saintly Franciscan altar boy until I stumbled upon the teachings of Marx and Lennon - Groucho and John.

Wexford had declared itself a Free French Republic in 1798 and had little time for Dublin, unless the county hurling team made it to the All Ireland final, which was rare enough.

The rest of the country tearfully emigrated. We, unsentimental Free French Republicans, accepted the reality that Ireland was a failed state and could not support its people

Although many people voted Fianna Fáil, Mr de Valera was not popular. People switched to the BBC when he spoke on Radio Eireann; and when television was introduced they preferred Mister Ed, and headed for the pub when Dev made an appearance.

Everyone had relatives in England. Aidan Ffrench, lead singer of the local Visitors Showband was a cousin of Liverpool’s George Harrison, though he preferred the sweet tones of Hoboken’s Frank Sinatra.

Music pulsed through the streets of Wexford. My father, a merchant seaman, played his Tango 78’s, my grandfather loved Gilbert & Sullivan, while a couple of doors down from us, Dr. Tom Walsh made a fair fist of Verdi’s arias and founded the Wexford Opera Festival.

Delinquent Teddyboys chanted Buddy Holly’s Rockabilly while fierce skinheads toasted Prince Buster’s Ska, either of these communities would rearrange your features for merely gazing at them.

Still it was a very pleasant place to call home. You just had to be diplomatic, keep your eyes peeled, and think before you spoke for dentists were expensive.

Local traveler Pecker Dunne played his banjo and sang on the Main Street every Saturday afternoon. He looked like a pirate and never acknowledged the pittance I tossed in his hat.

My grandfather and I walked along the quayside most summer evenings when the fishing boats docked. His hand would shoot up like a piston to raise his hat for every lady of his acquaintance.

I often caught him studying me as I gazed out at the Irish Sea. No doubt, he recognized I’d been born with Wexford wanderlust and would eventually leave.

He was right; still I sometimes think of the life I might have lived if I’d stayed home and never roamed far from the banks of the Slaney.

Wednesday 6 April 2022


 “All I got is three chords and the truth,” Bono famously sang.

The rest of us settled for the bare three chords. The truth was a bit cumbersome to lug around to gigs“ especially at the “lig after the gig” – the post-show party.

Although there were rumblings ahead of its release in 1976, Anarchy in the UK by The Sex Pistols was the first call to arms of Punk Rock.

I can still recall Johnny Lydon’s sneering voice as it blasted from the vaunted Bells of Hell jukebox. Peter Myers, owner of this West Village saloon had just arrived back from London with the single.

Rock music had become tedious. The Pistols put the Roll back in it. Of course, Punk Rock had originated over here in CBGB on the Bowery, but there was a militant strain to the Pistols single that spoke of disgust with high unemployment, a stultifying class system, and the general malaise of the UK in the 1970’s.

Damn near anyone could play three chords on an overdriven electric guitar; stick a drummer and bass player in the mix, along with some psycho yelling a few provocative phrases, and you had your own Punk band.

You didn’t have to go to music school or practice for years to sound like Pink Floyd or Genesis. You just got up onstage, turned up to eleven, and let her rip.

John Peel, the champion of new music on BBC Radio, heard the call and dumped his Gentle Giant meanderings and twee folk confessions.

Liberation was in the air, the Punk craze spread like wildfire and some of the sparks lit up the polarized streets of Belfast.

To say that Belfast was at a bleak moment would be an understatement. There was a war going on between militant nationalists, unionists, and the British Army.

But Punk made perfect sense to both Protestant and Catholic youth, and bands sprung up overnight behind barricades and spat out more truth than even Bono could swallow.

With Belfast literally booming, bar business was at a low. You had to be a serious drinker to risk life and limb for your pint, with pubs considered legitimate paramilitary targets.

Patsy Lennon of the Harp Bar on Hill Street saw an opportunity and booked local punk outfits. And for the first time since the late 60’s Protestant and Catholic youth began to mingle.

Four bands stood out: Rudi, Stiff Little Fingers, The Outcasts, and The Undertones from faraway Derry.

I play all four of them on Celtic Crush, my weekly show on SiriusXM and their music still stands up. I’ve only experienced SLF and The Undertones live and they were phenomenal, full of you-know-what and vinegar.

Terri Hooley opened Good Vibrations, a record store on Great Victoria Street, “the most bombed half-mile in Europe.” Talk about irony!

Between The Harp and the Vibe, Belfast punks now had two non-sectarian centers to glower at each other.

Terri, a visionary, saw no reason why he shouldn’t record local bands, and soon singles were surfacing and being reviewed in NME and Melody Maker. 

John Peel was so floored on hearing The Undertones he played Teenage Kicks twice in a row on his legendary BBC show. Don’t listen to this song if you don’t want to feel seventeen again!

For that matter, beware of Alternative Ulster by Stiff Little Fingers, and don’t you dare spin Big Time by Rudi.  Margaret Thatcher might come pogoing into your bedroom.

Rockers to the end, both The Undertones and SLF will be hitting the road again this summer – 45 years after they first discovered feedback. It’s only a matter of time before they hit New York.

I’ll be there in my ripped leather jacket and skinny black jeans. I might even dust off my green suede shoes and dip my head in a bucket of Brylcreem.

Punk is back – for many it never went away. In our remote digital world everyone needs three snarling, barbed-wire chords in their life – Bono can keep the truth!

Teenage kicks will erupt again in the midst of Alternative Ulster on the banks of the Hudson. I’ll keep you posted of the dates.

The only thing we’ll be missing is the British Army. But there’ll be few tears shed for them!