Friday 20 May 2022

Is Dundalk the new Liverpool?

All right! Hands up – who has been to Dundalk in the Wee County Louth?

Not many, I’d suggest? I’ve only been there once and that was for a much needed whiskey cure at Mark’s Bar, after a hair-raising encounter with the British Army just across the border.

I have, however, known many people from Dundalk, and an independent, spirited bunch they are.

The question is – could Dundalk be the next Liverpool?

What are you laughing at? Wasn’t Liverpool a disdained backwater with a woeful accent before The Beatles turned the world on its ear?

Talk about accents! I don’t even know how to do justice to the Dundalk “shpake.”

Best take a listen to Jinx Lennon – a musician as original and flinty as John Winston Lennon himself.

I came upon Jinx by accident. I’m always looking for good songs for Celtic Crush, my SiriusXM show, and was advised to listen to Dundalk’s Mary Wallopers.

This quaintly named band is the real deal – and in an interview with The Irish Times, no less, they mentioned that Jinx is both an influence and inspiration.

So, I went to the fountainhead and there on Jinx’s iTunes page I found “Proud to be a Nobody from County Louth.”

Just repeat that title a couple of times – are you catching all the internal rhymes? Willie Yeats, move over – it’s time for the mighty Jinx Lennon!

Now I know Tommy Smyth, broadcaster and County Louth nationalist, would rate Jinx’s song title as oxymoronic, since there’s no such thing as a nobody in the wee county.

But the song itself is touching, defiant, original, and totally unforgettable. Not to mention it has already swamped the few brain cells I have left, and won’t depart until I banish it with a hefty dose of Daniel O’Donnell.

And get a load of the saxophone work on this sparse recording – obviously played by a musician steeped in the backstreet Blues and Soul of downtown Dundalk.

Now, Mr. Lennon’s language on other songs of his oeuvre may leave something to be desired, but don’t let that turn you off.

For when you listen to the bould Jinx, you’re not only hearing an authentic local Irish accent, you’re also clueing into the shrouded psyche of modern Ireland.

This is not your imitation Dublin 4 intonation that has steamrolled the life out of Ireland’s unique linguistics; no it’s an in-your-face culchie sensibility that would blowtorch the paint off the sacred walls of the Shelbourne Hotel.

Not that Jinx would ever be invited into such an establishment. They wouldn’t allow the like of this fellow into Stephen’s Green for fear the very flowers might droop in horror.

In other words this border schizo is like a welcome, but bracing, blast of fresh air.

But on to the Mary Wallopers! Not only are they the most interesting ballad group since The Dubliners, the brothers Charles and Andrew Hendy are also the driving force behind the Culchie Rap group, TPM (Tax Payer’s Money)


That’s the genius of these siblings. They allow one to see that the only real difference between Ballads and Rap is sensibility.

Dundalk and The South Bronx may be distant geographically, but the issues of 19thCentury ballads and 21st Century rap are much the same - poverty, dispossession, and a desire to speak out about such things in your own accent and delivery. 

The brothers Hendy and their musical associate Seán McKenna have chosen to live in Dundalk rather than try their luck in far flung London or Manchester.

Why go anywhere else when you’ve got the Internet? After all, that’s how I found them, and now through SiriusXM they’re available all across the US and Canada.

Try their version of Hamish Imlach’s “Codliver Oil and Orange Juice.”

And for a short, if corrosive, blast of Culchie Rap listen to TPM’s paean to “The Boys on the Dole,” but far from the earshot of your up-market granny or know-it-all nephew.

This is the modern Ireland you won’t hear on RTE. It’s hilarious, outrageous, ribald, and in your face, but familiar to those of us raised in country pubs and discos.

And now for the first time it has spokesmen who don’t give a fiddler’s about sounding cool.

Long live Jinx and The Wallopers, and three cheers for Dundalk – the new Liverpool! 

Thursday 5 May 2022

Mother Jones - Working Class Hero

 She was known as “the most dangerous woman in the world,” and reveled in the title. The poor and the dispossessed adored her - the rich and the powerful were less impressed.

You can tell why with statements such as: “Some day we will have the courage to rise up and strike back at these great 'giants' of industry, and we will see that they weren't 'giant' after all—they only seemed so because we were on our knees and they towered above us.”

She was known as Mother Jones but was baptized Mary G. Harris on August 1st, 1837 on the north side of Cork City.

No one knows exactly when she was born and she was loath to tell.

Her parents were tenant farmers who left for Canada during the Great Hunger. She experienced the usual discrimination and sectarianism meted out to Irish Catholic immigrants. But she did receive a good education that would stand to her throughout her long life.

She became a schoolteacher, moved to Michigan but chafed under convent rules, and lit out first for Chicago and then Memphis where she met her husband George Jones, a molder by trade and militant union man.

They had four children and we’d probably never have heard of Mary Jones if Yellow Fever hadn’t taken the lives of her husband and children.

Alone and devastated, she moved back to Chicago. It’s hard to know how she carried on, but not unreasonable to speculate that her loss led to a fierce desire for privacy.

She rarely mentioned the loss of her family, or spoke of her parents, brothers and sisters. It was as if she wished for a clean slate – but at what cost?

She opened a dress shop and with her singular drive and ambition gained a wealthy clientele. But she never forgot her husband’s trade union principles.

She began to attend union meetings and listened to the great radical orators of the day. Then tragedy struck again – she lost her home and business in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

She devoted herself to the task of rebuilding Chicago, and couldn’t help but notice that through boom and bust the rich did well, while workers of all creeds and colors failed to prosper.

“I belong to a class that has been robbed, plundered, murdered, maligned, vilified, jailed, persecuted all down the ages. The earth was not made for a few, but for all God’s people.”

A class warrior had been born, and over the years her reputation grew for she shirked no fight. She is often associated with the United Mine Workers, particularly in “medieval West Virginia,” where she organized, and confronted the brutal security forces of the mine owners.

Like contemporaries Joe Hill and the Rebel Girl, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, she believed in the concept of the OBU – One Big Union for all workers.

The fame of this demure, but fierce, widow with the white hair and outdated black dresses spread, and she began to exaggerate her age to further her legend.

An individualist, she made many enemies for she had little regard for pompous politicians, priests, suffragettes, and socialists, unless they stooped to help the struggling lower classes.

She organized a children’s crusade that marched from Philadelphia to Oyster Bay Long Island to confront President Theodore Roosevelt.

The children’s banners demanded that they be sent to school rather than the mills and coalmines where so many of them put in full working weeks.

Though she kept up a frenetic pace her health deteriorated and at the age of 75 while serving a prison sentence she suffered a severe bout of pneumonia.

Nonetheless, she never stopped fighting for workers’ rights and celebrated her 100thbirthday in 1930 some months before her death, although she was probably 93. 

She may have played a little loose with facts in the course of her dynamic life, but there’s no denying that she shone a big light on the atrocious conditions immigrants, African-Americans, and children worked under.

The young woman from Cork changed many lives for the better. A riveting orator, her rallying cry was, “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

I wonder what she’d think of our Amazon/Starbucks, union-free universe?