The second coming of An Rí na Cnaipí, Tig Cóilí, Galway, 2008

Based on a TG4 programme about Finbarr Dwyer featuring the words of John Dwyer, Richie Dwyer, Mary Conroy, Theresa McMahon, Martin McMahon, Seamus Begley, Noel Hill, Derek Hickey and Dermot Byrne; and on an interview with Finbarr done by Peter Browne broadcast on RTÉ.

 

“Get.

Your.

Arse.

Down

–              to

–                 Galway!”

(The second coming is at hand.)

“Finbarr is going to be playing.”

 

*

 

They took it in turns to play with the great man one last time,

And he knocked them off their stride with his slouched divilment,

Pulling their legs, wrong-footing them, just for the laugh,

With tunes they’d never heard, in keys they weren’t used to.

Such a free-flowing style of playing that it was hard to match.

 

And even harder to resist. They crowded in and peered in,

They ranged around, young and old, from all over the world, to listen,

And swayed and skipped and danced on tables to his swirling, looping

Waves of music, a wild funfair ride, and gazed on in amazement

And smiled and swayed some more, and still the wonder grew.

 

*

 

And yet, it was a second coming for Finbarr:

His sensitive soul was, nineteen year previous,

Thrown off kilter by a death in the family.

He “took it bad” and emigrated a second time,

And put away his accordion for many years.

 

We didn’t understand how someone so musically

Talented could just stop and never play again.

(“We worked the farm and played music when we could.”)

But all geniuses are in a world of their own,

A world we’re not meant to understand.

 

He wasn’t into recognition. He wasn’t into fame.

He was shy on stage and rarely said a word,

Preferred the background noise, “the louder the better”;

He just played through it, head down, tune after tune,

Set after set, music flowing out of him, from every pore.

 

*

 

As young as ten, he began composing his own tunes,

Once locking himself in the billiard room at school.

‘The Holly Bush’, ‘Beare Haven’, ‘Farewell to Cailroe’.

But it’s a pity he didn’t compose more music.

“It’s an awful pity you weren’t locked up longer.”

Thirty in all, he reckons himself, down the years,

But he never laid claim to one of them on paper.

“I must get my brother John to do it because

He writes music. But it’s not really that important,

Because I didn’t invent music. It was there before me.”

“We should write down those tunes, Finbarr.”

“Sure there’s plenty of time for that.”

But there never was, he was playing the whole time.

 

So nobody is quite sure in all cases, which is which:

Composition or improvisation. An unusual genius

(“There’s a lot of them the same, but Finbarr Dwyer

is not like any other.”), he had his own voice,

(“There were no teachers anywhere.

Nobody cared to teach. We taught ourselves.”)

And put his own stamp on every tune,

Always writing between the lines

With his own ornamentation and variations,

(“I change them around.”) Dwyerising it,

Giving it the kiss of life, as he used to say.

 

*

 

From the first time we heard him, we knew he was special.

Everyone did. Even people who didn’t understand the music.

They had a special feeling for Finbarr. A return was inevitable.

He started playing again around the time he came home,

And word began to get round of something stirring.

When we heard he was coming back to Ireland,

For us it was like Elvis was back from the dead.

 

And he had changed a little bit.

He was doing new things.

Playing better than ever.

“Do you think should we practise, Finbarr?”

“There’s no need to practise what comes naturally.”

 

He had fun with it.                                                                                                         He teased it.

He pulled it this way.                                                                 And he pulled it that way.

He did that.                                                                     And he did this.

 

He enjoyed the trip around music.

He was answering his own emotions,

If you like, through his playing.

 

*

 

Though his name was so famous within Irish music,

Renowned all over the world for his compositions,

We barely knew what he looked like until his return.

But we knew his hand. And the sound it made,

Roaming the world, gliding over the buttons,

Its sure-footed fingers, climbing up and sliding down,

Crossing over and darting out, for this note or that,

Taking in the sounds of his honoured heroes:

O’Brien, Bowe, Burke, Ross, Kelly, Connolly;

Taking in the styles of his beloved contemporaries, young and old:

Mac Mahon, O’Mahony, Brosnan, Brouder, Hickey, Regan;

Taking in the sounds of other instruments and counties:

Connolly, Canny, Casey, McMahon, Farrell, Burns, Healy;

Taking in whole continents and cultures, far and wide:

Yvette Horner, Pierre Gillwater (?), Whitman, Reeves, Jones;

Not caring for expectation, happy “slumming it”, upping it a notch,

Different every time, to keep listeners interested and stay ahead of the posse.

And though we mightn’t have known where that hand was headed at all times,

Finbarr always knew exactly where it was going to go, and he loved it.

 

*

 

Then it all happened. The old dreaded disease took its course,

And Finbarr Dwyer died on 8 February 2014.

 

Maybe we should have been closer.

There was no reason not to be closer.

We just didn’t communicate very well.

We’d like to have been closer.

Most definitely.

 

But we weren’t.

 

But we were close enough.

 

*

 

“I’d love to start playing classical.”

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