THE CARMINIST MANIFESTO, volume II, Chapter 8: Mammon
As I walk the road from Killeshandra,
weary, I sit down:
for it's twelve long miles around the lake
to get to Cavan town.
Though Oughter and the road I go
once seemed beyond compare,
now I curse the time it takes to reach
my Cavan girl so fair.
Now autumn shades are on the leaves,
the trees will soon be bare:
each red-gold leaf around me seems
the colour of her hair.
My gaze retreats, to find my feet,
and once again I sigh,
for the broken pools of sky remind
the colour of her eyes.
At the Cavan cross each Sunday morning,
there she can be found;
and she seems to have the eye
of every boy in Cavan town.
If my luck will hold, I'll have the golden
summer of her smile,
and, to break the hearts of Cavan men,
she'll talk to me awhile.
So Sunday evening finds me, homeward,
to work the week till I return and
court in Cavan town:
when asked if she would be my wife,
at least she'd not said no;
so next Sunday morning, rouse myself,
and back to her I'll go.
Sent: 07 January 2002 08:03
To: Johnny Gillen
Subject: Re: Happy happy
Well, thanks anyway. At least it gave me an excuse to e-mail you.
Bertie was at the Radisson last Thursday night and gave me a big wink and a thumbs-up when I glanced up at him after doing Cavan Girl.
Does this mean I can count on him for my citizenship? Maybe he just thought I was cute.
Thanks for your interest, Jean, Larry. Since you sent this to me via the harp & thistle site, you probably saw my biography. This song is unusual, as a song of mine, in that it is a first-person piece that has absolutely no relation to my experience.
All I can say is that when the opportunity came to write a song set in Cavan, I put together the hometowns of the only people I knew from that county, Michael and Rita Waters of Coolera, Sligo (owners of a public house in the country near where I lived for many years) who lived respectively in the two towns mentioned – I thought at the time – but Rita is actually from Belturbet. So far as I know, his courtship of Rita didn't include hoofing it the whole 12 miles to Cavan or Belturbet and back on a Sunday. Nor, so far as I know, did he have serious competition amongst the town lads.
The overweening tone of the song -- to the effect that a man's duty, once he knows the identity of the woman of his heart, must be pursued no matter what the cost – is very much a reflection of my personal philosophy, gained to a huge extent from my interest in the works and ideas of the half-Irish poet and writer Robert Graves, whose notions have been my cynosure since 1969.
I hope you will forgive this intrusion but I have a bone to pick with you concerning your song "Cavan Girl", but let me fill in some blanks before I reach the crux of the matter.
Firstly, I am an immigrant Irishman, a citizen of Canada, a friend of Larry and Jean Martin of Ottawa - folks who have been in electronic contact with you in the past, an admirer of a youngish fellow who possesses a decent voice – with the improbable name of Michael Kelly, wouldn't you know – and who recorded your song a while ago.
I was greatly struck by it and much mystified that I could recall no knowledge of it in annals of Irish folk music. After much travail, its provenance was revealed to me with help from the Martins. Till that point I figured it was a poem of Thomas Moore's set to music by a rambling bard who vented it at ceilidhs.
Now, to the heel of the hunt.... The first line of your song has this tumescent Irish swain heading off to Cavan Town to spend time with his lady-love, he grows weary enroute and needs to rest up, for God's sake! Now as luck would have it, Michael Kelly’s version has the swain growing tired on the trip back TO Killeshandra - an unconscious (he hadn't really noticed) and much more probable revision by young Mick who incidentally lived for while in Killishandra as a spalpeen (child) would you believe?
To the crux of the matter - what were you thinking when you penned that first line? The reputation of romantic Irish heroes is at stake (if indeed there are any left over there since I jumped ship)
*No offenc(s)e intended.
* I hear you are a Yank - somewhere along the line, but I certainly don't hold that against you. At the risk of losing my goodwill you would be well advised to with-hold any comments on your relationship with G W!
P S Is your given name pronounced "Tom"?
Yep. Short for Thomas.
Born on Santa Catalina Island...but grew up in Ethiopia and Lebanon. Moved to Ireland 1971. Irish citizen. Russian translator/interpreter and serious English poet. My Russian wife has embroidered (somewhat whimsically) two snatches of my verse onto ornamental pillows for our sitting room: "The me that mocked you / spoke to send you on your way. / You circle back to me, / life a-hinge" and "Gloomy old cat, jolly wide fiddle, / flash cow, and maidenly moon; / nippety dog, laughing and little, / bright dish and beautiful spoon." Curiously enough, both relate to the Cavan song, albeit circuitously. This is food for thought -- since you seem to be given to idle speculation.
The reputation of romantic Irish heroes is at stake
Surely you must be joking, Mr Simpson. The definition of an "Irish Queer" is "someone who prefers women to whiskey." And when was the last time you walked twelve miles anywhere? Even when I'm in shape, my best efforts are around 10 miles: it takes most of a day, and I sit down lots. You figure it: at a decent walking clip of, say, 4 mph, it's going to take THREE HOURS to get your arse from Killeshandra to Cavan. And if you're tumescent while this is going on, something is going to be mightily sore by the end of it. But, more than anything else, the young fellow is not exactly mentally balanced: he's not so much healthy as he is in thrall to a woman who cares not a fig, gives not a shite, either for him or his travails. She refuses to say "No" to his importunity not because of indecision on her part but because of the absurdity of the question. He is a foil, a butt, an extra. The tragedy is that this fool imagines himself a tragic Knight Palely Loitering, a dutiful hero who will endure any punishment for his love. The Robert-Gravesian sting is that, since he is attempting, repeating, and enduring this modest feat every week in pursuit of love, he actually is heroic. In a modest way. Like most of us.
From the end of 1989 I was back visiting Ireland again on a regular basis, following Mary Black's success with Carolina Rua and my going to work for the US government in Russia. One of the people giving me support (although unbeknownst to me, stuck in California) over the ten years after I had left Ireland for the States was the presenter of the original 2FM folk-music programme, Pat Butler. He was (is?) a kind supporter of the notion of Thom Moore as a songwriter worthy of comment: his programme theme-tune was the instrumental break on Pumpkinhead's Crackbone Tune, a song about my early childhood in Ethiopia. Another friend had actually recorded for me a special broadcast that he'd done in my honour, which consisted of a wholly complimentary but somewhat garbled history of my career in Ireland, ending with my "disappointment" at the absence of a promotional budget from Mulligan Records and departure from Ireland following the lack of commercial success of the Midnight Well album, Mulligan LUN-011. The reality was somewhat different, of course, but I wasn't willing to take a benefactor like Pat to task for any inaccuracies.
I was, however, back in Ireland on the night of his very last programme. He very kindly included an interview with me in his schedule; I was in Cork at the time and didn't see him face to face, but did a live link-up at the RTE studio in Cork. As I recall, the interview included an exchange that went something like this:
Pat: "Thom, were you disappointed when your fans turned against you after Cavan Girl?"
My incomprehension was due to a lack of awareness of any such controversy. Judging by what Pat Butler was saying to me, my composition of the song Cavan Girl and its success in winning Category B (any ould song about Cavan) at the 2nd Cavan International Song Contest in February 1979 had irredeemably besmirched my artistic credentials.
Curiously enough – fast-forwarding again, this time to the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest fiasco – at the protest meeting co-chaired by songwriter Johnny Lappin and journalist Jackie Hayden, I mentioned at one point that I had actually written my entry with Brian Kennedy's range, tone, and diction in mind, whereupon Jackie Hayden's face took on a shocked expression and he said, "You didn't really write the song for the contest, did you?" When I cheerfully asserted that I had, he averted his face, in an apparent access of disgust and contempt. The song was The Wedding Singer, about Hussein al-Ali, the popular Iraqi singer blown to bits in an American raid on a wedding party in the desert west of Ramadi in May, 2004. If it had managed to get any exposure at all, even just the once on the Late Late, I would have been deeply gratified, personally and artistically.
So dance, dance, you people, come dance the night away:
the wedding singer's not here to stay.
Come dance, all you children, come dance, girls and boys:
the wedding singer is raising joy.
But, as I indicated to Pat Butler at the time (rewinding to his last-show interview in 1989), I had actually no commercial thoughts in mind when I wrote Cavan Girl: I had already written two songs specifically about Sligo (Still Believing and The Scholar) and had no qualms whatever about naming places – I had mentioned by name the American states of Minnesota, Alaska, and California in the songs on the Midnight Well album. I think Pat's problem, like Jackie Hayden's, lay in the apparently crass nature of song contests, at least from non-songwriter's point of view. My own feeling is that artists need patronage, and failing rich sponsors or popular success, the song contest will do fine for what little remuneration there might be for time painstakingly spent. If you can win. Maybe that's the rub: if "artistic" songwriters fail to win song contests, their manifestly cast-before-swine pearls are devalued – the swine won't eat them. That is a severely knotty conceit, now, proving the actual situation to be not only intractable but illogical, as well. "Who will buy my genuine swine-rejected pearls?" Truth to tell, some of my favourite songs have failed to win or even place in song contests – even when entered in them. Which ones? “Go figure,” as they say in Brooklyn, New York, USA ...