Thursday, August 21, 2008

A glass raised to Ronnie Drew

When I was a little lad, I spent virtually all of my holidays in Killincarrig Co. Wicklow in Ireland, normally in the company of my grandad, Paddy Dowdall.

We had a mid-morning ritual which took one of two forms. We'd either walk down to Delgany to the Wicklow Arms for a jar, or take a walk in the opposite direction to Greystones. My grandad had been the greenkeeper - and a very fine player - at Delgany Golf Club and seemed to know everyone in and around Greystones and the surrounding villages. He still looked after the gardens of some of the big houses on the edge of the town, so we'd often stop in to one or another where there'd generally be a strong cup of tea for him, and a glass of milk and a Kimberley biscuit for me.

Then it was on to Paddy's for a packet of smokes before studying the form at the local bookies next door. With a few small bets laid, it'd be over the road to the Burnaby for a pint or two for my grandad, and a red lemonade and a bag of Tayto crisps for me. A short while later, we'd be back in the bookies to pick up any winnings. If grandad had picked the right nags, we'd travel home on the 84 bus. If not, it'd be a mile and a half walk.

I suppose I'd have been about four or five at the time, so we're talking about the late '60s. At that age, I was a bit precocious, although it was not too long before an enveloping shyness set in which crippled me socially through to my mid-teens.

But as a fresh faced and cheeky five year old, my grandad could normally rely on me to entertain his drinking pals by standing up on the bar and telling jokes or singing a song.

Now one of those pals went by the name of Ronnie Drew a fine musician and actor and singer with the Dubliners. Now Irish folk music of the raucous, rumbustious nature of the Dubs was in vogue at the time, and though I didn't know it, Black Velvet Band, Dublin in the Green, The Irish Rover and McAlpine's Fusiliers which I'd belt out in boy treble fashion were all Dubliners' staples, and the man with the big beard looking on and quietly chuckling had made them famous.

On Tuesday they laid Ronnie in the ground after he died at the age of 73. It was probably the biggest gathering of the great and the good of Irish music and theatre in Greystones' history.

I saw the Dubliners pay a few times over the years at venues as diverse at the Wembley Conference Centre and the Woodlands in Greystones but I probably never spoke to Ronnie after I turned about seven. That was 37 years ago, but the memories of my walks with my grandad, punctuated by red lemonade, kimberley biscuits and a tune on the bar are among my sweetest.


Margaret Kristich said...

Hi Mark,

What nice childhood memories you have of your Grandfather. I enjoyed your tribute to Ronnie Drew. One of my mom's( she was a Dowdall) favorite songs was The Black Velvet Band. When I visit Ireland and drive, the car is filled with music from the Dubliners and Wolfe Tones.

I am working on the canonization
of Venerbale James Dowdall who was born abt 1540 in Drogheda and was executed in Exeter, August 13,1599.
He refused to take the supremacy oath placing Elizabeth above the pope in spiritual matters. I am trying to locate his descdenant and have come in contact with different branches of the Dowdall

Do you know where your Dowdall family originated from? My branch moved into South Derry from County Louth in the 1690s.

Responding to a blog is new to me so I hope this is done correctly.
Margaret Kristich

Mark Shanahan said...

I know our branch has been a wicklow family for the last 200 years, but we're actually starting to look further back than that, so if I find anything out, I'll let you know. More recently, some of my grandad's cousins moved to Boston (circa 1900), so we're doing the process in reverse trying to re-establish links with the American branch of the family.