John B Keane: Players lifted by inspirational tune

The following story is a true one and if there are any doubting Thomases I have a thousand witnesses to prove it.

The following story is a true one and if there are any doubting Thomases I have a thousand witnesses to prove it.

Before I begin, however, I would like to transport my readers back a little ways in time and place to the month of August last year and to the charming village of Carrigkerry, where the annual carnival was in full swing.

The exact time was around eleven o’clock of the closing Sunday night and the exact place was a crowded public house.

Readers with good memories will remember how I described the historic events of that night already in these columns but it might be fair to recap briefly for the benefit of those who don’t remember and who may have been out of the country or otherwise indisposed at the time.

A friend and I were drinking two pints of porter in the pub. The place was thronged and there wasn’t even elbow room. Near us a man stood with a fiddle tucked under his chin and his bow anointing the strings of the aforementioned fiddle.

The tune was a haunting one, so haunting in fact that I asked the fiddler what the name of the tune was. He answered to say that he wasn’t playing any tune.

“But you are,” I said. “I can hear it and what is more I can see you.”

“You’re wrong,” he said. “I stopped playing an hour ago because the place was too crowded.”

“Look here,” I said, losing patience, “at this point in time there is a fiddle tucked under your chin. There is a bow in your hand and you are rubbing the bow against the strings of the fiddle. A tune is coming forth. Isn’t that right?” I asked, turning to my friend.

“Fair enough,” said the friend.

“Listen to me,” said the fiddler, “and listen carefully, because I am not in the habit of being called a liar. Seeing is not always believing. I won’t fall out with you when you say there is a fiddle tucked under my chin and I won’t fall out with you when you say this bow is scraping the fiddle and I won’t fall out with you when you say that a tune is coming forth, but get this carefully. I am not scraping the fiddle myself. The crowd is so thick that I haven’t room to lower my hands.”

At a second glance I could see that he was telling the truth. The man could not move of his own volition. He could not stop playing even if he had wanted to. The movements of the crowd dictated the notes. His elbow worked as the crowd swayed and the composers of the haunting tune were the people who leaned and pushed unconsciously against him.

I told him I accepted his explanation but that I could not account for the beauty of the tune. “How come,” said I, “that such a wonderful melody emerges?”

“I agree,” said he, thats it’s as fine a tune as ever I heard, but I have nothing to do with it. “Maybe,” he said, with a gleam in his eye, “it is the music of humanity.”

This put us thinking and we were forced to agree that the fiddler was right. It was indeed the music of humanity composed by men who wouldn’t know a fiddle from a flute, men who deep within themselves have strange and wonderful songs to compose if they are properly plumbed.

When we left the pub the crowd was greater and the crush on the fiddler was heavier. But what of the tune that arose from his fiddle. It was more haunting still, more complex and evocative.

We could bear it no longer so we left. For hours afterwards the melody lingered on. I can’t remember two consecutive notes of it now but that could be because it was not intended that it should be remembered. And now for the story which I promised to tell and which is related to the Carrigkerry incident as you will see if you bear with me a little while longer.

First there is a change of scene.

We must journey to Ballylongford and its finely appointed football pitch.

The time was late October as I recall and the occasion was the semi-final of the North Kerry Football Championship between Tarbert and Listowel.

Some will ask how this event could be related to the tune composed in Carrigkerry. Patience is all I ask.

The game wore on. Tarbert forged mercilessly ahead and it looked halfway through the second half as if they were going to run away with it altogether.

Then an amazing although brief transformation took place in the Listowel fifteen.

It started with a long kick-out by the Bomber O’Connor. It ended with a most fortuitous goal and there was consternation amongst the Tarbert backs when they saw the ball in the net.

Again Listowel struck. This time it was a point and now the gap between the teams was narrowed to a brace of points.

Hope rose high amongst the ranks of the Listowel supporters and when another point was added to reduce the lead to a solitary point it looked as if Listowel were going to go forward to the final against Ballylongford at Finuge.

Alas it was not to be, for suddenly the effort ended and Tarbert took command again.

Afterwards the question was asked as to how Listowel could so dominate for that period in the second half.

I think I can account for it. Before the Bomber kicked out the ball the Pecker Dunne ran up the sideline playing a certain tune.

The effect of this tune on the Listowel side was unbelievable.

While it lasted they scored a goal and two points and when it ended they were underdogs again.

It lasted for a period of four minutes.

There may be some who will not credit it but if you ask anyone who was there they will confirm what I say. If the Listowel selectors had only copped on they could have induced the Pecker to keep playing the same tune but the match was over before anyone realised what had happened.

Now all the Listowel football team has to do is to find out what the tune was and whenever they look in danger of being beaten they should have a musician handy to play it.

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THE ONLY Latin I ever quoted in these columns was Bog Latin, which is as good as Latin as any, once you get used to it.

However, I now say what the Latin poet said in the legitimate language, “VARIUM ET MUTABILE SEMPER FEMINA,” i.e., woman is ever a changeful and capricious creature.

Most male readers will say that there was no need to say it, that they already knew it. I feel, however, that it bears repeating because of something which happened only last week.

Some months ago I received a letter from a farmer near Bandon asking me if I would be good enough to fix him up with a bird permanently.

His letter was so pathetic that I made every effort on his behalf. This was a fairly goodlooking, decent type of man with thirty cows and a good farm.

The woman to whom I introduced him comes from between Glin and Foynes but no more will I say about her as she would tear me apart if I disclosed her identity. Maybe I’ve disclosed something already?

They had their first get-together in Franco’s lounge bar outside Tarbert. Outside a soft wind whispered on the Shannon and the faint music of lapping waves was like a distant orchestra.

Truly a scene where love should flourish and it did. They met again and again and finally decided to get married.

Our man paid off his sister who lived on the farm with him and made arrangements with his parish priest.

All was set. He bought the ring and because she hadn’t an asset to her name apart from a cutting tongue he gave her all the money she wanted to buy clothes, etcetera.

I know the woman who helped her in the buying and the bride-to-be certainly didn’t spare our friend.

All was set, as I say, but then suddenly out of the blue she wrote him a letter calling the whole thing off. Her reason was simple.

She discovered that he takes out his false teeth, upper and lower sets, when he goes to bed and she made it quite clear that she could not bear this.

I saw her letter. She made no mention of returning clothes or ring. In fact, I’ve since discovered that she plans to hold on to them.

Our friend will not wear the false teeth in bed, as he is afraid he might fall asleep and choke himself.

“If the lights are out,” he asked me, “how would she know whether I have false teeth or not?”

I couldnt answer this one.

“I’m not going to risk my life,” he told me.

“I know thousands who would,” I told him, “and they’re not too far away either.

“If biting is what she wants,” said he “they can have her, but when I go into a marriage bed I’ll go there without my teeth.”