Poignancy and nostalgia infuse songs as remaining Dubliners take to stage


The Mansion House celebrated the capital’s iconic balladeers ahead of latest European tour

AFTER 47 years kicking up a ruckus, for The Dubliners it was time to reflect, to remember the fallen, to dust off the black-and-white photographs, belt out a few standards, and share a pint with family and friends.

As the old pictures of hardy and hard-living young men rolled by on a big screen, the beards growing longer, the eye-bags more venerable, Luke Kelly’s hair more luxuriant, the notion that a quarter of a century had passed since his death at 44 seemed hardly credible; or that it was 21 years since Ciaran Bourke was lost to them, or over a year since Ronnie Drew’s final bow.

Just two of the original Dubliners remain, John Sheahan (70 last May) and Barney McKenna, (70 come December). “I think this will be the last of the gatherings,” said Jimmy Kelly, Luke’s younger brother. Vienna long ago gave them the freedom of the city, but no such honour has been forthcoming from their own. “Maybe it’s just an oversight,” said Sheahan wryly.

The statue of Luke Kelly, voted for by Dublin City Council, remains elusive five years on. The odds must be long on getting the same council to fast-track a memorial to Ronnie Drew, as proposed by the Lord Mayor, Emer Costello. Francis Devine, the night’s MC, chose to look ahead to the band’s “half-century, when maybe these gents will be able to walk their sheep through the streets of Dublin”.

On Saturday night, some 90 family members and friends – including Danish ambassador to Ireland Henrik Rée Iversen, Joan Burton and Pat Carroll, Róisín Shortall, Tommy Broughan and Mary Upton – gathered under the chandeliers in Dublin’s Mansion House.

The “new” band members, Eamonn Campbell, Patsy Watchorn and Sean Cannon, joined Sheahan and McKenna on the stage and, between them, they conjured up a time when the world was young and the nights sang of banjos and balladeering and large bottles of whatever you were having yourself.

Together the old photographs and songs carried a powerful undertow of poignancy and nostalgia, as voices from beyond the grave joined the living. The band on stage and the audience joined in as Ronnie Drew growled out McAlpine’s Fusiliers. When Luke Kelly sounded a warning to all females “from nine to 99”, the Oak Room resounded to the chorus: “He’s got no faloorum, he’s lost his ding doorum . . .” As Kelly’s implacable young profile appeared on screen, along with his searing, timeless recitation of For What Died the Sons of Róisín?, Barney McKenna silently mouthed the words.

A sequence of pictures showing Ciaran Bourke in the act of pulling a full-size whiskey bottle from his pocket spoke of mischief, amid tales from Sheahan of the “big, strong, gentle giant’s kind of scientific interest in drink”.

Interwoven with it all were Sheahan’s poetic tributes to each of his fallen comrades: Luke’s Gravestone, Remembering Ciaran Bourkeand Ronnie’s Heaven, written the day after his funeral, when Sheahan was wondering if heaven could possibly live up to the “grumpy” one’s expectation.

The audience linked arms as Jimmy Kelly called time with The Parting Glass. For the indefatigable Dubliners, a nine-day European tour beckons, with no hint of a retirement date. “It’s too late to stop now,” said McKenna.