P.J. Murrihy and Pat Murphy's Meadow
The first time I heard the song "Pat Murphy's Meadow" I thought it was about a few acres of bad land in West Wicklow. You probably thought it was in Cavan or Kerry or Donegal or Wexford. Well, we were all wrong. There is now a plaque commemorating Pat Murphy and his meadow. But you can search from Carlingford to Clifton and from Dunloy to Dingle and you won't find it. Because, it's in a field in King's Cove, Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland, where the author spent his childhood.
"Pat Murphy's Meadow" was originally a poem, written in the late '30s by J.M. Devine and later rearranged by his granddaughter, Anne Devine Pitcher. It was then set to a tune composed in the '50s. It was brought back across the Atlantic (the song, not the field) by P.J. Murrihy. The man for Mullagh was at a party in Chicago, one night in 1982, and an elderly woman, when pressed for a song, said she would sing "When I Mowed Pat Murphy's Meadow." The song is about pensive reflection on youth and the passing of time, and to the sensitive Murrihy this was evident even from the title. "The minute I heard the name of it before I heard the song at all I knew I'd have to have it," P.J. told me, with that lilt that you'll only hear between Slievecalland and Moyasta.
Next day he drove a hundred miles to get the words of it. But not a man to rush things, he didn't release it until 1989 and it proved to be a huge hit. He has five successful albums under his belt including The Land Of the Gael, which includes "The Twentieth Century is Almost Over." Americans Stephen Goodman and John Prine wrote "The Twentieth Century" (which was also known as The Calendar song.) Unfortunately, Steve Goodman didn't live to see the twentieth century out, although hewould have been only 52 at the end if it. He died tragically, after a long battle with leukemia in 1984. He was known as "the songwriter's songwriter" and penned such numbers as "Frank and Lola," "This Hotel Room" and "City of New Orleans" which he wrote for Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson described as "the best damn train song I ever heard."
No doubt he would have been very pleased to hear;
"You know the judgment day is getting nearer
There it is in the rear view mirror
If you duck down I could see a little clearer
All over this world,"
sung with a West Clare accent in Lisdoonvarna or at a ploughing match in
North Cork where P.J. can be heard, at
seasonal events, when not further afield.
Wearing his other hat P.J. would not be out of place at a ploughing event, since he is also a farmer and the dexterous fingers, which look like they are part of the fret, are equally at home in the nostrils of an uncooperative bullock in a cattle-crush. Devoid of all musical ability myself, I would I could identify with him in other areas (we were both born in the middle of the last century and have similar views on the finer points of making a bush-harrow.)
When Packie Foley from Liscannor was getting married he decided that his old schoolmate, the now famous Patrick Joseph Murrihy, would provide the entertainment. He set off the Mullagh with some trepidation, expecting security, electric gates, negotiations with an agent and all the trapping of a star. He needn't have worried. As he approached the village his fears were assuaged when he heard a familiar voice giving a barely audible rendition of "My Lovely Rose of Clare." There, behind a stone wall was the man he sought ... digging spuds.
He'd hardly be digging potatoes this time of year, but he'll probably be bucket-feeding calves or spreading top-dressing. And if you're in the Mullagh area you should call and have a chat with him. He will discuss any aspect of farming with you, and if you ask if he's a farmer who sings or a singer who farms, he'll pass. Modesty will prevent him from volunteering any information on his success as an entertainer. The man, who filled auditoriums in England, America and Sweden, plays a wide range of instruments but he will not blow is own trumpet. However, if you ask nicely, he will regale you with stories of his days with the Kilfernora Ceili Band (with which he made two albums) and The Bannermen and of how he teamed up the Seamus Shannon, in 1993.
And I can tell you, with all due respects to the hospitality of Kincasslagh, there are very few singers in Ireland who can make tea like P.J. Murrihy. He is quite prepared to devote part of "the heart of the day" to a guest but he'll get busy again at milking time and, unless you want to give him a hand, you should (now that you're full of tea and Clare folklore) go over to the Cliffs of Moher, and look south-south-west. It's a long way to Bonavista, but if the day is clear, your eyesight good and your imagination vivid you might just get a glimpse of Pat Murphy's Meadow.
Pat Murphy's Meadow was published by Ceol Music in 1989.