Ahhh Christy, where have I been all these years? It’s been better than 2 decades since I last saw you fill a stage on your own, way back when Ireland was a very different place, as was I. You’re a little more rotund now, perhaps a little frailer – you sat the whole time last night where previously you stood and sweated profusely.
But the voice is still the texture of dark, roiling porter, and the quick wit is still razor sharp.
Last night you reminded us of the power of song. You sang of immigrant ships and slave ships, famine ships and prison ships. You sang of revolution and protest in exotic places like Chile and Spain and South Africa. You name checked Mandela and Biko, Frank Ryan of the Quinte Brigada who was joined by hundreds of forgotten Irish to fight Franco, Victor Jara in Chile, Sacco and Vanzetti, tried and killed in Massachusetts and immortalised by Woody Guthrie. On and on it went.
You sang of the beauty of this island and of the pain of lost love, in near transcendent versions of The Cliffs of Doneen and Nancy Spain. We laughed as you reminded us of the contradictions of being Irish; of fertile bishops racing through the narrow country roads of Kerry and the Irish invasion of Germany for the 1988 European Championships. Whacker leaving Inchicore for the first time in his life, to see Ray Houghton score the winner against the English, and how we cheered. Even 20 years on.
And, as is to be expected, you sang to the Republican spirit, now struggling to make sense of a new Ireland. You gave us the places and the names, and the ceasefire soldiers cheered. You offered us classic Irish maudlin sentimentality and we lapped it up.
And you sang Ordinary Man; on the surface so out of place in Celtic Tiger Ireland and yet presenting to us the still naked underbelly of our society, so shamefully left behind in the economic boom. It’s a song from the recent dark days of the 1980s, but still resonant.
And above all you reminded me of simpler and more innocent days. I last saw you in the days before I left home to come up here to Northern Ireland. I continued to sing your songs with friends even as the IRA and their Loyalists counterparts caused mayhem on our streets, but I couldn’t come to see you because I couldn’t trust myself not to be stirred by your songs that sometimes glorify our dirty war.
Things are different now, but you still have the passion for your many causes. And your songs still wring out the heart or fire up the blood for protest and against injustice. And we loved it.