They’re taking them down from our own shelf now. Every now and again, because neither of us are clearly not busy enough, Martin, who runs The Blackpool Sentinel, and myself might discuss what we do here and why we do it. The answer is always the same. In theory, at least, all we’re at is putting flesh on the skeleton of a bizarre, often unbelievable series of stories: those of alternative Irish music from the early 1980s onwards. In so doing, we’re hopefully getting the facts and the timelines right for the benefit of those seeking information and background on any one of a number of long-forgotten, often short-lived Irish bands, musicians and venues from way back. We may even be breaking the tedium of another routine lunchtime – or long journey home after work on public transport – for a small coterie of regulars who maybe once cared about such things.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t despair when I look at the number of recent obituaries that now populate the site. Indeed I’ve suggested in the past – unsuccessfully, as usual – that we start a special sub-blog just for death notices and memorials alone. But that’s all part of the territory, I guess, when you’re dealing with nostalgia and social history: none of us, sadly, are getting any younger. Even if that line still rings hollow whenever you take yet another death call or text or, worse again, coldly stumble on word of someone’s passing on a social media account you seldom inhabit.
It’s getting far more frequent now, of course. My mobile phone contains a growing number of contacts for men and women who’ve long since been lost overboard for a variety of reasons. None of them are ever coming back and yet I still can’t bring myself, years later in some cases, to erase their details. I’m sure this tells its own story on some level or other, too.
I never saw Richie Flynn’s death coming but then, sure, why would I ? Like everyone else, I have enough on my own plate, busy trying to keep the show on the road, way too self-absorbed. You come up for air now in the strangest places: one of my favourite social outings is a regular trip to a chatty local barber. Or, if I really want to go for it, an over-priced coffee on a weekend morning when, for ten minutes, I can lose my children – metaphorically and/or physically – and pretend, in the quiet, that I’m somehow back in control.
I’d not seen Richie in a few years but I knew he was out there, like The Skibbereen Eagle, keeping a keen eye on us. He was a regular reader of the blog and needed no encouragement to contribute his views on many of our pieces over the last number of years. It was always re-assuring to know, from a distance, that he had us in his sights and that he was still making a fervent case, still banging the drum.
I first met him through the two Donals – Scannell and Dineen – back during those long, heady nights in The Rock Garden in the early 1990s when we were all trying to find our way, drunk on the spirit of raw Renaissance. Alongside the formidable likes of Éamonn Crudden, Jeanne McDonagh, Donal Murphy and Kevin Casey, they were recent Communications Studies graduates from Dublin City University and I just fell into company with them and became one of their unwitting hangers-on. We had a shared purpose: we were manfully trying to keep the head of a free music newspaper called ‘Dropout’ above the water and, ergo, the soul of the country safe for real, full-bodied and free-spirited rock and roll.
‘Dropout’ probably started life as The Bullsheet out in D.C.U. – or the N.I.H.E. as it was when Richie first fetched up there – and its probably fair to say that it was his love of quality music, in tandem with his stubborn, positively rooted outlook to everything – especially the fine art of actually getting things done – that helped in no small part to shape and enable it. In the Donals and their ilk, he saw strains of himself, and bought in.
Richie was a regular contributor to ‘Dropout’: he was a fine writer with a keen eye and an even better set of ears and you’d be wary of not heeding his advices, cautions and recommendations. But then he had a bit of a head start on us and always took the more considered, wiser road: he was already turning a coin out in Bluebell as part of the media team at the Irish Farmer’s Association, with whom he worked in a variety of guises, home and away, for almost thirty years.
And that was the gut of the life he led during the years I soldiered most closely with him: agriculture, then later aquaculture, sport and quality alternative music. Indeed he routinely spoke of headage, LEADER payments and a famous all-night sheep protest he once took part in outside Dáil Éireann with the same gusto as he did when he was holding court about the latest De La Soul album or the re-education of Radiohead.
But then that’s because he had a broad, open-mind and, because of that, a far-reaching frame of cultural reference. And although he was probably instinctively more Buffalo Tom than Big Tom, he was smart enough and confident enough in himself – and aware enough of his background in rural Ireland – to see the merits in both. At a period around the fringes of Irish journalism when Gaelic games, and all those who sailed in her, were often deemed less sophisticated than other sports, Richie just saw the ignorance of that premise and carried on regardless. And he derived the same joy from his beloved Leitrim’s successes during the 1994 All-Ireland senior football championship as he did while he painstakingly hand-crafted the pages of ‘The Long Ball’, a domestic soccer football fanzine he ran during the same period.
And he always had a plan. There was the time when, during his early years at the I.F.A., he secured us early-morning access to what was then a state of the art multi-media facility out in Bluebell so we could conduct a long phone interview with a Scottish band we both loved, The Trashcan Sinatras. The band had played a rare London date the previous night and, by the time we were finally patched through to one of them in their hotel rooms, it was obvious they were far too hungover to even think, never mind answer questions. And so it maybe came as a relief to all of us when we had to cut the conversation short and hand the room back to someone far more important – and possibly less hung-over – to do a live national radio interview about beef subsidies instead.
And so it went on until the very end: Richie’s funeral in Saint Patrick’s Church in Mohill earlier this week was certainly the first I’ve attended at which Suede’s ‘Animal Nitrate’ was referenced by the chief celebrant within the first ninety seconds of the ceremony. One of the eulogies was then later delivered by the current President of the Irish Farmer’s Association who, from the pulpit, just reinforced what we’ve all long known.
That, to us, Richie Flynn was one of the real greats. Someone who loved his home and his family as vigorously as he devoured books and records and as feverishly and unrelentingly as he enjoyed his work, politics and sport. And we’ll remember him and honour him long and hard for that.