Memories and Milestones

Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime, And departing, leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time.

— Longfellow, ‘Psalm of Life’

It was October 1972 and we had just touched down in Louisville, Kentucky having left behind the rest of the first Comhaltas tour group in New York.

Through the superb efforts if Bill McEvoy this bonus trip had been organised and John Joe (the Boss) , Pat , and myself were been met by Sean. We would join up with the rest of the group in Chicago but now for a few short days it was family time.

How proud the boss was! Of a son who had been a reluctant in St Macartan’s College in Monaghan and later Rockwell College, now forging ahead with US army promotions/citations and master degrees from the University of Toledo.

It was very evident that his wife Maria was steering the ship in a preset and agreed course and the trappings of a prosperous lifestyle were there to prove it.

Between the good food, great music and unreserved hospitality one nearly forgot why we were there at all. A few days later we were leaving and Sean had found those extre hidden notes on his occordion, Driving up to Chicago to meet the rest of the group for our first concert, ‘the Flax was Blooming’, ‘The Stars were over Munster’, ‘Rakish Pat’ had played with ‘Farrell O’Gara’, on the ‘Mountain Top’ and the ‘Music in the Glen’ never sounded better. If Sean’s accordion had words instead of notes it might have spoken and been glad of the rest.

Truly a memorable reunion of family and music - thank you Bill.

There were other milestones too!!

Some years later the Boss had passed away - The Gardiner Trio were then playing to a celestial audience and Sean was back in Ireland for a very special occasion,.

The Morrison Music Festival was in full swing in Riverstown, Co. Sligo and in that year - 1994 - John Joe Gardiner was being honoured on his home ground home to the greats - Coleman, Morrison, home to his long time friends Paddy Killoran, Ned Killeen, Tommie and Mickey Hunt, Joe Dowd, John Egan, Peter Horan, Tommie Flynn, Paddy Mc Donagh, the list is endless.

A younger generation of enthusiasts, musicians and loyal friends under the guideance of Paraic Kerins, Martin Enright, Zita Deignan, Des Collins, TOm Roddy and Seamus McCormick would ensure that it would be a weekend to remember.

Labhras O Murchu would remark in commemorative programme for that year ’ It is gratifying to know that Sligo have not forgotten John Joe or his monumental musical reputation and that his memory is commemorated along with the other musical notables of this great county’.

That weekend held vivid memories for Sean - the warmth of the Sligo welcome and how his presince and journey from Toledo USA was appreciated so much.

That Saturday night concert in the packed Riverside hall was unforgettable. Never before or since has so many Gardiners played together on the one stage - fiddles, flutes, accordions, piano, drums, - 23 in all. What better tune to start with than the ‘Pigeon on the Gate’ (and there wasn’t feather left on it) - memories of 1972 when John Joe was 78 years young did likewise on so many American stages during that first Comhaltas tour. Sean whispered ‘I hope we did him proud’ A symposium on the life and times of John Joe was held the following day and any blank spaces the exiled son had missed out on , were well recounted by those present, ably helped by Mick O’Connor and Harry Bradshaw. A great occasion ended with a Set dance/Ceili with the Fodhla Ceili Band, Joined at this point by Kathleen Harrington’s family.

One of Sean and Maria’s last memorable visits home was in 1995. With a troupe of student cadets and some parents he had organised that trip to coincide with the St Patrick’s Day parade. Arriving on Tuesday 14 it was soon apparent that he was going to show them as much of the ‘auld sod’ as he could fit into a twenty five hour schedule (wake up call 5.30am) - city tours, Avoca, Glendalough, Kilkenny, Abbey, Theatre, etc.

After the parade Sean and Maria went off to the Lord Mayor’s Ball while the cadets and parents attended the ceili in CCE in Monkstown. Billy Boylan interrupted the ceili for the cabet drill team and they did not disappoint.

Their twenty minute display recieved a rapturous response, but nothing compared to the defening roar when Sean appeared on the balcony with the trophy for overall winner and the group which created the greatest impact in the parade - a proud moment for us all wirh lasting memories.

Yes - father and son had ‘left their footprints on the sands of time’.