That Séamus Night in Ennis

By Tomás Ó Canainn

It was all about friends and friendship in the Queen’s Hotel Ennis on that wonderful Saturday night last November, when we gathered to honour Séamus Mac Mathúna.

It was appropriate that the group who organized the celebration, Cáirde Shéamuis, included such stalwarts as Pat Liddy, Frank Whelan, Michael Marrinan, Muiris Ó Rócháin, Robbie McMahon and Dan Liddy.

The rest of us were swapping stories while being entertained by the Turloughmore Céilí Band. As the surprised star himself arrived, accompanied by his wife Úna, his family and grandchildren, the strains of “Sé mo laoch mo ghile mear” rang out and Séamus launched into song in his own inimitable style.

Each of us had his or her own memories of this friend who just doesn’t have any enemies. My own memories go back to meeting him in Cúil Aodha in his Conradh na Gaeilge days and later, recording songs from him for a collection of Cork songs. My wife Helen gave him a special welcome when he brought Willie Clancy to our house in Cork in the mid-sixties. A particularly hairy moment that I’ll never forget was when Séamus demonstrated the turn of a reel to piper Micheál Ó Riabhaigh and myself on his flute, as he drove us in his Ford Anglia to the very first meeting of Cumann na bPíobairí in Bettystown. Of course, he had to let down the driver’s window to make room for his flute, steering the car with his elbows as he played. Believe me, it really happened!

But that was then - and this is now! Séamus’s night in the Queen’s Hotel was a real players’ event, with the likes of Paddy Canny, Peadar O’Loughlin, Joe Ryan, Chris Droney, Paddy Ryan, Maeve Ní Lochlainn, Kathleen Nesbitt, Joe Burke and so many others. There was non-stop music into the wee small hours!

It was good to see JC Talty, Michael Falsey, Mick O’Connor, John O’Dwyer and Micheál Ó h-Eidhin, as well as members of Craobh Naithí and of the Pipers’ Club, Dublin. Donncha Ó Muineacháin danced, watched by Cork dancer Joe O’Donovan and another man who used to know Séamus in Cork - fiddler Ben Lennon from Leitrim, with his wife Patsy. We talked about Cork days and about Fiddler Séamus Connolly, who was a temporary Corkman in those days.

There were, of course, hundreds more in the Queen’s that night and I look forward to spotting many of them in the photos of the event. Why don’t you have a look yourself!

It was appropriate that Ann Brolly, herself a fine Northern singer from Dungiven in County Derry, should be the one to present a bouquet to Séamus’s wife Úna, whom I remember as a wonderful singer in her single days in Cork.

Dónal Ó Loinsigh, cathaoirleach of the Fleadh Nua committee, presented Séamus with a framed scroll to commemorate the fact that he never missed a single Fleadh Nua since the first one in 1974. Angela Lyne, proprietor of the Queen’s Hotel, who, like Séamus himself, is a native of Cooraclare, commissioned Clare artist Catherine Kingcomb to make an excellent portrait of Séamus, which Geordie Hanna’s daughter presented.

Accordionist Joe Burke, who was there with Ann, presented a voucher to Séamus on behalf of all of us. What a night! There were friends there from just about every county in Ireland. Robbie McMahon sang his famous “The Fleadh in Ennis” once again and I look forward to hearing more songs about this fabulous Séamus night in Ennis. Oíche dár saol!

Go for it, ye songsters all! Up the Banner!