Góilín / Barry Gleeson

What a delight to hear these recordings of the many singers and performers who entertained us at Góilín over the years. It’s quite emotional listening to them, especially those who are no longer with us. The interviews are fascinating and give an insight into a great variety of attitudes and experiences. Congratulations to all involved!

The Early Years :

Góilín was founded by Tim Dennehy and his brother-law, Donal De Barra, in March 1979. The word góilín means ‘inlet’. It also has another connotation - ag gabháil fhoinn - pronounced ag góilín i.e. ‘singing‘. It has provided an inlet for singing in Dublin for more than 35 years.

I was introduced to the club by Róisín Gaffney during its first year in Thomas House in 1979/80. I was 27 years old at the time. Róisín was one of our core members from the beginning and still is. Previous to this, my brother, Brendan, Eamon Travers and myself had heard of a new club in the Pembroke Inn on Sunday nights and decided to check it out. That was pre-summer 1979. I’d never associated it with Góilín in Thomas House until chatting with Donal and Tim recently.

There’d often be only about seven of us on Thursday nights in Thomas House. I really enjoyed it. Our names would be called out at the end of the night - fame at last!

At Christmastime in 1980, we all met one afternoon and each of us sang the songs we’d sung throughout the year. That was good.

When we transferred to The Four Seasons, the night was changed to Friday. At the time, I was a bit dubious about having it on a weekend night. All very fine a minority within a minority on a week night, but who’d come on a Friday night? People used to talk of making new friends at Góilín but having introduced various people to it, we were forced to admit that, far from a way of making new friends, it was actually a way of losing friends! Whenever I mentioned Góilín to my pal, Dave Cagney, he’d invariably stick his finger in his ear and start whining and keening like a banshee. All in good fun, of course. Individual unaccompanied singing of long songs for three hours isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. As it turned out, it was a great move to The Four Seasons - to have singing upstairs and music downstairs meant you could drop down to hear a few tunes if the singing got a bit heavy. The traffic was two-way and some of the music fans would join us upstairs to sing or listen to a few songs. Personally, I love the mixture of music, song and dance all at the one session. The best mix I’ve come across is in Ballyboughal, north Co. Dublin. There the musicians are often singers and both are dancers, so there’s the best of all worlds.

In The Four Seasons we’d hang framed pictures of the singers on the walls at the start of the session and take them down after it. We’d arrived! And gone again, as fast as Mr Finnegan.

By September 1983, both Donal and Tim had left Dublin with their families to settle in west Clare. At that stage, we’d started having guest singers from the country once a month and charging a small entrance fee each week to cover costs. It was one of the first clubs to charge for the privilege of hearing yourself sing! I always enjoyed the guest nights and still do. They breathe new life into things. It also meant that we often paid return visits to the country and were exposed to new songs and styles.

Changes of Leadership :

When Tim left, Luke Cheevers took over as MC and organiser-in-chief. His style was totally different. Tim had shown vision and determination in establishing the club and was very serious about maintaining a respectful atmosphere and silence for the singer. He also expected a certain standard of singing. Luke was like the prodigal son of a strict father and insisted that there was ’no standard set’. He also put on a bit of a performance of stories and jokes at the beginning of each night, which was worth the entrance fee in itself. He’s a total natural and has countless amusing anecdotes. A born entertainer. Sometimes, there’d even be time for a song or two after he’d finished. Only joking! I liked both Tim’s and Luke’s styles in different ways and both were appropriate for their time.

After many years of Trojan work, Luke announced that he’d really had enough of doing MC and wanted to step down and just enjoy the night without any pressure as host. I begged him to reconsider but his decisive salvo was, ‘Why don’t you do it, then?’ That shut me up.

Luke has dedicated his life to being a full-time professional heckler ever since.

Jerry O’Reilly took over from Luke as the main organiser. From then on, the role of MC was rotated among about eight people. Jerry was a committee man and things became more tightly organised. Before this, the club was run on an ad hoc basis with a loosely constituted core group. It nearly ran itself.

Jerry and the committee have done tremendous work over the years in keeping the show on the road and bringing the club to where it is today. He and his wife Anne, now sadly no longer with us, organised trips to Paris and elsewhere, abroad and at home. They were also instrumental in producing CDs such ‘The Croppy’s Complaint’ (with Terry Moylan) and establishing ‘the shop’ (with Máire Ní Chróinín) to help promote and sell CDs of traditional singing. Jerry and Anne also provided accommodation in their home for visiting guests, as previously done by Luke and Dolores, Tim and Máirín, Donal and Treasa, among others.

When Brian Doyle suggested some kind of commemorative festival for Frank Harte, Jerry got the bit between his teeth and, with the full cooperation of all, we had the 1st Frank Harte Festival in 2006, the year after Frank’s sad passing. It’s been going from strength to strength ever since. Jerry introduced the FHF Singing Walk on the Sunday morning, which has proved so successful.

Luke and myself continued as committee members until after the 2nd Frank Harte Festival in September 2007. From Jerry’s interview, it seems he’s considering passing on the baton himself at this stage. Fergus Russell is playing an increasingly central role. No better person!

Venues :

The club has met in the following venues throughout the years - The Pembroke Inn, Thomas House, The Four Seasons, The Brazen Head, Corbett’s, Mulligan’s (now The Cobblestone), The Ferryman, The Trinity Inn, Bowe’s and Maye’s Tavern, before finding its present home in The Teachers’ Club.

Format :

I like the bell. I like ‘the question’. I like that we never repeat the question. It’s your own fault if you’re late. I think the question should be related to singing, have one part only and be answerable.

I like the idea of nominating the first three singers in each half. It provides a structure and an opportunity for those less forward.

I like the free-flow of songs after the first three singers. It adds spontaneity to the session and there‘s a nice interaction between the various singers and songs. Calling on individuals throughout the night would be disjointed and too much like Russian Roulette.

I like that whoever sings the first song also sings the final song of the night.

Sean-Nós :

Is iontach agus is tréan an obair atá déanta thar na blianta ag Antaine Ó Faracháin, Máire Ní Chróinín agus daoine eile nach iad. Cuireann siad an sean-nós chun cinn sa chlub agus sa chathair leis an bhféile Sean-Nós Cois Life agus le aíonna speisialta ón nGaeltacht. Amhránaithe den chéad scoth an bheirt acu freisin.

Good listeners and Occasional Singers :

Good listeners are as much the essence of Góilín as any of the singers. At one stage, we even had a prize for ‘Listeners of the Year’. Some of the best sessions at Góilín have been on quiet nights when there are very few at it. People who are a bit shy and reluctant to sing in a packed room would come out with great songs and fantastic singing. Incredibly, Fergus Russell was coming to the club for many years before he sang at all. And there are others like him. Those at home - wives, husbands and partners also deserve a mention here for their unyielding support.

Past, Present and Future :

I Miss :

The wonderful people who have passed, their singing and company, a smoked-filled bar, plenty of pints, feeling totally uninhibited, nobody recording, being young, a bit of slap and tickle.

I Have Instead :

The wonderful people who are still with us, their singing and company, a smoke-free room, mid-strength pints, feeling totally inhibited, everybody recording, being older, no slap and even less tickle.

Many of us at Góilín are somewhat chronologically challenged at this stage. Well, it is more than 35 years later. In the early days, we were described by some cruel wags as ‘The Moving Crib’. And they weren’t referring to the many venue changes. Nowadays, those same naughty wits speak of Góilín as ’God’s Waiting-Room’.

It’s true that for many years anyone who was asked to be a guest at Góilín immediately contacted the doctor for a complete check-up. We’d been trying to catch our heroes, the highly respected singers whom we idolised, while they were still with us.

The average life-span after doing a guest spot at Góilín was less than twelve months. If you were lucky. Christy Moore beat all the odds, I’m glad to say.

Thankfully, the future of traditional singing in Dublin is in safe hands. It’s heart-warming to hear the fantastic singing and music of Mick Dunne, Daoirí Farrell, Lynched (Ian and Daragh Lynch, Radie Peat and Cormac Mac Diarmada), Landless (Meabh Meir, Ruth Clinton, Sinéad Lynch and Lily Power) and the many other excellent young singers and musicians who have emerged in recent years.

Not long before Tom Crean passed away last September, as a group of us sang at a funeral mass, he turned to me and said, ’I’m only glad I’m still in the choir.’ He knew what was ahead. It’s ahead of us all.

Idir an dá linn, bímis ag ‘góilín’ le spiorad is dóchas!

Barry Gleeson

September 2014

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An Giln Song Project from the Irish Traditional Music Archive, generously funded by the Arts Council of Ireland through its DEIS scheme