Lord Mcdonald Eamonn Sweeney - chapter 1
Irish music is well known throughout the world. From Sydney to Buenos Aires, from London to New York, you can hear an Irish song, dance to a reel, and take a drop of Irish whiskey.
It is a sad thing, though, to see an Irishman far from home who is too fond of his glass…
My name is Michael Coleman and they say I am the finest fiddler that ever lived. They say I put a twist to a tune – I add something to it that no one else can. I have never been sure of where the twist comes from. I play that way because it is the only way I know. I play because I have to. I do not know where it comes from or what it is going towards.
My home is a small room in the South Bronx in New York, where the tall buildings shut out the sky. I don’t understand the place at all. Two of my nieces passed through the city last week, on their way to look for work. We tried to talk about home but I could not, nor about here either. I picked up the fiddle and played a couple of tunes, and then there was no distance between me and them or The Bronx or Killavil in Ireland where I was born. That’s what I have been able to do all my life.
I could talk to you forever, and still say less than you’d hear from the first few seconds of a tune called ‘Lord McDonald’.
It was a calm, bright summer evening. I got the fiddle back once again – I’d had to pawn it because I needed the money. Times were hard, as they have been for years. I remember the days when we musicians were paid a working man’s weekly wage for half a morning in the recording studio.
An Irish cop had hired me to play the fiddle at his daughter’s birthday party. He had done well for himself since coming to the USA. Not only did he have money, he was also said to be honest. I spent the week before the party drinking to his honesty. A lot of money had been mentioned.
It was a short walk to his house, in good weather. As I went up the wide grey steps to the front door, there was an uneasy feeling in my stomach, the same anxious feeling I always have before I start to play.
Some nights I sit up and play and then I notice the sun has come up and is shining in the street outside. Then I find my face is wet with tears. ‘Lord McDonald’ is the tune I play.
I knocked at the cop’s door, and a beautiful young woman in a blue dress opened it. She looked at me with a face full of puzzlement. There were holes in the elbows of my jacket. Nothing was said for a while.
‘I’m Michael Coleman the fiddler. I’m here to play at the birthday party.’
The girl still said nothing, only looked me up and down for a few more moments. Then she turned and ran back inside.
I still remember the face of that cop. It was the face of a man who’d take terrible offence if you weren’t enjoying yourself enough at his father’s funeral party. A big man, nearly two meters tall, still the colour of a man who’s spent many a long summer working on the farm. In a good suit and expensive shoes. He had more of the American accent than he should have had. I could never manage that trick, although I’m not sure, I missed much.
The cop rushed across the hall and tried to catch me by the throat. I stepped to one side and he dropped his hands. His right hand was opening and closing; he couldn’t keep it still. There was no sound in the neat and tidy evening street. He was so angry that his tongue hit his teeth as he spoke.
‘Well, Mickeen Coleman, the great fiddler. Ye dare to show your face here!’
I didn’t know what was annoying the man at all.
‘My daughter’s birthday was this day last week. I had a hundred and fifty people waiting for ye. Damn it, where were ye?’
It’s bad when you start making that sort of mistake. I really needed the money he’d have paid me.
‘Well, Coleman, where were ye?’
‘I made a mistake. I thought it was today I was supposed to be here.’
He banged his hand on the wall by the door. The man was nearly dancing with temper. There were a pair of young women standing in the hall behind him now. They were laughing at his shouting, and that was making him even angrier.
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