Lord Mcdonald Eamonn Sweeney - chapter 2
‘I’ll tell ye why ye weren’t here, Mickeen. It’s because ye were falling drunk around the South Bronx somewhere. I got plenty of warnings about ye but I didn’t take them, fool that I am. Yourself and your friends are a poor advertisement for us Irish, drinking and fighting and bringing our name down in front of the Americans. Ye think ye’re something, but ye’re nothing.’
‘I never aimed to be an advertisement for anyone, only myself.’
‘Ye may all be famous but did any of ye ever do anything to give us a good name, did ye, did ye?’ On about the second ‘did ye’ he hit me in the chest with his right hand and sent me rolling down the steps. I was on my feet before I reached the bottom one. I was always able to land on my feet.
I didn’t say anything to the cop. I never even said goodbye. It was a grand evening. There wasn’t enough wind to move grass.
I just walked off with the fiddle under my arm. Safe.
It cost people a lot more than their fare for the ship when they came over here. Some of them lost all sense of who they were. The cop wasn’t the worst of them. A lot of them wouldn’t let you near enough their house to be able to throw you off their steps. They’d be ashamed in case someone caught them listening to old Irish tunes like ‘The Sligo Maid’ or ‘The Kerry man’s Daughter’. The same people even tried to destroy their accent, cutting bits off it like a man trying to give a block of wood a new shape.
At one time, there was always a place for us. A place for those who made others dance. Maybe people don’t want to be reminded about what they came from. Because they’re frightened they haven’t moved as far away from it as they think they have.
The fiddle was pawned again, and I was in a bar. A quiet bar. Drinking whiskey. I learned to drink at those dances where you’d accidentally break a string on your fiddle if they weren’t refilling your glass quickly enough. I used to take my whiskey with friends and laughter then. Now I like to drink alone. The drink only makes me feel okay these days. Still, in bad times okay is good.
The twist. That’s what they say I have, what I put into a tune that the others can’t. You can’t try to put the twist into your playing, it has to be part of it. Some days I think I know what the twist is, but I can never catch it because it is inside me.
It is what I am. The drinking, the way I could never stay in one place, the blackness I see in front of me some days, the dreams I have in the night. All there in my fiddle. Whatever it was that was wrong with me leaked out through my fingers, and they heard it as the twist.
And sometimes I think I have nothing to do with it at all. When the first records were sold, 78s they were called, I saw men and women dancing and laughing and crying at the same time. At my playing. I am a farmer’s son from Killavil. How could it be me that did that? Maybe the fiddle wasn’t the instrument at all.
I heard there were men at home who wouldn’t eat for a couple of days so they could buy those records. Men who knew me did that! We had to come to America to record this Irish music to be sent back to Ireland for people there to buy, and yet we’ll never see Ireland again. Things are wrong in this world, so they are.
I was never too eager for work. That was well known around the place at home. All I wanted to do was walk the countryside and play music. Some men will kill for land, others will die for a woman. I lived for the music of the dance, fast and slow, sad and sweet.
Everything else on the face of this earth was forgotten when I picked up a fiddle. The coldness of the city meant nothing to me when I was playing well. If I could hear the twist, it meant the life I was living was all right for me.
I’d only just got back to Killavil from London when I came to the USA. Big cars and bright lights, a law against drinking, theatres full of girls singing and dancing, and dollars. You couldn’t feel right in it unless you were born in it. And even then you might not. You’ll always look back at the place you came from and think it was better.
At home, we started with an innocent life. Walking home from village dances across pale wet fields, looking at birds on the moonlit lake, playing a tune across the water in the early morning with no other sound in the clear cold air.
But it was a false life. False because it wasn’t right to let people live a life like that if they weren’t going to be allowed to stay in it, if they were already marked to go someplace else. It didn’t prepare us for New York or London, Boston or Manchester.
There was bitterness and jealousy and hunger at home – that’s true, I can’t say it isn’t. But is it fair to be punished with a slow death from a bleeding wound? I look at people’s faces when they hear the names of tunes from home, ‘The Boys of Ballisodare’ and ‘The Plains of Boyle’, and I know they are dying inside.