A postcard from Ballinrobe

Living

Martin Farragher 'aka Faraway Martin' is pictured performing recently at a concert in the Ballinrobe Library. Pic: Liz Parsons

Seán Gilligan

HI everyone, I hope you’re all well. Just had to drop you a line about a recent night out.
I have been settling back home in Ballinrobe, a small town in county Mayo, on Ireland’s west coast. Situated on the shores of Lough Mask (famous for its trout), home to the fly fishing world cup, and with a population of about 3,700 people. Rush hour is hell! And I have to drive about 15 miles to find the closest traffic lights!
I got chatting to a couple of lads in the pub and they told me about a small musical concert taking place that night in the library. A local group called Faraway Martin and a few guest acts. It was a charity gig, with glasses of wine or bottles of beer as refreshment.
Pay on the door and the first 40 people could grab a seat – the rest could stand!
So what the hell. Advertised time of 7.30pm start. I arrived late at 7.45pm, handed over my €10, got a glass of wine, and bang on the dot of about 8.10pm it began!!
This was one of the best night’s entertainments I have ever encountered!
Not a big band stadium concert, not an acoustic session from a star of the last 30 years, not an early gig of a newly discovered solo talent like Ed Sheeran or Lewis Capaldi.
But in a de-consecrated church that now serves as a library, I was treated to an evening of great music, song, and story.
The architect of the evening was Martin Farragher, a son of Ballinrobe, in his late 20’s, with a zeal for life and travel, a gift for lyrics and music, an enthusiasm for making each moment count, and happy to bring people along for the ride. He wrote the songs, he played the guitar — electric, acoustic, bass, and probably could have done the xylophone and triangle as well if required!!
He was lead singer, compere, support for all of his talented guests, chatted with us as friends, had the stories and the craic, and did it all effortlessly, without ego, but with the confidence and assurance of a man determined to ensure every person was smiling, laughing and having the time of their lives – be they audience or performer! A rare gift for anyone to possess! (If they’re not Irish!).
His band of brilliant musicians.
Scott Beaton (from Scotland on bass) with his slim fingers travelling with grace up and down the fret of his guitar, a soft Scottish burr that translated into a fabulous singing voice.
Gerry Heneghan on drums. Tall, slim, dressed in black with long black hair, who when sitting into his drums suddenly seemed to be charged with electricity. Hands and arms bouncing, giving the beat to guide. Hair tied up halfway through the show as the temperature increased!
Luke O’Malley on lead guitar. Slim and neat with slightly over-sized glasses, he reminded me of a young Hank Marvin from The Shadows. Only this wasn’t ‘Apache!’ This was up, down, over and out, notes dancing, flying and soaring. Give the man a solo and by God you get a solo!
And the others. The guests!
Not one of them held back or saved a bit for themselves. They were generous – very!!
I hope I name them all and link them to the right songs! But if I miss or make an error, it was not for their lack of anything – rather my own old age and stumbling memory that may not recall the detail. But the searing memory of their performance shall not dim with the passing of time.
This night shall live long with me for all the very best of reasons!
Dylan Jennings, tall, slim, handsome, acoustic guitar, I knew him when he was about seven or eight! Haven’t seen him in a few years. He grew up! 19 or 20 now, on the stage alone, gave us five or six songs. Three (I think) he wrote himself. A good start to proceedings.
Chrishtie Vegas (aka Chris Farragher), solo on the stage, guitar in hand. Had the chat, told us the history to the song he was to sing, ‘The Welcome’. Written by himself and his friend, the late Tony Small of Galway,  singer, storyteller and rambler. No longer here, but still talking to us through his music and lyrics.
A great tribute.
Rebecca McRedmond, from Westport, red coca cola t-shirt, black leather trousers, a big left handed guitar, singing her own songs. Fantastic lyrics that seemed to go to the heart first and then drifted up to the brain to allow you to make sense of the emotions you were feeling. A wonderful talent.
Niall Conway, tall, thick set, beard, strolled up to the mic and gave us ‘Mustang Sally’ like we hadn’t been introduced before. What a voice! Now the church was rocking!
Sadhbh Langan, another I had known when she was a teen. She sang ‘Dreams’ by the Cranberries. It was brilliant. I closed my eyes for a moment and Dolores herself was in the room, proud of the justice done her song by Sadhbh.
Hilda Hughes, another Ballinrobe native, her son had been in the same class as Martin. She had been retired from the stage for the last five years. A Mayo singing legend. The lyrics stand came out. Hilda placed her hand written lines. And we were treated to ‘Black Horse and the Cherry Tree’. The crowd cheered, clapped amd whistled one of its heroines!
As the applause and whooping subsided, Martin turned to her and said, “How about one more? We’ll do Proud Mary.” This is as close to a signature song that Hilda has. And by God it was a magical performance. From the low slow intro, to the rock heights of ‘rolling on a river’ to the staccato ‘ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh’, not a beat or note was missed by singer or musician. Hilda’s head and hair jumping with the whiplash she gave it. And us? Well the hair is standing up on my neck and the heart is definitely beating faster, and that’s just from remembering it! To have been there was ‘Simply the Best!’
Kevin May, another local (his sister is a pharmacist in town). He happens to be in a band called ‘The Guggenheim Grotto’. As Martin was introducing him, he recounted how Kevin had taught him how to fill a song between the lyrics. Kevin stepped up, took the mic, and held us spellbound! No major moves or extravagant actions, just great lyrics, a simple chorus, and a fabulous voice. My Lord he made it look easy!
The last guests of the night (I hope no-one has been forgotten) were Hugsie McBean on his homemade Bodhran drum, and Ilaria Belletti on concert flute, who both joined Martin on the floor in front of the stage and played a beautiful acoustic song called ‘The Good Aul Days’ all about Ballinrobe and what has changed and gone in Martins time. A beautiful tribute to a small, wonderful town.
And so the music ended, the lights went up, the conversation burst to life, already reliving the laughter, lyrics, and love of the evening. All of us had been a part of something special. All of us had a bit more hope in our hearts. All of us had probably been changed just a little bit for the better.
For that is what wonderful song and music does. It seeps through you, lodges with you, pays you a rent that helps you see more of the good in this life, and helps you realise this really is a wonderful place and world we live in.
And best of all it gives you something to look forward to.
Faraway Martin will be back from Doha next Easter. The library readied, and the musicians assembled. Put a few tenners in the sock drawer or biscuit tin in readiness for the evening.
PS - If I did get a bit excited about Hilda’s performance I make no excuses – I am her husband!!
PPS - My God it’s great to be home!