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Jim Marrinan

The end of an era is a tired old phrase, a handy catchall, bled dry and diluted by over-application and misuse, a frayed and faded and wrung-out old dishcloth of a cliché. How then do we describe true turn-of-the-tide events, those final irrevocable, fin-de-siécle moments with no turning back, which change the colour of our lives forever? The death of a parent, our children leaving home, the sale of our childhood home, the destruction of a landmark building?

On 19th March, I made the oh-so-familiar journey out to Miltown Malbay in the sweet County Clare. After Ennis, I went westward along the road; Inch, Kilmayley, Connolly, The Hand, names redolent of summer, of fun, escape, release, as I and thousands of others headed for The Willie Clancy Summer School.

But this was no summer sojourn, no journey of giddy anticipation, no free-spirited adventure. The sun was sinking in the West as I crested the hill and caught the first glimpse of ocean, Mutton Island, Inis Oirr, Tír-nanÓg… a beautiful Spring evening of first stirrings and final settlings, to join the thousands gathering in Friel’s funeral-parlour to pay their final respects to Jim Marrinan.

Just what makes one establishment magnetic for musicians and singers over all others is one of life’s great imponderables and a source of extended debate among many a warbler and minstrel. Much sagacious analysis is made of acoustics, of intimate spaces, of seating, of elbow-room, of the quality of the Guinness, of the ventilation, of the lighting, of the ambience.

Marrinan’s Bar in Main St., Miltown Malbay was one of those hallowed halls which enjoyed undisputed acclaim among musicians and singers alike and which eventually became a permanent home for all traditional singers from across the globe visiting the inimitable ‘Willie Week’.

For your correspondent, Marrinan’s was the first true insight into the rich panoply of traditional singing, recitation, storytelling, poetry and general mayhem that accompanied a few hours in the presence of legends such as Paddy Commane, Frances Kennedy, Mick Flynn, Peadar McNamara, Frank Harte, Valerie, Chrissie, Joe, Jerry O’ Reilly, Mick Coye, Philip Brennan, Jim McParland, Niamh Parsons, Len Graham, Maidhcí Danny Ó Súilleabháin, George Henderson, Joe Creedon, Róisín White, Tom McCarthy, Paddy O’Brien, Martin Ryan or any of the constantly-shifting cast of local and visiting performers.

A respectful silence greeted all contributors and the spirit of inclusiveness and order and communion was ensured by master-of-ceremonies Michael O’ Brien or Peadar McNamara or Joe O’ Connor, as fun-filled days and nights blended into a glorious tapestry of memories.

Exactly what Jim or Noreen or their daughters and staff made of this week-long invasion, these all-day and all-night singing sessions spanning the entire week and encompassing close on the entire repertoire of Irish traditional song with, let’s face it, varying degrees of delivery, over seven or eight days is anybody’s guess. Yet their welcoming manner, their unfailing courtesy, their warmth to new and regular visitors and their constant good nature made this most appealing of venues ever the more attractive. If Carlsberg made singing-pubs…etc.

Many stories will be told today at Jim’s funeral of Willie Week and the marathon sessions. Jim had his work in Shannon Airport and his farming and his dogs to distract him from the deluge (along with a quiet pint in one of the rival hostelries to escape the door-duty!), but tonight the doors are closed forever, gone is our smiling doorman, gone is our song central, gone is our day.

To Noreen, Claire, Noelle and Maria and all of Jim’s family and friends we extend our deepest sympathies. Miltown mourns, but so do all of us summer swallows, because this truly is the end of an era.

Larry Joy