Three men who shaped my world

Two Edinburgh legends: James Connolly and Irvine Welsh, June 2016.

On this day, May 12th, 1916, James Connolly was executed by a firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol for his part in the Easter Rising. Connolly was so badly wounded, he wasn’t killed standing up facing the firing squad, but tied to a chair and shot.

Connolly’s is the fourth anniversary I’ve reflected upon this week, after the anniversary of my father on Tuesday, which was preceded by the anniversary of the untimely demise of Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch of the Beasties Boys, and the 20th anniversary yesterday of the passing of the great music journalist, Bill Graham.

I can only concur with the words of Jim Carroll: “I blame it all on Bill Graham, the brilliant Hot Press writer who sadly waltzed off this mortal coil in 1996. I blame dear old Bill for lots of things. I’ll be honest: without him, I probably would never have been a music writer in the first place and you wouldn’t be reading this.”

Bill was also a huge early influence on me, as I was able to read all the music papers in my father’s old news agents shop. While he is widely credited with ‘discovering’ U2, and introducing the fledgling band to their future manager Paul McGuinness, what I remember most fondly is a dazzling writer who almost always informed, entertained, and inspired.

Here’s a quick example of Graham riffing on Phil Lynott: “For it is no exaggeration to say he (Philo) was our Elvis Presley, the man who validated rock for a generation of Irishmen and women. Genuinely, he was our first star in an intimate way Van Morrisson’s seventies exile prevented. But Lynott wasn’t just our first Irish star by the accident of birth and the fact of his elevation. Philip Lynott also represented both our values and aspirations. Our values in his tolerance, his mischievous good-humour, his genuine efforts at accessibility and cagey playfulness especially typical of Dubliners who took nothing for granted. And our aspirations – when he was sharp – in his style and class and the fact that he was the most masculinely sexual of any Irish star before or since at a time when we were struggling to escape the prison of our repressions.”

The shapes and forms of this prison have shifted over the years, but emancipation from it is exactly what Connolly fought and died for, wherever you stand on the sometimes thorny issues of 1916.

One hundred years after Connolly’s death, homelessness in our country is at an all time high. This is appallingly apparent, even on the affluent streets of Dún Laoghaire, Blackrock and Stillorgan. I’ve spoken to some of them in recent months. Mental health problems are a recurring pattern. It has shocked me to my core just how refined some of their accents are; how they clearly come from ‘good’ backgrounds. Life has dealt them a bad card, which could conceivably happen to any of us as we negotiate what is all too often the not so merry-go-round of life.

The best tribute I can think of to our dearly departed fore fathers and mothers is to strive to end poverty, homelessness, inequality and hardship – in our country, and our world.

“Ireland, as distinct from her people, is nothing to me; and the man who is bubbling over with love and enthusiasm for “Ireland,” and can yet pass unmoved through our streets and witness all the wrong and the suffering, shame and degradation wrought upon the people of Ireland – yea, wrought by Irishmen upon Irish men and women, without burning to end it, is, in my opinion, a fraud and a liar in his heart, no matter how he loves that combination of chemical elements he is pleased to call Ireland.”

– James Connolly (5 June 1868 – 12 May 1916)

Plaque at James Connolly’s birthplace, Cowgate, Edinburgh

1 Comment

  1. Probably the most thoughtful string of words we’ll read this week. That link should be expanded on, so obvious when you think about it. Empathy is the coat them men wore.

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