Before I became ill I used to organize alternative St Patrick's days. The last one was here in Chicago. It was a tribute to black America and what its struggles had done for Irish culture. The idea was that the black civil rights movement played a major role in inspiring the civil rights movement in Ireland in the late 1960's and this in turn gave a new boost to interest in Irish culture and history. Rock and roll survived. But then came the blues. It was a great exciting time in Ireland back then. I lived in Derry and was involved in the uprising and movement there.
The last alternative St. Patrick's day I organized was with my now passed on friend and great old blues singer Jimmy Lee Robinson. We organized for him to play at a theatre which was run by an Irish American and his African American partner. They were both I found out later a bit too close to the Daly machine. When we arrived at the theatre it was locked and nobody was about. We went on to the Abbey Pub, you might have heard of it, to see if we could be part of the session that we knew inevitably would be taking place. Sure enough there was a session of about a dozen people. I asked could Jimmie Lee sit in.
It was like a had thrown a grenade. The music stopped and a huddled discussion took place. Then two people were sent over to tell us that Jimmie Lee could not play as Irish music was different from the blues. I was so ashamed and apologized to Jimmie Lee. We turned to leave. Then a man separated himself from the session and ran after us. Wait wait he said I know a place we can go. He was Neiley, a Cork man recently arrived in the US.
We went with him to a small pub called Mary's. It was completely empty. Mary was very glad to see us and Jimmie Lee and our new friend set up in the corner, Jimmie Lee with his guitar and spurs which he used for percussion. And Neiley with his bodhran. It took a while but with Jimmie Lee leading and encouraging Neiley in a half hour or so the blues and the Irish music was going wonderfully together. It was beautiful.
Then three bikers came in, the lot, leather and chains and big boots. Stuck with my stereotype I thought ah no racists, trouble. I said to Neiley if they insult Jimmie Lee we will have to fight. I am not going to let him be insulted twice in the one night. Neiley went momentarily went white but quickly recovered and said Okay. Neiley and Jimmie ee played away. The bikers came and stood around holding their bottles of beer. I was a bag of nerves. Then the most wonderful thing happened. After ten or fifteen minutes the bikers were dancing to the music and joining in when they knew any words. The music had won them over, the blues and the Irish music had brought us all together. Mary set up a free round of drinks and clapped her hands to the music and laughed and greeted everybody and thanked us again and again for coming.
It was a wonderful night.
John Throne is author of "The Donegal Woman," an Irish best-selling novel. E-mail Loughfinn@aol.com for a copy. $20,00 includes postage in North America. $5.00 extra postage internationally.