In my interview for a radio station in Cork on the day of our ‘Fireside Gathering’ I was asked the meaning of the old Irish proverb we’d quoted in a press release for the concert, ’Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin.’ Luckily I was able to give a rough translation and thankfully I wasn’t required to pronounce it in the original!
When Yim Soon and I were looking in the late 90s for a house for ourselves and our two, soon to be three, children my dream was to find somewhere with a decent garden and a real fireplace. We instantly fell in love with an old house that needed a lot of work but which had ‘a lot of potential’, as the estate agent notes put it! It had a long if largely overgrown garden, and which contained a shed, albeit falling down; and it had not just one but two (potentially!) working fireplaces. In fact there are four in total, as two of the bedrooms also have the original fireplaces although they appear to have never been used. We knew it was the place for us. My parents came down for a week in 1998 to help us out with decorating and a couple of the last jobs I ever did with my dad before his death a few months later was to put a new roof on the shed (we both liked our sheds) and to do some work on the fireplace in the back room. We’d had the old gas fire in front of it removed, so too the one obscuring the fire in the front room, and opened up and restored the lovely brickwork. I had to restrain dad from applying a coat of bright red paint, after I’d spent hours sanding it all down. He could get a bit carried away with the paintbrush.
A few years later I intercepted my next-door neighbour on his way to the tip with a gorgeous wooden fireplace he’d discovered in his shed, and gladly relieved him of it. I took it apart, cut it to size and reassembled it to fit around the fireplace in our front room, from which we had removed the rather hideous 50s-style beige tiled surround. One of the absolute joys of winter is lighting a fire in the evening; and Saturday evenings in early winter have become synonymous with watching ‘Strictly’ with Yim Soon in front of a roaring log fire.
Both of our fireplaces were on show during the Fireside Gathering concert. When we’d begun to plan the event we’d hoped to have a small group of people sitting on the night, socially-distanced, around a fire having a bit of ‘live’ craic in between pre-recorded performances. That wasn’t possible in the end due to Lockdown 3, but there were various fireplaces in the concert, some real, some not quite so real!
It was a wonderfully heart-warming evening featuring a variety of talented performers, young and old. It was both fitting and touching to begin with a bit of video footage of the wonderful London Celtic Youth Orchestra, LCYO, from our St Brigid’s concert on January 31st 2020 at St James’ church, Piccadilly, which turned out to be our final live event before the pandemic struck. The morning after the Fireside Gathering it was an LCYO tune which was repeating pleasantly in my head. There were so many special moments in the concert. The well-known Traveller singer and story-teller Thomas McCarthy had been delighted that we were purchasing his CDs to provide to Travellers in prison as part of our in-cell resource packs and he happily recorded one of his songs for us.
One of the highlights of my Christmas holiday had been recording for the concert in front of a roaring fire a couple of songs with my eldest son Kieran. I also enjoyed doing a ‘virtual’ duet with Sean in Manchester, each of us sitting by our respective fireplaces. Sean’s son Louis had done such a good job with the virtual background that it was hard to tell which fire was real and which was fake! And that got me thinking: nowadays, when almost all of our work, worship and leisure spaces are ‘virtual’ it’s not so straightforward anymore to determine what actually constitutes ‘real’: an interesting philosophical or existential question which I may pursue in a future blog!
Whether it’s performed in a ‘real’ or a ‘virtual’ space it’s reassuring to see how music still has the power to elicit joy and tears, to touch hearts, to lift spirits, and to bring people and generations together.
And how true is that old proverb: níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin….there’s no fireside like your own.