MY HEART BELONGS TO PILTOWN

This month’s blog is the story behind my song lyrics “My Heart Belongs to Piltown”, motivated by some recent traction on social media.  Coincidentally, the story crosses both my writing and sporting interests.

The idea came for a Piltown song came about in 2005. I had dabbled in song lyrics for a few years in conjunction with my brother-in-law; US based singer/songwriter, Enda Keegan. He put my words to music based on my mood direction. In fairness Enda indulged me and my madcap ideas. The truth is I am devoid of a musical note and skill. On the other hand Enda is a superb singer and musician. I consider myself a wordsmith but I’ll leave it to others to judge if the same adjective fits. In the nineties, I entered songs in the National Song Contest with the dream of one of them representing Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest.  At that stage it was difficult to even enter the National Song Contest. You needed a promoter. Mine ended up being former Senator and radio broadcaster, Paschal Mooney. The nearest success we had was reaching the final of the Glinsk Song Contest in 1997. A contest won by Eurovision winner Paul Harrington previously. My song “Let’s Just Kiss” was performed by Maria Merry of Fiddown and Dermot Keyes of Portlaw and Munster Express fame. Evan Grace was involved in the backing track. We didn’t win, but it was an interesting experience. What I enjoyed was being in a recording studio putting together the demos.  These were done in the Poppy Hill Recording Studio in Eadestown near Naas in County Kildare. There was a pop star buzz to the whole professional studio process.

My children were born between 1995 and 2000. In sport, I was still playing soccer for Piltown as well as five-a-side in Waterford, but by the mid noughties, the toll of over thirty years of playing sport had severely taken its toll on my body. My hips were well and truly worn, eventually leading to two total hip replacements, one in 2011 and one in 2012. The idea of playing, though still the ultimate, was becoming less practical. In late March 2003, I was visiting Jim Norris (A neighbour at the time on the Rathmore Road, Fiddown and who was chairman of the Rathmore Road Residents Group, A small group that worked tirelessly at the time to improve safety on the Piltown/Fiddown Bypass). His wife Jackie was involved with Piltown Camogie Club and she asked me would I get involved in coaching the young girls on a Sunday morning seeing as Jennifer was reaching that age.  (I had previously managed Piltown Junior Camogie team back in the late eighties for a year). As I said in previous blogs, coaching and team management was something I really loved.  I jumped at the opportunity and arrived the following Sunday morning at the Piltown GAA field.  Fate works in strange ways. In my enthusiasm I had arrived a week too early. While I was standing around the car park, I met Liam Ryan, now my neighbour in Jamestown. Liam asked would I give a hand with the boys while I was there who had started back. What else would you do? So began, almost accidentally a period of 10 years coaching Piltown boys in Hurling and Gaelic Football. In 2006, Jim Norris invited me to get involved in Kilkenny Hurling Development Squads as well. Over a dozen years later and I am still involved and have added Gaelic Football to my Kilkenny resume since as well as being the only Kilkenny person to be involved in Tony Forristal and Sonny Walsh All-Ireland winning management teams.  I am very grateful to Jim, Jackie and Liam for the opportunities that they sowed the seeds for, over the last decade and a half.

In those early years involved in Piltown Juvenile GAA, Enda, on his trips home from New York, would do a concert in the GAA Complex to raise funds for the Juvenile Club. It was at one of these concerts, and again it was Jim Norris, who asked us to put together a Piltown Song. It may have been a passing request, that Jim and Enda soon forgot about but I started to think, the seed was sown. Wouldn’t it be great if Piltown had a song that could be sung at all Piltown GAA events? An inclusive song, as far as is possible. Something like the “Rose of Mooncoin”, but this time, a Piltown song. A song that could be sung after Piltown has won a county championship in celebration or even an All-Ireland title. A song that would become synonymous with Piltown, about Piltown and for the people of Piltown.  I was dreaming and dreams have no limit is my motto. I pictured Piltown winning an All-Ireland club title, with me as the manager and the song being played over the Croke Park PA being a song that I wrote the lyrics for. Thus was born the lyrics of “My Heart Belongs to Piltown”, the dream and the ambition.

It was a number of years before Enda actually added the music and the voice, but I think he did a fantastic job. Social media reaction would appear to confirm. We published the song originally on the old Piltown GAA website in 2010 while I was the website Administrator. In the summer of 2014, I went around Piltown capturing footage on my camcorder of many of the well-known landmarks and edited it to make the video which was posted on Youtube as part of a website for Piltown Girls Gaelic Sports.  I wanted to sell the beauty and the amenities that Piltown had to offer to the wider world. What struck me most was when I was recording footage from both Owning Hill and Corbally Hill, the shots of the Suir Valley on a beautiful summer’s day; what a beautiful area we live in! Almost heavenly and probably under appreciated by many. I would recommend to everyone, on one of those rare glorious summers’ days, to head to some of those vantage points, look, listen and feel.  Your worries will soak away.

When my role as Administrator of Piltown GAA website was ended prematurely, the marketing also ended.  However, when a door shuts, another always opens for those who seek it… “My Heart Belongs To Piltown”. It still does. Part of the dream is there, the other part is the ambition to lead the Piltown GAA teams to those great days. The ambition is there, the comprehensive plan is there, the supports are ready and waiting for the call to put together the best team of people possible to deliver the ambitious dream in a professional and inclusive manner because no one person can deliver it. To facilitate the fantastic players to be the best they can possibly be and enjoy the journey, because the journey is wonderful. The management team’s main qualification will be that their heart belongs to Piltown and their passion is Piltown, 24/7/365, not just the GAA but all of Piltown. Unfortunately, it looks like there is a long queue before I and my team of people get a shot having submitted my name for the team management roles over the last number of years and yet to get an interview or even an acknowledgement, but the ambition never fades. We are ready to deliver when the call comes and the Players want it.

And having said all that, the dream for the song although born in the GAA, should not just be a GAA song. Jim Norris came up with the idea and sowed the seeds. Enda Keegan delivered the music. I delivered the words, the direction and the dream is a work in progress but the Song should belong to all in Piltown, the parish, the other sports clubs and organisations, any club or any individual whose heart truly belongs to Piltown.

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HOW I BECAME A WRITER

I grew up in an era when Westerns were very popular on television and Cowboys and Indians was the game of choice for young boys outside hurling and football. Playing Cowboys and Indians always involved a great deal of imagination and exploited the creative minds of young children as we hunted the Indians and the outlaws, charged with the bugle blowing Cavalry and we were the Sheriff who cleaned up the town while riding imaginary horses and shooting imaginary guns sometimes improvised as sticks or hurleys.  It was an era when good always won in the end, although the Indians were mainly seen as the baddies, though history is now reflected differently.  Nobody really played the Indians in those days unless someone’s sister. The Apache, Comanche and Sioux were always imaginary in our games.  Programmes like Bonanza, The Virginian and many Audie Murphy and John Wayne Westerns cultivated an imagination where adversity had to be overcome and the hero always got the beautiful girl, usually after a huge shoot out where the adversary is shot many times and “killed” many times over.  In fact, my imagination was so vivid and I was so naïve that my ambition when I grew up was that I wanted to be a cowboy; because I thought they were real. Some would say I still managed to become a “cowboy”.

So when I was about 10 years of age and my Aunt Mary who is a St. John Of God nun currently based in Australia, bought me a blank copy book with a hard cover, it was an opportunity to write a book and what topic did I know best but a Western. I’m sure someone said off the cuff, “You could write a book in that”. With an influence of the John Wayne Western film “The Sons Of Katie Elder” and the fact that I had so many uncles (Four boys on my father’s side and my mother had seven brothers), something which I yearned for as I had no brother in real life, a Western about a group of brothers joining together to take on the bad guys was an inevitable plot. I entitled it “The United Family” and several chapters were written in almost illegible pencil hand-writing (my handwriting was and still is terrible). It has never been finished as teenage years beckoned and other activities took centre stage and the realisation that Westerns, were not actually ”real” anymore, set in. The unfinished first novel still resides in my attic. Who knows may someday…

I still loved writing English prose and when I got to my Leaving Certificate years in Carrick-On-Suir Vocational School, aka “The Tech”, the classes were very small. There were two girls and myself in my year, three boys in the year ahead of us and three girls and a boy in the year behind, so fifth and sixth year were always together which made for a unique relationship with each other and our teachers. My English teacher was a Mrs. Mary Fitzgerald and she was my favourite teacher. As I did not do Irish, I did honours English , mainly on my own, but she did really help me and when it came to the English composition or essay, she encouraged my wild imagination which made the slog of other parts of the English course bearable.  I am forever grateful for her support and encouragement. She gave me freedom to write, the content was never criticised. My sister Mary took one of my essays a few years later as she had homework using the same topic title and nearly got expelled by the nuns in Callan, to put things into perspective.

I left “The Tech” in 1982 and writing left my agenda again. Theatre was a social class above me for a few years, in my narrow mind.  I got involved in Piltown Macra Na Feirme in the latter stages of 1987. In 1989, they entered the county one-act drama competition with a play called “Strawberry Jam”. Although an English play by Bruce Fisk, it was played out in an Irish scenario and to be brutally honest, in my opinion, it was really horrible “stage Irish”. However, I thought the performances of my Macra friends in the play were great despite the poor script, especially one Sheila Keegan, later to be Mrs. Sheila Norris.  I felt if they had a better script, they could do very well. So I set about writing my own comedy farce “When The Cats Away, Everybody Plays” with a view to it being performed in the 1990 County Macra Na Feirme drama competition.  I got Sheila and my sister Mary to sell the project to the rest of the club and they did a good job on it. Meanwhile, I up skilled myself in the area of acting and direction so as I could take on the directing role myself.  The play qualified for the county final and although not successful in the final it was very popular with the audience, although the judge was not impressed.   I would later portray him in my play “The Cast” as a not too popular individual. For the next four years I wrote and directed the club play and even  acted as well, winning best actor and best director awards along the way though the elusive Macra county title was never to come.

By the mid-nineties the writing bug had well and truly bitten. From 1994, I wrote the factual local notes for the Kilkenny People provincial newspaper in an adventurous way.  This I did for 2 decades highlighting many local issues and stories. I made the column interesting, informative and challenging. I went from one act plays to full length plays, to short stories and eventually a novel (Quest For Justice).  One of my plays “Weeping Women” won a competition for a rehearsed reading with Waterford playwright, Jim Nolan and was later performed by the KATS theatre group. Another “Painters Mess”, won a Drama League of Ireland competition and had a rehearsed reading with renowned director Scott Marshall.

I even dabbled in poetry, something I hated when going to school, still do if the truth be known. Subsequently song lyrics became part of my writing diet and these were put to music by my gifted brother-in-law, the US based Enda Keegan.  By the mid noughties, the kids took up more of my spare time. The GAA and sport was a better pastime to share with them as against the sometimes lonely pastime of writing. The GAA was an interest we could all share together as a family. However, over the previous decade, my portfolio had grown, but people were unaware of my treasure throve. So in 2014, I decided, what was the point in keeping my gems hidden and after many false starts I eventually came up with this website launched in 2017 for all to view my extensive works and for many to obtain and use.  My plan over the next period is to promote these works so that my plays will be performed again and my stories and novels published and more importantly read.

My genres include my childhood obsession of Westerns, but my subject matter has evolved significantly over the years. Irish stories are the nucleus. Stories based on experiences but fictionalised for dramatic effect.  You can enjoy them all on this website. Tell your friends.