I love singing... I’ve been doing it all my life

One of the organisers of Drimoleague Singing Festival, Paul O’Brien talks to us about his life and loves
I love singing... I’ve been doing it all my life
Paul O’Brien works as a self-employed communications consultant and helps organise Drimoleague Singing Festival.

Drimoleague Singing Festival runs from September 26 to 29. We talk to one of the organisers, Paul O'Brien 

Tell us about yourself;

I am Paul O’Brien and I work as a self-employed communications consultant. I worked and lived in London for more than a decade from the late 1980s and I also spent some time living in Italy. Having seen a fair bit of the world in between, I have to say that I love living in the heart of West Cork. It is a fantastic place to live with amazing people and scenery.

Where were you born?

In Drimoleague. My dad was a butcher so we lived behind and over the butcher shop, like many other families in the village. Almost every second house was a business when I was growing up.

Where do you live?

In Drimoleague with my father in the house where I grew up. It’s a small village in the heart of West Cork which has suffered the same fate as many Irish villages in the last 30 years, which is to say a gradual economic decline with employment increasingly being concentrated in the cities.

Having said that, it is a fantastic place to live and still has a strong community spirit because of the great people who live there.

Family?

I have two older sisters who are both married with families. Mary lives in Cork city and Anne is in New York. That’s a fairly familiar Irish story for many families.

We are lucky to live in an era of relative prosperity and have an ability to travel much more freely than our ancestors.

Interestingly, one set of great- grandparents emigrated to the U.S in the late 1800s but came back after a few short years and re-settled in Drimoleague, which must have been a relatively unusual occurrence for those times.

Best friend?

I am extremely lucky to have made some very good friends over the years. A group of us (all male, mid-50s and up) have formed a dinner club called ‘The Grumps’. We meet a few times a year and complain about failing eyesight and the aches and pains of growing old, to general hilarity all round. But I know they are there for me in the good times as well as the bad times as I am for them. That’s what it’s all about.

Earliest childhood memory?

I have a memory of being in a pram being pushed by my grandmother (my mother’s mother) down the ‘Quarry Road’ in Drimoleague. I can’t decide if this memory is real or is based on the stories she used to tell me. I was very close to her and she was a big influence on my life. She had a fantastic sense of humour and I’m sure it’s partly where I got my love of making people laugh.

Person you most admire?

I know normally people say Nelson Mandela or Gandhi or someone like that, but the older I get, the more I think I’d have to say my parents. They were both born shortly after the foundation of the Free State and I’ve thought in recent years that they and all their generation helped create the state we live in today by their hard work, the taxes they paid and the volunteering in their community.

History will record the great names of 20th century Ireland like Sean Lemass and T.K. Whitaker and the like but the men and women of small town Ireland who raised families without much money and made huge sacrifices for their children also deserve recognition. They also worked within their communities to improve them in organisations like the IFA, Muintir Na Tíre, the GAA, the ICA and many other similar bodies.

Person who most irritates you?

Anyone who could be described as a ‘mé féiner’, that is, anyone without principle and who doesn’t appear to have any interest in the common good. Sadly, there are many examples we all currently know in public life here and abroad.

Who would you like to see as Minister for Finance and why?

It’s a classic case of anyone who wants the position should be immediately disbarred from holding it. Do I know anyone who combines numeracy, empathy and the ability to plan for 20 years rather than 1 or 2?

Where was your most memorable holiday?

I’ve been to India only once but it made a huge impression on me. In Argentina, I met the friendliest people I’ve met anywhere. Wherever I’ve travelled, I’ve been left with the sense that the good and the nice and the decent people make up the overwhelming majority of this planet. That’s a very comforting thought when faced with the chaos all around us, at the moment.

Favourite TV programme?

The Larry Sanders Show, from the 1990s. (My dad would tell you that I’m currently obsessed with Wheeler Dealers!)

Favourite radio show?

I give out about it constantly, but Liveline on RTÉ Radio 1 is the place where you hear the concerns of ‘ordinary’ Irish people, on a daily basis, for good or for ill.

For music, you can’t beat Philip King on The South Wind Blows or for traditional music, The Rolling Wave.

Your signature dish if cooking?

I think “signature dish” is pushing it a bit, but I can rustle up a tasty pasta dish with broccoli, onion, anchovies and chili flakes.

I can also make a half-decent Thai green curry, given the time and the right ingredients.

Favourite restaurant?

Lennox’s, Bandon Road, Cork. The finest curry chips I’ve tasted anywhere.

Last book you read?

Rough Crossings by Simon Schama was given to me by a history teacher friend of mine in England. It’s the story of black slaves offered their freedom by the British government on condition they would fight for Britain during the American War of Independence.

It’s a complex story full of ambiguities and with resonances right down to today in stories like the disgraceful treatment of the Windrush generation by the current British government.

Best book you read?

Can’t possibly name one — off the top of my head, The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien, Dark Trade: Lost In Boxing by Donald McRae and City of Bohane by Kevin Barry

Last album/CD/download you bought?

Heard A Long Gone Song by Lisa O’Neill. Her voice gives me goosebumps every time I hear her.

Favourite song?

Again, impossible to choose only one and so randomly, today it’s – Rock The Machine by Lisa O’Neill, Take This Longing by Leonard Cohen and Johnsburg, Illinois by Tom Waits.

One person you would like to see in concert?

Tom Waits.

Morning person or night owl?

A weird mixture of both actually.

Your proudest moment?

Lifting the Sam Maguire high above my head on the summit of Mount Everest*. (*May not have actually happened)

Spendthrift or saver?

The former, unfortunately.

Name one thing you would improve in your area in which you live?

A source of stable employment which is sustainable for the next 30 years.

What makes you happy?

Having a part, however small, in making other people happy.

How would you like to be remembered?

I don’t think I will be, I mean, not in the long term and it’s not something that bothers me in the slightest.

What else are you up to at the moment?

I’m one of the organisers (along with Pat and Noreen Collins) of the Drimoleague Singing Festival which runs from September 26 to 29. It’s a celebration of the human voice in all its forms and as well as concerts with the likes of Iarla Ó Lionáird, The Lost Brothers, Eleanor Shanley and Anthony Kearns, there are singing workshops, choir performances and open singing sessions throughout the weekend where anyone who wants is encouraged to sing. There is something very satisfying about the act of singing, especially when it is done communally. It seems not to happen as much as it used to in the past, which is basically why we created the festival. I love singing and have done so for fun all of my life.

Full details of the festival programme and online bookings may be made at www.drimoleaguesingingfestival.ie

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