PICS: Christy Moore fundraiser for Cork Life Centre hits all the right notes

The veteran folk singer had approached Don O’Leary, the Life Centre’s director, asking if he could help the northside alternative education centre
PICS: Christy Moore fundraiser for Cork Life Centre hits all the right notes

Christy Moore playing at the Cork Life Centre concert in the Cork Opera House . Picture: Eddie O'Hare

CHRISTY Moore’s Sunday night fundraising concert for the Cork Life Centre raised €23,000 and ended with two standing ovations in the Cork Opera House, with the Life Centre’s director being persuaded to come up on stage to accept a cheque.

The veteran folk singer had approached Don O’Leary, the Life Centre’s director, asking if he could help the northside alternative education centre, which every year offers one-to-one tuition up to Leaving Cert to 55 young people let down by mainstream education.

The two men had first met in the late 1970s in Portlaoise Prison, when the Corkman, who was at the time serving a five-year sentence for treason, jailed for possession of Sinn Féin election posters, asked if Christy would play a concert for Republican prisoners.

When the prison governor said a concert for one segregated group of prisoners would be unfair on the other prisoners, the singer songwriter immediately volunteered to perform before all the other prisoners too, eventually playing five gigs in what he still calls “the Portlaoise Hilton”.

More than three decades later, the two men were reconnected by their mutual friends, Hollyhill podcasters James Leonard and Timmy Long of The Two Norries Podcast, but they only physically met hours before Sunday’s concert, when The Echo reporter and photographer Eddie O’Hare accompanied Don O’Leary to the Opera House for a photo shoot.

The fundraising concert had sold out in minutes, and unsurprisingly the Cork Opera House was packed out on the night, with an atmosphere which was at times electric.

Don O'Leary with Dola Twomey and Mary Crilly at the Christy Moore concert for the Cork Life Centre at the Cork Opera House . Picture; Eddie O'Hare
Don O'Leary with Dola Twomey and Mary Crilly at the Christy Moore concert for the Cork Life Centre at the Cork Opera House . Picture; Eddie O'Hare

Christy Moore was in great form, his voice as powerful as ever it was, going from rebel-rousing to haunting ballads almost without shifting gears, with an energy more befitting a man half of his 77 years.

Dedicating the concert to his old friend Don, he praised the work of the Life Centre, and said it would be nice if the Taoiseach and the Education Minister listened to the people of Cork and supported the centre.

He sang many of his classics, delivering showstopper after showstopper, as always blending social and political commentary with sense of fun and occasionally righteous rage.

Beginning with Ordinary Man, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand from the off, and he followed that with Jimmy McCarthy’s Ride On He related a story about starting a 1976 tour in the Phoenix, and spending three days in a snowbound Kealkill pub, where Jimmy Crowley taught him Johnny Jump Up.

James Leonard and Gillian Buckley at the Christy Moore concert for the Cork Life Centre at the Cork Opera House . Picture; Eddie O'Hare
James Leonard and Gillian Buckley at the Christy Moore concert for the Cork Life Centre at the Cork Opera House . Picture; Eddie O'Hare

He dedicated a scorching version of La Quinta Brigada to the people of Ukraine, who he said were fighting fascism just as the Connolly Column did during the Spanish Civil War. Leo Varadkar got a name-check in Delirium Tremens, with the current Tánaiste heckling that Christy be replaced with Kylie Minogue, “So I gave him Kevin Barry, and a blast of Boolavogue”.

A blistering Lingo Politico was rounded off with a chorus of Don’t Forget Your Shovel, and the perennial favourite Lisdoonvarna morphed into I’ll Tell Me Ma, featuring a creditable Van Morrison impression.

He sang what he said is his favourite song, John Spillane’s glorious Gortatogort, and he dedicated No Time For Love, a song about internment, to Don O’Leary, and a poignant version of The Voyage to Don O’Leary’s wife Betty.

Annmarie McCarthy, Hannah Degg and Mary Duffy at the Christy Moore concert for the Cork Life Centre at the Cork Opera House . Picture; Eddie O'Hare
Annmarie McCarthy, Hannah Degg and Mary Duffy at the Christy Moore concert for the Cork Life Centre at the Cork Opera House . Picture; Eddie O'Hare

At eight, Hannah Casey wasn’t the youngest fan in the audience – that honour surely went to the baby carried in a sling – but apart from Don and Betty O’Leary, Hannah was the only person to get a request played, a sublime version of Beeswing.

Joining Christy on stage was Ballincollig native and former Life Centre student Colm O’Brien, who told the audience that the centre had changed his life. Colm described being on stage in the Opera House as “like a fever dream”, and he delivered a fantastic rendition of his song Summer Ballad.

Timmy and Nicole Long at the Christy Moore concert for the Cork Life Centre at the Cork Opera House . Picture; Eddie O'Hare
Timmy and Nicole Long at the Christy Moore concert for the Cork Life Centre at the Cork Opera House . Picture; Eddie O'Hare

Former Life Centre students Amber O’Callaghan and Ryan Sharpe spoke about their time in the centre, with Ryan telling the audience he had just received his Leaving Cert and Amber saying she had completed her degree in Psychology. Both were warmly applauded.

There was a pre-recorded contribution by John Spillane, singing The Streets of Ballyphehane, and a video tribute to Don O’Leary from students past and present, and from members of the Life Centre staff (the phrase most repeated throughout was “Don is a legend”).

Sonya Keogh and Jan Kelleher at the Christy Moore concert for the Cork Life Centre at the Cork Opera House . Picture; Eddie O'Hare
Sonya Keogh and Jan Kelleher at the Christy Moore concert for the Cork Life Centre at the Cork Opera House . Picture; Eddie O'Hare

Standing onstage between the encores, Don O’Leary thanked Christy Moore for his friendship and for playing the fundraising concert. Despite a diagnosis of terminal cancer, he said he intended to fight on for the Cork Life Centre and “for the kids that we have, and the kids we can’t take.

“So, Department of Education? I’ll be back onto ye tomorrow morning,” he said.

“Why I Love Cork (For Don O’Leary)” 

 “It’s all downhill from there,” said Christy Moore when the applause had finally died down in the Cork Opera House, only a few songs into his fundraiser for the Cork Life Centre. It wasn’t, of course, but it was clear the new song he had just debuted was an instant hit.

It probably didn’t hurt that some well-loved Cork people are name-checked in Why I Love Cork (For Don O’Leary).

Christy had confessed before singing it that he was nervous, and had wanted to get it finished in time for the Cork gig. When the crowd began to clap along, he asked them to stop, saying “Put them away”, adding that, because this was the first time he had sung the song, he needed to be in charge of the rhythm himself. That got a cheer and a round of applause.

Anita and Dan Whooley at the Christy Moore concert for the Cork Life Centre at the Cork Opera House . Picture; Eddie O'Hare
Anita and Dan Whooley at the Christy Moore concert for the Cork Life Centre at the Cork Opera House . Picture; Eddie O'Hare

The ballad begins with a reporter from the “Cork Examiner” asking Christy why he returns every year to the Marquee – and the next morning he would announce that he will return there in 2023 - and he replies by listing the reasons he loves Cork, citing the sights and sounds and tastes of the Rebel County, mentioning Ringaskiddy, Union Hall, Sherkin Island and Cape Clear.

The English market encounter between the late Queen Elizabeth II and fishmonger Pat O’Connell is recalled, hilariously, and, if you wanted to read it that way, slightly scurrilously, and the Boys of Fair Hill rub shoulders with the Piper of Crossbarry, while musical legend Ricky Lynch – “He’s like a vintage wine” - sings in the Corner House.

The chorus is infectious: “On the banks, the banks, the beautiful banks, On the banks of the River Lee, Saturday night, we’re packed in tight All together in the big Marquee”, and the name-checks really get going in the second verse, with a mighty cheer going up at the mention of two Hollyhill podcasters.

A veiled reference to the Life Centre’s ongoing funding disagreements with the Department of Education, and a dig at the Taoiseach, also earned a particularly ferocious cheer.

“Puccini in the Opera House, Karl Marx in the Connolly Hall, Joe Mac in the Arcadia, Two Norries are on the ball, Maggie Barry is on the Coal Quay, Jimmy Crowley is on the ran-tan-tan, Sound as a bell, Hank Wedel, and the Maestro John Spillane.

“Here’s Caitriona Twomey, coming up the Mall, To cook the Penny Dinner, to feed the great and small. There goes Don O’Leary on his way to Sunday’s Well, Up to the Cork Life Centre, to ring the morning bell, Micheál, to ring the morning bell.” No doubt the song will go down as well when Christy plays it in the Marquee next year.

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