By Owen McCabe
Growing up in the 1960s was a magical time when I think of all the friendly faces that once dotted the countryside and like the wildflowers of the summer have now passed on through the passages of time. Back then, it was not uncommon to hear both men and women who were on bicycles or walking the country roads, singing or whistling a tune as they went on their way. Something you don’t hear today.
The countryside at that time was full of great characters. Sometimes I wish I had a time machine and could go back there. Patrick Kavanagh’s epic poem “A Christmas Childhood” is a very powerful and moving poem that would tear at your heart strings. In one line of the poem, the poet said when we put our ears to the pailing post, the music that came out was “magical”. When I put my ear to the radio in the 1960s, I would have said the same, when listening with my older sisters to Radio Caroline, which was affectionately known as “The Boat that Rocked”.
There was a huge conveyor belt of musical talent right through the whole decade of the sixties, from showbands to folk, to Motown and pop, such as the Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, Procol Harum, The Beatles, The Doors and Marianne Faithfull, Cat Stevens. I could go on for ever and ever, all of them telling a beautiful story.
In America, an Irish Folk Group were making a name for themselves, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. But if there was one man who was capable of capturing the minds and the imagination of the young people of America and all over the world including my own, it was Bob Dylan. A pure genius of poetry and songwriting. He has been, and still is to this day, they eyes and ears of of America for the last sixty years. His ability to capture all of the events that happened in the United States and around the world is nothing short of extraordinary.
Four more geniuses from Liverpool with a strong Irish heritage were also making a name for themselves in the sixties. They were known as The Beatles with their wonderful catchy songs and enchanting lyrics. Today, when you listen to their well-crafted masterpieces, they transport you to a beautiful place, and bring you back in time. It was 1967 with The Beatles in Strawberry Fields, Tom Jones singing about the Green, Green Grass of Home, Scott McKenzie and the Flower Pot Men were heading for San Francisco with the flowers in their hair. The hippies had arrived.
It was the Summer of Love. These “Beautiful People” as they were referred to prided themselves as being a well-educated lot, in literature, poetry and music. The hippies like everyone else, were complex and diverse creatures. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s they protested against segregation, against severing ties with Cuba, opposed the Vietnam War and the subsequent forced conscription for that war, and against nuclear weapons.
Another favourite musician of mine was Jimi Hendrix, a pure genius and master magician of guitar; I often wondered whether he had six fingers on each hand instead of five. He could create the same beauty musically as an artist who was painting a masterpiece on canvas that was going to sell for millions, and his magic fingers could create the same result but on the electric guitar.
When he played at Woodstock in 1969, he played “Purple Haze”, but when he played his own rendition of the American national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner, he sent half a million revellers into a trance and took them on a wonderful journey with his masterful performance. Sadly, Jimi died in 1970.
While in primary school all through the 1960s, the only journey I was on, was with my school pal Joe, looking for an elusive rock hidden somewhere in the brambles and forestation of Shirley’s Wood near Carrickmacross. It was known as Fionn MacCumhaill’s Chair, it was said that the giant Fionn had laid against the rock and left his impression on it, so the story goes. Myself and Joe set off early on a Saturday morning like two archaeologists setting off to the find the Holy Grail. We eventually found it, and we were not disappointed.
On closer inspection, I saw the name “Jim McKenna 1906” carved into the rock. It was a magnificent piece of art and carved out with impeccable perfection. It was only in later years I discovered more about Jim McKenna. Jim worked with his brother Seamus as blacksmiths in Carrickmacross, long before my time, and by all accounts were gifted craftsmen and well ahead of their time.
Jim with genius and a creative mind and encyclopaedic knowledge of Irish and World history, instead of writing it in books he decided to put his stone carving skills to greatest effect. He applied his craft with skill and care with great detail on the Church Hill walls in Carrickmacross, and other parts of the town. He usually worked in the early hours of the morning or before dawn. His work today is regarded as a tourist attraction and is seen by many people and visitors to town.
The 1960s are just a distant memory now, or like a voice, confined to the wilderness. But the great musical legacy lives on with the likes of my hero Bob Dylan, whom unfortunately I did not see live in concert. The nearest I ever got to him was with good fortune back in the mid-eighties when I met his bodyguard known as JC or Big Jim Callaghan.
He was working for Jim Aiken Promotions, and whilst here, he wanted to come to Carrickmacross to research his ancestral background in the area, but whether he ever found any relatives I will never know. I had the privilege of joining him for a few pints in Markey’s pub one Saturday night, and his conversation and first-hand stories on Bob Dylan were priceless. He was an absolute gentleman. He enjoyed his time in Carrickmacross but particularly, Markey’s that night.
The chances of my meeting Bob Dylan now are quite slim. He is eighty and I am nearly pension age. I think the answer to that one has “blown in the wind”.