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June 2019
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2011 -12 Four Childhood Figures

a column for the Sligo Weekender

Every character we encounter along lifes long and winding road, potentially, has the power to make us revise our views on life. Even when they depart, a part of them usually lingers on. I am continually being inspired, influenced, stretched and shaped, while striving to avoid negativity.

After the Celtic Tenors October concert for St. Johns Cathedrals Anniversary I began to really think about those people I look back on with affection, as having stamped an indelible imprint on my childhood development in Sligo. Parents, family and friends are of course the prime source of determining attitudes and beliefs.  If its good and gives you strength  hold onto it. If its bad, negative and weak  bin it! I am leaving my family aside here, as well as those inspirational folk I encountered later in life, such as David Harper - my main singing teacher in London, Basil Love and the thousands of Kenyan orphans and adults who have altered my prerogatives utterly, or my hero the late Jussi Björling whose voice continues to inspire, motivate, soothe and heal me, with its beauty and passion.

I am talking here about those Sligo people of my youth, who at the time werent necessarily  role models, but who in hindsight undeniably left a powerful and positive impression on me, and on who I was to become professionally, psychologically and emotionally. Of course, at the time, its up to the child to make the call whether or not the adult in question is a good or bad influence. What pressure, and pot luck.

On that evening in St. Johns, when I dedicated a song to Pearl Gilmour who had recently turned 90, my mind drifted back to the endless hours of friendly banter with my Dads Secretary Pearl by the Super Ser gas heater in the musty, paper-scented office at 42 Castle Street.

I was truly flattered that Deirdre Folan came along that night to hear us sing. I remember, as though it were yesterday, sitting alongside my mother at the Father Flanagan Hall, wide-eyed, mesmerised, transfixed by this beautiful (vocally and visually) local star soprano as she floated magically through the role of the Merry Widow, and Margot in The Desert Song, on both occasions opposite Dublin baritone Austin Gaffney. Deirdre Folan made me realise that goals were achievable, as she awakened my love for performing, and all its multifarious trimmings. Surely its through childhood observation and participation that children discover ability, identity, what they are capable of, and who they can become?

Education is humanitys greatest hope, the key to societys future, and so it goes without saying that a childs first teacher is of inestimable import - perhaps the first significant adult in a childs development after the parents. That teacher creates a daily mood of either misery, or joy and creativity. A first teacher can torture, or inspire, as he/she instructs in lifes lessons. For some children, school is perhaps even a haven from dysfunction. I have made no secret over the years of my admiration and respect for my first teacher at The Model  Bean Uí Higín  Thank you Hilda Higgins for helping me realise my love of learning.

The late Ger Cole was my first piano teacher  a calm, sensitive, enthusiastic, cheerful, smiling lady, who rather than rapping knuckles, was tuned in to kids, and instilled in me my life-long love of music-making.

John Trotter, late of St. Edwards Terrace, worked in my Dads shop, and at Cartron.  John Trotter was loved by many, a hugely popular Sligo character, a father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and an incredibly kind, humble, good man with a generous heart. When I was growing up at Cartron, John ticked all the right boxes. John took an interest in you, he noticed you, encouraged you, complimented you and made you feel special. John Trotter listened. Johns colourful conversations about his fishing trips on Lough Gill included every microscopic detail of that trip - Perr Rock, rod bent in two&  down to the graphic descriptions of the endless cups of tea, and where and how they ended up being secreted in the shrubbery on Monks Island. As a child, our minds are open, impressionable, pliable and free from prejudices and doubts, or should be. The heart and mind of a child is there to be moulded and shaped for the future. John Trotter, by his kindness, openness, warm heart and listening ear influenced many.  Rest in peace John, you done good, ya bugger ya!