Anne Marie Kennedy, MA in Writing, NUI Galway is an award winner writer, performance poet, playwright, freelance journalist and creative writing teacher.
In Memory of Tommy Peoples
By Anne Marie Kennedy
I was proud to present you at Chautauqua and your name packed the hall out.
The bluegrass banjo players, cotton picking country ones, classical violinists, folk and traditionalists mixed themselves in with the modern and old timey.
They sat in silent awe of you in the auditorium that nestled into the forested foothills of the Rocky Mountains. After three encores and a standing ovation, you were exhausted and emotional.
‘The worst is over,’ you said, in response to one of your finest solo performances ever. You wanted to be alone. A friend drove you to our air conditioned home while we sold all your CD’s, in ninety degrees heat, on that August night in Boulder, Colorado.
A Grammy award winning composer said she saw unfathomable things in your fingering, that your bowing and triplets were almost disconcerting. She heard ‘something surreal,’ she said, ‘lovely but strange,’ in your grace notes, most noticeable in the slow airs. She thought no mortal could have written them. She asked if it was true that you got tunes from the fairies.
That was fourteen years ago.
After we moved home, I visited you in Donegal, in the house you were reared in. You told me about the book you were working on about your life, the tunes, the stories around them, and how you played the fiddle. You asked me to read a few chapters, handing me the typed-up, thumb worn pages, one at a time. Much to your amusement I read them out loud to you.
The first one tells of two little people you met on a walk, along an isolated mile of dirt road that you called ‘Lonely Street.’ They invited you to their fort, near Grianán of Aileach in Burt where you watched a hurling game of such breathtaking skills, athleticism speed and sportsmanship as was ever seen. There was hospitality in abundance: breads, fruits, meats, drink and music. Your hosts told you their names were Oam and Goham, old Irish for O am and Go h’am, from time to time.
When they took you back to ‘Lonely Street’ they asked you to write two strathspeys in their honour, which you did. You said those two tunes came easy.
The world of traditional Irish music is a long, lonely street since your passing last weekend. Your great musical legacy will compensate, be of comfort in a lot of ways, but your likes will never again be heard.
Be at peace now, Tommy Peoples.