First Published (in OTRT) February 2022
TONY HOLLERAN REMEMBERED
First Published in the Tullamore Annual 2018.
MONDAY NIGHTS AT THE TAP – A TULLAMORE TRADITION
Monday nights at The Tap. Five little words that have come to roll off the tongue with all the ease and comfort of a best friend’s name, for so many musicians and fans alike, over the course of almost thirty years now. Five little words that have taken on a life of their own, becoming a living, breathing, always evolving, and most importantly and steadfastly of all – ever welcoming – part of Tullamore’s culture.
Along the way those simple Monday nights at The Brewery Tap have become a Tullamore tradition, adhered to with a near religious zeal by the many who make the weekly pilgrimage which takes them through the front door of The Tap and away into a different world, one of balladry, folk, even original compositions, and, The Tap being like all of the finest public houses, whatever you’re having yourself as well. And thanks to moments like the night of May 5th back in 2003 when the double album Live At The Tap was committed to tape, those Monday night sessions have been immortalised for what they have become and continue to this day to be, indelible and unforgettable representations of the depth of a town’s musical heritage, and in particular, of one establishments determination to celebrate it.
The real magic of these Monday nights at The Tap, though, which stretch all the way back to those fabled days of our Italia ’90 summer – and July 2nd of that vintage year, to be exact – is that they belong to whoever wants to be there on any given week. Be it to sing or play, or simply to listen and enjoy with your tipple of choice within easy reach and never long empty, hearts succumbing and surrendering to the passion or tenderness of the tunes cocooning all present. And while these nights truly do belong to all who care to be a part of them, it also stands as an unquenchable flame of fact that two men in particular, along with the owners and staff of The Tap down the years, have surely been the heartbeat and the lifeblood of these occasions come every single Monday on the calendar, in one shape or another, from July 2nd 1990 up until the present day.
Nights which tend more often than not to be as special as those described seldom occur without the presence at the centre of it all of equally special individuals. A mix of humility, grace, and the proverbial ‘good raising’ would see Dominic Madden and Tony Holleran do little more than laugh off any such talk of ‘special’ where they’re concerned. But nevertheless, it’s a truth deserving recognition and acknowledgement, and so shall it be. The duo, known as Far Tulla (the men from the mounds), were first asked to silence the silence, if you will, from the Monday night air by the then proprietor of The Brewery Tap, Kevin Carragher, almost three decades ago. With both Dominic and Tony accomplished guitarists and men of fine voice, and Dominic no stranger to the mandolin or the 5-string banjo either, that silence was soon and easily banished. And Monday nights in Tullamore changed forevermore. When Kevin moved on to pastures new, Paul Bell stepped into the wheelhouse of The Tap, and he kept Dominic and Tony on board as trusted members of his crew for the voyage that lay ahead.
As gifted musicians and interpreters of song, it’s no surprise that both Dominic and Tony have often felt compelled to be creators of song as well. In fact, Dominic credits Tony’s ode to Offaly’s All-Ireland winners, the 82 Heroes, as being the catalyst that eventually brought to life his own first original composition, If We Had Built A Wall. And here’s something else worth knowing. When the first song somebody writes goes on to be recorded by a band like Patrick Street (Kevin Burke, Andy Irvine, Jackie Daly, and Arty McGlynn) it gives you a fair idea of the song in question’s quality. As well as the quality of the man who wrote it. And of the quality of the man who inspired the man who wrote it, to actually write it! Quality, you see, is a word that comes up time and time again whenever anyone talks about the Far Tulla two. Why and how such quality exists in their songwriting, quite apart from their own talents honed and crafted with exemplary care and attention to detail , needs no further explanation beyond the fact that Guy Clark is Dominic’s songwriting hero, while Tony’s head bows to the work of Townes Van Zandt. Simply put, for those to whom the names of Guy and Townes mean nothing: for those who are aware of Guy and Townes, and their music, and their legend, and their legacy, their names mean everything.
In much the same way, as it so happens, that the names of Dominic and Tony have come to mean so much, if not indeed, everything, of what Monday nights at The Tap are all about.
So back to our own Pancho and Lefty (two of the characters in one of Townes Van Zandt’s most famous songs), and on once again to the subject of their quality. Without doubt, one of the most tragic and lamentable realisations of any age or place, is when a great character has passed between the veils of this world and the next, but leaving behind no record of their stories and how they told them, or their songs and how they sang them. Thankfully, such a fate will never befall Far Tulla, for Dominic and Tony have recorded two glorious albums which, if you’re lucky, you’ll already have in your collections. And if you don’t have, but you’re wise, you’ll do well to get your hands on.
Their If We Had Built A Wall collection includes such time-honoured favorites as The Old Dungarvan Oak, Dirty Old Town, The Wild Rover, and The Green Fields Around Ferbane. But if you want to get to the heart of these two men, and you should, then the ‘long-player’ you need to seek out is Life Lines, featuring as it does ten beautiful original songs, divided equally between Dominic’s and Tony’s. If you haven’t heard Dominic’s Tullamore or Heroes In Black and White, or Tony’s Cry of Freedom or The Poor Ones Get The Blame played ‘live’ in The Tap at least once, then the least you owe yourself (as well as making sure you do hear them ‘live’ in The Tap at least once, of course!) is to own a copy of this album.
And before we leave this subject, brace yourselves for one of those, “Are you serious?!”, moments. If, at any stage you’ve flown from Dublin to the United States with Aer Lingus, or from Dublin to Russia with the same carrier, then chances are you’ve been carried through the clouds by the dulcet tones and deft skills of Dominic and Tony, as some of their recordings have even featured as part of the Aer Lingus in-flight entertainment!
So many Mondays could not pass by without a story or two to raise a smile, for various reasons, when recounted. Dominic recalls a night when his performance of the song The Field Behind The Plough was met with such enthusiasm by an Australian gentleman in the crowd, that he insisted Dominic play it again for his father. Dominic, as all who know him will attest to, is an affable chap, and was only too happy to oblige. Somewhat confused, however, as he was directed towards the public pay-phone in The Tap at the time, it soon became clear that this request was… a little different! The man’s father was actually at home, home being in Australia! So, as this gentleman held the mouthpiece up to Dominic’s face and kept topping the phone up with the necessary coin required, Dominic duly sang The Field Behind The Plough to a man out on his tractor, farming his own field, way down yonder in Australia!
On another occasion, when a group from Hungary happened to be in attendance, a request was sent Tony’s way to play something for them. Despite a vast wealth of musical treasures to call upon, something specific to these guests left Tony, momentarily, scratching his head. But, as sure as there are many who will attest to Dominic’s affability, there are as many again who will do the same for Tony’s wit. Tony found a song for the moment. “A hungry feelin’ / Came o’er me stealing…”, he earnestly began, a twinkle in his eye according to legend.
When it comes to Monday nights at The Tap, visitors come from far and wide. Many to take part, but many simply to be there and take it all in. Jim Page, for one, the American folk singer/songwriter and social activist (and writer of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Russian Roulette, made famous here in Ireland by Christy Moore), always makes a point of making his way to Tullamore of a Monday night if he’s in Ireland. Likewise, the late Sean MacConnell, one time midlands correspondent for The Irish Times, was a regular to The Tap of a Monday night, more often than not in the company of Eugene Hogan, who filled a similar role for the Irish Independent.
Monday nights at The Tap. Five little words that have meant, and continue to mean, so much to so many. It’s where legends are born, after all. And where local legends, like Dominic and Tony, play with passion, and with arms as open to old friends and new as their hearts are to song and story. And where, thanks to Paul, Cathy, and their staff – like Kevin and his before them – your glass will never sit long empty.
Monday nights at The Tap. A Tullamore tradition. And one it’s worth being a part of.
A Tribute to Tony from Tullamore Rhymers’ Club Poet Seamus Kirwan…
“My good friend of forty-one years, Tony Holleran, has gone to his eternal rest. There are no words to describe the man, well there are words, but none of them really do the man justice at all. He helped me so many times and in so many ways over the years, and we laughed, sang and listened together. Tony is much more than a legend to me, he’s a hero of immeasurable proportions.
The poem below is one I wrote in September 2020, and during our last lockdown, Tony put music to the poem/song. I’ll post the video at a later date [to my Facebook page]. I don’t know, but I wonder is this the last piece that Tony put music to? Either way, I’m deeply honoured to have had Tony as a friend. A good Connemara man from Clonbur, Connemara, County Galway, but he’s one of ours in Offaly too. I dedicate this poem/song to Tony.
Rest In Peace, Tony.”
I AM BUT A DOT
Oh, I am but a dot
To be scattered and tossed
By the power of a turbulent sea,
And I’ve been thinking a lot of the haves and have-nots
On this earth you get nothing for free
And when I try to reason
On the gifts of each season
In the knowing that I am so blessed
And when my time is done
At the end of this run
Connemara is where I will rest.
Where the sea grinds the shore
It’s all battered and wore
But it’s here that I’m happy and free
I can sit down and feel
Like a whale or a seal
I’m just part of the landscape you see
Just a tiny wee speck
On a ship’s varnished deck
I can travel the world at my ease
When I sail back again
About quarter past ten
I’ll come home on a stiff evening breeze
(c). Séamus Kirwan 26/9/2020.