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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon


No. The above is not a keen observer's description of my friends and myself. Well, maybe it is but it is also the title of Sean O'Neill's first album, which he says he recorded accidentally ..." ( With a little bit of delving I found that he had featured his first twelve songs on a tape "Smug and Sanctimonious Songs." It was very much a "limited edition" distributed to a few close friends.)

Oh...I haven't introduced you to Sean O'Neill.... but perhaps you already know him. If you live in Ireland and, at any stage since 2000 you have been accosted on your doorstep by a hirsute minstrel armed with a (disarming) smile and a Seagull 12 string guitar, it was probably Sean O'Neill. If he offered to sing one of his own songs on the spot and sell you one of his CDs at a Petticoat Lane price then it certainly was Sean O'Neill.

Sean wrote his first song, at age 47, on 24th August 1998. (Although he admits: "....I did try once when I was about twenty five to write a song. I made a tape and listened to it. It was embarrassing. Then a friend found it- told me and threatened, jokingly, to play it for everyone. Once bitten....")

Two months earlier, after a twenty-eight year marriage he had moved to Galway, from Dublin, on his own. Fed up with the photography business he was running and with family reared he decided; "There's got to be more." He gives a very concise account of his dramatic change of direction; I gave myself the freedom to be." This was when he; "....mentally tore up my personal rule books, user guides and maps and began to go with the flow and follow my heart."

In the City of The Tribes he got involved in drama and would occasionally bring his guitar to house parties. Eventually at an open-mic night in a club he sang a John Prine song, a Guy Clarke number and recited a short poem of his own. It went down well, but if you think that nobody perspires like Christy Moore on stage, Sean can assure you he sweated for Ireland that night in Galway.

Two days later, when he stopped shaking, he went busking. A month later he went to Scotland with about sixty quid, spent three weeks hitchhiking and busking, wrote two songs and came back hooked on writing.

At nearly fifty years of age I'm sure that deep down, like Ovid, Sean knew that: "Sponte sua Carmen numeros veniebat ad aptos. Et quod temptabam dicere versus erat." ( Of its own accord, my song would come in the right rhythms, and what I was trying to say was poetry.) He speaks of allowing himself a new freedom ".....that was both liberating and painful."

By the following July he was busking, had recovered from pneumonia, written over fifty songs, spent two months in Senegal recorded his album and hung up his camera for good. That was when he said goodbye to the life of a wage-slave (apart from two weeks working in a chocolate factory; a period that a spin-doctor might advise him to omit from his CV.) Recently one of his idols (and mine) Pat Ingoldsby described him as : "A walking advertisement for freedom."

When the first hundred copies of the 17-track album "Losers and Sinners" were delivered to him (at the chocolate factory) he came up with the idea of selling them door-to-door only to be told by all and sundry that it wouldn't work.

He confided his next sales ploy to a friend who asked: "Who's going to listen to a song on their doorstep?"

" I would," said Sean.

It's then that he heard what I've been told so often; "Everybody's not like you."

Well, it did work and Sean's still at it.

Of course not everyone avails of his kind offer;

    "It doesn't compute with what you know as normal behaviour. The easiest way out of the situation is to plead busyness -the kids need minding, the dinner needs cooking or the paint needs watching while it dries. Maybe about twelve people in a day realise that while this is not an offer they have previously encountered, that it is a worthwhile one and worth postponing the busyness for......"

To mark the achievement of "Losers and Sinners" Sassy Records presented Sean with a Eunos Roadster and about the same time in the Holiday Inn, in Dublin, he was given a challenge. Ralph Murphy, Vice President of ASCAP and legendry Nashville writer, put down a wager that Sean wouldn't take a tour, doorstep gig and sell at least one CD in all 32 counties in seven days. Sean won the bet. He tells me he didn't break any speed-limits in the process and I'm sure a songwriter wouldn't lie.

The expedition is known in music legend as; "The Thunder and Lightening Topless Troubadour Tour" and I'm sure it'll be remembered when we have forgotten that Gay Byrne was the first to have the Beatles on TV or whether Dickie Rock has the free travel.

Sean spends most of his time these days in a rented cottage in Dromcollogher, Co. Limerick and he seems to be leading a pretty busy life. Have a read of this:

    "Saturday: meetings all day from ten till five. All very interesting. Two were personal and the purpose was to continue my quest to find out what is wrong with me. I hear again that I'm too focussed on my quest for world domination and give too much information when a little is plenty. The other Meetings were with a wonderful PR person and she wanted more information than I could give so I suppose that's a balance. (I had planned to write a few lines to welcome you to the site, so I suppose this is not without foundation.)"

    That's from the on-line diary of a man who held Gerri Haliwell's boots and has an off-cut from Michael Flatley's shirt.........('ll have to go to his website to get the rest of that story.)

Sean's latest album "Odds and Sods" should be in your local record store now. If not, go straight to his website;

He has given me the story behind most of his songs (although he admits that some of them have "tall enhancements") and they encompass almost the full gamut of human emotions.

He wrote "Celtic Tiger Blues" when that elusive cat was alleged to be everywhere on this island (even west of the Shannon, despite what Brendan Shine says.)

There's a history to "A Long Way - From Claire TO Here" (No, I didn't inadvertently put in an extra vowel and Sean got permission from Ralph McTell, in Eason's in Cork, before he went ahead with it.

On 01st June 1999 Sean was in denial. He was tired listening to women telling him they'd only fall for rogues that'd break their hearts. What did he do? He wrote "I'm Not Nice."

"Popeye In Red Pedallo" is a true story (which I won't go into here.) Suffice to say it was written in Lisdoonvarna!

"Watching, Remembering You" has a strong transport connotation.

Sean is a great man for the public Transport. He says: "Every day I go to work on a different bus, to a different place, knocking on many different doors, meeting many different people and hearing many different stories".

One day he got inspiration on a 44 bus. The chorus came to him in Grafton Street and he wrote the song, over a cup of coffee, in Bewleys.

His experience as a photographer could have provided the inspiration for "Photographs and Anecdotes"

    Here's a picture of us
    Looking at a picture of us,
    Looking at a pict......

Now, don't say I was telling you but there's also a "hidden track" on the CD.

A woman in Adare told me that when Sean first arrived in the east Limerick village that's now his adopted home, he decided he'd have a go at catching out that other Minstrel, Percy French. Sean counted and checked, and double checked, and he had to concede that.....yes....."There Are Only Three Streets in Drumcollogher."

If you don't believe me you can track down my informant or contact Sean at

Pic used with permission of Brendan Halligan, Editor, Limerick Leader.


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