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Dubliners star John Sheahan still too scared to hug grandkids despite being vaccinated against Covid

"You would miss being able to get close to the grandchildren and give them a hug and playing with them"
Dubliners fiddle player John Sheahan.

Dubliners fiddle player John Sheahan.

Exclusive by Eugene Masterson

Dubliners legend John Sheahan reveals today how he is torn apart that despite being recently being vaccinated he is still too terrified to hug his grandchildren because of Covid.

"We got the second one there last Saturday up in the Helix," reveals John (81)."You feel like you are not taking the same risk anymore. I would still be cagey enough about keeping a certain distance and that type of thing, it is a certain relief I suppose."

But John is still reticent about hugging his grandkids, which upsets him.

"That was one big drawback of the pandemic," he reflects. "We have five grandchildren now. You would miss being able to get close to the grandchildren and give them a hug and playing with them.

"It was all done in a distance in the back garden. You'd miss all that."

But there have been some humorous sides to his experience of the pandemic.

John (front left) with The Dubliners

John (front left) with The Dubliners

"It's amazing how kids think," he beams. "We have one grandchild, her name is Croia and she has a little sister, Aoibhinn. Croia is about six and Aoibhinn is just coming up on two.

"But she was trying to figure out about the virus. The mother was saying 'granddad can't give you a hug now because of the virus'. She said 'what about me and Aoibhinn, we're sisters'. Her mother said 'that's ok'. She says 'how does the virus know that we're sisters'."

John, who grew up in Marino in north Dublin and now lives near Ratoath, Co. Meath, is the last remaining original member of the Dubliners. He perks up when asked how he's keeping.

"The health is good thank God," he tells the Sunday World. "Still pottering around, doing a bit; gardening and so on. Playing a bit online. Writing a bit of poetry and composing tunes all the time.

"It's not bothering me too much, really, just taking it day by day. I'm a fairly patient person anyway, I go with the flow and take things as they come.

"I'm doing a bit of writing. I started a book on The Dubliners, the story of the Dubliners. I haven't got too far with it. I thought I would be nearly finished it by now.

"I brought out a new record - not great timing, I suppose - an album of fiddle tunes, that I have written over the years. There are 15 original pieces, including the Marino Waltz, indeed, a very nice orchestral arrangement.

"So I'm composing little pieces of music all the time. It has become a hobby of mine over the years. I brought out a poetry book there three or four years ago as well."

John, who is renowned for playing the fiddle and tin whistle and who composed the famous Marino Waltz, will feature next week on RTÉ's Cosc programme, a documentary about the background to the station's banning of The Dubliners' version of Seven Drunken Nights from the airwaves.

"Versions of it have cropped up in different places," he explains. "I've heard Scotland, and Australia I believe had their own version back in the day as well.

"But we actually got it from Joe Heaney, Seosaimh Ó hÉanaigh, the sean nós singer from Connemara, back in the early 1960s.

"There was a connection with Radio Caroline as well. What happened was we got it from Joe Heaney as I say, then when we made a record deal with Major Minor records in London, we recorded it on our first album.

"We just regarded it as another track, but when our manger at the time came into the studio and heard what we were doing, he said 'oh Jaysus, that's going to be our single'.

"We thought he was mad, we said 'ah it's just another song'. But he had the right commercial ear and he had connections with Radio Caroline, Ronan O'Rahilly I think was the name of the guy who ran the station."

John Sheahan with President Higgins and Sabina Higgins at the unveiling of a statue to Luke Kelly.

John Sheahan with President Higgins and Sabina Higgins at the unveiling of a statue to Luke Kelly.

The song was supposedly so raunchy in parts that RTÉ banned it from the airwaves. But John argues he does not feel it was too saucy.

"Not at all, it was an innocent enough song," he insists. "We were just regarded it as another good trad, just a good album track. But our manager Phil Solomon at the time said 'I can see the commercial value on that, that will get you into Top of the Pops, which is did.

"We brought it out I think in March 1967."

When asked what he remembers about appearing on Top of the Pops, John says he remembers he had another gig the next day - his wedding! The song would later go to number one in Ireland.

"It would have been a couple of months after that RTÉ banned it," he adds. " But they weren't the only ones.

"We went to America to have it released over there a year later, because it was a big hit in the UK and Ireland of course, and got us quite a lot of exposure in northern Europe, because of Radio Caroline.

"Radio Caroline was a ship radio on the North Sea, so it reached into Holland and Germany.

"Germany was our biggest market. We played every year in Germany for 40 years without a break. We picked up a few phrases and used to use a few on the stage alright."

He chortles when asked if he had seven drunken nights himself when on tour.

"You could say multiples of," he guffaws. "Life was good on the road. We regarded it as a bit of craic and a bit of luck."

John takes pride that there have been two statues unveiled in Dublin to Luke Kelly.

"There's something unique about that and Michael D was at both unveilings on that particular day," he recollects. "I played at both of them actually. That was a very special occasion."

And when jokingly asked what's it like to be 'the last man standing' as the sole surviving member of the original group, he replies with a smile: "That's right, Liam Clancy used to use that expression, that he was the last man standing, yeah."

  • Cosc is on RTÉ One, Tuesday, at 7pm

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