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Philo in the blanks New Phil Lynott film reveals his childhood growing up in Crumlin with 'brother' Peter


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Phil was just 36 when he died in 1986

Phil was just 36 when he died in 1986

Phil and best pal Peter Lynott

Phil and best pal Peter Lynott

Phil with Brian Downey, and Gary Moore

Phil with Brian Downey, and Gary Moore

Getty Images

Gigging with Thin Lizzy

Gigging with Thin Lizzy

Phil with his mum Philomena

Phil with his mum Philomena

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Phil was just 36 when he died in 1986

To the world he was a rock icon, the man whose songs put Ireland on the music map before tragically succumbing to the downsides of fame.

But to Peter Lynott, Philip was the nephew who was more like a brother, the mischievous but modest boy he grew up with in Dublin before watching in awe as he brought his music to the world.

Peter is one of several family members and close friends who remembers the Thin Lizzy frontman in the forthcoming movie Phil Lynott: Songs For While I'm Away. The poignant and moving documentary directed by Emer Reynolds (The Farthest), which tells Lynott's story through his music and lyrics, opens in cinemas on St Stephen's Day.

In an interview with the Sunday World, Peter speaks about the Philip he knew and loved - a Dennis the Menace fanatic who had a pet Alsatian called Gnasher, a great goalie, a modest man who loved and appreciated when fans engaged with him in public.

School

As Peter, brother to Phil's late mother Philomena, is the youngest in the family, there were only fourteen months between the two and Peter always regarded him more as a brother than a nephew.

Extraordinarily, the first Peter knew of his nephew's existence was when Philomena brought him home from the UK as a boy.

"We used to play in a nearby field in Crumlin called The Bangor Field, and Philomena arrived there with Philip. I was introduced to him and told I was his uncle. He then stayed with us and she went back to England to work."

Phil was enrolled at CBS in Crumlin and they would go to school together. "To this day I still remember the first day we arrived in the schoolyard. Young lads who didn't know any better said: 'Look at the blackie'. When the names started flying the fists started flying. We stood back to back and fought our way out of it. It only lasted a few weeks and then he was very popular, the kids and the brothers all liked him. They didn't notice colour any more."

Peter fondly remembers his nephew as a boy obsessed with Dennis the Menace, the comic-book strip in The Beano. Philip was so taken with the character that he called his own pet dog Gnasher after Dennis's. It was around this time that Peter first noticed his creative potential.

"That was the first sign for me of him being some sort of an artist. We used to collect comic books and swap them with our friends. He made his own comic from a copybook. He did drawings of Superman and made up stories with the balloons coming out of his mouth. And it was absolutely brilliant. That was the first sign of his talent."

He also laughs as he remembers how one day as boys Phil knocked off all the power in the family home in Crumlin. Philomena used to send gifts from the UK, and there was much excitement when a Dan Dare walkie-talkie set arrived.

Influence

"We used to talk to one another and pretend we were spacemen. The batteries ran out and Philip had this great idea to stick the walkie talkies into the electric socket and fused the whole house."

Both Phil and Peter, who also took an interest in performing and writing songs, accessed music in the early days through Peter's late brother, Timmy.

"Timmy was a music guy. He introduced us to music, people like Otis Redding, Muddy Waters and Elvis. Philip used to borrow the records and of course they never came back! Timmy was a father figure and he was a great influence on both of us. Philip had great respect for him and he was the one who put the music into both of us.

"Philip was a great goalie. He played in the Mount Argus road leagues. He was the goalkeeper of the team and they got to the final. This shot came in and he made the most fantastic save. He was also very interested at one stage in becoming a priest. But at the end of the day it was just one of those phases he was going through. He was a good looking fella and the girls were all bloody mad about him. They would call looking for him."

Spotlight

Peter vividly remembers the first time he saw Thin Lizzy perform a major international gig live in Manchester, and realised the boy he grew up with had become a star. "The place went dark except for the spotlight, the curtain went up and there he was standing. I'll never forget that moment - it was just unbelievable and the hairs stood up at the back of my neck.

"But Philip never used his fame in any way. He took people as they were, he didn't take people for granted. He was very kind. He was good to people who came up to him, he appreciated them.

"He was a great man for Grafton Street and we used to go to The Bailey for pints. People came over and he always had a lot of time for them. He never lost his Dublin accent and he was very proud of that too."

They drifted for a while as Phil spent long stretches on tour and Peter focused on raising his family.

But in the last year and a half of his life they became close again, as Peter travelled to the UK for work and would get the train across London to stay with his nephew.

Concerns

But in the months before his death, Peter became concerned that Phil was using drugs, and voiced those concerns. His last conversation with Phil was just weeks before his death, when he collapsed on Christmas Day and died eight days later, of heart failure and pneumonia, on January 4, 1986. He was just 36 years old.

Peter later wrote a song, You Are Gone, and the final verse recalls that time.

"In early December, we talked for a while.

I thought you had the blues you said no, you felt fine.

You were looking forward to Christmas, you said, you know what I mean?

Your mother was coming over, so were Sarah and Kathleen.

You Are Gone but you'll always be here."

  • Phil Lynott: Songs For While I'm Away opens in cinemas on December 26.

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