Irish Rocker Rolls with Yeats and Dylan

Larry Kirwan
Larry Kirwan, an Irish rock musician and writer, performed in the library on February 18.

 

Larry Kirwan
Kirwan met the radio class whose members broadcast his performance live on WNUW.
 
 
Larry Kirwan
 
That evening at a local pub, Kirwan met four students who will travel to Ireland during spring break: Jess Cadorette, Mariah Schiessl, Beth Lounsberry, and Kayla Kelly.
 

Larry Kirwan, a rebellious Irish musician and writer, entranced a crowd of students and staff with songs, stories and poetry in the library on February 18. His performance was broadcast live on WNUW, part of his visit to educate students about the Easter Rising (on the 100th anniversary of the insurrection to end British rule) before they travel to Dublin on spring break.

 

Kirwan is a punk legend, for 25 years the voice of Black 47, named for the worst year of the Irish potato famine (1847). The group cut 13 CDs, including Fire of Freedom, Iraq, and Bankers and Gangsters. He's also the host of Celtic Crush, a weekly show on Sirius Satellite Radio.

 

During an interview by Patrick McKenzie, director of campus ministry, Kirwan described his home county of Wexford as “a place of invasions and violence,” from the Vikings to Oliver Cromwell. “You can almost feel the ghosts,” he admitted. Raised in a very political family, he left home for New York City in the 1970s, shunning the alternative for a young musician – London and the hated British Empire.

 

To illustrate the political animosity, he played a song he wrote for a play that he co-authored with Thomas Keneally (author of Schindler’s List). The ballad, Death in Ireland, is set in 1841 and tells the story of an Irish woman who was sent to the Australian penal colony, Botany Bay, for seven years. Her crime? Stealing a pound of butter. Dying in their home country, the title reference of the song, was a wish of those who had been exiled, explained Kirwan. After the potato famine, however, thousands became eager to escape British rule and left for America.

 

Even more than a century later, in the 1970s, the allure of New York to adventurous Irish was the freedom there. “You could reinvent yourself in New York,” he recalled. “It was exciting.”

 

After years of scraping by with gigs in bands and a four-year stint as a playwright, Kirwan formed Black 47 with Chris Byrne. Together, they decided the band would be political, and they wrote songs about the hard lives of the people they saw, from construction workers to Irish nannies.

 

“We were fierce,” bragged Kirwan. “We didn’t care what the audience thought … and New Yorkers loved it.”

 

He ended his performance by reading Easter 1916 by William Butler Yeats and belting out his rendition of Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone. “The Rising utterly changed Ireland” and no one gives voice to the ‘terrible beauty’ of the rebellion better than Yeats,” he offered. Regarding the Dylan song, which was long a staple of every Black 47 performance, Kirwan lovingly admits that “Dylan knows how to capture bitterness.”

 

Still a freedom-loving political activist, Kirwan ended his appearance with a few words of wisdom to the students. “Corporations have pretty much taken over the culture,” he moaned, before urging the audience to stay politically involved. “Vote in the next election,” he proclaimed, “and vote with your heart.”

        


02/22/16


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