It’s already evening as violinist Kerstin Becker and I leave Dublin airport and head on the M1 in the direction of Belfast. Somewhere along the line we headed West and drive overland, passing the invisible border to Northern Ireland and driving through towns named Armagh and Omagh. While in Europe the conflictual history of Ireland loses focus, here it is alive as ever. The barren road that is lined with bushes and tufts of grass leads us through the Ulster landscape with its jotted mounds. We are passing places where depending on prevailing sympathies either the English St. Georg flag is fluttering from houses, buildings and lampposts or posters are promoting Sinn Féin and the IRA. On the way to Derry we can see that the part ‘London’ is scraped off from most of the direction signs of Londonderry which is how the British oriented people like to call it. Finally we reach the Lough Foyle at the foot of the peninsula Inishowen, the most northern extremity of the Republic of Ireland. Politics, myths and history are ubiquitous in this part of the country. It is here where the Lough opens its jaws to the wide Atlantic. Somewhere in the distance is New York.
As we arrive around 11 pm there is still some daylight in Moville. A yellow-grey evening sky hangs above the town which is located on a small hill dropping away to the sea. In the second half of the 19th century steamships of the British shipping company Anchor Line were leaving from here, carrying thousands of emigrants into an uncertain future.
In 1981 Bob Dylan recorded his album Shot of Love. In the same year seven IRA men hijacked a pilot boat with its pilot at Moville harbour, weighed it with tons of explosives and pulled out to the Nellie M, a trading vessel worth a million with a cargo of coal of the same value on it that waited for the flood to exit the Lough. They forced the crew into the lifeboats and planted the times explosives in the engine room. It is reported that the explosion and the fires could be seen from many miles around.
After we stowe our instruments and stuff at the house of our landlady Catherine, we walk back onto the street, only some minutes away from the darkness gaining hold over the Lough. From where we are it looks like the Foyle Street is disappearing into the sea. We decide to go to the Rosatos, which is only two corners away. The pub’s crowded and the music duo we squeeze past is playing It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. We order two pints of Guinness and sip by sip we deeply enjoy the pleasant feeling of arrival.
Nearby stands Gerry McLaughlin, the organizer of the festival who invited us to Moville. Beside him stands Brendan who came from Northern Ireland across the Lough on his sailing ship and who’s here for the sixth time now. He says there are rumors that Dylan himself and in person would emerge at his own festival this year. Somebody touches my shoulder and as I turn around a thin elderly man grabs my hand urgently, asking “Do you love Bob Dylan? Is there love in your heart for him?” Looking straight into my eyes his look hitches with mine. ‘I must be in a dream’, I think in spite of myself. What is the reply to such a question? The duo takes a break. A great sturdy red-faced man with white hair in his 70s walks by me and cuts his way through the crowd to the small stage at the fireplace. Suddenly all eyes are on him. The thin man releases my hand. As he stands there, with his arms calmly by his side, the white-haired man instantly begins to sing Danny Boy, maybe the best known Irish song in general. Everybody in the room stands up with their glasses in their hands and sings, a fervent choir of different female and male voices. The song is about farewell and recurrence, a reminder of the times of the great famines, borrowing the melody from the Northern Irish anthem A Londonderry Air. Somebody close behind me says “You know who that is? That’s John Hume!”
In a nationwide survey in 2010 the Irish people voted John Hume as Ireland’s greatest person. The politician from Northern Ireland who was born in Derry won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 alongside the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble. For many years he was working relentlessly on inducing Sinn Féin and the IRA to armistice negotiations. The Good Friday Agreement from 1998 bears his signature. So, that was John Hume. Sitting in this small pub on Inishowen during a Dylan festival, where maybe Dylan himself was present, standing in a corner like many a time disguised, with a wig under his hood. After he finishes a second song people are reverently cleaning the place for him and Hume makes his way back to his table where a glass of red wine await him. The two musicians grab their instruments ready to start the next Dylan song.
“John is living in Moville now”, says McLaughlin afterwards. “He told me a great story about how, when Martin McGuinness, now Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, first joined the IRA, Martin's mother asked John to come over and talk him out of it. They both grew up in Derry. He said he went over but he couldn't talk him out of it. ‘You did eventually, John. You did eventually’” McLaughlin says he has replied. “It reminds me of the old James Cagney movie Angels With Dirty Faces”, he says, “where two young lads from New York who grew up together went in different directions, one to be a hoodlum who went to The Chair and one to be a priest but who still remained in touch. I think that would make a great movie with the two guys brought up in Derry going in different directions, one to violence and one to peace, ending up on the same side in the end”.
The Duo is playing My Back Pages now. There’s an oil painting hanging right behind Hume showing a fishing boat out on the sea. On the left wall there are several more paintings hanging in the scattered light, painted by the same brush in the same dark faint colors. They are impressive and seem like they’ve been hanging a lifetime on those walls. At the bar I inquire about the painter and learn that it is a certain Cathal Cavanagh. On most of the paintings he painted himself as an old man, sometimes together with his friends, portrayed as old men likewise, sitting at a table each one with a glass of beer in front of them and a glance that doesn’t seem backward-looking, somehow happy about the fact they arrived at their old age where one doesn’t have to deal with plans, dreams and bygone loves anymore. A guest from Scotland who attends the festival each year and who’s familiar with the local contexts says that Cavanagh shows up at the pub each night right before closing time. Later on that evening the time has come. A man in his thirties drops in. The Scotsman gives me a nod and it looks like Cavanagh had made a stop at several pubs before. He leans to the musicians and says “Can you play Oh Sister?”. Soon after he sits at a table, right under the painting that shows him as an old man, wrapped in thoughts.
On the next morning we sit in the Victorian living room of our hostess, looking through the set list and the arrangements. She says that in the last years there was more going on at the festival, that it is due to the economic situation maybe, that less people have come.
The word is that the Stuck Inside of Moville on Inishowen at the edge of the old world is the biggest festival where Dylan’s music is played. Only the annual Dylan-Fest in Hibbing, Minnesota is bigger. It is held in the town where Dylan grew up and formed his first electric band The Golden Chords at high school, only a few years before he arrived in New York City on a bitterly cold snowy winter’s day. Since seven years now Dylan’s music is being played by locals and international musicians for four days in a row in Moville’s streets, pubs and hotels. But, for the entire world, why Moville? Why Bob Dylan?
“I came to Moville in 2002”, says Gerry McLaughlin, who lived in London, Hamburg, Paris and Amsterdam before. “I noticed that there were a lot of Dylan fans in the town and Dylan got played a lot on jukeboxes and by a lot of the acts that played around Moville.” It came out that the ground was prepared by a now retired teacher called ‘Paddy the Shoe’ who himself performs at the festival now. His real name is Paddy McLaughlin and as a great admirer of Bob Dylan, having seen the singer more than 40 times, he was very influential on bringing up generations of Dylan fans in Moville. “So, I thought, why not having a festival of Bob Dylan music.” Six weeks later it was on and there was Dylan music on all weekend and a big crowd arrived after it got publicity on quite a few radio stations including the famous Dave Fanning Show. Fanning is Ireland's top DJ and a big Dylan fan himself. People came from far away, says McLaughlin, even from Canada and San Francisco.
For the people of Moville the Dylan festival is an important economic factor. In the little town whose colorfully painted houses hark back to an old fishing tradition the level of unemployment is nearly 30 %, a level of which McLaughlin says is similar to the peak of unemployment rates during the Great Depression in the United States. Today the salmon fishing industry is run from Greencastle. In the nearby town there is a commercial fishing harbour. As a tourist town Moville has been hit badly by the downturn. The visitors who come here for the long Dylan-weekend are of great importance for the local pubs, bed and breakfasts and hotels. Of such significance that McLaughlin established the Beatles-Fest some years ago; this by tradition follows the Dylan event a week later. As the most prominent guest he was able to win over Tony Bramwell, author of the book ‘Magical Mystery Tours: My Life With The Beatles’, who attends the festival annually. Bramwell, who was the Beatles road manager and joint head of Apple Records, later head of Polydor, once told a journalist that his favourite three places in the world were Nashville, Hawaii and – Moville.
The next day we have a concert at the Sean Ti in Greencastle in front of an enthusiastic crowd. Late that night we sit for last orders at a big table with a drop-light above it. The other light in the room is dimmed. With us is Gerry McLaughlin, the journalist Caoimhin Barr, who writes for the Inishowen Independent and who interviewed me during a break of the set, the video-artist Ciaran Keogh, a Scottish Dylan fan and two other last guests. We’re discussing Bob Dylan and the influence his music has on so many things. “Art is dead”, says McLaughlin at some point. “Nothing new comes up anymore”. And somehow he may be right. Maybe something new only arises out of something that dies. Maybe that at all times everybody took from one another, adopted it as their own and passed it on. Maybe there has never been something new, just something that got popular at certain times. Anyway, art is flourishing and hanging from the walls of Rosatos. It is ringing through the streets of a little town on Inishowen, with its originals, reminiscent of the figures that had flowed out of Dylan’s pen.
And one wouldn’t be surprised at all if all of a sudden somebody would peek through the door of Rosatos, with his hood deep in his face, a flick of fake hair looking out from under it, right now, while the barkeepers are about to put the chairs on the tables and clean up the room for a new day of Dylan-music. This certain person would surely belt out one of Blind Willie McTell’s blues songs and buy a painting from Cavanagh right after - the one that shows him as an old man.
© M. Moravek
Moville on Wikipedia
DylanFest on the Lough
The next Stuck Inside of Moville will take place from Aug 21nd to Aug 24th in 2014