A Night with a Multi-Talent


It is a lovely evening over the Burren of Clare, and I'm in a bit of a hurry, but I cannot ever pass the home of the legendary PJ Curtis in Kilnaboy.


He is a friend by now, but also one of the most fascinating Irishmen I've encountered. I mention him here from time to time, but the truth is I have to stop myself writing about the man about every second week.

There is a cobweb of yarns and musics and experiences spun around the head of a man who looks like a Willie Nelson with short hair. Even going in the door of his home, I know I will not be leaving for hours.

He lives in a warm old house that once incorporated the family's country shop. The name is still above the door.

Across the street is the old forge where the menfolk of the Curtis clan shod Burren horses down the generations, and healed them too with powerful herbal "quackery." If you go back far enough there were rebellious pikes hammered out here as well on the now rusty anvils within.

The bold PJ, though, hammers on different anvils. What is he?

A standard CV would describe him as an award-winning broadcaster, record producer and author. That comes nowhere close to the whole of the man.

He was the first man, for example, to import a guitar into Clare of the traditional music, he was in two or three small bitter wars before he was 22, serving in jungles as a member of the RAF. He is a pilot and an air traffic controller.

He put this home on the line as he and other environmentalists successfully battled for years to fight the establishment of a huge tourism development on nearby Mullaghmore Mountain. He is kinda the conscience of the said mountain; its fierce protector.

He's a loner with a million friends all over the world. Just in the record production area of his life he has produced nearly 60 albums to date featuring the likes of Altan, the mighty Mary Black, Stockton's Wing, Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem, Dolores Keane, Maura O'Connell, Davy Spillane, the incredible Paddy Keenan.

A few years ago he got an honorary MA from University College Galway for all his work across the arts, especially music. PJ knows more about the folk genre of world musics than anyone I've ever met or heard.

Once I called to his house and he played a track of Innuit throat music for me. And he has lived in New Orleans. And he has not been ashamed to kiss the Memphis floor where Elvis stood when he recorded his early tracks.

And that is less than half of it. You never know what he is involved in when you call and sit down in the sunroom behind a welcoming glass.

So what are you up to since I saw you last?

He's back from a break in Spain. He has just finished his fifth book, his third novel.

He sketches a synopsis and I love it. There's this doctor cleaning out his surgery when he finds a letter to him from his deceased father together with a couple of old journals. They reveal a poignantly powerful story nearly a century old from the time of The Troubles.

A young Black and Tan officer, badly wounded by the IRA, seeks shelter in a remote house occupied by two Anglo-Irish sisters. Despite the risks they take him in, hide him, heal him and then, as the world outside explodes with ambushes and terrors, they both fall in love with him with highly charged consequences for all.

I know the rest of the story, from what PJ sketched out, but I am not going to reveal any more and spoil what is going to be a great read for so many of you very shortly. And I am not at all going to even hint at the connection between the young officer and the doctor reading his dead father's letter.

PJ tells me that the working title is A Nightingale Falling, and after some final tidying-up the script will be landing on a publisher's desk one of these fine days. He promised me an autographed copy when he eventually gets it into his own hands.

And then he played me a few Paddy Keenan tracks, wild music somehow in keeping with the tale he had related, and we talked about modern Clare this summer, its events and tragedies, joys and sorrows, and sure it was midnight before I was able to drag myself away and drive home under mythical, mystical Mullaghmore.

I had work to do when I got home and did not get to bed until about four o'clock in the morning, and I swore I would keep driving next time I was passing the end of PJ's road in Kilnaboy.
I always do that but rarely manage to keep my promise.

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