I made a few of them weep again last night in Lisdoonvarna, and God forgive me I relished every salty tear of it.
They were standing in a semicircle in the pub in front of the first of this season's Christmas decorations on the walls and windows when it fell my turn to sing, and I could see that I caught their attention when I went into the first chorus and held it afterwards.
The two, older men who most visibly wept, the tears silvering down their cheeks, came up to me when I was finished singing and, of course, they were German tourists again and one of them had lost a grandfather in the war they poignantly still call the Great War.
Every Christmas season of the last quarter-century and a little more now I get strangely sad surges of elation when the one good song I have written – or will ever write indeed – comes out over the airwaves in primetime, especially on RTE and the BBC, and the deejays always say that it is now a classic Christmas song about that incredible soldiers' truce a century ago this year when the Allied troops, many of them Irishmen, were pulled together in No Man's Land with their German opponents by the sweet power of the Christmas melody called "Silent Night.”
And they shared food and wine that Christmas night, and played a game of soccer in No Man’s Land. And the next morning all the generals on both sides ordered them back into action and the slaughter was horrific.
I am a hack, as ye well know here, but I am not a songwriter at all, not like my younger brother Mickie who wrote "Only Our Rivers Run Free" and many other great songs.
And I have miserably failed in the years since writing "Christmas in the Trenches" in less than two hours, melody and all, to produce anything of anywhere near the same quality. But somehow I did create this song from nowhere, and I am very proud of that. And if it is a joy to hear it on the airwaves.
It is an even rawer and elemental joy to be in a strange pub during a Christmas singsong when somebody begins to sing it from the shadows and everybody joins in the chorus: "O Silent Night no cannons roar,
A king is born of peace for evermore,
All is calm, All is bright, All brothers hand in hand,
In 19 and 14 in No Man's Land.”
It has been recorded many, many times at this stage by artists ranging from the Three Tenors through such as Daniel O'Donnell and Tommy Fleming.
Mickie my brother has recorded a version too but, for my money, the best of all is the first recording featuring the golden voice of Jerry Lynch from Kilfenora. That version was produced by Jerry's uncle, the musically gifted PJ Curtis and, to be honest, it has the capacity to knock a tear or two out of my eyes at the end. And I am the writer of it:
"In the morning all the guns boomed in the rain,
And we killed them and they killed us again,
With bayonet bomb bullet gas and flame,
And neither we more they one bit to blame,
There was savage fighting right throughout that day,
For one night's peace we bloodily did pay,
At night they charged,
We fought them hand to hand,
And I killed the lad who sang in No Man’s Land."
The tears begin to flow, usually, on that last line, even with my poor singing voice, before one goes into the final chorus condemning the captains and the kings all these years later, still in the business of creating No Man’s Lands all over the world.
And then there is a silence before folk come up to shake the singer's hand and ask where they can get a copy of the recording.
The centenary season for my one great song is now in full swing. Scarcely a night passes nowadays that I am not called upon to deliver it in a fashion that leads good men and women to weep.
As I confessed already I relish every falling tear of the experience. Fundamentally, clearly, I am a badly warped individual!