Listening to John Buckley McQuaid's “This Is Where I Keep My Dreams," I wonder why his words have raised little interest from mainstream media in Ireland. They are absolutely brilliant.
McQuaid's style is that of a troubadour, a modern-day seanchaí, with Leonard Cohen-like sounds and irony. The songs use “easy melody," but the lyrics cut to the bone while holding up a mirror to Irish society.
However, I wonder is there a reluctance by people at home to welcome diasporic critic? Do they feel you have to live at home to reflect on the country? And does a diasporic mix of regret for home, along with seeing both their country of adoption, and Ireland, with fresh eyes, somehow raise the notches of creative output?
Fascinated by another Irish Leonard de Vinci creative “package deal,” I reached out to McQuaid and was delighted to get to know more about the man who had penned and sung songs that had pulled hard on my diasporic heartstrings.
His musical output includes "Stations In The Sky," a fairy tale with songs, along with "Valentine’s Day," an eBook of 29 songs and 29 videos. Aside from his music, he is a successful artist with 500 paintings to his name and is currently working on a film script set in Ireland.
He was born and raised in Dublin, “in a house with a piano and a garden” and has lived in Denmark since 1973. He has made a great life for himself in Aarhus and has earned a comfortable living from his gigs in Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and more occasionally Ireland and the UK.
The Danish system for song rights for musicians is also extremely well organized. His sixth album, “This Is Where I Keep My Dreams”, an album of original songs about Ireland, is an account of the Diaspora.
One of the songs, “Girls Who Lived In Hell”, is inspired by and dedicated to all those who endured the Hell of the Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes. Derek Scally of the Irish Times said the song “mourns the babies sent abroad on 'ships of grief and greed' and embraces the tens of thousands of Irish women forced by their fellow citizens to conceal 'the shame/ that wasn’t theirs to hide.'"
McQuaid believes “money stays at the top and financial corruption is still rife in Ireland." Frustrated by seeing the destitute caught in the crossfire of what he believes to be a so-called trickle-down Irish economy, (more flood up than trickle-down, says he,) he released “Homeless Hotels," a single from his next album, at the beginning of last year. It is dedicated to the homeless and abused everywhere.
On a personal basis, and like many returning to Dublin and other Irish cities, I have been both amazed by the rapid gentrification, and appalled by the amount of homeless people on streets now paved with hi-tech, and foreign investment gold. I was delighted to see that musicians and pubgoers took to the streets of Dublin during lockdown and magically and unexpectedly ensured the continuation of The Cobblestone, Tom Mulligan’s traditional Irish music bar during lockdown. One escapee from the heartless type of redevelopment currently in vogue!
McQuaid’s song “Boxing Day," echoes the poignant desolation of “Fairytale in New York”, however, the couple is living at home in Ireland.
"Once they dreamed of Paris
They dreamed of it a lot
All the way to Carrickfergus
Was the furthest that they got.”
This beautifully written and sung disillusionment is up there with the “Ballad of Lucy Jordan.” The song reminds us that when so much emphasis is placed on everyone being happy, and when the humdrum cracks are too deep to cement, we are not alone. McQuaid is concerned about the effect of constant screens and omnipresent social media. The “happy happy” story peddled on social media is not the majority of people’s lives. It’s good to be reminded that other people can experience that horrible, sinking feeling as festivities dwindle and a reality that doesn’t match the tinsel breaks back in. Psychoanalysts confirm, unfortunately it’s often, in the season to be jolly that things can become most bleak…
For me, the icing on the cake of the album is “Prodigal Kiss." McQuaid invites us to meet him “at Clerys there under the clock. We’ll drive to Dún Laoghaire and go for a walk." With him, we meander the streets of Dublin, McDaid's pub, St. Stephen's Green, etc., and the chorus sets the tone:
“And you can be sure that we’ll never forget
The culture of vultures and dealers in debt
The struggles and Troubles, the gold, white and green
So much for our beautiful Nineteen-sixteen.”
McQuaid also reflects on Oisín returning from “the land of his youth” […] “though he’s long in the tooth For want of a horse, he’ll be taking the Luas“ […] “What wouldn’t he give for the things that he’ll miss A touch or a glimpse or a prodigal kiss?"
In the song, McQuaid also mentions “Joyce had to leave to be able to stay." The great James Joyce left Ireland in 1904 at 22 and his relationship with Dublin - and Ireland - was complex. He never lived in Ireland again, and after 1912 never even set foot in Ireland, despite living until 1941. Yet he was upset if a shop front on O’Connell Street or Grafton Street had been changed and he wasn’t informed! His words in his works, and especially in “Ulysses," have inscribed the streets of Dublin on minds around the world.
McQuaid believes that thought-provoking words and lyrics can help diasporic Irish through some of the generational weight of the past. Irish diasporic writers and songwriters can often dot the i’s of our tangled emotions in a way that is extraordinary. The diaspora’s words, independent of Ireland’s institutions, means McQuaid and other artists can “say what we think without sacrificing anything; we have nothing to lose.”
He also reflected on the need to get out of the [web] box: "Social media algorithms and political spin are eating away at our capacity to resist. United we stand, divided we fall."
I have come to the conclusion, that apart from the obvious: digital platforms and radio, newspapers such as the 'Irish Times' and 'IrishCentral', with its scintillating culture section, are invaluable, for spreading the news of Irish artists abroad - but more importantly at home, helping the diaspora find a niche in their homeland.
McQuaid’s “This Is Where I Keep My Dreams,” released in 2021, should be heard in Ireland. People do not have to live at home to have their say. It’s time to crack the reign of an oppressive type of silence…
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