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Dessie Merrigan, A Biography

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In Memory of Dessie

dessie cropIn memory of Dessie

I first met Dessie while I was living in Kenmare. I had lived there for about a year and a half and was working for Joe Thoma in the Green Note Music Shop (sadly no longer there).
I can’t remember where we met, or with whom, but it was probably with either Cloe & Norman or Katrina.
While Katrina was away in India or Australia, in 1992, I stayed in her house at no 3 Parnell Place (owned by Johhny the Carpet {shop} O’Connell at that time). Dessie called in (I think to say Hi to Katrina) and found me there instead, alone, eating beans on toast! I mention this because he said afterwards; more than once actually: that he had felt sorry for me and thought I must be really hard up! I may well have been but you might just as easily find me eating beans on toast today, as I am rather partial to them!! Anyway, he asked me out and we began “doing a line”.
Dessie used to cycle to Kenmare from Allihies to see me and I would borrow a bicycle from Joe’s brother francis and we would go cycling along the boreens around Kenmare. I remember one time we cycled to Blackwater Pier and he took a wrong turn and went off up the road to the Tavern when he should have gone over the bridge instead. I waited at the pier FOREVER before going back to the bridge to look for him. He landed back and we rowed about whose fault it was! We argued about this a couple of years ago too! In His version I am at fault and He was ahead. In My version He is at fault and I was ahead! In any case whether I was ahead (more likely behind) or he was, he is still to blame because the road markings clearly show the road goes to the left over the bridge; the other turn-off being a byroad. There were no mobile phones in those days!
Sometimes we hitch-hiked to and from Allihies where he lived in the Copper Mine Cottages. Allihies seemed a bleak place to be stranded in the winter months and he kept his little cottage warm by sticking a needle into the side of the ESB meter to stop the clock whenever he had his electric heater plugged in!! He never abused this system though haha so his bills were pretty normal!!
Dessie was doing Massage in those days and I think he used to get a lift to Castletownbere with the Post lady. He also did Guided Tours around Allihies. He was as fit as a fiddle. He told me that he had taken out a mortgage for some tiny sum like £3000 on his cottage and was paying about £10 a week. I thought that was incredibly enterprising. He was delighted to get on a FÁS scheme that time because he could earn a lot more than on the dole and save up.
Once when Dessie had either cycled or hitched to Kenmare we “borrowed” a car! Friends had just got married and were away on their honeymoon. They were about to build a house and there was a vast trench on their land and the car, which had belonged to Susan Kavanagh, a white Fiesta, was the wrong side of the trench! This was no obstacle to an enterprising and imaginative man like Dessie and he quickly found some boards and made a bridge which I obligingly drove across to liberate the car! We drove to Killarney via the Moll’s Gap road (the ring of Kerry) but on the way back we ran out of petrol! Who should come along but the Priest who had lately married Clare and Joe! Fr. Martin Sheahan. He towed us back to Kenmare! Dessie made some joke about the symbolism of being pulled back into the flock by the Priest; his joke very thinly covered the message that marriage was definitely NOT on the cards! But we did have such fun!
My landlord very generously gave me £120 for my birthday which I was supposed to hand over to Annie Goulding to enrol on the Asgard training vessel. Dessie said she would probably poison me or throw me overboard hahaha. So instead, we spent the money like there was no tomorrow! We dined out in posh restaurants and had a blast; thanks Patrick!
Once when we were strolling through Reenagross we sat down by the old boat house on the bench and he confided in me about the abuse he had suffered at the hands of the Christian Brothers. His childhood was certainly a tragic story. His mother had died and he had been handed over to the orphanage as his father couldn’t take care of a baby. He didn’t know until later on in life that he had siblings! So many wasted years. But I know his siblings were thrilled to have found him and loved him dearly. I remember him telling me that the only way to escape the CBs was to join the army, so that’s what he did. But he found them to be just as abusive and left as soon as he could.
A year or more after we had stopped seeing each other he phoned me out of the blue when I was house sitting for a mutual friend, Melissa, in Baurearagh. He invited me to a party. I drove to Allihies and booked into a B & B but I felt very out of my comfort zone surrounded by all his friends, none of whom I knew, so I decided to drive home anyway, despite having paid for my lodgings, as I hadn’t been drinking anyway and I was safe to drive.
Several years later on when I met him in Crowley’s and we caught up with each other, he told me that he had received £93,000 in compensation from the Christian Brothers (I think that was the sum, it is in my head anyway), and he was able to pay off his mortgage and build an extension to his lovely little cottage. He was very proud of his cottage and the garden and I particularly remember him being proud of growing Red Hot Pokers! I can never see those flowers without thinking of Dessie.
I took my niece to Allihies a good few years ago and I called to his house to invite him to lunch. Danu enjoyed his company very much and it was nice to reconnect with this colourful character again.

The last time I met him was the year before last when I took my sister Susan down to Allihies for the Michael Dwyer Festival to listen to the sessions (there were a lot of Kenmare people there; Ann Garrett, Mary Donegan and Cahersiveen’s Sean Garvey to name but a few) and who should walk in but Dessie! He joined us and we had a brilliant time with him. He was in terrific form and looked great; bald as an egg, but great!

I can honestly say that I never met anyone quite like Dessie. St. Peter and the rest of them won’t know what’s hit ‘em when he arrives at the pearly gates! He’ll liven things up a bit that’s for sure!

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.


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Peter Grant Remembered

Peter William Grant was born in Doncaster, Yorkshire, on 10th May 1916. His father was a travelling clothier or draper from Inchture, near Dundee in Forfarshire called William George Grant (1878–1951) and his mother was Harriet Jones from Doncaster (1877-1945).

His father’s Army records from the First World War, give his address as 30 Beechfield Road, Doncaster, a street lined on either side with terraced houses, opening out onto countryside at the far end. They had moved to 155 Beckett Road,Wheatley, Doncaster by the time he attended College in London. Beckett Street (as it is now called) appears to be a pleasant, leafy suburb, consisting of red-brick terraced houses with small private gardens.

It is likely that he may have known Olive Zorian, who like him, was born in Doncaster in 1916. Although once a very well known violin soloist, her ‘fame’ has been somewhat overshadowed by that of her more famous husband, John Amis, and unfortunately almost all internet searches that mention Olive are as an aside, in a piece actually about him. There are a few references to her in The History of the Royal Manchester College of Music, 1893-1972, By Michael Kennedy, and I believe Polam Hall (boarding school) in Darlington, where she attended school, published her obituary in 1965 – or the following year – in their O.S. Journal. After attending the Royal College of Music, Manchester, Olive Zorian went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Olive was certainly a good friend of Rosemary Clegg’s (who also went to Polam).

Peter Grant attended the Royal College of Music in London. From September 1935, he studied Piano, under the tutelage of John St. Oswald Dykes and Arthur Alexander, and in 1936, continued his studies at RCM, where, under the tutelage of R.A. Ebdon he studied Music Theory and under Gordon Jacob: Music Composition.

It would appear that he and his first love, “Yolanda” (Rosemary Yolanda Clegg) – very likely introduced by mutual friend Olive Zorian – may have eloped to Scotland, where, at 23 Melville Street, in Edinburgh’s Haymarket District they could marry without parental consent, on 18th September 1937. The witnesses whose names appear on the marriage register are one William Sneddon and one Georgina Neal Watt or MacDonald of 7a Northumberland Street, Edinburgh. Interestingly, Peter gives this same address as his own current one (though giving his usual address as 11 Stanley Mansions, Park Walk, Chelsea; a block away from that of his young wife; a Ballet Dancer, living at 86 Beaufort Street, Chelsea. It seems likely that Peter knew the witnesses; in order for him to have been staying with them. Perhaps they were relations: his grandfather, Peter Grant, came from Edinburgh, and he may well have had cousins, aunts or uncles, living there at that time.

She knew him whilst either still at school, or very shortly afterwards and had a childish infatuation for him; drawn to his sweet disposition, above average intellect and enormous musical talent no doubt. She wrote in the back of one of her school exercise books, under the heading “Confessions” – a list of things she liked: Favourite Names: Peter, Michael, Rosemary, Virginia, Ann, Favourite Authors: Peter Grant, Favourite Composers: Beethoven, Bach, Sibelius, Delius, Mozart, Boradin, Stravinsky, Glazunov, Moussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakow, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikowski, Manuel de Falla, Ravell, etc etc!!! Favourite Piece of Music: Pantomime, (El Amor Brujo, de Falla), Favourite Book: Winnie the Pooh, Favourite dance: Rumba, Favourite Rhythms: Bolero, Tango, Favourite Film Stars …and here a long list follows! (She also wrote a list of things she didn’t like, but that is for another time!)

During their courtship he would have taken his young lady out to the cinema, to see the latest movies, to dinner – perhaps to her favourite restaurant: “España” on Waldour Street; “In the heart of London’s Theatreland”, to the theatre to see a play, or to the ballet – perhaps he even saw her dance – and to listen to music.
What inspiration, what energy and drive, what feeling of invincibility must he have felt in the first throes of love? So inspired was he by his sweet, adoring, beautiful, clever, talented, musical girl, that he wrote and devoted a piece of music especially for her …….“Yolanda, this is the sketch, it’s far more like one than a finished work on clean manuscript paper. The little tune is almost like a folk tune. It’s very crude at the moment but in the completed work it should be better. As you know it is for orchestra. The tune calls for the oboe and the rest of it for low sustained strings. It will commemorate a memorable evening with Mozart and other things. Peter”

Peter to Yolanda 1 and 2Peter to Yolanda3 and 4

He went on to further study at the Royal Academy of Music; although it may not have been as a full-time student. The Royal Academy has as yet been unable to find records pertaining to him, but they have stressed this does not mean he didn’t attend there. We do know however, that he was training to be a Concert Pianist, so the RAM seems the most likely of the ‘Conservatoires’.

Peter Grant possibly (6)

After they were married, the couple moved to 39, Lower Richmond Road in Putney. From their front doorstep they could see the Thames, with busy boats passing by, and on the bank sits the Duke’s Head public house, directly opposite them. There was a back garden where they planted flowers and played with their Staffordshire bull terrier and a tiny black kitten.

Peter Grant possibly (2)autocorrected & painted

Peter Grant possibly (5)autocorrected



He can be found in 1938, on the Electoral Register, at this address, and in 1939 he is listed in the London Telephone directory: Putney 5332.

On 27th June 1940, he was called up; drafted into the Territorial Army for the “duration of the Emergency” under the provisions of the National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939. His unit was posted to the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

On 5th June 1941, Peter and his wife had their first baby; Rosemary, born at the Brooklyn Nursing Home, 321 Upper Richmond Road, Putney, under the care of one Margaret E. Read. Peter registered his daughter’s birth, and gives his profession as ‘Author’, (as well as ‘Rifleman’ with the KRR, Serial number 6580801).

On 27th September that same year, he was sent with his battalion (2nd) to the North African/Middle Eastern campaign (M.E.F.)

The summary sheet pinned to the start of his records, shows him “Home” (in the UK where he was undergoing training – which he passed with flying colours his character is described as Very Good – Qualified etc”) from 27th June 1940 to 26th September 1941 (total 1 years 92 days), “M.E.F.” from 27th September 1941 to 23rd September 1942 (362 days) and a further period of 123 days is given from 24th September to 24th January 1943 (the date of his final discharge from the Army), giving a total service record of 2 years and 212 days.

His records state that he was ‘Wounded in Action’ on 30th May 1942. “GSW Spine” (Gun Shot Wound to the Spine)

He embarked on the Hospital Ship on 13th July 1942.

He was declared “Permanently unfit for any kind of Military Service” and Discharged on 24th January 1943.

Further records of Peter disappear for a time here, until he is mentioned in his mother’s Probate records, granted in September 1945, and he and his father inherit, jointly, her estate of £2099 2s 2d. Her address is given as The Nook, 6 St. Mary’s Road, Dunsville, near Doncaster, and her husband is named as “Draper” and her son “Author”. She died at Doncaster’s Royal Infirmary, on 20th April, 1945.

Evidence that his wife was still living at the marital home can be found from her personal letters, from where she was writing off for copies of photographs (for her portfolio), obtaining references from friends, attending auditions and seemingly doing all she could to find work (on the stage).

And we have no reason to think that Peter was not also living at this address at this time.

However, a troubled “Mollie” (her nickname that all her friends called her by) sought help from her friend, Olive:


His wife’s adopted father, Joe Henry Clegg – with whom she enjoyed a loving father/daughter relationship (as can be evidenced by the warmth by which he addresses her in his letters) – gives her address as 39 Lower Richmond Road, Putney, W15 on 17th November 1944, when he signs his Will. (Although we cannot by any means take this as proof of her residency at that date, it seems a natural assumption to make that a man might know where his beloved daughter lives!)

In 1948 Peter married again on 21st December, in Marylebone, one Evelyn Honor Lucille Gilliat-Smith. The  registry entry gives his address as Barn Cottage, West Hoathly, West sussex (where we may suppose he and his father probably moved to sometime after his mother’s death in 1945). Evelyn had been a Special Operations Executive (Intelligence) during the war. She was born overseas, on 12th December 1912. Her address at the time of the marriage is given as 17 Highbourne House, Marylebone High Street, W1.

Records of Peter can again be found in the Telephone Directory from 1949 through to 1968, where he can be seen living at Barn Cottage, West Hoathly, West Sussex. (Telephone Sharpthorne 43)

Peter attended the internationally renowned Stoke Mandeville Hospital; pioneers in spinal cord injuries; for many years as an outpatient. Although he was in permanent, often agonising pain, he did manage to get around, albeit in an ungainly, twisted fashion, with the aid of a stick. His crippling disability prevented him from sleeping on a bed (he slept sitting in an armchair in his study, surrounded by his vast collection of books, or from playing the piano, as he could no longer sit at the instrument either comfortably or in the correct and required position.

Though he could no longer play himself, Peter devoted much of his time to the preservation and recording of ‘authentic’ “Folk” (Traditional) music, with such esteemed people as Mervyn Plunkett and Reg Hall, capturing for posterity such great players as Scan Tester. Some recordings were made at the local public house, The Cat Inn whilst others at Peter’s own home, Barn Cottage.

Peter Grant (extreme right-hand side of photo) West Hoathly

Peter Grant (extreme right-hand side of photo) West Hoathly

He collaborated, again along with Reg Hall and Mervyn Plunkett; on a publication called “Ethnic” (copies of this are held by the Oxford Reference Library). Their website offers the following brief description of this magazine: “A short-lived home-made periodical, subtitled ‘A Quarterly Survey of English Folk Music, Dance and Drama’ compiled and published by Mervyn Plunkett, Reg Hall and Peter Grant. The first issue was dated January 1959 and the fourth and last came in autumn the same year. In an aggressive style, Ethnic championed the collection and study of authentic traditional style and repertoire in contradistinction to what its editors saw as a burgeoning revival movement based on false principles, little knowledge and cosy middle-class fashion. The magazine included several important articles based on first-hand experience (such as one on May Day at Padstow in issue number three, and several on particular singers and musicians) and its criticisms are also useful for evidence of a critical time in the post-war development of folklore studies and the folk-song and dance revival”

Peter pursued a career in writing, or journalism. There are six surviving pieces written by him, mainly film reviews, spanning the period between November 1947 and March 1951 which appeared in the National Federation of Women’s Institute’s quarterly publication “Home & Country” (Home Counties Edition).

These articles are tremendously important to a biographer, as they give a real voice; an insight into the person behind them that we would not otherwise have had from the previously scant records and handful of photographs which remain.

Peter died of a heart attack on 23rd April, 1980 at Cuckfield Hospital in Sussex.

There is a thriving local community in Hoathly as can be seen from this extract taken from a correspondence a few years ago: “I am the Archivist for the local History Archive and also a Jazz collector. The latter is important because when Peter’s second wife Evelyn moved out of Barn Cottage into a residential home, she gave me a stack of reel-to-reel recordings of jazz records which Peter had made in the 1950s. One of these contains Peter and others discussing jazz with some of the other local folk and jazz enthusiasts. I do also have some information about folk recordings made locally.”

It is a tragedy that Peter was denied, through circumstances about which we know nothing, the opportunity to have a relationship; or indeed any contact at all; with his daughter, Rosemary.

It would seem – no doubt in an ill-conceived notion that it was “best for the child”; that he may have been asked; and duly agreed; to keep out of her life. It would not be difficult to persuade a man in his position that a fitter, stronger, younger, more able-bodied man could better provide for the child.

But it remains a great pity that his identity was kept from her and that by extension he never met, nor we may suppose knew of, the existence of his two grandchildren Louise and Scott.

Rest in Peace Peter Grant. You are not forgotten.

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