Category Archives: Biography

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 – His Music Brought To Life

Recently, my good friends Jack & Mary were down from Wicklow for their annual mini-break here in Kerry, and as we sat in front of the 1950s Rayburn, drinking pot after pot of tea (loose, PG Tips, naturally!), and eating slice after slice of Harrington’s absolutely delicious traditional Irish Halloween Barm Brack (with lashings of Kerry Gold butter and perhaps a spoon or two of marmalade), we chatted about this and that, and it wasn’t long before my recent preoccupation with Peter Grant came to the fore. Mary was fascinated with Peter’s story, and I showed her the precious little scrap of manuscript paper, upon which he had written for my mother, who he called “Yolanda” (her middle name) a “Sketch – An Air (to be varied)” . A note at the end reads: “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” . It must have been written when they were “dating” (for want of a more suitable word), when she first moved to London to pursue a career as a ballet dancer, and before they got married, in 1937.

I was explaining to Mary my life-long fascination with Peter Grant, telling her how, when I was about 12, my sister Claire and I went (very shamefully!) rooting through my mother’s old trunks; full of her old diaries, school work, photos and all sorts: all jumbled up, but having somehow survived countless house-moves. We found, what we first thought were our mother’s school books, as she had always told us her maiden name was Grant. But we realised the dates were wrong and they had to have belonged to our oldest half-sibling, also called Rosemary (but more often known by her nickname “Reddy); who very sadly died a few years ago.

We had already figured out that she had been married before, as two other half-siblings were called Pawle, but it was quite a revelation to learn that their was an earlier husband!

We found, during this outrageous prying into mother’s private things, the manuscript, and jumped to the conclusion that Reddy’s father must have been called Peter Grant.

In the last few years I have been going through box after box of these old papers, photos and documents; brought over to me several at a time by my sister Susan. I have been carefully sorting them and scanning them, so that we can all have a copy of everything.

Simultaneously, I have been doing a lot of research on and other such websites and gradually, but by bit, I have turned an imagined figure, Peter Grant, into a real human being, with a story: a rather sad one in many ways.

In one of Susan’s boxes, we found photos of Peter (which were later confirmed as him by a man and fellow Folk Music collector, Reg Hall, who contacted me via my blog and since met me in London and told me all he knew of Peter and Peter’s character)

Another contained a photo of mother as a very young bride.

I had failed to find a record of their marriage on Ancestry, but after studying the photo it dawned on me that they might have married in Scotland, so I joined and bingo!

So we were right! Our mother’s first husband was indeed called Peter Grant!

I have written extensively about him on earlier blogs, if you wish to learn more about him, but the purpose of THIS blog post is to tell you the most exciting news:

Mary took a copy of the manuscript to her friend Harry who put it onto his Apple Desktop and using his Sibelius software, rewrote it, in its exact form, for oboe and strings (violin, viola, ‘cello and double bass)!

Peter to Yolanda3 and 4 Peter to Yolanda 1 and 2

He also printed out the brand new, professional-looking “clean manuscript” version!

Sketch - to be varied

Sketch – to be varied

Peter Grant - An Air (1)b

Mary and Harry, as my niece Danu put it, “are my new heroes”

I’m afraid WordPress won’t allow me to share it here as either an M4A, or the converted file, MWA so, here is a long version, because his air does require listening to a few times to fully appreciate it:

And also there are extra photographs, pertinent to Peter’s life story, in order of events, which will help you to fully absorb the spirit of this long-forgotten man, who was once so special to my mother, and because of this has always had a place in my heart.

I am writing my mother’s biography, in the form of a novel, so that I may have the creative freedom to fill in the gaps, where it is impossible to ever find out what actually occurred. I am shamelessly borrowing this style from my gorgeous Trinidadian cousin, Lawrence Scott; my inspiration to (try) and become a writer!

Peter Grant will be given a large chunk of my book!

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