13. Talkin' Cavan

Talkin’ Cavan - Tim O’Brien / Howdy Skies Music / Universal Music Corp / ASCAP

A while ago I chanced to roam to the place my great granddaddy called home
It wasn’t that much I saw that day, but I learned I whole lot more along the way
I was goin’ to Ireland, retracing my family footsteps, diggin’ up roots
You could call ‘em tubers

The closer to the root of my family tree, the more people seemed to look like me
Saw a sign said Mollie O’Brien’s bar, I knew right then I couldn’t be that far
I went in there and asked for beer, he pours this black stuff, he says, “cheers”
“Guinness gives you strength”, he said, I’ll tell you friends it’s like drinkin’ bread
There’s a loaf in every pint, I started feelin’ strong, I felt like I wanted to sing

My whistle was wet and my tongue was loose when the barman asked how’d I choose
To travel such a long, long way on such a cold and rainy day
I said, “I’m goin’ up to Kingscourt town, that’s in County Cavan, just to look around
My great granddaddy came from there, I want to see if the old home place is still there.”
Well he shook his head up and down, and then side to side
And then he turned around and said
“A Cavan man then... you know, a lot of people wouldn’t admit to that”

I figured I’d save myself a little bit of hassle, booked a room nearby in a fancy castle
Had a hard time gettin’ my dinner there, it was full of these people with light blonde hair
Danish tourists...two big busloads of ‘em
Now the owner of the place, his hair was black, when I talked to him, I didn’t get much back
His people are what you’d call “West Brits”, they’re the ones that treated my people like dirt
That lead indirectly to the Irish civil war
I didn’t realize I’d come back for just a little bit more
That fella’s nose was way up in the air, but he took my money just the same

That night I dreamed I saw the ghost of the one I’d rather have as host
It was Tom O’Brien walkin’ round the cabin, west of Kingscourt town in County Cavan
Then the very next day in the hardware store, I met a cousin ten times removed or more
But he was no apparition, he weren’t no haint, he was sellin’ nuts and bolts and paint
I told him about our family connection, and he kinda stood there still, reflectin’
I could tell he wasn’t much impressed when he asked me with nary a trace of jest
He said, “How exactly may I help you sir?”
I just bought some nails and got the hell out of there

Then later that day after some detectin, I found the lane in the rural section
It matched the picture in my dad’s scrap book
And my heart beat faster as I drove up to look
The sun burst through the clouds just then
As I gazed down at the current residents
It was a little sheep dog and an old milk cow, guess the old home place is an old barn now
It’s ashes to ashes, dust to dust, thatched roof to tin roof, and tin roof to rust

-While much of the lyrical subject matter of the songs concerns emigration, and immigrants lives in the new world, there was room in The Crossing for something from my own personal experience. Taking a cue from prototypical folk singer Woody Guthrie and his “talking blues”, I wrote a little ditty about my early trips to Ireland. While the events in Talkin Cavan didn’t all occur on my first visit, they are generally true! About a year after the release of The Crossing, I was in a rental car shuttle in Albany NY, making conversation with the driver who had a Cork / Kerry accent. I told him I was a musician, he told me he’d only just arrived in the US. A few sentences later, he’d figured me out and said, “Oh you’re the guy from Cavan.”