Blog

Interview With Musician, Songwriter And Writer, Sean P. O'Neill

Sean P. O’Neill is a friend, a member of Longford Writers Group, and a unique song writer and musician.

Sean P. O’Neill


1. Tell me about your yourself 

A mother asked her son what he would like to be when he grew up.  Without hesitation, he replied that he’d like to be a songwriter.  His mother shook her head and told him sadly, ‘You can’t do both.’

My parents were both from the Northside of Dublin but actually met in Liverpool.  They married and within 10 years, had eight children – a girl, six boys and another girl bookending the lot.  I was the oldest boy and at times felt that for reasons unknown to me, I was actually older than my sister, Mary.  I had more in common with her than any of the others younger than me though, academically at least, Mary was way ahead of me – the shining light that left me decidedly dim in comparison.

With hindsight I realise that, while never actually diagnosed, I did have some form of dyslexia.  It was as if my brain worked much faster than I was ever able to read or write and anything to do with these was a chore best avoided.  If you leave out the likes of Enid Blyton and Richmal Crompton’s Just William books, I can only remember actually finishing one book before running out of school a few days short of my 16th birthday.

While I was frequently top of my class in maths – geometry in particular – any subject that involved much reading or writing had me hovering around the bottom third of the class when end of year exams came around.  If there had been marks to be gained for inventing excuses for not turning in work, I have no doubt that some of the stories that came out of my imagination would have moved me into the upper third if not actually to the top of the class.

My secondary school was a rough place and one where it was just a matter of getting through to O-Levels with a minimum amount of canings.  It was an intercity school and two long bus rides away from my home in a fairly middle class suburb or outskirts as I remember my mother calling it.  On my first day there, I was shocked to witness a fight between two first year boys, where one almost lost an eye.  Even more shocking to me was the enthusiasm from the crowd that gathered to watch.  Back then, children were to be seen and not heard and so the only way through these five years was to endure and keep the head below the parapet, only raising it to amuse your fellow students with a little clowning around.

Home was a busy place with a new baby arriving almost annually.  I kept myself to myself for the most part but was always happy to help out with washing dishes or shopping for my mother.  I was also happy to take any opportunity to escape the bedlam and spent most of one summer hanging out in a nearby Shell garage.  I would have been nine years old as it was the year that the Everly Brothers released Cathy’s Clown.  Most of the people who worked there were happy to have me hang out in the little office on the forecourt and, as well as pump petrol for the occasional car, I was even allowed to use the portable record player.  This was exciting stuff as, up to then at least, my only connection with music that interested me was from a fairground in Skerries from a year earlier, when the summer hit was Connie Francis’s Lipstick on Your Collar.

Sean busking with his dog, Clara

2. How did you get into music and songwriting?

Following my summer of ’60, I began to seek out music – songs particularly.  Most of what was on the BBC radio station – The Light Program – had no appeal for me at all and I don’t remember how I discovered Radio Luxembourg but, once I did, I was glued to it’s magic every night for 90 minutes or so until the interference from another station became to much and it was time for bed.  Anyone remember Horace Bachelor’s infra draw method of playing the pools?

Of course this magic could only have been made in far off exciting places like America or London if you were Marty Wild of Cliff Richards.  But then…. THE BEATLES.
I can still remember the first time I heard the harmonica burst through the tiny speaker and hold my attention until Love Me Do came to an end.  Unbelievable.  This music was by people from Liverpool.

Fast forward a couple of years and with a just about unplayable guitar, bought from one of the many junk shops in the Anfield area for about five shillings, I struggled to learn to play.  This was a solitary pursuit and, with the accompanying caterwauling emitting from my bedroom, produced much teasing from my siblings.  I was invited to a classmate’s house to stay over, but learning that on the Friday night we’d be going out and taking part in racial violence against people of Pakistani origin, I made my excuses and turned down the invitation.

Fast forward again to 1969 and, with many more radio stations playing music non stop, and even my peers now listening to whatever was in the charts, I felt that something that had been pretty exclusively mine was being taken from me.  I sought out more obscure artists and went to a quite a few concerts on my own to see acts that, while many found them to be too weird, have stood the test of time – Incredible String Band, John Mayall, Pentangle and many more.

I was 17 but admitted to 22 and working as a photographer – family portraits and baby photos mostly.  In April, my mother casually mentioned something along the lines of, ‘When we move to Ireland next week….’  This was news to me and, having met a girl I fancied and had a couple of dates in the weeks before, I told my mother I was staying and I did.  The relationship lasted perhaps two more dates but I stood my ground and it wasn’t until six months later, I came to Ireland for a long weekend.  Is 51 years a record for a long weekend?  I’m still here.

It’s possible that a young man picking up a guitar is motivated by an idea that girls will fall at his feet and he’ll live happily ever after.  While the girl I met and married bought me a nice guitar for my 21st birthday, she was happier when I didn’t play it, so I didn’t.  We made three children, two boys and a girl and for most of twenty-five years were as happy as can be.  I still worked as a photographer shooting babies and families – weddings too and, while it was widely acknowledged that I was good, with every year that passed, I liked it less.  

I was 20 when I set up my own business and had in mind that it was something I’d do for five or six years while deciding what I would do with the rest of my life.  Those years whizzed by and anything I felt I wanted to do seemed unrealistic.  In the story I tell in the Longford Writers Group anthology, ‘Home Made’, I mention my wife asking me what i wanted to do with the rest of my life, and when I stated that I would love to sing and also write songs her response that I could neither sing – or play guitar very well was true – as was the fact that in the many years she’d known me, I hadn’t written as much as a postcard.

On my 47th birthday in July 1998, a year after we went our separate ways, I decided to allow myself sing.  I jumped in the deep end and went busking in Galway.  I’d moved there about six weeks earlier and given myself the permission to make a fool of myself.  The songs I sang were songs that meant something to me – and could be played without too much difficulty.  I was hooked and a month later on a hitch-hiking busking holiday around Scotland, I added my first two compositions to my repertoire.

By my 48th birthday, over fifty more songs had landed – from where I’ve no idea but, on invitation, I had spent a couple of hours in a small studio and the first seventeen songs I sang became my debut album, Losers & Sinners.  Time to quit the day job.

I stripped my needs back to the bare minimum and moved to Dublin taking a job in a factory and learned to live on basic minimum wage.  After a monotonous day standing at a machine, I’d walk into town and busk for a couple of hours in Temple Bar.  The money from this financed my first 100 copies of the CD and, in January 2000, I quit the factory and went on the road – knocking on doors and offering to sing a random track from the album – live on the doorstep.  An interesting time.  

By April 2006, while I had earned my living and sold enough CDs (7,500 in Ireland) to qualify for a Gold disc, it was time to quit.  It had become like a ‘job’ and I’d stopped writing and playing for myself.  I took a simple door to door sales job which generated a better income and allowed me attend the occasional songwriting retreat.  If I live long enough, these six years on the road will form the basis of a book. It’s not everyone who gets to sing on Mary Black’s doorstep or sit in the garden with Roger Whitaker – who actually bought a copy of my second CD, Odds & Sods, as well as Losers & Sinners.

If you’ve done the maths, you’ll know that I’m not too far away from being a Septuagenarian but I still don’t feel like I’ve grown up, so perhaps I am a songwriter.

Sean reading his story from the Longford Writers Group Anthology, ‘Home Made’. Photo by Lalin Swaris

3. Have you any ambitions/ plans / dreams for your music and songwriting for the future?

About five minutes after I retired, I was delighted to be offered a place to study for an MA in Songwriting at University of Limerick’s, Irish World Academy of Music and Dance.  Since graduating, I haven’t come across anything for songwriters in Situations Vacant or even on Jobs.ie.  I have a body of work from my year on the course which I may release at some stage and also hope to present small venues with.

Sean playing his music at a Longford Writers Group event. Photo by Lalin Swaris
Sean the musician

March – Strange Times and Times Past.

Well, this has been an unusual and challenging March so far. We seem to be living in strange times with the spread of the CoVid-19 virus around the world. Most of us are probably staying at home more and facing an uncertain future. It is times like these we remember better times, and feel nostalgic for even this time last year. March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day and is celebrated universally. This year in Ireland there will be no parades, no church services (except online), no pubs open, and no sports fixtures. It will be the quietest St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland that anyone can ever remember.

Me last year, the day before St. Patrick’s Day having fun. Photo by Antonio Simoes
Having some fun in a Longford Shopping Centre, last year. Photo by Antonio Simoes
Sally Martin, Dan Flynn and me, from Longford Writers Group, selling the group’s collaborative novella, ‘Let Him Lie’, in a Longford shopping centre, the day before St. Patrick’s Day last year. Photo by Antonio Simoes

Why is St. Patrick’s Day so important to the Irish?

St. Patrick’s Day is important to Ireland for many reasons. Not only is it a religious holiday that represents Ireland’s transformation from paganism to Christianity, but the holiday also promotes Irish pride and heritage.

Helena Cain

https://www.ehow.com/about_6693638_st_-patrick_s-day-important-ireland_.html
St. Patrick

So, things will feel odd this year. People of Irish heritage will feel a bit lost, sad, lonely and adrift. An essential part of their cultural tradition has been taken away from them. But, knowing the Irish they will come up with some unique solutions. Watch this space…

On another note… Next Sunday is Mother’s Day in Ireland and the U.K. Again, because of the virus there will be restrictions. People may not be able to visit elderly mothers because they might be too vulnerable to infection. With pubs and restaurants closing, you won’t be able to take your mother out for a meal or a few drinks.

My Mum

But we can still phone, video call, send something in the post, or even wave through a window. Let us remember not just our mothers at this difficult time. Think how you can help the vulnerable, lonely and isolated in your community. Let’s keep in touch without touching.

Ambition: Primary Motivator Or Selfish Tunnel Vision?

Last week, photographer Antonio Simoes’s words, got me thinking. This is what he said…

‘Well I have to tell you this: Ambition is a non-existent word in my vocabulary, after a few lessons that life has taught me. I guess that tomorrow doesn’t exist really as today we are breathing, but we never know what will happen the following day.  Tomorrow – that one unknown time-line defined as a future is only an illusion. Humankind has created that illusion inside our head with the hope to see another day. It is ok to believe that tomorrow is the future, but who knows if we will wake up to see it? Every single second is different, every single day is a new day; in photography you only capture a moment in time that only can be seen in two different timelines, (the past and the present). We cannot capture a picture of tomorrow’s day. This is the reality of life, past and present. I live a life in the now, with memories of yesterday, and eventually if I get to see the next day I’ll take it as it comes and try to make the best out of it. If an opportunity comes my way I’ll grab it and that’s it – no plans, no ambition for the unknown day.’

So is it wrong to have ambition, to make plans, to look for success?

According to Ines Temple, president of LHH-DBM Peru and LHH Chile, ambition is much more positive than negative.

Ambition is a major driver for personal growth and development. ‘No one can succeed without a healthy dose of ambition. Those who wish to be more, know more, do more, give more or have more, have a purpose and a powerful internal drive that leads them to dream bigger and go further. Ambition drives them to advance and accomplish their goals. Well-aimed and supported by values, ambition reflects a healthy self-esteem and higher power of abstraction and visualization of the future. Ambitious people have a gleam in their eyes as they approach their goals. They vibrate at a higher level and have a contagious enthusiasm about accomplishing things. They inspire and motivate others.’

Where ambition can be bad is when people might have tunnel vision in trying to reach their goals. They sacrifice their own mental and physical health, have no time for their families and can be blind to others feelings and needs. A ruthlessness can overtake them; they become selfish and obsessed. Failure can make such people depressed and angry.

Tunnel Vision

So, it seems that a compromise is needed to get the right work/ life balance. Yes, make plans for your goals and dreams, but also make plans for family time and people in your life. Most importantly make plans for your own physical and mental health. Make plans for the future but be aware that circumstances might change those plans. Do live for the day and do your best for that day.

I kind of agree with this statement by https:https://www.quora.com/profile/Patrick-Zheng

‘When you are making a strenuous effort for your goals, don’t forget the importance of your inner tranquility; thus you would not stretch yourself to the limit. When you are enjoying your happy life, don’t forget your destination; therefore you would be positive that your talents won’t be wasted. Just try to live in the moment. Feel proud of your desire to live better as well as your amusement and enjoyment. Stay attuned to your soul, and you will strike the balance between work and life.’

Work/ Life Balance

An Interview With Photographer, Antonio Simoes.

Antonio Simoes, is a friend and a great photographer. He did the cover photograph for my poetry book, ‘Dipping Into The Font’. I will let him introduce himself…

1. Tell me about where you are from and your life/career up until now ?

I am from Portugal, where I lived until 1980. Then I was working in construction abroad. In Germany I met a few Irish lads and we had a bit of craic, drinking and talking about Ireland, (the first time I heard about Ireland), and here I am since 2002. (I came for for a week’s holidays lol!)

2. How did you get into photography?

Photography…its a funny story. I had travelled to Northern Ireland for some shopping; that was back in 2005 I guess, and had bought a Cannon 1000D , which stayed in the box in the attic for years. In 2009 I was in a car crash; while I was recovering from the accident I needed something to keep my mind busy, so yeah, that Cannon came to mind and off I went… I got it out of the box, (I had no clue whatsoever about photography or even how to turn on the camera). It was a struggle to get it on. From that day on I was just out and about snapping way. After a few months I bought my first Nikon and gave the Cannon to my son, Michael, as a gift, but he still uses it very often .

A photo of Antonio by his son, Michael

3. What do you enjoy about photography?

I guess what I enjoy most about photography is the moment we capture, and the memories we can create. In street photography it is that moment in time which is very unique. It can be a simple smile that captures my attention, to a very unusual look of a child, or a simple touch of affection between two people. I love to capture those very unique moments. Then my second favourite thing in photography are sunsets and sunrises, and to be honest, Longford is very fortunate in that, we have a very few places to go to but in all those few places, we can capture very enjoyable photographs. 

A special moment caught by Antonio.
My friend, Dan Flynn, caught by Antonio’s lens.
An artistic capture by, Antonio , at the Hill of Uisneach

4. What techniques did you use for the cover photograph of ‘Dipping Into The Font’ ?

That’s a very simple question. I used different layers to achieve that touch. The fountain/font used is one of my photos of inside St. Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, the background is our very rare blue sky which I have blurred in Photoshop, and the water is a free water brush for Photoshop using watercolour for the effect. Then last, but most importantly, I opened up a new blank document, copied and pasted from the original into the new document, doubled the layer and turned it upside down in order to create a mirror image and merged the two layers together.

For the final touch, I borrowed a calligraphy pen that looks like an old-fashioned pen that is dipped into ink, (kindly lent by Rose Moran), took a photo of it, and added it to the picture using Photoshop.

Original photo of the font inside St. Mel’s Cathedral, Longford.
The photo done by Antonio for my book cover,

5. What are your ambitions and hopes for the future?

Well I have to tell you this: Ambition is a non-existent word in my vocabulary, after a few lessons that life has taught me. I guess that tomorrow doesn’t exist really as today we are breathing, but we never know what will happen the following day.  Tomorrow – that one unknown time-line defined as a future is only an illusion. Humankind has created that illusion inside our head with the hope to see another day. It is ok to believe that tomorrow is the future, but who knows if we will wake up to see it? Every single second is different, every single day is a new day; in photography you only capture a moment in time that only can be seen in two different timelines, (the past and the present). We cannot capture a picture of tomorrow’s day. This is the reality of life, past and present. I live a life in the now, with memories of yesterday, and eventually if I get to see the next day I’ll take it as it comes and try to make the best out of it. If an opportunity comes my way I’ll grab it and that’s it – no plans, no ambition for the unknown day.

Christmas in Ballina Co. Mayo by Antonio

A beautiful photo by Antonio

An Interview With The Magnificent, Maggi McKenna – Actress, Storyteller, Stand-Up Comic And Writer

Maggi the Storyteller

Maggi McKenna is a friend, a member of Longford Writers group and so many other things. To meet Maggi is to meet a force of nature. I will let Maggi introduce herself and her talents to you. Welcome to Maggi’s world…

  1. Tell me about where you are from and your life/career up until now.

My name is, Maggi McKenna, I am from St Mels Rd in Longford. I am an only child, daughter to Annie and Oliver McKenna R.I.P. My career to date has mainly been in retail sales and management, with five years working as information officer with Longford Citizens’ Information.

2. How did you get into storytelling and acting?

I came to storytelling in an unusual way; I was feeling quite isolated after returning to Longford after a change in jobs. It was then that my cousin, Sally Martin invited me to join Longford Writers Group, I was hesitant as I had never considered anything like this before; however, I had no idea where that first evening would lead to. Soon after joining, our chairperson, Eileen, asked me if I would be interested in reading stories for children in Longford Library. A meeting with, Mary Carleton, Longford County Librarian followed, and this is where Maggi the Storyteller began her journey. I designed a coat to wear while reading the books at various libraries and schools, also festivals and creches. I found such joy and happiness being surrounded by happy smiling children, watching their faces light up as I read to them. It was, and still is the best anti-depressant in the world.

Maggi the Storyteller, who read extracts from my book, ‘Hattie and Jacques Love London’, at the launch of the book 4 years ago. In the middle is, Jason Silva aka Stephen Ribeiro, the illustrator of the book. Photo by Sally Martin
Maggi the Storyteller, at a session in Longford library
Getting ready for a Halloween story-telling session
Playing Mrs Claus at Christmas

I then decided to try something a little braver… I read that Backstage Theatre Group were doing readings for a spring production and that there was a part for a narrator, which I felt I could try. Again, it was not what I expected, as the plays had been changed and I ended up reading for a play set in Dublin, I was shell-shocked to get a phone call the following day to say I had got the part of, Ciara,a loud mouthed Dub (A person from Dublin). I was to tread the boards in the, Backstage Theatre, Longford, in six short weeks… EEEEEK! …Fast forward to opening night and the feelings of extreme panic and pre-curtain nerves… I still didn’t quite believe I was going out on stage WITHOUT A SCRIPT; but with huge thanks to, Mary Killane, my partner in crime on stage, and the excellent director, Pat Joe Mcloughlin, who placed his faith in me, we did it. We also relished the standing ovation, and I knew I had found something that I truly loved.

Getting ready to go on stage
Acting the part

3. What do you enjoy about storytelling and acting?

 What do I enjoy about acting and storytelling? Hmmmm, it would be easier to say what I don’t enjoy, the pre-show nerves….simple as that, everything else I thoroughly enjoy, in fact so much so, that I decided to return to college and study Performing Arts and Theatre Studies in Dublin. I am happy to say, that I graduated with distinction last September; so in three short years I have completed six stage performances, four short films, stand-up comedy in various venues and a summer school in The Gaiety School of Acting… so I guess you could say I enjoy it, lol!

Taking part in a college reenactment at the Dun Laoghaire Festival .
Graduation Day

4. What have your writing achievements been, and where would you like to go with your writing?

My writing achievements include having my work published with, Longford Writers Group, as part of our novella entitled, ‘Let him Lie’, and also as part of our anthology entitled, ‘Home Made’. I also had a story published in the children’s anthology, ‘Quirky Tales’, put together by the Midlands Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Group. I also love to write poetry and have a couple of short plays written. Future plans include publishing a book of short stories and poetry. I also hope to expand on my writing to include my own one woman show… Watch this space!

Reading her story from the, ‘Quirky Tales’, anthology launch. Photo by Annette Corkery

5. You have recently moved… What are your ambitions and plans for the future?

I have recently decided to move to what I can only describe as a fairy tale city; York in the U.K. is unbelievably beautiful and steeped in history, with tiny streets and buildings dating back over hundreds of years, and of course all this is under the watchful eye of the famous and majestic York Minster Cathedral. My move here is to expand my writing and acting career and hopefully entertain the good folk of York and further afield. I will end this with a huge thanks to my cousin, Sally Martin; without her invite to join Longford Writers Group and all its wonderfully supportive members, none of this would have happened. As I always say, “Onwards and Upwards!”

“Spring is the time of plans and projects.” ― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

For many, spring doesn’t come until the equinox in March, but traditionally spring has been celebrated on the Ist February in Ireland. The first day of spring was known as Imbolc in Gaelic, and also as the feast day of the Irish saint, St. Brigid. Brigid was known as a goddess in pre-Christian times. She was associated with healing, fertility, poetry and learning. When Christianity came to Ireland the day was connected to the Christian, St. Brigid. In particular, she kept her springtime duties of her blessings on the crops and livestock of the people.

An image of Brigid by, Annette Corkery, on the GPO  (General Post Office) in Dublin, Ireland #Herstory

Spring is a time of reawakening, of moving towards light and warmth. On the 2nd February the ancient tradition of Candlemas is celebrated. It is rooted in ancient pagan, Jewish and Christian traditions celebrating light and fire. In the Christian tradition candles were blessed on this day, when the church remembers the presentation of the baby, Jesus, in the temple.

On the 3rd February is the feast day of St. Blaise. On this day people  can receive a blessing of the throats with two crossed candles, in some churches. This tradition dates back to the imprisoned saint being given candles to light his dark prison cell by a woman who was helped by one of his miracles. His reputation spread throughout the entire church in the Middle Ages because he was reputed to have miraculously cured a little boy who nearly died because of a fishbone in his throat.  From the eighth century he has been invoked on behalf of the sick, especially those afflicted with illnesses of the throat. So again we have the association with light and healing.

What has all this got to do with writing you might ask. Well, I love the symbolism of spring and I am very interested in cultural traditions and the stories behind them. In February there are a lot of symbolic and traditional practices. They all hint to a reawakening, to a sense of something being created, new life emerging. In spring we sow and set seeds and bulbs which we hope will bloom later on. Creativity, including writing has to start from a seed of an idea; we water and nurture that seed to see it grow and flower, and so we create something that everyone can appreciate. Put in the work and the toil now and something is sure to blossom in the future.

Of course we also have St. Valentine’s Day on 14th February… a day to celebrate passion and love. There are various stories about this saint. One is that he secretly married couples so husbands wouldn’t have to go to war. Another one says that he refused to sacrifice to pagan gods, was imprisoned and while imprisoned he healed the jailer’s blind daughter. On the day of his execution, he left the girl a note signed, “Your Valentine.”

Let us love what we are writing and be passionate about it. Go forward and bring your gift to the world.

Interview With Artist And Writer, Dan Flynn

Dan Flynn is a friend, a member of, Longford Writers Group, and an accomplished writer and artist. Dan, who is originally from Canada, moved to Ireland in 1992.

Dan Flynn – Photo by Sally Martin

Tell me about yourself and how you got into art and writing.

Age is turning me into a bit of a Victor Meldrew which is enhanced by being a technomoron where computers are concerned. I practice live and let live, but am annoyed when people insist their subjective experience become part of my objective reality. I have always scribbled little pictures but about 30 years ago began trying formal pictures in watercolour as well as pen and ink but only for the pleasure of doing it. I played a clarinet the same way when I was in my 20s. Painting is less annoying to the neighbours. Writing was something I never found difficult, but being more focused than painting, self-direction was more difficult. It was only after my partner died in 2015 and I needed to do something to keep from becoming part of the wallpaper, that I joined the Longford Writers Group. It was a good choice.

You did the cover art for Longford Writers Group’s novella, ‘Let Him Lie’, and their anthology, ‘Home Made’, and my book, ‘A Posy of Wild Flowers’, due to come out this year; so can you explain what approach you took to doing these covers?

The first and third of those covers I like to think of as pointillism gone mad! It takes hours but I love the results. “Home Made was easier, a watercolour of a village around a hill with a hotel on it. A community, close, definable and, as you see from the children, safe. In “Let Him Lie”, my idea was that these people possessed a simple religious faith. You can imagine a rosary at the bottom of Patricia’s hand bag. So, Earth and Heaven are joined by the spire of the church, but the coffin, shrouded in a fog of mystery.

How would you describe your artistic styIe?

I try to think of it as abstract, but letting the viewer know “abstracted from what?” Art is communication, it need not be a test of how esoteric the viewer might be. We can all nod and grunt “yes, yes” and hustle to the next picture. Historically, there has always been a question of the reality of unperceived reality. Is a tree there when not perceived? Modern physics says, maybe. So I try to imagine it not fully formed prior to one’s being fully focused on it.

What enjoyment do you get from doing your art and writing?

The pleasure of seeing an idea or character take shape. I did a picture of a friend’s house once. The look on his face when he first saw it was all the payment I needed…..that look was wonderful.

Dan Flynn – Photo by Sally Martin

What ambitions have you for your artwork and your writing?

I suppose ‘recognition’, but I know my work will never put me on a new car lot……maybe a set of tyres would be nice……but that look I mentioned and the wonderful responses I’ve had from reading a couple of my stories to the children at a small nearby school…..at my age, it doesn’t get much better!