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Patsy Watchorn Magazine Article [Published 1998]

He comes forward to meet me, great smile on his face. A big-hearted man, you would say, as soon as you saw him coming. And that's what he is, that's what got him where he is.

His warm, confident, blue eyes look out from under wiry black eyebrows, and his massive bush of steel-grey hair forms a halo round his face. He is the kind of man that could take on the world, you'd say.
And he has.

Indeed, he has taken on many an audience in many a concert hall, many a pub, and many a theatre on both sides of the Irish Sea - both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, in fact. He is a star, and I am trying to remember the movie star he looks like. Burt Reynolds, yes - Burt in his prime.

As soon as he opens his mouth you know he is a Dubliner, even you didn't know already. And he is proud of Dublin, he loves the place, the talk of people, the wit and the kindness of the genuine article.

He is passionate about his music too. It is not a sideline or pastime, it is his life, his reason for leaving. And he plays it and sings it with passion.

It was he who launched the immortal Dublin In The Rare Auld Times, as well as The Ferryman and many another song from the pen of the genius among the songwriter, Pete St. John.

Patsy is freelancing at the moment, doing corporate gigs and that kind of thing, operating under the band-name 'Patsy Watchorn agus a Chairde'.
"I still have a few friends!" he cracks.
The 'friends' that play with him are usually Eamonn O'Rourke, on tenor banjo and mandola, Brian McCormack on bass, and Brian Furlong on flute and guitar.

Patsy in Toronto
Sightseeing over Toronto, Canada, having played Massey Hall the night before.

Nowadays, apart from entertaining the Irish at home and abroad, Patsy Watchorn - agus a Chairde - are frequently called upon to play for groups of tourists, especially Germans, that arrive in Ireland.
"For some reason or other, they've always loved Irish music. I find them one of the most appreciative audiences of all."

Patsy formed the Dublin City Ramblers back in 1970, and it was as lead vocalist of that band that he became famous.
"I was the man behind the fame," he says with pride.

He comes from a very musical family. His father, Eanest, played the fiddle and piano, his father's brothers played mandolin and banjo, and his mother, Christina, who was one of the Rings Of Abbeyleix, was a singer. They always had music in the house.
There were three boys and three girls in the Watchorn family. One of Patsy's brothers, Paul, is a musician, and used to play with him, but has now gone solo. Paul was also a profession snooker player. "Steve Davis reckoned he would have been one of the best."

Patsy was born in Crumlin, Dublin, and went to the Christian Brothers there. "I wasn't mad about it, to be honest with you", he says without hyperbole. "They were very severe on us."
But he usually escaped the leather strap because he was a good hurler, and they didn't want him to suffer any hand injury which would keep him out of the team.
"If they damaged my hand, you see, I wouldn't be able to hold the oul' hurl!" He had learned his hurling down in Abbeyleix, in his mother's place. Some of the Rings played senior hurling for Laois.

Patsy went on to Ard Scoil Eanna on the Crumlin Road. "They were very good to me. There was a big difference between them and the Christian Brothers."
He played minor hurling for South Dublin, and senior hurling for St. Columba's. He got all his fingers cut to bits in the process, so he decided to put away the caman. He played soccer, too, for Herberton, Mount Pleasant and Inchicore.
"I got my little plaques."

He worked for a number of years in a voluntary capacity as steward in Croke Park.
He still is a loyal hurling and football fan. "I'm a true Dub supporter," he boasts.
"I've been going to Croke Park since I was a child, because the uncles would come up from Abbeyleix, they'd go for a few pints, and pick me up afterwards, and I was the only young fellow in short trousers. I love the GAA. I love all sport. I'll be in Croker to see the Dubs winning the football this year!"

He formed the Dublin City Ramblers in 1970 with Mick Crotty, Kevin Geraghty and Sean McGuinness. They turned pro in 1972, went to America, and released an album when they returned. Patsy has made 27 albums to date. The biggest hit he ever had was The Rare Auld Times, written especially for him by Pete St. John in 1977. He got a gold album for it.
The Ferryman followed, written also by Pete St. John. "That was even bigger," says Patsy. His second gold.
The Ramblers started getting bigger audiences. "There were queues in places, which is hard to believe now."
Sales of Ramblers' albums started going up and up, and there was a demand for their older tapes, too, such as their Guinness Volume I to IV, and the Dolphin label gave them gold albums for the lot.
"Things started to move very well for us then," recalls Patsy.
At this juncture, a song written for Patsy by Liam Reilly, called Flight Of Earls, won him another gold.
"That was a huge hit for us across the water, because it was all about emigration."
It became hugely popular, not only in Britain, but in America and Australia.
"We used to do tours of the States and Canada, and the amount of Irish that would be there! They'd know the lyrics of that song, and you'd often see some of them crying."

In Britain, he has performed in the National in Kilburn, the Swan in Stockwell, the Galtymore in Cricklewood, the Archway Tavern, the Thatch in Highbury, any many more.
In Manchester he played the Ard Ri, in Birmingham and Liverpool the Irish Centres, in Coventry St. Brendan's.
"Ah sure they loved the oul' ballads. Because we could go into a pub and take out a banjo, or a bodhran, or an accordion, or a mandolin, and we'd make music."

The Dublin City Ramblers gained an enviable reputation far and wide for the great energy and zest of their music. They had fire in their bellies. "We hurled it out!" says Patsy.

But the time came for the band to go their separate ways. Patsy left in 1995. Then, all of them left except Sean McGuinness, who now leads a reconstituted Dublin City Ramblers.
When Patsy left, he brought his music with him. It has always been part of him, and always will be.
"I remember singing Kevin Berry when I was only a young fellow. I laways loved the music. I idolised the Dubliners, and Luke Kelly was my idol. I used to pal around with him. We became great friends. I still pal around with most of the old stock, like Ronnie Drew and Paddy Reilly. And Pete St. John and myseld are great friends."

He reminds me that Pete wrote for him a tribute to Luke Kelly, called Luke Kelly's Land - which became Number One in the Irish charts in America.

Patsy, in fact, became so popular in the States that they gave him the freedom of the City of Fort Lauderdale, as well as the City of Hollywood (both in Florida).

Patsy has always been mad about sports of all kinds. In recent times he has sung songs about Sonia O'Sullivan and Steve Collins. He counts among his friends Jack Charlton and John Giles.

His last venture is a series of songs about the Insurrection of 1798 - all written by Pete St. John.

Apart from all that, a new album of 20 tracks, called THE CRAIC & PORTER TOO, is about to be released at the end of this month. [Editor's note: Please remember that this article was first published in 1998].

Many of Patsy's songs are about Dublin, as, indeed, the city always held a special place in his affection.

"I love the people - the old stock. I suppose when you're born and reared and grow up in the atmosphere and everything about it, it's hard to renege on it. Abbeyleix was my second home. We'd be out in the fields hunting rabbits and hares, or fishing, or picking mushrooms, when we were kids, and there was an old railway line that used to have the oul' steam engine that went by, but you'd always still like to come back to Dublin to play with the kids, and even go into the pubs and hear the old wit. It's a different lifestyle now, but the Dubs, I just love them."


A rather young looking Patsy with one of his favourite people Leo Bracken. Leo always admired Patsy’s singing and is a regular at his live shows.

What kind of music would he take with him to a desert island if he knew he was about to be marooned on one?
"I'd bring a tape of Luke Kelly, anyway. I'd have to have traditional music - accordion players or fiddle players. Mairtin Byrnes was a great fiddle player, and John Sheahan. I love Irish dancing. When I saw Riverdance first, I couldn't believe it. I'd bring the video."

"Elvis Presley was my idol, and I admired the Beatles. I love all types of music, but if I was on a desert island it would be strictly Irish music!"

Patsy has three daughters: the eldest, Lorraine, is married in Sweden, wit two children; the second, Carol, is a hairdresser in Dublin, and will be married next year; and the youngest, Tracey, is 16 and still at school.

I ask the great baladeer what music means to him.
"Probably 80 per cent of my life would be taken up with music, the rest would be sport, or whatever else my social life would be."

What is his philosophy of life?
"To be happy. What upsets me is when I see the likes of the Sudan, and then you read about those Irish people that are worth 500 million pounds, and to think that they couldn't turn around and donate a couple of million to those Third World countries. It hurts me to see this. You don't need 500 million pounds. I mean, what could you do with it?"

I notice that Patsy Watchorn is wearing a miraculous medal round his neck, something rare these days, especially on the neck of a successful musician.
"I always wear it. I'm pretty religious. I carry a holy stone that I got down in Laois."

When he was a child and they went down to Laois on holiday, his mother would take them to the holy well of St. Fintan.
She would take the stones out of the well and tell them they would never be struck by lightnig or killed in an accident as long as they carried one of those stones.
"I wouldn't drive without them in my car. I aways have one in my house. My grandmother gave them to my mother. My mother gave them to us, and I've handed them down to my children, and they'll hand them down to their children. I wouldn't go up in an aeroplane unless I had a holy stone with me. I was always like that, I wouldn't be ashamed to say I call into the church once a week and say a prayer, because it doesn't hurt me. I would never be ashamed even though people say, 'Ah yea, but...' I say, 'It's me that's doing it. It's my time. So why are you worried about it?'"

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