Ronnie Drew died in Dublin last Saturday, a few weeks short of 74. He was a folk singer with a unique voice that for me could only be compared to those of Louis Armstrong and Jimmy Durante, not that of your conventional vocalist. (Listening to an interview with Ronnie while writing this I’ve discovered that he was a great fan of Jimmy Durante.)
In a song written in his honour, The Ballad of Ronnie Drew, Bono of U2 describes it perfectly: Here's to the Ronnie, the voice we adore; / Like coals from a coal bucket scraping the floor.
Ronnie was one of the founding members of The Dubliners 1962.
Early in 2002 I was based in England and went on an overland pilgrimage to Lourdes. Most of the pilgrims were Filipinos living or working in Britain. But one very colourful, older woman with the name ‘Blossom’ was from the Seychelles. When she heard I was from Dublin she asked me if I knew where Mountjoy Prison was. I told her I passed ‘The Joy’, as it’s known to Dubliners, almost every day on my bike to and from school. Blossom was one of those persons who can make even a sad story sound funny. She told me that way back in the 1960s she went on holiday to Dublin. One night she went to a Dubliners’ ‘gig’, drank more than she should have, got involved in some kind of troublesome behaviour and ended up in ‘The Joy’. It probably wasn’t the prison itself but the Garda (police) station next door.
Somehow, The Dubliners heard about Blossom’s plight and bailed her out. So instead of recalling her time in Dublin with embarrassment she remembered it as a place where she had experienced the kindness of The Dubliners who didn’t even know her.
I wasn’t at all surprised when I heard Blossom’s story. Listening to and reading tributes to Ronnie, two words come through: ‘kindness’ and ‘gentleman’.
On 13 and 20 January this year John Bowman featured Ronnie Drew on his Bowman Sunday Morning which features archive material. I emailed the story of Blossom to John Bowman and hope that it reached Ronnie.
Here's Ronnie singing Pete St John's Dublin in the Rare Old Times. The video has photos of Dublin taken maybe 50 or 60 years ago. The awful poverty that many Dubliners experienced then is now a thing of the past, thank God.
May Ronnie Drew rest in peace.