The twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of the revered singer-songwriter, Liam Weldon, was fittingly marked by a simple but well constructed film by Derek Copley and the Ballyer Trad Hub from Ballyfermot, Dublin, featuring nine performers – including Liam’s widow, Nellie, and son, Shay – sharing memories and songs associated with the remarkable artist.
The first performer, Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin, delivered a powerful rendition of the title track from Liam’s album, Dark Horse on the Wind – Weldon’s stunning rebuke to those who had betrayed the promise of the Republican ideals of 1916. Perhaps intended to evoke Colm Keating’s stunning contemporary black-and-white images of Liam, Eoghan was filmed in monochrome.
The first of many colourful memories from Nellie and Shay – prompted by local social historian, Ken Larkin – recalled Liam and Nellie’s courtship in England before returning home to Dublin to marry and “start a baby factory,” as Liam had forecast. This story provided a suitable introduction to Eamonn Hunt’s effortless performance of I Wonder What’s Keeping My Love Tonight – which was first collected in Scotland over a century ago and was a favourite of Séamus Ennis as well as Liam Weldon.
Next up was Shay Weldon with a reminiscence of helping his father to make bodhráns – recalling one occasion when, in the absence of goatskin, they made four instruments using pony skin! With appropriate bodhrán accompaniment, Shay then sang Smuggling the Tin, which also features on the Dark Horse album.
Liam’s moving reflection on fatherhood, Jinny Joe, was delivered by the compelling Macdara Yeates, who earlier in the week had posted his own filmed tribute to Liam Weldon as part of Trad Ireland’s Visionaries 2020 series.
Niamh Parsons recounted her early days at the singing sessions in the Brazen Head run by Liam and Frank Harte before reprising one of her own favourites from that time, The Flower of Magherally-o.
Nellie recounted how Liam’s encounters with the traveller families who used to winter in his grandmother’s yard in the Liberties triggered his fascination with singing as well as his lifelong dedication to the cause of travellers’ rights.
Caoimhe Hogarty followed with the dark ballad, The Well Below the Valley, collected by the late Tom Munnelly from the traveller singer, John Reilly in Roscommon in 1963. Accompanied by the sinister drone of a shruti box, Caoimhe delivered a haunting version of the classic.
Another song about traveller life, One Starry Night, which was also one of Liam’s favourites, was performed by Liam Kennedy, a stalwart of the local music scene in Ballyfermot.
The action left the comfort of Ballyfermot’s Glic Café for Daoirí Farrell’s stunning open-air rendition of Liam’s classic traveller protest anthem, The Blue Tar Road, before returning indoors for Nellie singing the love song Liam wrote to her in 1959, My Love is a Well. The performances and reminiscences are so engaging that it comes as a surprise to realise that the film is a modest 40 minutes long.
This charming film manages to overcome the logistical obstacles of creative collaboration in socially distanced settings to honour one of Ireland’s national treasures. It also whets the appetite for the feature-length documentary directed by Myles O’Reilly and produced by Lorraine Kennedy whose gestation has been slowed by the pandemic with a likely release now delayed until 2021.
Congratulations to Ballyer Trad Hub and to all the performers who contributed to this fitting tribute. Premiering on Liam’s anniversary, Saturday, November 28, the film is set to be available on YouTube until Monday, November 30. However, it deserves to have a much longer life-span online.