Patsy pictured with columnist Frank Galligan
An old neighbour said to Greencastle singer/songwriter Patsy Cavanagh: “Your song will go further than your foot!” How right he was...last week, Patsy was presented with a special IMRO award to “mark the longstanding contribution that his song ‘Home to Donegal’ has made in Irish music circles”.
The presentation was made in the Daniel O’Donnell Visitors Centre in Dungloe by the man himself who also was a recipient of a special award from IMRO.
Daniel said of ‘Home to Donegal’... “It’s iconic, a chorus, and an anthem”... and the day before was being sung on the street by the masses during the Mary from Dungloe festivities. Daniel added: “If the postman and milkman are whistling it, it’s a hit.”
Patsy’s first song back in the 1970’s was the lovely ‘Foyle Waters’, inspired by a returned emigrant of some 40 years who recalled the Moville liners sailing up the Foyle. In particular, he remembered people soaking clods of turf in paraffin oil and waving them in farewell at departing loved ones as they sailed by.
Patsy recorded it and a few others on cassette and sent it to the local Inishowen pirate radio stations. The airplay was tremendous and he is forever grateful to the loyal DJ’s who made it all possible.
His mother was listening to RTE Radio as well and tipped Patsy off about a programme called ‘Sounds Promising’, which invited new songs from budding writers.
He sent off a cassette of ‘Can’t Hold The Years Back’ and was pleasantly surprised to get a phonecall from producer Shay Healy who famously said: “You’ll be buying a seed for the hammock!” (In other words, a palm tree for his leisure!)
Brendan Shine was going to record it...fame at last..if not exactly fortune.
In time the legendary Peter Bardon would look after the song publishing and he too was in attendance in Dungloe with CEO of IMRO, Victor Finn.
Like ‘Foyle Waters’, ‘Home To Donegal’ was a homecoming song, written in the late 1980’ and recorded by a number of artists, including Mick Flavin and John Kerr.
But when Daniel recorded it, it became the anthemic and much loved song it has become.
“I knew when I had it finished, I had a good wee song,” says the modest Patsy.
There was a tear in his eye in Dungloe when the whole audience joined Daniel to sing it with gusto.
He’s still writing, not as much as he’d like…”Bits of paper here and there, Frank, I need sometime to get them all together”.
A lot of his time is taken up with running The Cairn Visitor Centre in Greencastle.
Since it opened in 1999, it has proved to be a very popular tourist attraction for coach tours, school groups and day trippers.
Life size figures, miniature countryside and housing provide the visitor with a virtual walk through time, a wonderful experience for children and adults alike, from the early settlers right up to the 1960’s.
Every Tuesday evening at 8pm, he hosts “Those Were The Days” where a group of patrons relive their youth as they recall the events and music of the 60’s and 70’s.
Also, until the end of September, Patsy presents ‘Songs, Scenes and Stories of Inishowen’, a night not to be missed.
The day before he, his wife Margaret and family headed to Dungloe, the local priest in St Mary’s had wished him well at Mass.
The church is of course mentioned in ‘Home to Donegal’:
“And then tomorrow we'll take a walk
“Down to St. Marys to a sheltered spot
“We'll kneel and pray there for the ones that are gone
“And hope they're proud of their wandering son.”
Patsy’s songs have been about wandering sons, and it is that nostalgic poignant pull which has endeared them to emigrants and homebirds alike.
If we haven’t been away, we know a loved one who has. He is a genuinely modest and self-effacing gentleman of the old school, blessed with an extraordinary talent.
I first heard ‘Home to Donegal’ sung in the old Flough in Muff some thirty years ago. I recall being equally moved and stirred, and rising to my feet to that wonderful chorus. The song has indeed gone further the the foot!