Irish street singer, storyteller and busker, Patrick "Pecker" Dunne has died at the age of 80. From the Traveller community, he was known for his craic and powerful voice. He played the banjo and travelled the length and breadth of Ireland with his music.
In songs like Tinkers Lullaby and Last of the Travelling People, he in highlighted the discrimination and prejudice against the Traveller community by many Irish people. His best known song was O'Sullivans John recorded by the Dubliners and Johnny McEvoy. Dunne also played with stars Richard Harris and Stephen Rea in Gilles MacKinnon's 1996 film Trojan Eddie.
I first saw Pecker Dunne I first saw Pecker when he played a gig in the Glasslyn Inn, in
Bandon, Co. Cork. Apparently he'd recently gone on the wagon and thus
spent half of the night making fun of a few young drunks who were about
place. It was a pub after all. He played a few songs and told lots of stories
and jokes, it was a busy enough night alright.
The following day I was back busking, forsaking my usual spot by the AIB,
as the bank was closed on Saturday. I wasn't all that healthy, having had
more than a few the previous night, so I opted to busk right outside the
Glasslyn. Seamus would probably feed me a few of his great sandwiches,
when I took a break for a cup of tea.
A bit later, as I was singing away, the Pecker came out of the pub and
stood watching me. I finished the song and he just continued watching, so
I sang another one, one of my own. He nodded as I finished and without a
word dropped a couple of pound notes into the case. Won't sound like
much at all now, but for the Bandon streets it was a veritable fortune. He'd
certainly made me earn it but had paid up too.
Six years later, I was living in Clonakilty, fourteen miles west along, and
spending nearly every night doing sound in a well known music venue
named DeBarras. I'd met Pecker the previous time he'd gigged in
DeBarras, the previous year and had been amazed at the tone and timbre
of his strong voice. I'd almost had to turn his mic. volume off, so powerful
and resonant was his singing.
As I was sound checking, he asked me to tune his guitar, so I did and then
played a few bits and pieces to confirm the tuning. The guitar played
easily, and he said exactly the same thing he had on the previous
occaision I'd done sound for him.
"You play it better than me," he joked.
"Wouldn't be hard," I retorted. "You never play it anyway."
What I'd said was true, for during most gigs he didn't play the guitar at all
but stuck to the banjo and occasionally the fiddle.
"You can have it for three hundred pounds," he said, also exactly what
he'd said on that previous occasion.
"Hang on a minute pecker," I said as he took the guitar and placed it on
it's stand. I walked out to the front bar where Bobby was resting
momentarily between pulling pints.
"Sound check alright?" He asked.
"Yeh fine," I replied. "Almost finished."
"Bob," I continued after a few seconds. "Can I borrow two hundred quid off
you to buy Pecker's guitar."
Fair play to Bobby, he didn't have to think about it at all, just agreed and
went to the cash register and got it.
Taking the cash I went back to the back bar, where the live music was
played and handed Pecker three hundred pounds. He took it and nodded,
handing me the guitar, but then stating that I couldn't have the battery. He
wasn't joking, cause after the gig he took the battery out before giving me
the guitar, which meant loosening all the strings in that model.
We used it for years. I played it for about five and then after I bought a new
Yamaha acoustic when we were touring in China, Geertien used it. I took it
back later, when Geertien began playing more and more fiddle and
continued on until I purchased a new Takamine in Cork. Still have that
one, thanks Sibylle.
I met the Pecker a few times after that, he's a lovely guy. A man who had
time for everyone, sure he'd listen to anyone. Last news I heard of him
was that he was back in Waterford, think he was from that part of the
country originally. By now he's probably in Kilarney, buskin' with his kids.
When I left Ireland, I decided that the guitar should stay in Clonakilty and
it's now hanging on the wall at DeBarras, along with all that Noel
Redding/Jimi Hendrix stuff. More will appear on this page soon, including
a link to one of the Pecker's songs that I'll cover.
Thanks Bob and thanks Pecker, good luck to ye both.
In Celtic linguistics, chainnt or Irish word caint older spelling cainnt. "speech, talk". It is derived amongst the itinerant groups of people in Ireland, hailing from Irish Gaelic. The Irish variant is simply termed "the Cant" or known to its speakers from the Irish Traveller community as Gammon. It is often used as a cryptolect to exclude outsiders from comprehending conversations between Travellers, Pecker Dunne and Maggie Barry used it often, especially when the shades were about or when they would have a drop of the people's whiskey not the yella bog water.