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Friday, December 21, 2012

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Dunne's Pecker Has Left the Building

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.

Poem For The Pecker (Dunne)

Gather round this cold night by the campfire,and i'll tell you a Tinkermans' tale,
All about a great singer of Ireland,who triumphed where many have failed.
Born into a nomadic lifestyle,a horse drawn trailer it was his abode,
And he travelled the lanes of ould Ireland,and he travelled the dusty old roads.

"Sullivans John" to the road you have gone,Pecker Dunne wrote at eleven years young
And that was the dawn of his music career,and his wonderful story begun.
For he travelled the byways and highways,and could be found on a bright sunny day,
Playing songs down at Croke of the travelling folk,at the games of the old G.A.A

Well he sang of the Myxomatosis and he told of the ould Morris van,
And the tale of the Thirty foot trailer,and the songs of the travelling man.
And he gave us the songs of his people,where others had feared for to speak,
And he spoke out 'gainst discrimination,and equal rights for his people did seek.

Well you'd find him not far from O'Callaghans Mills,in the famed banner county of Clare,
Down among all the horses and trailers at the world famous Spancil Hill fair.
And you'd find him out west into Galway and on the road up to Ballinasloe,
With his banjo and fiddle always close by at hand,for he always would put on a show.

Pecker drank with the great Richard Harris,a world renowned actor and drinker,
And starred in "The Good,Bad & Ugly",not bad for an old Wexford Tinker!!
And he knew Eli Wallach and Oliver Reed,and he acted with the man Stephen Rea,
But he never denied that great traveller pride,on the open road Peckers' heart lay.

Christy Moore never met with Bob Dylan,but he sang with the great Pecker Dunne,
So won't you come now to me little daughter,won't you come now to me little son.
For Pecker played with those brothers The Fureys,and Luke Kellys' own Dubliners' band,
With his own unique style that old banjo he played,and the greatest respect did command.

So always remember his music,and never then forget his face,
For he brought such joy unto his people,and he brought such pride unto his race.
For we are the Romany people,and in that we should suffer no shame,
Dunne,Barrett,Ward or other,travelling sister or brother,you should always take pride in your name.

So farewell to the tent and the trailer,and farewell to the old caravan,
And join me in praise of the great Pecker Dunne,of the Legend,Musician and Man.
For he shall be forever remembered,and his name it shall always live long,
Carried on by the travellers of Ireland,in their poems and in story and song.