Ireland’s Greatest Hits came out in 1987, a joint UK / Ireland release on Telstar. It was compiled in association with the following labels: McDonagh, Ritz, Lunar, CMR, Dolphin, Outlet, Denver, Crashed, Revolved. Design was by Quick On The Draw. The CD version has three bonus tracks – Barnbrack’s Belfast, Dennis Allen’s Limerick You’re A Lady and The Concerned’s Show Some Concern. Sales of the album on the new format were very low – this has been attributed by some people to the unsophisticated target market – and as a consequence it’s a tricky one to source nowadays with the cassette being most common. The back inlay of the CD outlines the Irish chart position achieved – nine of the 19 tracks reached #1. Seven more hit the top five, with just one outside the top 10. The Barnbrack track – the controversial Belfast – was not released in the Republic of Ireland.
We begin with a #2 hit from 1986, Jim McCann’s maudlin Grace. Jim was a member of The Dubliners from 1974-1979 which spans the heyday of their football team, Heffo’s army. This poignant ballad tells the story of the wedding of Joseph Plunkett, one of the leaders of the 1916 Rising and Grace Gifford his sweetheart, a Protestant who converted to Catholicism. They married a few hours before his execution in Kilmainham jail. Zipping back to 1979 for The Fureys & Davey Arthur’s heartfelt rendition of Eric Bogle’s anti-war song The Green Fields Of France. This was later covered by The Men They Couldn’t Hang and was a top five Festive 50 entry on John Peel’s chart. As Eric Bogle remembers, “It’s a song that was written about the military cemeteries in Flanders and Northern France. In 1976, my wife and I went to three or four of these military cemeteries and saw all the young soldiers buried there.” Remember those leprechauns on Top Of The Pops, 1981? Yes, it’s Foster & Allen with A Bunch Of Thyme. If you close your eyes and listen, it’s a pleasantly performed tune about the importance of virginity. Just watch out for the STDs.
“There is one point on this record when Paddy Reilly reaches back to that era of pain and poverty and expresses with poignancy and heartfelt emotion the plight of those who left the shamrock shore, when in The Fields of Athenry, he sings ‘Nothing really matters when you’re free’.” So stated the sleeve of Paddy Reilly’s album from 1982. Its title track, The Fields Of Athenry is timeless and its stay on the Irish charts spanned some 72 weeks. I’d hear it on Larry Gogan’s Top 30 on a Sunday; most memorably during the summers of 1983 and 1984 when we visited Duncannon, Booley Bay and Dollar Bay. Sitting alone in the sizzling car with the stereo on. Despite the longevity, the peak was #4. The Fureys & Davey Arthur pop up again on the teenage anthem When You Were Sweet Sixteen, a Irish chart topper in 1981 and also went as far as #14 across the water. Meanwhile The Rare Ould Times was composed by Pete St. John for the Dublin City Ramblers sometime in the 1970s. Danny Doyle’s 1979 cover reached #1 – a reissue – and is included here.
The folk song Maggie dates back to 1864, written by George Washington Johnson. Foster & Allen’s version topped the New Zealand charts in 1983 and achieved a respectable #27 in the UK. We slide deeper in a country strain with The Dutchman, written by Michael Peter Smith in 1968 and popularised by Steve Goodman. At the time Smith wrote the song, he had never visited the Netherlands. The song is about an elderly couple in Amsterdam, Margaret and the title character an unnamed Dutchman who is senile, and Margaret cares for him. This story of unconditional love was covered by Brendan Grace in 1982. Brendan also sang the Safe Cross Code and appeared in Father Ted – as the drum ‘n’ bass-loving priest, Father Fintan Stack. Not Eoin McLove but the real thing next – Daniel O’Donnell – and the mawkish Summertime In Ireland. We’re now deep in the music of my parents’ generation; Gloria doing One Day At A Time, on the Irish charts for a staggering 90 weeks.
In 1987, emigration from Ireland to England was rife. The most common route was the Slattery’s bus via the ferry from Rosslare as air travel was prohibitively expensive. Fergus Tighe’s Clash Of The Ash encapsulates this spirit of this era. You can read my review and watch the film on the sadly defunct Where’s Grandad? In March ’88 I made the trip to London’s Town & Country Club to see The Pogues in the pomp; If I Should Fall With Grace With God having received top marks in its NME review. Before the gig, I was in a Camden pub – can’t remember the name – which was packed with old Irish. A selection of songs from home was playing on the jukebox – all courtesy of Ireland’s Greatest Hits. The ties that bind were still strong no matter how long ago you had left. Fast forward 10 years and I am in Waxy O’Connor’s, Rupert Street. Better decor but the songs remain the same.
More: the recently departed Big Tom drops the evergreen Four Country Roads. While I was never a fan of the Country & Irish genre, there’s something oddly affecting about this one. We stay in this territory as Susan McCann and Philomena Begley appear – both are equally saccharine, especially the latter’s cover of ABBA’s The Way Old Friends Do. Some people say that Louise Morrissey sounds like Anni-Frid, judge for yourself as she sings the plaintive Old Rustic Bridge. Next is Glen Curtin, ex-showband star and the execrable Tears On The Telephone complete with annoying child. More: Joe Dolan’s It’s You, It’s You lacks the speed lounge of his earlier work. Now to Belfast: the song describes the feelings felt by an expatriate, who is planning to return to Ulster and the city he left behind.
Dennis Allen wrote and released Limerick You’re A Lady in 1979. It topped the Irish charts and has been subject to numerous cover versions ever since. The song was played a lot in The Good Room back then and is a personal favourite – taking on added significance as the years went by. Lastly, The Concerned; Show Some Concern was written by Paul Cleary of The Blades for the Irish charity Concern with the purpose being to assist with famine relief in Ethopia and Sudan. Clannad, Stockton’s Wing, Toy with Rhythm, The Golden Horde, Those Nervous Animals, Twink, Mary Black, Maxi, Flo McSweeney, Linda Martin, Christy Moore, Freddie White, Ray Lynam, Red Hurley, Johnny Duhan were all involved. It bumped Easy Lover off the #1 spot for three weeks in March 1985, before being itself toppled by We Are The World. And to this date, 34 years on, Ireland’s Greatest Hits is the only place where Show Some Concern can be found on CD. Dig that sax break.
Paddy Reilly – The Fields Of Athenry
Dennis Allen – Limerick You’re A Lady
Lest we forget
The Concerned – Show Some Concern