Boyle’s Bar: 28th July 1978

Play recording: Boyle’s Bar: 28th July 1978

17/03/2019: Other than the basic details of when and where the original recording was made and who made it, we have hardly any information on the occasion itself, on the people present or even on the Boyle’s Bar in which it was made (there may have been more than one in New York City). We’re researching the matter however, and if more information comes to light we’ll update this page accordingly.

This recording depicts an evening in the daily lives of ordinary people, and runs for about half an hour. If you’d rather go straight to Joe’s songs, these start at: c. 00:05:30 (The Rocks of Bán), c. 00:13:30 (Red Haired Mary take 1), c. 00:15:30 (Red Haired Mary take 2) and c. 00:20:30 (Connla).

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  • Teideal (Title): Boyle’s Bar: 28th July 1978.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): UW 86-38.1, UW 86-38.2.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): none.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): none.
  • Uimhir Child (Child Number): none.
  • Cnuasach (Collection): Joe Heaney Collection, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Teanga na Croímhíre (Core-Item Language): Irish and English.
  • Catagóir (Category): song, speech.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): Fred Lieberman.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 28/07/1978.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): Boyle’s Bar, New York City, USA.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): traditional singing and music session.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Oiriúnú digiteach (Digital adaption): Míċeál Ó Loċlainn.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.


By Míċeál Ó Loċlainn

Joe Heaney’s songs versus ‘a day in the life’

This archive record has two aspects, the second of which is, at the time of writing, unique to the Cartlanna. There are ‘Joe’s songs’, of course, but there are also the ‘ambient’ shots of the bar: the people in it, the behaviours, the artefacts and the décor. An ordinary Friday evening in New York City, on a summer’s day in 1978, with the week’s work done and the weekend before them. Having a drink, chatting and unwinding. It’s a snapshot of a bygone time: smoking in public houses, Styrofoam cups, the Brylcreem Bounce

Joe, and the people around him, are just living their daily lives. He’s not on stage, he’s not giving a university class and he’s not being recorded, in the relatively controlled environment of a friend’s home, for the express purposes of preserving some cultural artefact.

Make no mistake, this isn’t remotely the same as if he were cois teallaigh [by the fireside], i dteach na muintire [in his family home] or i dteach na comharsan [in his neighbour’s home] in Carna. (At the very least, people would be joining in on the last line of each verse if he was at home.) But in its own, admittedly minor way, this represents an historical cultural record as well as a musical one. He knows he’s being filmed but he only ‘performs’ when he’s singing. We get to see Joe just being Joe and we get a candid insight into of the world around him.

Yes, there’s plenty of much richer extant video, audio, textual and anecdotal information about the late nineteen seventies but that’s no reason not to include the ‘ambient’ material, such as it is, here. So for the purposes of this archive record, we’ve divided the video into segments about ‘a day in the life’ (Lá dá Shaol) and segments dedicated to ‘the song’. Naturally, some readers will only be interested in the songs, so please feel free fast forward to the time codes given above.

Examples of each of these songs are already present in the Cartlanna — but they were all recorded in rather more formal circumstances.

The Boyle’s Bar versus The Tradition Club recordings

To an extent, this video is like the 1973 recording made at The Tradition Club in Slattery’s, Dublin, in that it gives us a glimpse of Joe in a setting that’s been totally unrepresented in the Cartlanna up until now. True, the only concrete similarity between the two recordings is that that both were made in pubs — although even this gives us an opportunity to compare and contrast — but essentially, The Tradition Club was a musical event. On the whole, and regardless of the usual accompaniment of sotto voce conversations and their attendant shushes, everyone was there specifically to listen to the songs and tunes. It was also somewhat formalised, and presented the audience a line up of recognised and respected performers ‘on stage’; many or most of whom were full- or semi-professionals and who therefore got the requisite deference.

In contrast, while this is clearly something of a special occasion in Boyle’s Bar — the house has provided a good spread of food and must surely have authorised and co-operated with the filming — the bar obviously hasn’t been closed for the normal after-work Friday evening social imbibification of the general public. Not everybody present is in the same company (the people involved in the filming in particular) although at least some of the various cohorts seem to know each other; take for instance the call out to Joe to play particular records while he’s at the jukebox.

On the other hand, while everyone is well aware that they’re being filmed they’re not a bit self-conscious and barely pay any heed to the camera. The whole event comes across as remarkably naturalistic; a good thirty years before mobile devices with cameras became as common, and as taken for granted, as rotary-dial phones.

Editing and authenticity

For the most part, the video presented here is a faithful, albeit heavily pruned, representation of the original recording.

Most of Joe’s audible conversation is present, as is all of his singing, including the aborted first attempt at Red Haired Mary. (Abandoned, it seems, because someone switched the lights off when they shouldn’t have. Note that Joe himself keeps going like a true professional. See the discussion, below, on his ability to focus on the performance.)

The ‘day in the life’ interludes represent only a very small proportion of the ‘ambient’ material however, but nothing of importance has been lost. The only things excised are repetitive long-shots of the same people — often of their backs — or of inanimate objects.

The songs are presented in the order they were sung but the singing actually started after people had eaten. In this presentation The Rocks of Bán has been taken back in time slightly, just to break up the ‘day in the life’ material.

The soundtrack is entirely authentic with one exception, which we’ve taken the liberty of obliterating with some background mumble and the pinball machine from later in the recording. The first ‘day in the life’ segment is made up of the ‘ambient’ filming done at the start of the evening. There were fewer people in the bar at this point and so voices carried. This footage includes one or two very audible conversations that didn’t involve Joe. While these knowingly took place in a public venue in front of a rolling camera — and out of respect to the people concerned it should be said that they were neither embarrassing nor obviously private — they simply have no relevance to the Cartlanna. Also, the jukebox was going almost constantly as these shots were being filmed and while it’s easy to forget in this age of YouTube that there’s such a thing as copyright, it’d be neither appropriate, nor strictly legal, to play it back in these archives. But for any reader who really wants to know what music Mister Boyle’s patrons enjoyed in the summer of 1978, the artists were, in order: Billy Joel (Piano Man, Debby Boone* (You Light up my Life), Willy Nelson (If You Can Touch Her at All), The Bee Gees† (Night Fever) and The Bachelors (The Unicorn). Interspersed with, we believe, Brendan Shine (TBC). We don’t know which of these were 129 and 137!

* Daughter of Pat.
† Inevitably.

Technical presentation

In contrast to other records in the Cartlanna, technical flaws in the sound recording have not been corrected on this occasion. This decision may or may not be revisited in the future.

Joe Heaney’s focus on the performance

One of the more significant aspects of this recording — not present in any other record in these archives for the simple reason that they all depict Joe in front of engaged audiences — is the insight we get into his supreme ability to focus on his performance when there’s extraneous distraction. Some, and maybe quite a few of the people present in Boyle’s Bar on this occasion would have just been in for an end of week drink and in many cultures, a shared song (possibly lubricated, possibly not) is an important aspect of that ritual.

Watch the way Joe handles noisy alternative mellifluence during Connla. There’s no doubt but that he can hear it, but he’s ignores it completely, focussing entirely on the song and on his own audience; which in this case is the camera and the people around him. Even as the lady to his right is looking around in annoyance he doesn’t let it bother him and so doesn’t let it spoil his own singing.

Whatever the reason for the incursion, and whether it was of their own accord or because someone had a word in their ears, it’s the competition that backs down. And Joe never once has to raise his own voice…

Joe Heaney’s sense of humour

Another thing that this recording highlights is Joe’s mischievous sense of humour and Stan Laurel-like facility to play on words (gold, Frankenstein and myrrh). Please don’t think for one second that he didn’t know the difference between macaroni and Marconi — or that he seriously thought Marconi was a German!

Meanwhile in 1978

Other events on the Irish cultural scene: