It has been almost 60 years since islander and fisherman Patrick O’Toole entered into stiff negotiations with a travelling man on Fair Day in Louisburgh to purchase his first song sheet.
The then 12-year-old music enthusiast eventually agreed a price of six pence for ‘Down Erin’s Lovely Lee’, the tune which so captured his young imagination with its air and story and which he still counts as one of his most prized in his extensive collection of song sheets.
Six decades on, the All Ireland Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann champion singer has just launched his debut album on his native Clare Island.
Clare Island of Yore was produced and recorded by Irish TV and is a collection partly inspired by the long history of song and storytelling on the island, but most of all, by his mother Mary, who was always his most influential critic.
“When I got a new song I always performed it for her in the kitchen to get approval before ever singing it in public,” said Mr O’Toole. “If she didn’t like the story or the words in the song, she let it be known and that was the end of it. And to be honest she was always right.”
“My mother was an Inishturk native and she lived until she was 99 years of age, which was a great achievement,” he added.
A farmer and fisherman by trade, the songs on Mr O’Toole’s album reflect his deeply felt connection with the land and nature, and he has penned two of the compositions himself - the title track ‘Clare Island of Yore’ and ‘An April Day’.
“Walking along the cliffs and watching the sun dance on the sea, or if I’m herding sheep on the mountain with my dog Breeze, I often think of a few lines and put an air to them. If they stick, then I might scribble them down when I get home,” he explained.
Meaití Jó Shéamuis Ó Fátharta from RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltacha performed the official launch of the album last Saturday night at Clare Island Community Centre.
Mr O’Toole, who says he has sung in every county in Ireland at this stage, was prompted to launch the album after the huge response to his recent appearance on Irish TV.
“Over the years, a lot of people have asked me to put a few songs on an album but I never did it. I put it off every year. Eventually Pierce [O’Reilly] brought me on Irish TV and we decided that we would do it together.”
The album should be hitting local music stores soon and Mr O’Toole is hoping the project will preserve some of the many songs which he has collected throughout his lifetime travelling all over Ireland on the traditional music scene.