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Forever Young - Paddy McLaughlin 09.07.10

Moville teacher looking forward to retirement, Westport and Dylan

by Caoimhinn Barr, Inishowen Independent

I can’t ever think of Bob Dylan without thinking of my uncle, Paddy McLaughlin, from Moville.
It is fitting that the local school master, who has just retired after 35 years in the classroom, undertook this interview just as last weekend's DylanFest began in his hometown.
Synonymous with Dylan and Moville, Paddy has amassed a collection of thousands of recordings by the US singer, songwriter. Now, at the age of 55, he is looking forward a new chapter in his life.
Born in ‘The Square’ in 1955, the youngest child of Patrick and Ellen McLaughlin, Paddy was earmarked for music at a young age.
“My mother wanted a musician in the house so I suppose I was the last chance. She always encouraged me to learn an instrument. I was sent to violin lessons, which I didn’t really like to be honest,” he said.
After hearing his brother Jim playing Bob Dylan records as a teenager Paddy’s life as a musician began.
“Jim used to play Dylan music in our shop all the time. He even blared it out over ‘The Square’ with loud speakers sometimes. At first I hated the sound but I soon grew to love it.” he said.
When Jim bought a guitar in the late sixties it was his youngest brother who found a groove on the instrument he still loves forty years on.
At Carndonagh Community School Paddy hooked up with Carrowhugh teenager, Paddy McCartney, and the two became inseparable as they learned Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen songs, playing records at half-speed to perfect the guitar notes.
On March 18, 1972 Paddy, aged 16, saw his first real concert, when he travelled to the National Stadium to see Cohen with his sister Carmel and her boyfriend, Brian. Last year he discovered a recording of the historic show on ebay.
“That was a big thing because nobody went to gigs in those days and I never thought I would be able to see someone of the calibre of Leonard Cohen,” Paddy said.
A teacher in Moville for the past 25 years, Paddy secured his first classroom job thanks to his burgeoning guitar skills at St. Pat’s in Dublin.
“I was playing music one day when the head of the college, Fr. Sam Cline, walked by. The next day a note came under my dormroom door telling me to go to head office right away. Fr. Cline then told me I had a job in Foxrock because the principal there wanted a music teacher,” he said.
It was while in St. Pat’s that Paddy began to hone his craft, with friends and musicians, Tom Shanahan, Aodan O’Dubhghaill, Brian Kenny and Paul Flynn. The quintet regularly held sessions at O’Donohue’s, Dublin, where the Dubliners started out.
“I latched onto the bohemian types in Dublin. I loved going to pubs to play music, it was great being the centre of attention. I didn’t even drink until I was 23. There was enough of a high from the music. I used to joke that I was anyone’s after two Britvics!” he said.
Teaching by day and playing music by night Paddy, a founder member of the Folk Mass at the Pro Cathedral, could often be seen scouring the record shops of Dublin.
“Instead of buying mince, I’d eat peanut butter sandwiches so I would have more money for LPs!” he joked.
Today Paddy is surrounded by thousands of recordings in his home at Riverwood, Moville.
After ten years in the capital Paddy became increasingly disenchanted with grey, dull Dublin in the late seventies.
“I could see no future in Dublin then. It was the only time I ever felt lonely. My sister Evelyn became ill so I wanted to go home straight away,” he said.
Evelyn, a decade earlier had been instrumental in helping seventeen year-old Paddy get into St. Pat’s after he mistakenly decided to study in Manchester before quickly becoming homesick and returning to Moville.
After a stint at Drumaweir in Greencastle Paddy, at 29, became the first ever male principal of St. Brigid’s National School in Moville.
“I didn’t really expect to get the job but it worked out well for me,” he said.
For much of the next three decades Paddy taught fifth and sixth classes at the Moville school, which was later amalgamated with St. Joseph’s NS boys school and renamed Scoil Eoghain.
Paddy often hosted extra-curricular music classes to help budding guitarists, tin whistlers and banjo players.
The now retired headmaster was quick to pay tribute to another local principal, who helped him in his new role.
“Seamus McTague, who was principal at the Moville boys school at the time, was a constant source of inspiration to me. I thought – ‘If I can follow him, I’ll be fine’ - and I was,” Paddy said.
Continuing to perform locally and watch concerts all over the country, Paddy has seen his idol, Bob Dylan, more than thirty times since 1984, when he played to 100,000 at Slane.
In a real highlight Paddy recalled a trip to France in 1984 when he ended up on stage with the Jimi Hendrix of uilleann pipers in front of 7,000 live on a national
radio station.
“I took a trip to a Pan-Celtic Festival in Brittany where I bumped into Paddy Keenan from the Bothy Band. He heard me playing and asked me to back him during his concert, which was broadcast to millions on Radio France,” he said.
Continuing to keep in touch with his old St. Pat’s musical friends, in 1993 Paddy bought a house in Westport, where he regularly plays Irish traditional sessions with Aodan and Tom among others. His Co. Mayo home on Altamount Street is the one with a Moville Pottery mug on the window.
Chieftains flautist Matt Molloy once grabbed Paddy by the arm and frog marched him up the street to play a gig in his famous Westport pub.
A regular on his bike in Westport and Mayo, Paddy swims almost every day of the year; at the pool in Redcastle or over the shore at Glenburnie. He is also a keen nature enthusiast; another thing he inherited from brother, Jim.
“It’s funny but many of my former pupils remember me more for the nature walks over Moville Green than anything else I taught them,” he said.
As for retirement – Paddy said he has no plans; he never makes plans.
“I find things I like to do and I keep doing them,” he said with a smile.
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