If Seamus O’Rourke is ever in the market for a PR agent, then he can do no better than David Walsh who, after decades of interviewing some of the world’s top sporting stars, described an interview with the Carrigallen playwright as the most precious he had ever conducted.
“I’ve always said Seamus O’Rourke,” David recalled, “that man impressed me more than any man I’ve ever interviewed, just as a human being in terms of talent. When he recited ‘Druminchin Hills’ for me, that was the only time in my journalistic life that I felt the hairs on the back of my neck standing. I could recite that poem for you now,” claimed David and recite he did, his voice changing without him knowing it to imitate O’Rourke’s own superb story-telling tone!
Lie down flat you Druminchin Hills
For there’s damn-all for you to see
And there’s no one looks at your rushy sides
Or your mossy bottom down at Kelly’s Drain
And what sod you have can go to sleep
For hungry sheep would rather wait to die
“I just thought it was the greatest statement of love of homeland that I’ve ever come across because it was so unsentimental, it was so grim but to me it was an archetypical Leitrim statement, it may not be much but you’re all I’ve got.
“It wasn’t like he was claiming his homeland was anything special, almost the opposite, but it was an acceptance that life may not be perfect but you know what, your life is all you’ve got, you can’t have another one, what you have is what you have.
“The first verse is quite grim, but great grim, but the second verse is completely different ‘Aye and I’ll sit beside you now and sing songs of times gone by when young men made hay with the fork and drank tae from a bottle and hid their joy in your drawkey camouflage’.
“That poem really comes across as an astonishing statement of love of homeland, it is worth something. I’m delighted that Seamus has become respected over the years. There was a teacher who used to tell Seamus he was stupid, it is really hard to believe.”
It is understandable that O’Rourke’s poem made such an impression as David’s recollection of Druminchin Hills was forged during the celebrations of Leitrim’s 1994 Connacht Championship triumph, celebrations that spilled across the border from Carrigallen into a Cavan town.
As the celebrations carried on late into the night, David describes the impact after O’Rourke was asked to recite Druminchin Hills - “When Seamus recited that, everybody got really emotional because it is such a powerful poem and that was the end of the night because there was nowhere to go after that, because everyone felt almost emotionally drained.
“A great day had ended perfectly, not raucously but perfectly, almost solemnly but totally spiritually and Seamus could achieve it,” said David, displaying a rhythm and poetry of his own.
“I’ve never been in the presence of a fellow I’ve thought had so much talent and so much soul. You can go interview all the Wayne Rooneys you like, all the Brian O’Driscolls, all the top people in sport and not one of them has had the impact that Seamus O’Rourke has had on me.
“And I’ve always said the only time the hair stood on the back of my neck was when Seamus recited Druminchin Hills, what ability this man has.”
Even such an amazing story has a post-script as David rang up Seamus some days later to clarify some of the wording of Druminchin Hills - “I said could you just ask Seamus how you spell drawkey. And I can hear her voice saying ‘Seamus how do you spell drawkey’ and then he says this ‘how would I know’ because he never wrote it, he literally made it up in his head and remembered it.
“What talent is that? It is an old tradition but what a talent. That made it all the more precious for me. It is really sad, that is almost 20 years ago, that was the interview for me. It happened so long ago, a totally extraordinary man told me an extraordinary story about growing up in Leitrim.
“Seamus told a wonderful story of what he said was a failed career, this kid who was Leitrim footballer of the year at U-12, U-14, U-16, winning every game because he was such a dominant player.
“Then he started playing in the Fr Manning Cup for Leitrim and suddenly he starts losing games and he comes home and says to his father what’s gone wrong, I’m losing now and his father said ‘son you’re now playing for Leitrim and you better get used to it, Leitrim lose’ and it crushed him, it really made him think, well that’s it then and what might have been a great career didn’t become a great career.”