The Loss of Conor Walsh

Conor Walsh once wrote to me, “All I give a shit about is family and my music. I get lots of satisfaction from my music, but I have at least one day a week where I hate it.  Recently my mother has stopped suggesting I become a teacher, so this is good.”

Conor gave a shit about a lot of things and a lot of people.  We met at a concert at the Irish Writers Centre in 2009, shortly before I moved to the US, and we kept up a correspondence for the six years I was living abroad. In January of last year, I was back in Ireland to bury my grandfather, and I took what I described at the time as a pilgrimage to Swinford to see Conor Walsh. Over the years, through the wonders of the internet, we had been able to exchange recordings and notes about his compositions, his family’s hotel, and the trials of staying behind when so many of our generation had left. He had become something of a giant in my imagination, and I was distinctly nervous while driving across the snow-whitened midlands to see him again.

I think a lot of us have trouble reconciling the astonishing scope of Conor’s music with the unassuming, gentle, and humble man we knew him to be. He had no airs about him, and yet there he was, conjuring up this music that stunned everyone who had the good fortune to witness it. Other people would have gone to London, or New York, or Berlin to play at being an artist, but Conor did the real graft in some of the coldest, dampest rooms in all of Ireland. Every time I saw him, he seemed to have found ever more desperate circumstances in which to live and work. But he was committed to being in Mayo; the only point I ever heard him complain about was the difficulty he had uploading tracks to share with collaborators, because there’s still no broadband infrastructure that makes working in rural Ireland the viable alternative it should be.

Conor inspired me and he motivated me. He was joyous with the result of the marriage equality referendum and he assured me I was coming home to a better Ireland.  We swapped plans for the modest houses we would build some day, mine on a sheep farm in Ardrahan, Conor’s on a site overlooking the River Moy. He would teach me how to angle for salmon, and I would help him renovate the hotel. Not that it was all soft-spoken romance. The last time I saw Conor we got into a shouting match about ISIS and whether or not wearing a hijab could be an act of empowerment for a woman. He had an infuriating ability to make a coherent argument after a senseless number of pints had been taken.

I don’t know how to express how enormously angry I am that Conor Walsh has died.  This past year in particular has bestowed on him much of the recognition he so richly deserved. He released an extraordinary first EP and played to adoring crowds all over the country. His work was sought after by documentary filmmakers. He was beating off summer festival organisers with a stick. Conor’s star was in ascendant.

I am not ready to memorialise this man whose loss leaves us so deprived, so impoverished. Not only in the notes we will never hear, the compositions left unfinished – but in the man that he was, a man that made you feel that perhaps your life was something significant too.

Services for Conor Walsh will take place in Swinford on Tuesday morning, March 15.

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