Seán Creedon meets the Dublin songwriter who brought us such well-loved ballads as The Fields of Athenry, Dublin in the Rare Auld Times, Ringsend Rose and The Ferryman…
I first heard The Fields of Athenry being sung in a talent competition at a hotel we were holidaying in Blackpool back in 1980. I knew the singer, a Dublin girl who worked as a traffic warden in the city centre area. While waiting for the results of the competition, I complimented the young girl on her singing and said I thought she should win. ‘‘No,’’ she said it’s an anti-English song, I haven’t got a hope.’’
No surprise, then, that the young Dubliner finished second, but Pete St John’s song has been a winner all the way since.
When Pete wrote The Fields of Athenry in 1979, after reading a story about a young man deported from East Galway to Australia for stealing corn for his family, he never imagined it would become an anthem for millions of soccer and rugby fans.
Royalties still trickle in from the song, which was adopted by Republic of Ireland supporters during the 1990 World Cup, by Glasgow Celtic fans later in that decade, and of course by thousands of Munster rugby fans. The unofficial Irish sporting anthem is also sung by Connacht and London-Irish rugby fans.
Pete was born Peter Mooney in 1932, the eldest of six children and the family home was number 77 Jamestown Road, Inchicore. His father, Thomas, was a Director of Smithfield Motor Company and his mother was Charlotte (Lotte) Brittain. His dad hailed from Blessington, while Lotte was from Kickham Road, Kilmainham.
Pete said, ‘‘I know that I was born in Parkgate Street, but the family moved out to Jamestown Road in Inchicore, and later to Terenure. I attended Scoil Mhuire Gan Smal National School in Inchicore and then did the Inter Cert in Synge Street.
‘‘I have happy memories of my childhood where I had great friends like the Bennett brothers and Fr. Paul Byrne, OMI, who died two years ago. Paul did great work in voluntary housing in Birmingham and London and was awarded an OBE for his inspirational work for those without a home.
‘‘As my father had a good job, I suppose you could say that we were upper working class and we had a piano. My mother brought in a piano teacher called Charlotte Devitt to give me lessons,’’ said Pete.