LISTEN & BUY |
BOOK & CD |
Click here to listen to Tom playing two Irish tunes, 'Planxty George Brabazon' and 'Carolan's Draught'.
||My adventures in Ireland are not all about the music and great sessions I have encountered. I also embarked on the biggest adventure of all when I met and married Denise (nee Conroy).
Denise and Tom Hanway
We live in the midlands town of Longford, Co. Longford, an old market town. I have seen great progress in this fair-sized agricultural town over the past five years, with big stores opening, some Irish and many British, which is cool. We have lots of new factories - even our very own pizza factory - ha ha ha, which doesn't smell very Italian, but it sure smells yummy. There are some good roads leading to Dublin (East) and Galway (West), to Sligo and Mayo, and in all directions. Longford is very central and convenient for a road musician. It's perfect for me, for my profession. As the crow flies, Ireland is 300 miles long and 150 miles wide, so being in the centre means no place is too far to drive.
Denise was born here, and went to elementary school, and then to a fancy boarding school in the neighbouring county of Westmeath, where she got in serious trouble at 16 for sending away for Chairman Mao's "Little Red Book", having it delivered to the school, where it was intercepted by the nuns, who opened it up (illegally?) and were appalled! This was considered very radical stuff for a teenage girl to be reading, but Denise was simply curious and self-motivated to learn about Mao and 20th-century China. Her efforts went uniquely un-rewarded, but she learned something valuable about nuns and Irish politics.
She is an only child, born to Mona (now 83), who is a retired nurse and a wonderful lady, and Jack Conroy, who passed on in 1979. Jack was a highly intelligent businessman and an artist, whose paintings adorn our home. He predicted the atomic bomb as a very young man. Jack didn't suffer fools gladly. He was the first man in Longford to recognize the value of radio and TV and put up the first aerials in Longford, often on Chrismas Day, doing the work of Santa's elves. He doted on Denise - his "honey" - and took her on boating trips on the peaceful Shannon river. Denise has his deep penetrating eyes. It was in this nurturing environment that she grew up to become the loving woman and mother that she is today. She is a doting mom, and has three lovely sons who are making their way admirably in the world. I am proud to know them and be in their lives.
Denise has worked and travelled in England, Scotland, Wales, Continental Europe, and more recently in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Still she loves her home base in Longford, where the pace of life is less hectic and "far from the madding crowd." She's a cool but not a "laidback" person, being very passionate, vocal, and forthright in her convictions. Denise fights her own corner if it comes to that, but she is a lover, not a fighter. Her boys have this same admirable quality.
Her career is in "Special Needs Teaching," and she works in a mainstream school that serves children with special needs - an intelligent program that keeps young people with their peers. I like to joke that I too have "special needs," but in all seriousness, I reckon it was this loving, nurturing side to Denise that first attracted me to her. The first day I met her I felt her kind and gentle spirit. I knew instantly....
She is also a natural-born artist. I think that if she tried any medium - from tie-dye to jewellery to painting - she would be successful. She gets it on the first try, and that's not just beginner's luck. At the moment she is putting together a collection of oil paintings - when they are finished, I hope to photograph them and put up a link. Her work is very organic folk art with Irish themes, landscapes, skies, oceans, and gorgeous countrysides. I keep telling her that I want to move to one of her paintings (except the one with the sinking rowboat - hahaha).
Denise loves all kinds of music, definitely owing to her mother Mona, who is a real music buff. Denise is familiar with jazz tunes from the 20s, 30s, 40s and up to the present day. She never ceases to amaze me with her knowledge of lyrics to the old standards. When visiting my parents in Larchmont, New York, my dad, also Jack, will play melodies on the piano, Denise starts singing along, and some of these standards are arcane stuff today. I always go: "Wow! How do you know that?" Hahaha. It's Mona. I can hear Red Knuckles (Tim O'Brien) singing: "Oh Mona, you shall be free, hallelujah, Lordy...." Mona really loves her music and instilled that passion in Denise at a tender age. I know jazz melodies this way from Jack, who is also a cornet and trumpet player, but I don't know the words. Denise does.
Of course she adores the bluegrass scene and she is my Number One fan. I find her playing "Bucket of Bees" in the kitchen - I don't even play it much anymore - but she does, and it's her favourite CD on the way to school, which is gratifying. I always thought it was a fine car CD. "The Badbelly Project" - my blues and gospel CD with Vassar - is also very close to her heart, and to Kathleen's, my first wife whom I lost to cancer in 2002. "Once happily married ... again happily married..." a dear friend observed of me.
I started recording that project when Kathleen was in the hospital, fighting a brave battle against a raging cancer that quickly took her life. Months and months later, after Kathleen had passed away, I was able to finish the project with Denise's encouragement. She nurtured me through the most difficult period of my life, when she came to New York and, in retrospect, she rescued me. She put my life back together and Kathleen - God bless her - when she was alive, told me this would happen, and somehow, I think, she helped guide it. So I am a lucky and blessed man. I eventually re-settled in Ireland, starting my life over with Denise in Longford - a great town - and I couldn't be happier or healthier. It's a wonderful life here. And so the adventure continues...
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