Making connections is the life blood of every historian. Everything read and observed is seen against the backdrop of a particular place or event, all the time bringing into sharper focus the people and events already known but not necessarily understood.
I am reminded of this as I sit at my desk penning these lines while listening to the uileann piping of Johnny Doran. Johnny, regarded as one of the great uileann pipers, died at the young age of 42 in the County Home, Athy on 19th January, 1950. A married man and a member of the travelling community his Grandmother was a daughter of the famous piper John Cash, known far and wide as "Cash the Piper". A native of County Wexford where he was born in 1832, Cash married at a young age "Polly" Connors. He combined the trade of tinsmith with that of horse dealer, but it was for his long career as piper that he is recalled today. John Cash died in 1909, some 19 years after the death of his own son James, also a noted piper and commonly referred to as "Young Cash".
This then was the background to the music making skills of Johnny Doran, the man who died in Athy 46 years ago. In the early 1930's Doran travelled around the country in his horsedrawn caravan, playing his pipes at fairs, football matches and whenever crowds gathered to enjoy themselves. He was a well recognised feature at all the popular midland venues of the 1930's and 1940's, even if those who listened to and enjoyed his music did not know his name. In those early days he was usually accompanied by his bother, Felix Doran who also became a well known piper in his own right.
During the cold winter of 1947 Johnny Doran with his wife and children lived in their caravan on a derelict site at Back Lane, opposite Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. Sean McBride, leader of the new political party Clann na Poblachta having heard Johnny play his uileann pipes on the street, invited him to play at a rally in College Green some days before the General Election of 1947. Before he could do so however, Johnny suffered serious injuries when a portion of the derelict wall at Back Lane fell onto his caravan. Johnny was crippled from the waist down and was never to regain the use of his legs. Undaunted, he set off the following year travelling through County Kildare where some of his relatives lived, but his deteriorating health saw him admitted to the County Home in Athy on 27th October. He remained there throughout the winter, but passed away on 19th January 1950.
I was reminded of Johnny Doran and "Cash the Piper" as I was attending the funeral of a neighbour last week. "Becky" Cash grew up in the same street as myself, although there was quite a few years between us. Her late brothers Miley and Danny were pals of mine in Offaly Street, and they were all direct descendants of the legendary piper John Cash and cousins of Johnny Doran. Horse dealing had been carried on for generations by the Cash family and Bill Cash who with his family was to settle in Offaly Street in the early 1950's was a skilful and knowledgable horseman. This of course meant that horses were always to be found in the stables which Bill had made out of what was once Birney's Dairy Parlour in Janeville Lane. It was here, despite my parents' entreaties not to have anything to do with the horses, that myself and Teddy Kelly and others were sometimes to be found with Miley and Danny Cash. Miley was to die very young and his brother Danny died some years ago, long before reaching middle age. It would seem that the piping skills of "Cash the Piper" and "Young Cash" had not been passed on down the line through the Cash family as I can never recall the haunting music of the uileann pipes around Janeville Lane. Instead, Bill Cash of Janeville Lane and later of Offaly Street, had his legendary horse trading skills and wonderful storytelling ability which he was wont to embellish and always to good effect.
Here then were some of the connections made as I stood in the cold of a January morning in Barrowhouse Graveyard while the young girl remembered from Offaly Street, now a mother, was laid to rest. Familiar faces came to me out of the memories of over 35 years ago. I was approached by one whose youthful face was untouched by the years, and who grasping my hand reminded me of days spent in Janeville Lane amongst the horses and the dealers who came to trade with the acknowledged king of horse dealers, Bill Cash. He was Tom Cash who had lived in Athy as a young lad, reared among Mr. and Mrs. Cashs' own children. We re-lived young carefree days spent free of our parents' cautious ways amongst the restless hooves of horses destined to soon pass on into other hands.
It seems that making connections is not solely the prerogative of the historians. We all relive times past when that past presents itself, even it is only for a passing moment. The connections we make can sometimes go deeper than our own experiences as here where many generations of past pipers came into focus with the passing of a neighbour.
"Cash the Piper", "Young Cash", Johnny Doran and Felix Doran inhabited a world of traditional music which older generations were privileged to hear and enjoy. The Cash tradition of uileann piping is no longer with us, except on the limited but treasured recordings of Johnny Doran and that of his brother Felix.