Interview: My Tipperary Life with Boston based musician Martin Butler

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Interview: My Tipperary Life with Boston based musician Martin Butler

Martin Butler

Originally from Cloughjordan, Martin Butler has been involved in the Irish music and arts scene in Boston for almost two decades.

His attributes his love of history music and culture to his late parents - his father was a local historian and his mother was involved in the dramatic arts. He grew up in the countryside in Tipperary and spent summer holidays in his mother’s native Cork absorbing the family’s tradition of sing songs and story telling. He took up the Bodhran in Boston and went on to become an American champion competing in a World finals or Fleadh Ceol in Ireland.

In 2005 he began working on an album called “Rud Eile” with fellow Tipperary man Jerry Murphy (formerly of The Ormond Ceili Band) and Dublin’s Colm O’Brien. Their album was critically acclaimed and following years of gigging, touring and line up changes, they disbanded amicably in 2013.

Martin worked with several different groups consulting and co-producing many projects and produced an epic album this year in putting together a tribute to his hometown hero Thomas MacDonagh on his new album “Poems and Songs from The Woodlands Edge” featuring Irish music legends Paddy Moloney and Liam O’Maonlai alongside a host of Irish music stars.

He is currently working on a play with fellow Irish writer Jason Downes.

What's your idea of a perfect day, or perfect weekend in Tipperary?

Well years ago the answer would have been spending time with my brother and our friends, I’m sure hurling and a few pints would have been part of that; now it’s quite different. My perfect weekend now would be showing my children places that were special to me. Sadly both my parents have passed away so home will always be different. There’s still a tremendous sense of our collective family history in the area.

When I bring my children to visit places and especially people who mean a lot to me it gives me a great sense of satisfaction and it fosters a sense of understanding and belonging between us that is to me as much a joy as a responsibility.

Who has made the greatest contribution to Tipperary in your lifetime - and why?

There’s so many people who have made incredible contributions to Tipperary not easy to pick one or even a few.
In music my late cousin Nora Butler gave so much of her time and talent to Tipperary and the world along with other selfless folks in CCE.

The great Shane McGowan whose songs have entered the national repertoire and made Shane and the Pogues worldwide sensations; during my lifetime and always brought a sense of pride to sing along to (those who had to listen to me are all unavailable for comment....honestly!!)

In sport there are so many who give so much of themselves passing on skills, lessons, pride and passion willingly.
Three men who stand out in my lifetime would be Len Gaynor and Billy O’Shea both Kilruane and Tipperary legends who have given so much to the GAA and the late Pa Maher from Kilruane who died earlier this year whose dedication to Athletics and training young sport men and women over the years was remarkable. Three men you were proud to know.

What's your first Tipperary memory?

My parents would take me for walks in the countryside from the time I took my first steps. I have a vague memory of walking up an old lane to the house where my dad was born along with my mother and brother and the smell of lilac blossoms on the lane. I was probably about three years old.

What's your favourite part of the county - and why?

The areas around my hometown of Cloughjordan of course are special to me the woods and fields around my home, Knocknacree Woods in particular. I loved visiting my late uncle Liam in Boherlahann and trips to HolyCross and The Devils Bit which I climbed with my children two years ago. It seems to have gotten higher over the years or maybe it was my legs giving out.

What do you think gives Tipperary its unique identity?

I’d say without a doubt the people, there is a great sense of history and pride in being from Tipperary.
I think people carry that with them whether home or away .

Do you have a favourite local writer or author?

Well Thomas MacDonagh would be on top of that list. I’ve spent a great deal of time over the past few years reading Thomas MacDonagh’s poems and plays and while doing research on him for music projects I read his correspondences and letters giving me a much deeper appreciation of the man and his life.

I’ve read much of Charles Kickham’s work and would highly recommend that anyone who wants to truly know what the Irish went through under the landlord system. I find his descriptions of life and of old Irish culture remarkable. There’s many up and coming writers back home and one that stands out for me is Nenagh writer Donal Ryan.

What's the biggest challenge facing the county today?

Well the current situation with Covid-19 has certainly changed the perception of what an actual challenge is, going forward from this will be a challenge for the county and country. I’m hoping that small businesses can survive. The response to this crisis in the States has been underwhelming and the current administration has done little to address the challenges facing small businesses and regular working class people in the midst of an unprecedented worldwide crisis.

The challenge of being a small business in a small country brings with it many unique problems which require unique answers.
As life gets back to normal the lack of expendable cash for people has dissipated greatly creating a much harder resumption of regular consumer spending .

If you had the power to change one thing in, or about Tipperary, what would it be?

Well that’s a difficult question. I suppose the fact that I’m somewhat of a tourist now when I’m home doesn’t escape me and I’ve limited time to try and see part of the country and county when I’m home. I think the lack of public transportation is certainly an issue. Tipperary is a big beautiful county and it is difficult to simply take a trip to one part of it or another; not everybody wants to drive especially when they’re on holiday. There’s sometimes a lot to be said for sitting back and admiring the countryside.