A Note From Helena: My new album ‘Saol Eile’ (Afterlife) is dedicated to my relative Martin Duggan and was released on what would have been his 89th birthday, December 1st 2019.
“Martin Duggan was a kind man, a natural storyteller, a wonderful friend and family man, and a lovable rogue.”
I wrote those words in October of 2018 while driving through Kentucky as I made my way back from a US tour, and I found myself questioning whether any of the good things that have come my way in the past ten years would have happened without him.
Martin was a cousin of my grandmother Nancy, and was always very close to my grandmother and that branch of the family tree. Years back when my father was a child, Martin was working as a bus driver, a profession he was very proud of, and he’d stay with my father’s family in Graiguenamanagh whenever he was on the Dublin to Kilkenny route.
I remember Martin and his wife Sheila being around when I was a child, at family gatherings and the occasional spontaneous visits they made to Kilkenny. Their banter, mixed with their north Dublin accents and Martin’s wicked sense of humour, was a novelty to have around. I was always excited about their visits, and rather fascinated by the affection they showed for one another; Martin making silly jokes at the kitchen table; Sheila, like clockwork, chiming in with “Ah, Martin”, turning to whoever was at the butt of the joke to say “Don’t mind him”. That was their relationship. Always blaggarding with one another.
It wasn’t until my early 20’s though, that I really got to know Martin. When I first moved to Dublin I was meant to stay in his spare room for a few nights while I found my feet. I stayed for about ten months.
Martin and I developed a lovely rapport. We enjoyed each other’s company. He’d sit in his chair by the window watching game shows. I’d sit on the couch reading for my acting classes.
He loved singing and would religiously go to his choir practice with the CIE Male Voice Choir every Thursday evening. He’d always bring a bag of sweets with him for the other choir members.
He was generous to a fault. Saturday morning was when he’d do his weekly shop and he’d take the Luas to the Square in Tallaght. If he’d gotten an inkling during the week that I liked a certain food, I’d come home on Saturday evening to find the fridge stocked full of it.
It was the evenings when Martin would get talking that I loved the most. He’d tell me stories for hours, about growing up in Dublin in the 30s and 40s, about his work as a bus driver, about his children who he adored and was so proud of, about Sheila. Even years after she’d passed, he’d still get choked up when he talked about her. Theirs was a love that was timeless.
When I finally moved out I still kept in touch with Martin and would visit when I could. I’d call him on the phone and say in a posh accent, “Hello Mr. Duggan”. He’d respond with an equally posh, “Oh, hello Ms. Byrne”. He always had a jolly, mischievous tone in his voice that would just make you want to give him a big hug.
When I decided I was going to propose to Jörn, Martin was one of the first people I told. He was delighted and took his role in the ‘big secret’ very seriously. Even after Jörn and I got engaged and we saw Martin for the first time since, he double checked with me to make sure it was all out in the open before mentioning it and congratulating us. I’m so glad that Martin was a part of that, and that Jörn had the chance to get to know him.
Without Martin, I greatly doubt I would have stuck it out in Dublin. I doubt I would have started storytelling. I doubt I would have met Jörn. I owe so much to him.
Martin passed away in October 2018. He was a big part of so many people’s lives. I’m sure each of those people have wonderful memories of him. Whether you were one of the lucky ones or not, I hope that you’ll take a leaf out of his book…
Be kind, be generous, be loving and most of all, have fun.
Helena’s new album ‘Saol Eile’ was released in Martin’s honour on what would have been his 89th birthday, December 1st 2019.
Find out more about ‘Saol Eile’
‘To My Mother & Aunt on International Women’s Day 2020’
Written 9th March 2020