It is a refreshing thing to write a good old traditional folk story-song. So much of my music gets mucked up with my own baggage that when I can manage to write something without any of 'me' in it, I find it extremely rewarding.
This song stems from a few things. The line in the first verse 'The torchlight of the Lady lit up my young dreams' is one I have been kicking around for a long time. I don't feel it is the strongest line I have ever written but for whatever reason, it has stuck in the back of my head for a few years.
But the real inspiration came from an article written by Larry Kirwan of the Irish rock group Black 47. Both of our bands play at the East Durham Irish Festival every year, up in the Catskills region of New York, and he was reflecting on how the stone walls he sees there reminded him of ones he saw back home in Ireland. And I latched on to that sense of continuity and connectedness, and created my character from that.
The name 'Mike Lunnie' was graciously lent to me by my friend Suzy Lunnie. It was her grandfather's name (I think), and I placed him on an actual ship that landed in NY from Ireland in the early 1900's called the 'Cushla Machree', which I take to be the phonetic rendition of 'a chuisle mo chroi,' which is Irish for 'pulse of my heart,' one of the deepest terms of endearment anyone can ask for. It fit in perfectly with the imagery of someone who loves the land and works so tirelessly upon it.
(click through for lyrics)
They call me Lucky Mike Lunnie and I first saw this country
While perched upon the deck rail of the Cushla Machree
In the arms of New York Harbor my heart was full of ardor
As the torchlight of the Lady lit up my young dreams
I shouldered many stone loads and built the city’s fine roads
Dug ditches, built houses, no job was turned down
One warm day in September, I went north to harvest timber
That’s when I first set my eyes on this small Catskills town
The mountains and the valleys, the water rushing madly
Told me I belonged here, I felt it deep in my bones
An old farm of twenty acres hadn’t any takers
So with a few words and a handshake, I found my new home
There’s something in the hills here that let’s my mind be still here
For I’ve found peace and contentment on this small patch of earth
The stone walls around my land, each stone laid by my hand
Are a bridge between this country and the land of my birth
In my many years of living I’ve learned changes are a given
And this place has had its fair share of its ups and downs
But the only way I’m leaving, is when I’m no longer breathing
Then you can bury me ‘neath my stone walls in this Catskills town