KIRWAN: Legends Linked on Multiple Levels

They are often linked together by nationality, era, and musical intensity, yet it would be hard to think of two personalities less alike than Rory Gallagher and Phil Lynott.

Rory was shy and retiring, and often seemed uncomfortable, even at parties thrown in his honor.

That’s how I first met him in Dublin. I was a teenage fan and could barely believe he was standing twenty feet away from me.

I could tell he was checking me out too, which was mind boggling as in those days I was at least as shy as he was.

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He walked hesitantly towards me and inquired in his gentle Cork accent if I was driving home that night. When my jaw dropped he realized he had the wrong person.

Almost stuttering, he informed me that I looked like someone from Cork City, and he had been hoping I might give him a lift home.

And with that he was gone, off to bum a lift from someone else, leaving me with the notion that I should steal a car, drive him to Cork, and to hell with the consequences.



I was much more familiar with Phil Lynott, but then so was everyone who lived in Dublin in the early 1970s.

Phil was the most charismatic person I’ve ever met, and perhaps the most ambulatory, for he always seemed to be walking, this mixed-race, handsome young man with the Crumlin accent that could rip paint off the walls.

Everyone on the music scene shared his ups and downs. We rejoiced when he was hired by the band Skid Row and despaired when he was fired soon thereafter. I was on chatting acquaintance with him for years, which didn’t make me special, because Philo would have talked to the wall - and probably did.

You’ve no idea of the impact Thin Lizzy’s "Whiskey in the Jar" had on Irish youth. That wonderful trio of Phil on bass, Eric Bell on guitar, and Brian Downey on drums, shook the living daylights out of the old traditional song, ripped up BBC’s Top of the Pops, and changed Ireland forever.

Rory made it big before Lizzy, of course, and had already been hailed by Hendrix as the greatest living guitarist. But Rory didn’t give a fiddler’s about stardom. He would have been thrilled to be called the greatest Delta Bluesman, but that wasn’t likely unless he settled for the River Lee Delta.

Rory had made his own pact with the devil, much like the great Robert Johnston fifty years earlier at a Mississippi crossroads.

And it showed! When he hit the stage it was probably the closest I’ve experienced to real religion. The man from Cork, by way of Ballyshannon in Donegal had that rare power to make you feel totally alive, out of your head, and spiritually uplifted, all at the same time.

Mr. Lynott’s elixir was of a different kind. He, too, believed in the redemptive power of rock ‘n’ roll, but he was also totally aware of everything going on around him. Let one of his players drop the intensity for a millisecond and you could hear him berating the offender over the din. Phil demanded 120%, and for the most part he got it.

I never totally bought into the Thin Lizzy dual-guitar playing spectacle. It always seemed a bit contrived, and though Gary Moore was a six-string wizard, nothing compared to the raw Irish passion of the early Phil/Eric/Brian trio.

How did it all fall apart? That comes with the intensity of the music game. You have to live it to totally understand the pressure. Booze is always free, substances are rarely far behind, and prescribed medications complicate everything.

You’re living life at hyper-speed, often far from home, and though there’s always company and acclaim, you can be achingly lonely and stretched to the limit.

Rory lived longer than Phil, but he began drinking later in life. So many years have passed but I wish they were both alive and garnering some of the joy they still give the rest of us.

Still, they left behind a tremendous musical legacy, and right now I could use a shot of "Whiskey in the Jar" followed by a chaser of "Messin’ With The Kid."

Turn the volume up to eleven and take a taste yourself!