Joe Flynn in his music room.

Pandemic life reminds Athlone singer of wartime

Legendary Athlone singer Joe Flynn says living with the pandemic over the last year reminded him at times of growing up as a boy during World War II, noting that a similar feeling of anxiety was all around and no one knew what was going to happen next.

Now fully vaccinated, Joe exudes energy and positivity for the future but he admits that like all the over 70s, it has been a tough year with the worry of Covid-19 and not meeting people or enjoying the odd pint of Guinness or live music.

It's not been easy either, he admits, getting used to masks, the everyday restrictions and the lack of interaction with others or “the big void” with nothing happening in town in terms of entertainment and few people about, particularly in the early stages.

Set to celebrate his 90th birthday in October, Joe says the last year led him to reflect on the six years of hardship during wartime or 'The Emergency' as it was called here, for everyone with no modern conveniences, limits on life and the rationing of food and other items.

It was, in ways, similar to what we're living through since Covid-19 hit the country last March.

“The pandemic reminded me of World War II, I would say that. The anxiety was terrible in the war. We lived down in Railway View, off St Francis Terrace, and they had blackouts on the windows so at night when you lit up whether it was a candle or an ESB light, which was rare at that time, you had to put a big blanket across so that German planes flying over flying over couldn't see strategic points.

“And if you didn't put up a blackout, there was a warden went around and you could be fined. That was anxiety there.

“And as I said there was nothing (available) – no bananas – my mother used to, and I'll never forget this, she used to get parsnips, they looked a bit like bananas and boil them. I'll never forget Liptons had a banana flavour in a little tube and she'd mix the whole thing up and we'd have mashed bananas,” Joe, who was the youngest of six chuckles. “There was no white bread, only brown bread. It was edible but not tasty,” adds the popular singer, who was aged eight when war broke out in 1939. He remembers the Station Field as their playground where they played football.

All the homes in Railway View had a good garden and he remembers one of his tasks was weeding, and he even had his own little plot from which he sold vegetables to residents of nearby St Francis Terrace, and trips to Gorry Bog in Clonown to harvest the turf.

Some positives have come out of the pandemic in the ways people found to keep themselves busy, Joe maintains, gardening for one, and he hopes they will continue afterwards.

Known as 'The Hawk' from his soccer days in goals, he says over the last year he has spent a lot of time in his music room, recording songs, talking to friends in the music business, some of whom are finding it very difficult, or looking at the memorabilia from his band days in Syd and the Saints showband, his own band Showcase and other musical memories down through the years that make up several albums and scrapbooks.

His online sing-along videos from his house in Retreat on YouTube have proven popular too, the latest instalment for Easter recalled when he first got into music back in 1953 playing Moore Hall with JJ Carr, Sean Carr's father, a well-known musician of the time. He sang 'Candy Kisses,' in the video, a big hit of that year, also on the line-up for that concert all those years ago. Joe finished up with a rendition of 'Easter Bonnet' but he jokes that Covid got rid of the bonnets for the girls. There's a great reaction to the videos, he agrees, with people getting in contact from all over as a result.

Like many others, Joe prayed for a vaccine, and he says “hats off to the scientists” who discovered it in a relatively short space of time.

“I said the minute it came out, I'll have my hand up,” he says smiling, and some six weeks back he got his first jab in Clonbrusk, and his second a few weeks ago.

Asked how he felt going in to get the vaccine, he laughs: “If there was a pub open, I'd say give us a whiskey and two pints. It felt like a celebration”.

Now, he's looking forward to summer and as things begin to reopen and more are vaccinated, maybe a return to his beloved Friary Choir, and even a charity concert in time.

“I don't agree with people saying things will never be the same again, let me revert back to World War II. They got better. This world is only going to get better.

“Unless we get another pandemic immediately unless we're going to live a life of viruses, everything has to move,” Joe believes.

Another reason for his positivity comes from the perspective of getting through the pandemic when many others did not, and he believes there are opportunities there for the public, pubs and business to bounce back.

“People have died. We're alive, we have to get up and get out,” he concludes in a determined fashion.

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