Matt Kiernan (30th Anniversary)

30th Anniversary Mass for Matt Kiernan

Uilleann Pipe Maker and Musician

Parish of Christ the King, Cabra,

Saturday the 16th of July 2016

john sheahan

 (John Sheahan, a frequent visitor to Matt’s house on Offaly Road)

There is a story told of a set of twins who when they started school confounded the teachers; one was a complete moaner, the other never stopped showing appreciation for all that was done for him. They had the same DNA, the same upbringing so counsellors, psychologists and every other  -ologist was totally dumbfounded. They set up an experiment, a controlled experiment as they call them. One child, the moaner, was placed in the room with the best and latest of everything including computers, tablets, i-watches, PlayStation. The other child, well it was a bit of a problem to find something that no child could possibly be happy with and all those with -ologists at the end of their name chose to give him a bag of horse manure!

When the time for observing the experiment came along all the –ologists went to the room where the moaner was and sure enough he was giving out socks about battery life and not having the latest model. Then they went to the next room where the child with the more positive disposition was exploring the bag of horse manure. They thought he’s be giving out and complaining that his twin brother was given the latest electronic gadgetry – but against their expectations there he was, up to his elbows in horse manure, a big smile on his face saying ‘there has to be a horse here some-where!’

What has this story got to do with the 30th anniversary of an Uilleann Pipe Maker, life here in Cabra and more importantly I suppose, todays’ Gospel? I spent many a day in Cabra up to my elbows in horse manure. Once a year my grandfather ordered a load of this steaming pungent mass which arrived on a truck or a horse drawn carriage. We spent the morning unloading it and the afternoon laying it out in drills that were to be soon planted with seed potatoes, cabbages, onions, scallions and lettuces. Much to the horror of some of the Dublin neighbours; potatoes, cabbages, onions and scallions and lettuces were planted in the front garden. The garden was a fertile place and as I walk through these streets today I see all that fertility capped with concrete so the car can be tucked in off the road.

I was telling this story of one of my colleagues in Bolton St. He is an engineer and he once worked for CIE. He told me that when they built Heuston Station the foundations ran deep and much of the soil was dredged and moved up to the area that is now called Cabra. That soil was rich and nutritious silt from the bed of the River Liffey. That deep rich black soil always mesmerized me. That information made me realise why my grandfather’s garden was so rich and bountiful. He never took it for granted though. He helped the soil remain strong and vibrant with an annual delivery of horse manure.

Cabra was a fertile place, a place of growth and energy. While my grandfather nurtured many of us thorough his good organic vegetables and apples Matt Kiernan nurtured the world of music though his unselfish service of the Uilleann pipes, pipers and Irish traditional musicians in general. He gave all at a time when Uilleann piping could have disappeared. Like Abraham in our first reading Matt extended hospitality to everyone who crossed the door for a tune or to consider buying set of pipes. It is hard to believe that to play a tune back the years one had to find a home to play in as pubs were not open to musicians playing on their premises.  As Eileen O’Brien often reminds us in her matter of fact Tipperary way ‘sure what’s all this fuss about pubs wasn’t it the homes that were the homes to Irish music in the past’. Indeed when a young couple were ‘walking out’ before they were married they passed down Offaly Road and they heard music coming from number 19. They ventured up to the door to find five musicians with their heads down into tunes. So impressed were that couple that they bought the house next door and Maura Hackett and Tom Meehan were to become lifelong neighbours and great friends of Matt. Leaving the house that day Tom said to his fiancée as he looked at number 21 which was for sale ‘If we get this house we’ll always have music’. Never a truer word was spoken.

Both my grandfather and Matt were not given to neglect. When it came to others and the service of something greater you simply got on with it. In the spirit of today’s Gospel they choose the better part. I don’t know if my grandfather ever heard Matt play the pipes but I could surmise that he benefited from my grandfather’s produce because I know that the Meehan’s were beneficiaries of his garden and if it ended up in Maura’s kitchen I’m sure it ended up providing sustenance to Matt. Before ever the European Union thought of cross border trade, items crossed fences and hedges at a rate of knots in this little area of Cabra, apple tarts, jams, heads of cabbages, a bag of spuds, a few onions knotted together, a loaf of brown bread and even on waiting day (usually a Thursday for those waiting for the wages to come home on a Friday) the odd toilet roll, a cup of milk, a bit of carbolic soap or even a few scones to alleviate the wait. This trade was conducted without penalty or tax. These actions were inspired by duty, love and habit.

Matt’s commitment to the pipes and piping was part and parcel of that spirit. To do the better thing is nearly always without thought to title, reward or affirmation. Matt’s only delight was that the music was passed on. He saw the door was closing on things traditional and he stuck his stubborn foot in to hold open a chink of light. As evidence of this one of the greatest delights of his life was when Seamus Meehan, the young lad next door decided to take up piping. He saw not just a happy child but a future for what he believed in and loved.

Matt or Mattie was many things; a father, a Garda, a craftsman and a musician. We focus on the last two today. In the spirit of today’s readings we conclude by noting that hospitality bears greater fruit than the individualism and protectionism that is an ever growing reality today. Our second reading tells us that we are not possessors of the greater things but mere stewards and arising from that is the responsibility to steward these good things into the future without thought of oneself. This demands a generosity of spirit that was part and parcel of who Matt was. There were and are many like him. We now know if it wasn’t for Matt’s stewardship piping may not have achieved what it has achieved today and we can be but in awe of the spirt of those that have fostered this revival.

The Gospel tells us that Mary chose the better part. For us to choose what is good, for us to be able to sit at the feet of greatness we have to acknowledge that others have played their part. To allow others sit at the feet of greatness today the task falls on us all to lift the concrete capping that is placed on so much creativity and life and let the good things flourish. Mattie may be buried in Holy Ground in Ballivor but thankfully all that he believed in and loved was not capped with concrete.

A final thought as I race through childhood memories of this church brimming over.  As I and as we note the decline in attendance and a growth in busyness about many things, communities of faith have a lot to learn from the revival in piping. What is at the heart of revival? What is the energy of revival? What is the price and cost of revival? If these questions are to be answered one could do worse than start with Matt or Mattie. The better things do not come about by accident but they can be lost by neglect and can even be lost in the presence of good intentions.

I thought it appropriate to finish with an extract from a prayer by Archbishop Oscar Romero the Archbishop of San Salvador who was martyred for his people in 1980:

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.


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