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Adrian Crowley on Bring Your Own Hammer

When Cathal Coughlan first contacted me about contributing to Bring Your Own Hammer, I immediately accepted the invitation. We arranged to meet for a coffee on the seafront near where I live in Dublin. 

He had asked me to think of somewhere close to the local train station and I suggested this café by the promenade. The café, incidentally, doubled up as a hairdressers which Cathal found very amusing, making some quip about us getting some highlights done while we were there. 

I was the first to arrive for our meeting and I took my coffee from the counter and sat by the window.  I recall gazing across at the yellow sand bags that had taken up permanent residence by the sea wall, and contemplating the open sea beyond.

Cathal arrived and eloquently explained the concept behind the project, describing the deep well of material we were invited to draw from, thanks in no small part to his historian friend,  Richard. 

It was clear from the beginning that this was to be a new approach to songwriting for me. I had been writing songs for decades and had always felt like my inspiration comes from all manner of mysterious places, and seldom had I formally researched anything ahead of putting a lyric to music. 

In the months that followed, I found myself divining for magic threads.  My notebook filled slowly with my longhand cursive, transcribing from newspaper archives and court sessions, first-hand accounts of hardship, digitised manuscripts written in ink, epistolary missives, diaries, eyewitness incident reports, transcripts and essays. 

 I spent long hours at library desks and kitchen tables, on trains and in departure lounges. Reading and reading. Often  I was lead along by instinct or chance. I found real-life stories. Stories of strife and resilience, stories of adversity and struggle, stories of longing and of poverty, stories of survival and failure, stories of misery and sadness, stories of minor triumph,  stories of loss and disappointment, stories of the fields, stories of the shoreline, stories of the streets, stories of the workhouse, the prison yard, the courthouse, stories of hunger and yearning, stories of the open seas, stories of the human spirit. 

I felt enrapt by these figures of the past and what they lived through. And their names visited me in my sleep.

I am thankful for the seafront rendezvous that day and for the songs that followed. I hope these songs will find a place in the world and will, in time, live a life of their own.

Adrian Crowley, September 2022.