Harpist Deirdre O'Callaghan, widow of Noel Carroll, has returned to music, writes Gus SmithFOR nearly nine months after the death of her husband Noel Carroll in the autumn of 1998, Deirdre O'Callaghan's harp lay idle in a corner of her sitting room as she had no wish to play it. To do so would bring back too many emotions. Nor could she bear to listen to music for the same reason.
``For as long as I can remember, music has been my life. I've simply loved singing and playing the harp. Now for the first time, I felt physically weak and emotionally drained. Sometimes I even feared that I might not want to communicate through music again, but I didn't want that to happen to me.
``After Noel's death, and perhaps because of its suddenness, I did not want to let music intrude into my grief. He wasn't musical by any means but he never missed if he could my cabaret or concert engagements. He was an optimist, a friend, an inspiration and he kept me going along cheerfully in my career. You could say he guided me and did publicity for my concerts and we had a very special understanding,'' explains Deirdre.
Deirdre slowly emerged from her grief through the support of friends such as Mary Colley, whose politician husband George had died at the age of 56, the same age as Noel. One day Deirdre walked across the room and took her harp out of its case and began to play The Meeting of the Waters, one of Noel's favourite Moore melodies and as she played, she began to sing. Gradually she realised she wanted to renew her musical life which had ended so abruptly.
``It was a great relief to me and also convinced me that music, like one's faith, can be a healing influence. I had known other musicians who shared the same view and like myself, pulled through the dark moments,'' says Deirdre.
After that she performed at one or two private functions but hardly dared to step into the more public world of concerts and recitals. Next Friday will see her first attempt at a real comeback when she gives a lunchtime recital and lecture in the John Field Room of the National Concert Hall. She will be introduced by her son Stephen, a task once performed by Noel.
It was Noel who had encouraged her to do her university thesis on the life of Thomas Moore and before Noel's death, he had the pleasure of hearing her perform a recital and lecture on the outstanding lyric writer. She has included in the programme some of Moore's least known melodies as well as the popular favourites.
Although she constantly mentions Noel in converstion, Deirdre is now looking forward to more music-making. She has been encouraged by family and friends to carry on.
``They are right,'' she says quietly, ``for my music can help to fill the void left by Noel's passing. I feel for his sake I must go on singing and communicating through song, music and lecture, and like other musicians in the same circumstances, I've already found it therapeutic.''
Noel, former chief athletics coach of UCD, had not complained of chest pains before his unexpected death, although on occasions he admitted to feeling very tired. He attributed his tiredness to his work which sometimes entailed numerous early morning working breakfasts as well as late night meetings for the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, said Deirdre.
``Noel had planned to retire at 60 and for us both to live abroad for some time each year. He never liked the cold and frost and simply loved the sunshine.
``Looking through his papers after his death, I found he had written a good deal of poetry, as well as diaries about places, events and people in his life and sporting career. He was very energetic and had lots of ideas and plans for his retirement.''