The Lambe's tale
Published 06/04/2003 | 00:11
SOME days start sooner than others. Moments after I turn it on, my mobile starts singing. A quick glance at the screen tells me that it's 10.36am on Friday, March 28, and that it's Dara Lambe calling. I take a deep breath before answering. I was expecting him to call, just not quite so early. I figure that early probably spells bad news - that he wants to postpone or cance
SOME days start sooner than others. Moments after I turn it on, my mobile starts singing. A quick glance at the screen tells me that it's 10.36am on Friday, March 28, and that it's Dara Lambe calling. I take a deep breath before answering. I was expecting him to call, just not quite so early. I figure that early probably spells bad news - that he wants to postpone or cancel the interview.
He sounds weird, emotional, a little choked-up. "Have you seen the front page of The Star?" he asks. I explain that I've just woken up - so no. "There's a story about my dad there," he says. "Apparently one of his songs is the number one requested song over in Iraq." Seeing as Dara's father has been dead for almost 17 years, this is the last thing I expect to hear. It occurs to me that maybe I'm still dreaming, but I manage a strangled, "What?"
"Yeah, it's really f***ing strange, man," he says, laughing nervously. "Especially today of all days. I can't get me head around it at all."
That he can't get his head around it is hardly surprising. Dara only found out who his real father was three years ago, three years after his adopted father passed away. He told me just six months ago and we've been discussing the possibility of doing an interview ever since. He's been reluctant, for lots of reasons - but mainly because he doesn't want people to think he's vain or cashing in. After lots of talking (always a pleasure, I might add) he eventually decided to do it a fortnight ago. We met up, he changed his mind, we postponed until today. I was half expecting him to back out again anyway. And now this. A head-wrecking headline . . .
"So are you still up to doing this?" I ask, hopefully. He pauses for a month. "Yeah, I suppose I am," he finally sighs. "It's so weird I figure it's probably a sign that the time is right for me to talk. Look, I'm still in Kildare and I'm working till six. I'll drive down to Galway and see you tonight." He hangs up. I pull on some clothes and go out and get The Star. Sure enough, there's the headline: 'Troops get their Phil of anthem.'
Apparently Thin Lizzy's classic track The Boys Are Back in Town is receiving over 2,000 requests a day on the 24-hour British Forces radio station. And underneath is a small picture of a famous and dead Irish rock star, captioned with a typically tabloid 'Legendary'. Dara doesn't wear a moustache but, even so, the resemblance between himself and his late father - Thin Lizzy frontman Philip Lynott - is uncanny.
I spend the rest of my day watching the war, wondering what it all means and worrying that his nerve will fail and he won't show. But shortly after 9pm the doorbell of my apartment rings and there he is - more than six feet tall, naturally dark, rock-star handsome and more nervous-looking than a Gulf POW. I bring him in and pour him a glass of red wine (I'd figured he'd need one). "Cheers!" he says, smiling, taking a grateful swig. "I'm a bit wired. I'm kind of glad that you called and put me on the spot, but I've been a nervous wreck ever since. I've been looking in the door for a long while now, but I haven't put my foot in. It's been a strange road."
His girlfriend lives in Galway and he's got to meet her later, so we decide just to turn on the tape and get straight into backtracking down that strange road he's been travelling . . .
Dara was born in Dublin nearly 35 years ago and adopted by Oliver and Martina Lambe when he was 11 months old. Oliver was a successful businessman and market trader, Martina a devout Catholic housewife and teacher. The couple already had four children of their own and Dara was intended to be "the last of the litter", but Martina had another daughter two years later. The family moved from Edenderry to Newbridge when he was a child and he grew up in a stable, middle-class household with his three brothers and two sisters - Ollie, Rory, Cianain, Maire and Cliona (Dara's orphanage name was Terence, but Martina changed it to MacDaragh).
"It was eventful," he recalls, laughing. "All of my brothers and sisters are mad as brushes so there was always something going on. But I couldn't have had better is the way that I look at it. I'd a smile on my face and a good attitude."
Were you always aware that you were adopted?
"Ah, yeah - sure look at me!" He guffaws. "They were all whiter and smaller. Actually, they'll kill me for saying 'smaller'. But no, it was obvious that I was different. But they still were always my
Although his childhood was very happy, his teens were a touch more traumatic. He was becoming more and more conscious of his 'difference', and he passionately hated his secondary school in Newbridge. One day when he was 13, he stole some cash from his father's safe and cycled away on his sister's bike. He'd run away before, always coming back after a couple of days (or found by his anxious father out searching for him), but this time he didn't return for 11 months.
"I went to Galway. It was one of them things. I think I had to go and discover who I was, you know. I'd been brought up in a family and I knew I was loved and I belonged, but I was still different. And I was just getting my head around that difference, at that age. Everybody else went off to be rockers or punks. I just ran away."
What did you do for money?
"God, all sorts of stuff." He laughs. "I ended up working in Shantalla in a centre for travelling people, making Christmas cribs. I was in a youth centre on Augustine Street for a while. And through there I ended up in Shantalla, staying with a settled traveller family. The Collinses, up at the back of
He enjoyed his freedom. One night in 1983, Thin Lizzy were playing Galway on their Thunder & Lightning tour. Dara and his friends couldn't afford tickets but they went to Leisureland anyway, to try to sneak in. They were hanging around the back when a large Mercedes pulled up.
The teenagers looked on in awe as Phil Lynott and the band stepped out of the car, in leathers and shades, looking every inch the coolest rock stars in Ireland. They cheered and waved at them and the band all waved back, but quickly disappeared inside the venue. Unable to sneak in, Dara and his friends wound up on the roof, but the sound was too muffled to be appreciated. That brief glimpse was the only time he ever saw his biological father in the flesh.
Although he looked older than his years, as a half-caste he still stood out like a sore thumb. He got worried (and got a haircut) when he saw himself on Garda Patrol one night. Then one day a guy from Newbridge walked into the community centre and he knew he was busted.
"I knew I'd have to up and leave, because it would get straight back home that I was in Galway and it would only be a matter of time before Daddy Lambe came looking for me. So I ran off again and got the boat over to England."
HE SPENT an "eventful" but formative month in England before finally returning to Kildare (his brother's girlfriend spotted him thumbing on the dual carriageway and took him the final stretch home). Luckily, there was no anger or recrimination, only love and understanding.
"They were just so delighted to see me. I was pretty rough-looking, I'm sure. But I had a bottle of whiskey for my father and a box of chocolates for my mother. So I gave them those, went upstairs to get washed, came down and got fed and then my brothers dragged me off to the pub later on. That was it. My mother asked me to go back to school and I told her I really didn't want to go back. So from there I went into the family business, doing the markets. Different days, different towns. New Ross on a Tuesday, Wednesday in Dublin, Thursday Kilkenny, Friday was Carrick-on-Suir, Saturday was Waterford and so on. It was just non-stop. Great fun but hard work."
He stayed working for his father for a few years, travelling up and down the country. He thinks he must have been working the markets in Waterford when he heard the news that Phil Lynott had died on Saturday, January 4, 1986, at the tragically young age of 36. "It wasn't a huge impact on my life, to be honest. I would've known, and I guess I was as shocked as everybody else. You know, as a coloured kid growing up in Ireland you would've had some empathy."
Were you a Thin Lizzy fan?
"Not really." He shrugs. "I would've known the music. I couldn't class myself as being a devotee. I look at it now and I'm just amazed. But I would've heard it on the radio and liked it. I shared a room with my brother Rory and he would've had a huge influence on my musical tastes. He was listening to Talking Heads and David Bowie. Then another brother was into Stiff Little Fingers."
Life continued, work and play. When he was 18, his girlfriend's father got him a job with Pepe Jeans in Naas. "I started in the laundry and next thing I knew I was being flown to Hong Kong to learn how to stonewash jeans. I was only over there for 10 days but it was great. It really opened my eyes to travelling."
Sadly, he broke up with his girlfriend in 1992 and left the job. "My heart sank and fell to the ground when we split up. I just packed my bags and ran away again. Got out. So I went over to a couple of friends in Amsterdam, they were living in Haarlem. By the end of the summer there were 17 of us there. It was like a mini-Kildare, we started creating our own town." The party ended abruptly. One night, two Dutch cops arrived at his local pub in Haarlem looking for him, with bad news about Martina.
"It was very quick. She'd had a car accident the year before and she'd broken a lot of bones in her body. She was still very weak and she had an asthma attack and then a heart attack. But that had me back in Ireland - stumped. Where do you go when your mammy dies? I moved back home. I'm grateful that I'd been home and seen her not long before she died."
Having stayed at home for a while, he eventually took off to Wales to help out on a friend's farm and did some more travelling. He also spent a lot more time in Galway, a city he really loves - ducking and diving between jobs and enjoying life as much as possible. Then his father was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
"Daddy was beginning to get ill, so I stepped into his role and took over the running of the family shop for a while. He was in Kildare, we had a clothes shop in Mallow and I had a girlfriend in Galway. I had a lovely brand new car under my ass and I was up and down the country like a yo-yo."
They closed the shop when Oliver began to get seriously sick. Dara was living with his girlfriend in Galway and working in the famous Drum Bar when he finally got the call he'd been dreading, a few days before Christmas 1997.
"I went home and . . . [pauses and wipes eyes] he was there in the bed. Not my Daddy, you know. I was just looking at a shell of a man and it was heartwrenching. I couldn't stand it. I just said, 'I'm going back to work, I can't hang around here with this. This is just too much.' So I went back to Galway. Christmas Eve I got the phone call that he was dead. I can still remember the drink I was pulling for this girl - two dark rums. I think I gave them to somebody else, grabbed a pint glass, filled it with whiskey and said, 'Right, I'm outta here.' I went down the back and tried to get drunk. I couldn't. It was just so sad."
IT TOOK him a while to get over the loss of his dad. He didn't even think to go looking to find his real parents until three years ago. "It came from a haphazard conversation with Kevin Healy, my boss at the Drum Bar. He told me that he was going to be a daddy and asked me if I'd ever wondered about my real parents. And yeah, I suppose I did wonder about them when I was 18 and 21, at those kinda landmark ages in your life.
"I remember getting the addresses off my mother when I was 18. She was quite upset - actually she was crying - but she was happy and willing to give me the addresses to help. So I drove up to Dublin and parked outside the adoption agency and thought to myself, 'Am I ready for this? Not really, you know.' So I drove back home again."
Eventually, at the age of 31 and beginning to recover from the loss of his father, he decided to try again. He got in touch with Cunamh - the national adoption agency - and went in for an evaluation, accompanied by his sister Cliona, in February 2000.
"They didn't have a lot of information, just a paragraph really, but she could tell me that my mother's name was Carole and she lived in Dublin, and my daddy's name was Philip, and he was interested in singing and music. That was it - all the information she had for me. I said goodbye and walked out the door. We were walking down the stairs and I turned to Cliona and said, 'My dad's Phil Lynott.' I'd had it worked out in me own head that it was some doctor over training who'd met an Irish woman. That was the most likely solution. There wasn't too many coloured people in Ireland back then. But from that moment on, my head was fried.
"That was just me making this up in my head, though. I really didn't know who 'Philip' was. So I went off and got well drunk over the weekend - as you do. I spent the weekend drunk and then I hopped in the car and went home to Galway. I got straight on the internet and looked a few things up. The first thing was, yeah, the dates were right. That was it. I was on the phone Monday morning, calling up the orphanage going, 'Look, please confirm this for me, will you? My head is gonna explode if you don't!'
After some cajoling, the agency eventually confirmed that his natural father had indeed been one Philip Lynott. Had he ever suspected before?
"I'd been slagged by some of the Dublin fellas doing the markets! There was one particular fella, Thomas Kenny, who used to tell me I was the image of Philo. And he knew him. He and his brothers used to hang around with him. So it was quite bizarre when I found out, he was one of the first people I rang - 'Thomas, guess what? You were right!'"
In the midst of all of this, he was breaking up with his Galway girlfriend and she'd moved out. "I arrived back, I'm sitting in a suddenly empty flat, going, 'Me da is Phil Lynott!' Stop the bus!! I needed my family around me, so I quit my job at Drum and kinda just ran home. I stayed in my brother's house for a
Dara's still living in Kildare - where he works in event management - but has also since patched things up with his girlfriend. His biological father was obviously dead, but his natural mother Carole was alive, well and still living in Dublin. He got in touch with her through the agency.
"What happens at the orphanage is you have to swap letters. Give a brief synopsis of your life and where your head is at. That was really hard. Writing that broke my heart. You can't give it to anyone to read - it's just you. Very weird. You just have to go into your memory and look hard at things."
After much writing and rewriting, he sent his letter - and a week or two later they met up at the agency. He says it was a really strange emotional moment, finally seeing her. Suddenly a lot of things clicked.
"Once I'd met her I just totally understood where I get my head. It was like a female match of me sitting across the table. That was it. We did our first interview in the agency and from then on we took it ourselves - meeting in coffee shops. I see her regularly now and I love her to bits. I call her on the phone at least once a week. I should probably call her more. But I'm going to see her for Mother's Day."
Carole has a 22-year-old daughter named Roisin, a half-sister with whom Dara bonded immediately. She was also able to fill him in on what her relationship with Lynott had been. He'd feared he was the product of a one-night-stand, but it was nothing like that.
"My mum had gone out with Philip for about three years, back in the days when they were still in school, before anything was happening to him. She actually said he hadn't learnt how to play guitar yet so . . . [laughs]. So she got pregnant. Her father was in the army and would've been worried about the scandal, so she was put into a home out on the Navan Road somewhere to have the baby. It was taken over from her really. She was totally out of circulation until she had me. I was taken to the orphanage immediately."
He has no anger about it nowadays, though. "I was happy growing up as a Lambe and I'll always be a Lambe. But it's great to suddenly have this new relationship with my real mother. It's completely mad really. And I understand why she did what she did. It was a different time." Unfortunately, though, he hasn't yet been able to meet his other two half-sisters. Lynott had two daughters - Sarah and Cathleen - with his wife Caroline. The girls are in their 20s now and he's hugely curious to see them. No luck so far, though.
"I haven't met my sisters yet - his two daughters. It's being handled through lawyers and, for lots of reasons I don't want to discuss, it's all a bit delicate. I don't really care about money or any of that side of it, I don't want to affect anybody. All I went looking for was my mother and father because I looked at the age I was and figured they'd be in their fifties. And I'd better go looking for them because they won't be there forever. One of them isn't here any more. But I'd really like to meet the girls."
Have you met your grandmother Philomena?
"Em . . . I have, yeah," he says, suddenly looking uncomfortable. "To be honest, that's all a bit delicate and I don't want to say anything about her except that I'm in awe of her and full of admiration for what she's done and gone through. I've been out in the house and all that. She's a very strong woman. But I'm not too sure how she feels about me. Let's leave it at that."
Although I'd seen Dara Lambe numerous times behind the bar of the Drum, we didn't meet properly until last year when Conor Montague, the then-editor of dance magazine Clubbing Dot Com asked me if, through my Hot Press connections, I could help himself and Dara meet some people who'd known Phil Lynott for a book they were thinking of collaborating on. They're still thinking of going ahead with the project.
"We're possibly still gonna write it all down, because I think there's a mad story there," he says, "and I really just want to write it to sort it all out in me own head. I've had the weirdest few years of my life since I found out.
"And there's been all these really strange coincidences. My friend Jules Nash - the guy I went to Wales with - was a neighbour of my
daddy's in Kent. I've yet to go and investigate that further. That was weird. He was living next door to my father throughout the time of Live & Dangerous. He gave him a signed copy and invited him to the gig.
"Another one of my friends from Kildare - a guy I've known for years and am working with at the moment - is Simon Tuite. His dad was Brian Tuite, one of Thin Lizzy's first managers. He's a very good friend of mine. He was always cool because it was like, 'My dad used to manage Thin Lizzy.' I never knew at the time that my dad was in Thin Lizzy [laughs].
"Another good friend of mine, Mickey McLoughlin from Sallins, his mother was from the same road in Crumlin as he was. So there's all this mad stuff. It's been quite bizarre from the time I found out. The papers were all full of this stuff about statues going up to him in Dublin and a movie being made and all this stuff. Even today - he's on the cover of The Star. I keep seeing images of him everywhere."
Dara's met a few people already - Brian Downey amongst them - and tells me he hopes this article will lead to him meeting more. He has also visited his father's grave in Sutton ("It's mad the number of people who show up there!") and attended a couple of the Lizzy conventions. He laughingly recalls having to bribe a bouncer to gain access to the last Vibe for Philo. "It was sold out and that was the only way myself and Roisin could get in. It's bizarre knowing that there's 2,000 people in this room and, if nothing else, they'd all want to shake my hand if they knew who I was. Walking around seeing people with tattoos of my dad on their arms." It's getting late now and he's looking better for having gotten all of this off his chest. Finally, I ask him why he decided to break the silence of the Lambe and go public now? "Because you rang me and asked!!" He laughs, looking relieved that his ordeal is ending.
"No. It's kind of since the day I had it confirmed that I was Phil Lynott's son, I've known it's going to arrive in front of me some day in the newspaper. Quite a lot of people know at this stage - especially in Kildare - so it's only a matter of time. And I'd rather I tell my story than somebody else does. I've gone and met a few people and there's still a few I'd like to meet. Hopefully going public like this will help me do that. And hopefully it will help me get to meet my sisters.
"He's gone, you know. I'm never gonna meet Phil Lynott. All I can hope to do is hear about him from the people who knew him best."
© Olaf Tyaransen 2003