"They say the skies of Lebanon are burning, Those mighty Cedars bleeding in the heat. They're showing pictures on the television, Women and children dying in the street."
Across time and space, Paul Brady's gorgeous ballad, The Island, seemed like the soundtrack to a sorrowful week. It was the melancholic score to images of Beirut, once again in ruins. And, as John Hume was laid to rest, it was also our most powerful musical reminder of the futility of the Troubles.
As a schoolboy, Brady was taught French - the other language of Lebanon - by Hume, and he once presented Hume with the handwritten lyrics to the song. The "twisted wreckage down on main street" and "witch doctors praying for a mighty showdown" were indelible snapshots from an era out of which Hume helped to lead the country. "He loved the song," Brady recalls. "He told me that he felt it captured the mood of the time."
Like Hume, Brady drew fierce criticism for what the Tyrone man himself wryly called "peace and love, just copping out". In the ideological battle lines of the Troubles, he recalls, "the attitude was 'you're either for us or against us' and any kind of subtlety was not tolerated at all.
"After it came out, I was attacked verbally and even physically for it. I remember I was in a pub, The Purty Loft, and I was attacked by this fella from Belfast. He accused me of turning my back on my own people."
Christy Moore, a former bandmate of Brady (in Planxty) even wrote The Other Side, which was a musical riposte to The Island and a dig at its utopian vision.
Time has healed that wound, however. "We're cordial to each other now," Brady says. "There is acceptance from both of us that if things went on in the past, there were reasons for all that. Christy didn't like my song and he let that be known. I don't hold any grudges though."
In the end, the musical and lyrical beauty of The Island, like the fundamental decency of Hume, was the final word. It stands the test of time and is one of the highlights in a songbook full of them. It could, perhaps, only have been written by a man who was both a Northerner and what he calls "an outsider looking in".
"I've been writing my memoir," he tells me at his studio in Dublin, where guitars and black and white photos of him from his folk years line the walls. "There's a lot in there about my childhood. One of the things that really struck me looking back was that I went to a mixed gender, mixed religion school for most of my early years. I do think that it impacted how I saw things."
His family were "blow-ins" in Strabane and he didn't go to school in town, which underlined the feeling of being an outsider. His father gave him his first guitar, but more importantly, showed him what it was to hold a room spellbound.
"My father was a stunning performer. In another generation, he wouldn't have been a schoolteacher at all, he would have been an actor.
"He would do one-man shows. The monologue was big at the time. People would drone those things out like a party piece - but my father could make a Cecil B DeMille production out of it."
His relationship with his mother, also a teacher, was more complicated.
"It was difficult. She projected her own lack of confidence onto me, in a way, because part of her never believed that I was going to be famous. My mother gave me the sense that I had to fight hard for myself."
She was horrified when he all but dropped out of college in UCD, only staying one hour in each of his final exams, but for him it was a turning point, a moment when the thing "vibrating all through every cell in me" - music - took primacy over his parents' ambitions for him.
During the folk explosion the late 1960s and early 1970s, he went through "endless bands". He was in The Johnstons for a while, and after leaving them, and spending a period "in the wilderness" in America, he returned home to join Planxty.
"By the time I joined, they had passed their peak. Dónal (Lunny) had left the band, Christy (Moore) was leaving. In one sense, it was a boon because I'd been in America and now I was being put into a big band again. It was exciting to be playing in front of huge crowds and singing Arthur McBride for the first time. The band was fiscally challenged, there were problems and management wasn't on the case."
For a whole decade, he played nothing but folk music. By then, he was nearly 30 and could feel his own songs bubbling up from within him.
"What really made me lose interest in folk was that it was all about how things were and not about how things might be. I wanted to write about what could be. Hearing Baker Street from Gerry Rafferty changed my life. I must've played it a billion times and took it all apart and that gave me what I needed to go on."
Throughout the 1980s, he established himself as a singer-songwriter and his work was covered by artists as diverse as Tina Turner and Santana. By the 1990s, he was what The Telegraph called our 'musical statesman', making appearances on Letterman.
But he always seemed an unlikely pop star. He didn't look the part, and he acknowledges this freely.
"I was aware that I was fighting in a game that I wasn't equipped for in terms of image and how I looked - and the subject matter that I was writing about wasn't really lightweight enough for the industry I was trying to get ahead in.
"I never had success with major record labels. There were people who supported me but when the chips were down, it was like 'well, how many records has he sold?'
"To succeed in music, you have to have an ego and a sense that what you have to say is worth listening to. I had a combination of drive and a lack of confidence and there was always that push-pull within me."
And he still, even then, seemed to attract some sniping. Van Morrison once said: "I'm carrying these Paul Brady monkeys and these Bruce Springsteen monkeys and these Bob Seger monkeys, and I'm just fed up with it. I just wish they'd find someone else to copy."
A smile creeps across his face when I mention this.
"I get on well with Van - we don't see each other often but when we do, it's a laugh," he says. "When he said that I felt in august company, being mentioned with Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen. You're nothing until someone is slagging you."
Love is a fairly constant theme in his work and his wife, Mary, whom he met in 1973, is his muse. "Like everyone else there's been up and downs and cliff-edge moments," he says. "But Mary and I are together 47 years now and that counts for a lot."
They have two children, Colm and Sarah.
"I wasn't an ideal father, I'd have to say, in all honesty. Like a lot of people in my profession, I was absent a lot. But you know, I also feel that though all the ups and downs, I have a good relationship with my kids and grandkids now. I don't beat myself up about it because I tried hard."
He's sought help, at times, for his mental health.
"I've had counselling of all sorts. But I'd say I have a capacity to get outside myself and see how ridiculous I can be at times. And that's a useful thing because it gives me a little bit of objectivity on myself. It helps me avoid being a total toerag. I've never really suffered from clinical depression. I have bad days, but I think I'm an optimist at heart."
The lockdown, he says, has made him wonder if he still wants to perform.
"I feel the desire slipping away a bit, it [getting back on the stage] feels like going back into a briar patch. But performing was always a rejuvenating experience for me. The lack of it at the moment makes me kind of worry that it's slipping away."
He's forever getting letters from people, the "plain folks" of his song, who tell him his music helped them through hard times. A few days after the explosion in Beirut, an email arrives from an Irish army veteran who had witnessed the devastation of Lebanon first-hand. It's another voice across time and space, and once again, it references The Island.
"To me, it's actually a love song, about the fact that the man on the street has no power over these terrible events," Brady says. "There's different moments in life when you feel that again."
And maybe last week was one of them.