Friday 18 October 2019

Barry Egan: 'Philomena Lynott was one of the great characters of Irish life - with charisma in spades and a rock'n'roll heart'


Philomena 10 years ago at the opening of the Phil Lynott 60th birthday tribute. Photo: Arthur Carron/Collins
Philomena 10 years ago at the opening of the Phil Lynott 60th birthday tribute. Photo: Arthur Carron/Collins
The late Philomena Lynott, mother of Phil Lynott, polishes his black bass guitar at the Irish Rock ’N’ Roll Museum at The Button Factory in Dublin’s Temple Bar. Photo: Frank McGrath
‘I love you with all my heart’: Philomena Lynott with a photo of her late son, Thin Lizzy star Phil Lynott. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins
Philomena Lynott with a room full of memorabilia about son Phil (below) at her home in Sutton, Co Dublin. Photo: Caroline Quinn
14/07/2015 Phil Lynott's mother Philomena Lynott & Paddy Dunning during a hand over of Thin Lizzy/ Phil Lynnott guitars & memorabilia at Temple Lane Studios, Dublin to mark the opening of a new Irish Rock & Roll Museum. The guitars and memorabilia will be
Phil Lynott's mother Philomena
Midge Ure and Phil Lynott in Japan in 1979
Philomena Lynott unveils the repaired statue on Harry Street, Dublin
Thin Lizzy band members Brian Downey, Phil Lynott and Gary Moore
Legacy: Philomena Lynott was the main force in ensuring her son Phil’s music was remembered. Photo: Collins
Flowers were left at the Phil Lynott statue by fans after his mother Philomena passed away
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Phil Lynott didn't lick it off the stones. His mother had rock star charisma in spades. She had a rock'n'roll heart. There is a lovely story in Allan Jones's book Can't Stand Up For Falling Down: Rock'n'Roll War Stories about Ms Lynott's "showbiz hotel" in Manchester in the 1970s. The young Melody Maker reporter Jones pitches up at Clifton Grange Hotel in August 1976 where Philomena "with a brilliant smile" rushes him "quickly into the kitchen" to cook him steak and spuds because, as she tells him, "you're just a scrap of a thing".

The young woman from Crumlin proceeds to regale him with stories of the hotel's clientele: bands (The Sex Pistols), footballers ("George Best was just a young man who'd never been allowed to enjoy himself"), conjurers, comedians, magicians, actors, jugglers, and, among others, Maori dancers ("the mess they used to make in the dining room with their grass skirts").

When a mysterious Swedish magician stayed for three months before skipping out one morning without paying his bill, Philomena went after him in the car and caught him at the bus-stop. He burst into tears.

After Philomena ascertained that his career was on the skids and he was penniless, she told him that - this is where the rock'n'roll heart comes in - he could return to her showbiz hotel and stay until he got back on his feet.

That was Philomena all over.

She died last week following a long fight with cancer. She was 88. In a statement, President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to her sense of humour, and the resilience which she summoned and on which she had to call many times in seeking to overcome the difficulties in her life.

Philomena is owed a debt of gratitude for her unstinting campaign to keep Phil Lynott's legacy foremost in the public mind, and for her prominent role in public advocacy campaigns, including for the rights of members of the LGBT community and against drug use.

In 2013, after a statue of her son (who had had a long and ultimately tragic relationship with drugs) was put up in Dublin, she said: "Young people, when they get involved in drugs, they think it makes them laugh, it makes them happy, it makes them this, that and the other But they don't realise that they're getting hooked and they're getting hooked deeper. And all of a sudden, they can't do without them and that's when all the villainy starts."

Philomena and Phil in a Manchester park in the 1960s
Philomena and Phil in a Manchester park in the 1960s

She lambasted Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012 for using Thin Lizzy's The Boys Are Back In Town at a campaign rally.

She was one of the great characters of Irish life, and funny with it. "I was in the house one day with some Americans and I was showing them around Philip's room," she told Colm O'Hare of Hot Press in 2011 in reference to her hard-rocking, hard-drugging son, who died tragically young, aged 36, on January 4, 1986.

"Two Chinese lads came up the drive and I walked out and I said 'hello' and they bowed so I said 'come on in'. So I bring them in and I show them into Philip's room and I'm yapping away and they're staring at me and looking at one another. Finally, they hand me a note which said, 'Do you want your car washed?' It turned out they were not fans of Philip at all. They hadn't a clue who he was. They were just a couple of Chinese students doing a few odd jobs in the area. I didn't need my car washed so I gave them a cup of tea but we were crying laughing afterwards. It was so funny.

"When they hit town they all come and tell me how much they loved Philip's music. Jon Bon Jovi, Metallica, Whitesnake - I've met them all. And I've met Bruce Springsteen, I can't remember exactly what he said but whatever compliment he paid, I said to him, 'Philip thought the same of you'." In 1980, her famous son bought Philomena that house in Dublin.

Philomena Lynott unveils the repaired statue on Harry Street, Dublin
Philomena Lynott unveils the repaired statue on Harry Street, Dublin

She was born on October 22, 1930 in Dublin, the fourth of nine children to Frank and Sarah Lynott. Philomena went to work in England, where she was to discover she was pregnant with Philip, whose father was Cecil Parris, from Guyana. The future lead singer of Thin Lizzy was born in a hospital in West Bromwich. In her 1995 memoir My Boy, Philomena writes: "Philip Parris Lynott was born in August, 1949. My lovely daughter Philomena followed in March 1951, and then came a second son, the wonderful Leslie in June 1952. Those are not the names I gave the younger two on their birth certificates, but rather the names they use now.

"So there it is. By the age of 21, I was three times a mother life had been pretty drab after Philip was born, and it got worse after his father Cecil, moved to London".

She writes also about "having a black baby - which seriously mattered to me given the extent of racial prejudice at the time".

Philomena also recalled how after little angel Philo arrived she was sent to a home for unmarried mothers in Birmingham, run by nuns.

"It was awful what they did to me in that place," she once said. "They put me out to work in the shed because I was the lowest of the lowest - because I had a black baby. Even today, I live with a bad back because it was freezing working in the shed."

Freezing no more, Philomena is in the warm embrace of her son forever now. Philo can sing happily in heaven tonight: the mammy's back in town.

Sunday Independent

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