Monday 22 July 2019

For all his rage and anger, Bob Geldof's core affection for 'auld sod' remained undimmed

Bob Geldof, who has suffered such tragedy this week with the sudden death of his daughter Peaches, remains the quintessential Irish emigrant to Britain “who done really well'. Photo: Themba Hadebe
Bob Geldof, who has suffered such tragedy this week with the sudden death of his daughter Peaches, remains the quintessential Irish emigrant to Britain “who done really well'. Photo: Themba Hadebe
Bob Geldof with daughters Fifi, Tiger-Lily, Pixie and Peaches

Gerard O'Regan

In moments of sorrow he remains part of the place from whence he came

HAD things been different, Bob Geldof could have luxuriated this week in being one of the most remarkable success stories of the Irish diaspora in Britain.

Much has been said about this sometimes lost tribe of Ireland in the past few days, and the former Boomtown Rat is, of course, one of our best known cross-channel people exports.

But fate played its sometimes cruel hand. What could have been a time for celebration has turned into a time of heartbreak and sadness for the Geldof family, swamped once more in searing grief.

Yet Bob Geldof remains the quintessential Irish emigrant to Britain "who done really well''. His adopted home allowed him give full vent to his quixotic talents, when this mattered most to him.

Maybe the biggest asset Geldof had when he crossed the Irish Sea was chutzpah – the old Jewish word for what the Irish colloquially might describe as "a hard neck''. A more benign interpretation is that the young Bob was sure of his talents, multi-faceted and maybe ill-defined they may have been at the time. Above all, he was determined to give things a whirl on the bigger stage.

In those days he also displayed some of the classic personality traits of those who wanted to leave Ireland not only to make a living – but also because they found things in this country too claustrophobic and sterile.

Bob was an angry and unsettled young man. In retrospect maybe this had much to do with the death of his mother when he was only seven.

He was subsequently reared by his father, who managed to provide for a privileged private education, in Blackrock College. Yet his experiences in the school did little to ease the unhappiness of his teenage years. He soon became well known for his strident views on various issues, ranging from Catholicism to Irish politics.

But he was lucky that music became an outlet for his obvious creative talents. Despite a deeply felt rebellious streak, it somehow always seemed obvious that Bob would not become yet another self-destructive rock musician. He would channel his energies towards the positive.

When he went to London much of the anger remained. But in time he became more focused, and even relaxed, now that he had such a huge outlet for his vast energies. In particular he soon showed himself to be an astute businessman – he is now estimated to be worth over €30m – as he got involved in a variety of ventures that set him on the road to multi-millionaire status.

And like so many more of our emigrants, in a sense he went native, marrying an English woman, Paula Yates. That made the transition complete. He would soon become a permanent high-profile fixture in the London-centred media world. Yet, he never lost his aura of Irishness, or indeed his accent.

Maybe the ultimate manifestation of his steadfast links to the old country was his involvement with the Live Aid phenomenon. Put simply, this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, featuring a galaxy of singers and musicians, coming together for a trans-global concert, to raise awareness of world famine.

The sight and sounds of Geldof in those days endure. He was the guiding light – the organisational genius – who drove the entire event. Given the historical residue from our own Great Famine, maybe it would have to be somebody from Ireland who could bring such deeply felt passion to the battle of fighting hunger and starvation.

The years have passed. As has been well documented, Geldof has had to confront various family tragedies. But his volubility has remained undimmed in his adopted country. He has continued to make forays into British national life, always helped by a clarity of expression, and verbal dexterity, honed during some of the bleakest moments in his early life.

Back home, we understandably kind of took him for granted. On occasions he would return and on some television or radio programme might still upbraid us for our shortcomings. But inevitably he mellowed with the passage of time. The views and opinions are less strident. Through it all, like many who emigrated to Britain often full of rage and anger, his core affection for the 'ould sod' remained undimmed.

It now seems likely he will spend the rest of his life in Britain. He has planted new roots there. But this week there were many echoes of empathy here in Ireland, for a man who already has had to brave too many sad days.

He has been gone from this country for a long time. But in those moments of sorrow, for one of our emigrants now a Knight of the British Empire, he still remains very much part of the place from whence he came.

Irish Independent

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