Sunday 17 February 2019

Joe Kennedy: 'The night Luke Kelly had West Berlin marching to beat of 'Peat Bog Soldiers''

When I stepped out of the lift at some elevated floor of the Intercontinental Hotel in West Berlin and entered the room I was sharing with Luke Kelly of The Dubliners and Noel Pearson, their manager, I was surprised to see a smooth-looking middle-aged gent seated comfortably with a glass of whiskey in hand. (stock photo)
When I stepped out of the lift at some elevated floor of the Intercontinental Hotel in West Berlin and entered the room I was sharing with Luke Kelly of The Dubliners and Noel Pearson, their manager, I was surprised to see a smooth-looking middle-aged gent seated comfortably with a glass of whiskey in hand. (stock photo)

Joe Kennedy

When I stepped out of the lift at some elevated floor of the Intercontinental Hotel in West Berlin and entered the room I was sharing with Luke Kelly of The Dubliners and Noel Pearson, their manager, I was surprised to see a smooth-looking middle-aged gent seated comfortably with a glass of whiskey in hand.

On a table in front of him stood my duty-free bottle of Jameson, having suffered a significant belt. Luke appeared to be entertaining, albeit reluctantly, this stranger who sprang to his feet to shake my hand. I could almost hear his heels click.

"You are Mr Kennedy?" he asked. "I am Doctor AA Korsky. I know Dublin. I know Major Vivion de Valera."

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"That's the 'Irish Press', I'm from the Independent group, the 'Herald'."

He quickly jumped to his mission. "I have a plan for you which I have been discussing with Mr Kelly. It is that in the middle of The Dubliners concert Mr Kelly will make a speech about the Irish unity and the German unity (voice rising) and I will cable it ALL OVER THE WORLD (shouting now, probably my Jameson)."

He bowed and left. Who what was that, a bemused Kelly inquired? I explained he was also known as Dr Croaty in Ireland though I had never met him there. But his name had disappeared from Irish newspapers.

He was Yugoslav and had got work as a European correspondent. He was now doing PR for the West Berlin administration. A Yugoslav, Kelly pondered? "If Tito got his hands on him he'd get a red hot poker..."

The Kongressehalle Auditorium where The Dubliners were appearing was packed on that October evening in 1971. There were thousands of German students and several busloads of squaddies from the British Army on the Rhine, a few Irish among them.

I wondered if Luke would make any 'unity' remarks for a news story but not a word, except a reference to some tragedy that had occurred that week in the North. The soldiers didn't look too happy at this but then the students became lively when Kelly introduced and then began singing 'Die Moorsoldaten' ('The Peat Bog Soldiers'), a German Communist Party anthem from the 1930s.

The widely read and politically aware Kelly pulled it out of his songbag: "Wir sind die Moorsoldaten und ziehem mit dem spaten ins Moor" - "We are the Peat Bog Soldiers marching with the spades to the bog."

The audience began clapping and cheering. Then Luke, in a superb theatrical gesture, placed his long-necked banjo rifle-like on his shoulder singing "We are the Bogside soldiers, marching, etc…" The students went wild, cheering, standing on their seats. He marched to the wings, turned, bowed.

Later in a roof-top nightclub I saw Dr Korsky (or Croaty) happily dancing with an attractive, important-looking blonde lady.

He smiled and waved. He didn't appear displeased his unity plan hadn't been adopted. But that's one of the trials of PR. Perhaps he was really a socialist. He was, after all, working for Willie Brandt.

Veteran journalist Joe Kennedy worked on the 'Herald' from 1960-73 when he joined the 'Sunday World' as its founding editor

Irish Independent

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