Pierce Turner: Do some good with social media and search out some long lost friends

Make use of social media and find a priceless mad hatter from your past.. Photo: Yui Mok/PA© Yui Mok

Wexford People

I remember hearing my parents lament about the loss of long-lost friends – people who left for a far off place, and never returned. I think about the Wexford of my youth and how many very special people left for some kind of ambition, and never returned.

But I do have a tool that my parents didn’t have – social media. And although I have my complaints, it also has some good points, and finding long-lost friends is one of them. With platforms like Facebook, we literally have access to the entire planet.

When Larry Kirwan and I first went to America we weren’t exactly prepared for what was ahead of us. Circling over JFK in the January snow, the pilot announced that the city was in the midst of a blizzard. I suppose that announcement raised a question with extra pertinence; where would we stay that night? Neither one of us knew, and hadn’t asked until then. So began a relationship built on supposition that was to last a lifetime.

Of course we both knew I had a number for Dave Heenan, a New Yorker that had played in a band with me in Dublin, and I was compelled to make that call out of desperation.

Dave and Reenie Heenan lived next to Washington Square, right in the heart of Greenwich Village, and fortunately for us, they were delighted to receive my phone call, and reacted with the full aplomb of American hospitality. After instructing us how to deal with New York taxis – “Don’t give the bastard any more than $20, and tell him to go through the tunnel” – we arrived at their building just as they were about to eat dinner, for which they graciously invited us to partake.

Their home had all the energy and inhibition of the Manhattan I had seen in movies. Reenie’s mother was living with them and a baby son called Milo.

We were chomping on celery sticks with peanut butter-filled ravines, when the baby began crying ceaselessly – to such an extent that they were wondering about calling an ambulance. I had some experience from observing my nephews and nieces, so I submitted some advice: “It might be just wind, if you put him over your shoulder and rub his back, it gets the wind up”.

“Really?” said almost everyone, and sure enough it worked, Milo let out a gurgley belch, and began cooing while pointing at his teddy bear, lying on the ground. Everyone was impressed with my knowledge, and we sat down for a fine meal of roast pork, jacket potato and peas.

Reenie and Dave made an arrangement with the old black man who was their super downstairs. Night time was his day, so he let us have his bed. We slept like babies while he slipped in an out for a slug of rum from a bottle stowed beneath a cushion.

The next day they arranged cheap digs for us out in Brooklyn where we slept in sleeping bags on a friends’ floor. Luckily for us, Reenie ran her own booking agency, and began getting us gigs in Irish pubs where we sang Irish Ballads, we knew a few, and faked the rest.

For 40 years I lost track of them both. My appreciation for what they did has matured, as have I. But no one knew where they were, were they even still alive? It seemed like a lost cause when I tried Facebook, and found them, to all of our delight, including Milo (the baby) a mature man now.

So make use of social media and find a priceless mad hatter from your past.