Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Features

Published: Irish Independent, June 20 2020

Conor Walsh: Passing Through


RTE Doc on One broadcast Saturday, June 20th 2020. Listen on RTE Culture website. Or Apple Podcasts.

Listeners captivated by Conor Walsh’s back catalogue, issued mostly since his death in 2016, as well as fans fortunate enough to have witnessed him performing live, could be forgiven for assuming that this self-taught minimalist piano player was a shy and introverted character.

The Mayo musician’s haunting original compositions, which pop up frequently these days on TV and radio, are unwaveringly slow and melancholic. Moreover, when he appeared live at major showcases such as the Electric Picnic and Other Voices, and toured as an opening act for Hozier, he played with his back to the audience, whose presence he rarely acknowledged.

Yet as anyone who knew Conor offstage will attest, any sense of shyness or aloofness on his part was wildly off the mark. According to his close friend Enda Murtagh: “People who think Conor was quiet were people who just didn’t spend much time with him. Actually, he was one of the most confident people you could ever meet, and even quite prickly at times.” Read the rest of this entry »

Published: The Dublin Review, Spring 2020

The Sunshine State

July 2018

Looking back, I’d been cracking up for months. But the state of Florida, in late July, is where the fracture ruptured and the fire raging in my head seemed, briefly, to consume the walls and the scenery around me. Continue reading.

Published: Irish Times, November 16 2017

“A lot of flag-waving, patriotic Americans will never see half as much of their country I’ve seen…”

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Atlanta in mid-July. In heat this intense, normal people sit indoors, board up their windows and listen to the sidewalks crack. Not Stefan Murphy. He’s decamped to a dilapidated house in the suburbs, with no air conditioning, to record an entire album in two days, called Tales from the Megaplex. It’s his third Count Vaseline album in just over a year. He plays every instrument: bass, guitars, vocals, backing vocals, tambourine. One take. No do-overs.

In a past life, the Dublin musician worked with big-name producers and a full band called The Mighty Stef. Over tacos, in the nearby hipster enclave of Little Five Points, he acknowledges a change of approach. “In The Mighty Stef, we put an enormous emphasis on production. As Count Vaseline, I’m doing the exact opposite. This is definitely the most low-fi, DIY set of songs I’ve ever officially released.”

Murphy is now permanently settled in Atlanta with his wife and six-year-old child. He turned 40 recently and is a year and a half sober. “That was largely to do with my mental health. I was struggling with depression. A lot of people drink themselves to death in their 40s and that could easily have been me.” Read the rest of this entry »

Published: Irish Times, March 7 2019

‘It’s a shame he’s not around to see this’ – an album found on Conor Walsh’s laptop



One Friday evening, three years ago this month, Fiona Walsh was relaxing with friends at a dinner party in Dún Laoghaire. She was a final year UCD medical student and, with their exams just two weeks away, a classmate had prepared a meal to help the group unwind.

Her phone was charging in the next room. After dinner, she found a barrage of missed calls and messages urging her to call home. “Obviously, you fear the worst,” she recalls. “But you’re afraid it might be your mother or some older relative. You never think it’s going to be your brother.” Read the rest of this entry »

Published: The Dublin Review, Winter 2017

The Peat Workers

Read this.

Published: Irish Times, 9 March 2013

The toughest journey

cancer bus
It’s 7.15am at the Dry Arch filling station in Letterkenny and a hard frost is down outside. A lorry driver bounds in from the darkness, rubs his hands together and orders a bowl of porridge at the hot food counter. In the corner, Sky News is reporting live from Los Angeles, where post-Oscar festivities are still in full swing.

But customers here don’t pay the TV much attention. It’s Monday morning, it’s -5°C and we’re a long way from Tinseltown. Read the rest of this entry »

Published: Dublin Review, Autumn 2015

Border Controls

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“I’m standing there, half asleep, in my t-shirt and boxer shorts, relieving myself in the dirt when I spot three Middle Eastern guys… If they were initially walking towards the truck, they’ve changed course slightly now. They smile at having caught me in such an awkward position. I smile back at them and put my finger to my lips.” (Calais, August 2015.)

Read full piece To Calais and Back

Published: Irish Times, 11 March 2016

“I feel like a clapped-out hatchback stalled on a level crossing with the Dublin-to-Westport train bearing down on me…”

boxing pic
On a brutally cold Saturday morning, we sign our lives away. There are 25 of us in all, mostly men in our 20s and 30s, fanned out in a semicircle on the clubhouse floor. We are wearing winter coats and our breath is visible in the freezing air.

We have been recruited to participate in a white-collar boxing event as a fundraiser for our local GAA club. I agreed to participate at Christmas, when inhibitions were low and goodwill was at an all time high.

The under-14 hurlers need new floodlights for their training pitch, I was told.

“Well, bless their cotton socks,” I cried. “New floodlights they shall have.”

Now it is January 2nd. The Christmas tree was turfed out the back door this morning, and with it the last of my festive cheer. I haven’t seen a more fearsome assemblage of bruisers, brawlers and scrappers since the third act of Blazing Saddles. And I am standing next to them in a tracksuit, wondering what the hell the under-14 hurlers have ever done for me. Read the rest of this entry »

Published: Guts, Autumn 2015

A landscape of broken things

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[Last summer, I was invited to contribute to Guts magazine on the theme of Kitsugi – Beauty in Broken Things.]

It was the American moral philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson who first introduced me to the concept of thought experiments. Thomson would take real life moral dilemmas and transplant them, via some farfetched analogy, into absurd alternate realities, wherein the reader could engage with the essence of the original question, freed from the straitjackets of politics or personal prejudice.

Most famously, in 1971, Thomson made a case for legalised abortion by concocting a story in which readers were invited to imagine they’d been kidnapped and awoke connected, via intravenous drip, to the body of an ailing violinist who, they were told, would need a continual supply of the reader’s blood for the next nine months, if he was to have a chance of surviving.

As a younger man, this approach to thinking really fired my imagination. I would compose thought experiments all the time. Here’s one I came up with while arguing about East Germany with a girl I’d just met in a bar. I was insisting that life under the Honecker regime had been hellish and oppressive. She disagreed, saying things really weren’t all that bad.

It turned out this woman was born and raised in the GDR and had some fond memories of the place. Whereas my own expertise derived largely from having seen the film The Lives of Others earlier that evening. In the circumstances, I felt a game-changer was required… Read the rest of this entry »

Published: Irish Independent, 31 October 2015

A letter from Yangon

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It’s like a tickertape parade. The streets of Yangon, Myanmar are lined on either side with smiling citizens, cheering and waving in our direction. The line is as irregular as the route we follow: street vendors and Buddhist monks, school children and office drones.

Hell, even the city’s world-weary cops and dock workers are out in force, snapping pictures on their camera phones as we glide by.

For two middle aged English businessmen, Julian Hanson-Smith and Richard Cunningham, competing in the final stage of a 2,300km vintage car rally, this isn’t just the realisation of a long held dream. It’s also a homecoming of sorts. Read the rest of this entry »