Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Johnny "Dinamita" O' Brien

I'm working on a radio documentary at the moment on Johnny "Dynamite" O' Brien : a larger than life figure who battled for the Cubans in one of their warrings with the Spanish (http://www.irishargentine.org/0711quintana1.htm).
He mainly did his fighting as a filibuster, that is, a transporter of arms. Both his parents came from County Longford, Ireland, though Johnny was born down by the docks by New York's East River. He is no relation of mine unfortunately, though I'm sure our people were one, sometime in or before the era of Brian Boru, our mutual ancestor. We're about as related as two Khan's, which is to say, not atall. That would be a lovely saying to propagate methinks - "about as related as two Khan's" - Genghis being a virile old fella, maybe it will catch on.
Well, as regards the documentary, I'm soon to interview Johnny Dynamite's great granddaughter. She and her family live out in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the USA. I'm currently ensconced in Atlanta, Georgia-- Little Rock is about an hour an a half's plane ride from here.
I have written a song about Johnny which will form a motif of sorts for the documentary.

Johnny Dynamite

Over there by the East river,
Where the seagulls cry and stretch their wings,
The shipyard boats are primed for leaving,
It’s a long time since Jonny went a fighting.
In the month of April, 1837,
Johnny's mother exhausted, sighed,
Held in her arms her new-born baby -
Johnny Dynamite O’Brien.
As a restless child he prowled the docks,
Seeking trouble or fortune, whichever he could find,
Soon learned his trade on Cherry Street,
On ships Jane and Albion then his trade he plied.
Marine Mambí Johnny Dynamite!

On the first days of a long summer,
He first fought for Cuba and there Spain's demise.
On the Rambler he went roving,
from New York Harbor he did incite -
To Boca del Toro and waiting soldiers
Bound for Cuba's foreign climes.
Laden down with mighty explosives -
Pining for Havana’s harbor Cuba's pride.
As the rebels they went sailing,
A stormy gale did arise.
A mighty storm lashed the hold,
And the 60 tonnes of dynamite.

Midnight dark, roaring, reeling,
Explosives rolled loose, near set alight,
Johnny tied them down as he heard around him
Sailors softly their prayers recite.
Marine Mambí Johnny Dynamite!

He smuggled all guns fired at Las Tunas,
The prickly thorn in Valeriano Wayler’s side.
Brought Jose Martí’s son to that battle
And 3000 pounds of dynamite.
He settled down in the port Havana,
As the cries of Cuba libre did subside,
Swimming in the sparkling Caribbean sea,
Basking in freedom’s glory and sunny climes.
Before Johnny died he returned to the docks,
To see snowfall on New York Harbour's side.
No-more will Johnny go a roving,
He died that June as the scorching summer arrived.
Marine Mambí Johnny Dynamite!

© Charlie O' Brien 2011

Some notes -
Mambí was the slang for Cuban insurgents in their 19th century wars of independence against Spain.
Valeriano Wayler was Spain's Cuban Governor, his nickname was "The Butcher". Valeriano was also "credited" with the invention the military strategy -- hamleting -- moving people out of their villages into roadside camps, where they could be policed and controlled.
José Martí was a multifaceted Cuban hero, both a poet and a journalist, a professor and a fighter. He played an integral part (both intellectually and physically) in the Cuban wars of independence. He died fighting the Spanish at the "battle of Dos Ríos".
Poco a poco means little by little in Spanish.

No comments: