In August 2016, John Francis Flynn was hired for a well-paying position on a Disney cruise ship, playing with a group at a replica Irish pub inspired by the leprechaun-focused movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People from 1959. “I would often be having breakfast next to someone dressed as Goofy. It was quite challenging,” he chuckles.
Afterwards, when the promoters suggested that the band should dress up as characters from the film and perform songs similar to Ed Sheeran’s version of Galway Girl, the band declined the offer. Flynn explains, “The perception of Irishness is distorted. We take pride in our culture and enjoy sharing it with others, but it’s a losing battle when people only care if you’re dressed in green or drinking a pint.” This is something he also notices in his hometown of Dublin. He describes the popular tourist spot, Temple Bar, as being like a “Disneyland” due to its picturesque location by the river.
According to Flynn, his new album, Look Over the Wall, See the Sky, which is being released this month, is a way of countering this issue. He hopes that it will accurately portray Dublin as a genuine and dynamic place. A friend described it as a musical tour of the city, capturing its vibrant energy. The songs on the album are traditional folk tunes with added experimental elements. The first track, “The Zoological Gardens,” is usually performed with a playful tone to match its suggestive lyrics, but Flynn has incorporated psychedelic synthesizers to give it a dreamy and unpredictable feel.
Flynn’s childhood was filled with playing traditional flute and tin whistle, as well as a passion for jazz and experimental music instilled by his father. He strives to incorporate these influences in a respectful manner, rather than simply playing around with them. For example, while playing the tin whistle, he maintains the traditional way of playing the tune instead of adding a jazz twist to it.
The classic song Within a Mile of Dublin takes on an almost industrial sound. Flynn explains, “To me, it represents the tearing apart of Dublin city.” Mole in the Ground, a protest song from 1928, maintains a constant motorik beat and features deadpan lyrics: “It’s a call to dismantle the system, so I wanted to give it a powerful and forceful sound.”
Flynn sees the song’s theme of standing against capitalist manipulation as relevant to Dublin and its situation of being controlled by property developers. In a recent report by Euronews, it was stated that rent and property costs in Dublin have nearly doubled since 2013, and the number of homeowners between the ages of 25 to 34 has significantly decreased. The Irish Times also reported that Dublin has the third-lowest amount of affordable housing globally.
Despite its experimental nature, the most notable moment on the record is surprisingly simple: a rendition of Dirty Old Town that concludes the album, featuring powerful brass accompaniment reminiscent of traditional mining bands. Originally written by Ewan MacColl about Salford, Greater Manchester, the song has become associated with Dublin due to popular covers by the Pogues and the Dubliners. According to Flynn, the song can often be heard simultaneously from three different pubs in Temple Bar. While acknowledging the great arrangements by the Pogues and the Dubliners, Flynn believes that the essence of the song is a gentle, solemn, and melancholic love song. He saw it as a fitting way to conclude the love story for Dublin.
He has spent his entire life living in the city, growing up in the suburb of Marino on the north side. Currently, he resides in Stoneybatter, which was once a working-class, inner-city area near the River Liffey but has now become a popular spot for hipsters. He describes both places as having a strong sense of community. He specifically mentions the Cobblestone, a pub in Smithfield near Stoneybatter, which has been instrumental in his career and also helped launch the careers of others such as the folk group Lankum. He also notes that other pubs in the area have adopted the same energy and every night of the week, within a 500-meter radius, people are performing gigs. He finds this atmosphere to be fantastic.
In the year 2021, proposals were presented to transform the Cobblestone into a small, upscale hotel. According to Flynn, this was the final tipping point. In response, a demonstration was arranged, with the expectation of a few hundred attendees. However, to everyone’s surprise, 5,000 people showed up. This gave Flynn a renewed sense of optimism, showing that despite the chaos in the city, the power of the people still remains.
The campaign was a success as the council denied planning permission. The Cobblestone pub is still in operation, which is fantastic news. On Mondays, I perform there with my father and his friends. I have also played with the pub’s owner, Tom Mulligan, and his family. This tradition will continue with generations of children after us. The pub is not just a community, but a family. When it is under attack, it is important to take action. While it may not be the end of the battle, it gives immense hope. Despite concerns about the decline of Dublin, the city is still going strong.