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Cahal Dunne, the quintessential Irishman

He’s baaack! From frigid Pittsburgh to his warm winter home in Punta Gorda.

Cahal Dunne. Ireland’s Piano Man. The man of many jackets. Story teller and comedian extraordinaire. Blarney personified. An Irish imp if there ever was one.

He’s ready to celebrate in song and wit his Irish upbringing and heritage, radiating the joie de vivre — the joy of life — of the Emerald Isle.

His performances are far more than singing “Irish Eyes are Smiling” and telling stories about Irish whiskey. They’re about reverence for the Irish tradition.

He’s an indefatigable entertainer, coming back to Punta Gorda this week to begin a national tour of Florida and the U.S., scheduling some 85 performances through May, then leading a two-week tour of Ireland in June.

Last year, Dunne promised his audiences here that he would write a song about Punta Gorda. He has kept his promise. He’s returning to introduce the song and to include it in his expanded Choirplay chorus, inviting people locally to join the chorus, no experience necessary.

Choirplay “is a great fun hobby for me,” he told the Answer Man. “I put myself in college in Ireland conducting choirs, so this is back to that, doing songs that are way more fun — Guns ‘N Roses, Eagles, Beatles, James Taylor, Aretha Franklin, and my new song, ‘Punta Gorda.’” “I’m excited,” he said. “We start practices Jan. 8 and every Monday and Tuesday in January and February, 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.,” at the Punta Gorda Isles Civic Association, 2001 Shreve St., in Punta Gorda. The Choirplay concert will be at the center on March 4 at 2 p.m.

Singers don’t need to register in advance, he told the AM.

“If you can carry a tune, just show up and join the fun.” There’s no cost to come, but for those who join the chorus, there will be a one-time $80 fee to cover arrangements, practice CDs and music.

Dunne will also be bringing with him copies of his new CD, “Cahal Dunne, Silly Songs and More,” and a book he wrote about his trials and tribulations in his young life, “Put Yer Rosary Beads Away Ma: A Salty Tale of a Young Man’s Dreams and Struggles in ’70s Ireland.”

Dunne was born in Cork, Ireland, nephew of Jack Lynch, prime minister of Ireland, one of the greatest hurling players in Irish History. Cahal’s passion, however, was music and songwriting. He took piano lessons, quipping later that it was “one step away from ballet lessons.” He traveled, among small town admissions, to the big city, Dublin, in search of a career.

He hooked up with a local band, traveled the circuit in a rundown van, performing in seedy dance halls and supper clubs with shady management. It was in the 1970s. It was difficult for musicians to keep a job. But he persevered and continued.

Cahal’s big break came when he wrote “Happy Man” for Ireland’s National Song Contest. It was a smash hit, topping the charts in Europe and Ireland, with record sales of more than 250,000. The song enabled him to represent Ireland in the International Eurovision, the European version of American Idol, where the Swedish group ABBA and Canada’s Celine Dion earned their way onto the world stage.

He didn’t win, but finished high in the rankings, setting him up for success in Ireland.

But then came a severe depression. He left his beloved Ireland, as he had left Cork for Dublin, in search of a new career in the U.S.

His travels took him to Michigan in 1982, and then to Pittsburgh, as his fame as Ireland’s “Happy Man” grew, and he performed to increasing audience acclaim, to their fun, and to their laughter.

Along came Irish Roc music, multi-city tours, Choirplay, and, eventually, Punta Gorda.

OK, the Answer Man wanted to know — no spring chicken himself — how can someone who began his career in the 1970s in Ireland, hoof it — some 40 years later — through 85 presentations from Florida through the Midwest, in three months from mid-January through May, take a deep breath or two, then head back to Ireland, leading a legion of admirers?

“I drive 40,000 miles a year,” he told the AM. “I work out. I go to the gym every day I’m not performing.”

Always seeking answers, the AM sometimes asks some relatively dumb questions. Like the time last month, on the telephone, he asked Cahal what eventually brought him, and his wife, Kathleen, to Punta Gorda? At the time in Pittsburgh, it was snowing and 22 degrees. Duh!

Winter warmth was most definitely in the equation, he said, but after visiting friends in Englewood, it was no contest.

“We discovered Punta Gorda. We loved it. It is small. The beauty of the place is spectacular. It is pleasant living here. It feels good to me. The harbor is gorgeous. This is the place I wanted to hang my hat over Florida.”

Cahal, the Answer Man, and your myriad fans, welcome you back once more. We are so very pleased you have chosen us.

For more information about Cahal Dunne and his schedule in Florida, visit www.cahaldunne.com. For more information on Choirplay, access www.choirplay.com.

CAHAL DUNNE

The Answer Man

Bill Jones

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