Working class hero – Christy Dignam

Christy had been ill for a number of years. We all knew it. Yet, the news of his passing, yesterday, still hit with a shock that was physical for me. It was a bit like my Dad – we’d been so used to near misses, where we thought we’d lost him but he bounced back, that we had irrationally, begun to think that he always would. And now Christy’s really gone and the nation is in mourning.

I did a lot of driving today, so I listened to a lot of radio. Programme after programme was about Christy, as the nation rang in and poured their hearts out about Aslan’s lead singer from Finglas – my hometown also.

In 1988 – the year that Aslan launched their debut album ‘Feel No Shame’ – I set up a local newspaper to give a voice to my community who were always on the receiving end of bad press from the national media of the time. We didn’t try to cover up the negatives, but we made sure to celebrate the positives – and there were many in the tightly-knit community that Finglas had become, after two decades saw it turn from a farming village of a few hundred, to one of Dublin’s largest suburbs with estate after estate of identical houses providing homes for 53,000 people. When I left school, the economy was in tatters. Jobs were hard to come by for most and almost impossible to come by for someone whose address was in Finglas. An infamous Today Tonight programme on RTE – infamous, at least, to the Finglas community – had painted us the poster child of communities gone wrong. It featured kids on horseback galloping around the streets, young people sleeping in cars and single Mums – still a scandalous concept in the 80’s. Aslan were a symbol of hope. “Feel No Shame” was a song about relationships, but the title resonated with us young people in Finglas who were living under a burden of shame that was pushed upon us because of where we came from. Aslan were blazing a trail for a generation of kids whose only way out seemed to be discovery on the football pitch by a scout for an English club – or music. Christy, with his charisma and frontman mastery, was a rockstar to us. But he was an accessible rockstar who still had his feet firmly on the ground. Those who were fortunate enough to see Aslan live will have noted that he gigged in his bare feet to feel a connection with ‘the vibes’, as he described it in an interview with my. newspaper. When the band split there was a collective sigh of disappointment around Finglas. And when they regrouped there was a collective sense of delight. They had fallen and they had got back up again. That was another symbol of hope for us.

In recent years, as Christy spoke openly, generously and honestly about his fight with cancer, his thoughts and his life, those who didn’t already love him fell in love with him. Anyone following me on social media will know that I’ve just completed a three-part series about the recent history of Finglas – “A Finglas Story” that is due to be screened in August. Christy has agreed to an interview for that series – an interview that his failing health was to deny me. Without Christy’s voice, the series will have something important missing – and maybe that’s appropriate, because without his voice, Finglas will always have something missing now.

To Christy’s family, and his band family – thanks for sharing him with us. I note an article in the Economic Times of India announcing his passing. Christy had fans all over the world, but more so in Ireland and at another level completely, in his hometown of Finglas. He’ll be deeply missed and always honoured.

2 thoughts on “Working class hero – Christy Dignam

  1. A very touching tribute, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Truly, it was one of the most insightful pieces that I have read about his passing. RIP Christy Dignam.

    1. Thanks Jason. That means a lot coming from a journalist of your stature and someone who has known Christy throughout the years.

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