‘That’s another legend gone, Gerry.’ We’re standing in High Street, chatting, as news of Pat
Shortis’s demise filters across town. ‘You knew him?’ ‘I did, of course’, he said, ‘sure
everyone knew Pat, played a bit of music with him, great man to tell a yarn.’ ‘Well I know.’
‘Loved his one about the fellow in the brewery.’ ‘I’d say there were a lot of those.’ ‘Anyway
here’s how Pat told it: I knew a fellow who was sacked out of the brewery for drinking!
Drinking tay.’ We laughed. ‘That’s the end of an era, Gerry, the Emperor of the Continent
has passed on.’ ‘Emperor of the Continent? Never heard that before.’ Sure you couldn’t have
– I only thought of it this morning.’ Thanks for that, Gary.
To be honest I thought Pat Shortis would live forever. I have never known a more sprightly,
more chirpy, more cheery and even more cheeky (think fog-horn which I’ll get to) man in his
nineties. At ninety five, Pat (who passed away in his 99 th year) along with his life-long friend
and other half of the legendary Wetlands Orchestra, Jim Coady, was still entertaining the
‘troops’. And in a way he always will be because when we’ll think of Pat Shortis we’ll think:
singing, whistling, telling yarns and playing the sax. The famous sax. The infamous sax that
he exploited to the full – entertaining folks with the aforementioned fog-horn effect which
you received, full blast, if you had to leave (for whatever reason) during his always engaging
performances. Indeed, and I don’t wish to be disrespectful here, but as I exited Johnston’s
funeral home, having paid my respects to the family, I half expected Pat to sit up in the coffin
and give me the full fog-horn treatment! Actually Pat’s tie had an imprint of a saxophone on
it and it occurred to me then, and only then, that I never once saw Pat Shortis without a tie; he
was always ‘well turned out’ as my mother would say.
I had the privilege, and pleasure, of performing with Pat on several occasions – in the Club
House Hotel, at the Kitchen Sessions in ‘Shem’s’, occasionally at his birthday celebrations,
but mostly in Cleere’s on those Monday nights when the famous Wetlands Orchestra popped
in to perform a tune or two, not least ‘If I Were a Blackbird’ – ‘If I were a blackbird, I’d
whistle and sing’ and boy could Pat Shortis whistle, enthralling locals and tourists alike.
When it came to performing the man was a maestro. But why wouldn’t he be? As Fr. Frank
Purcell informed us - Pat was performing Penny (Pat’s admission charge) Concerts from his
home in Maudlin St. – at the age of five! And Pat wasn’t just handy with the sax he was
equally handy with the hurl, captaining St. John’s to win the 1939 Minor Hurling
Championship. A particularly touching moment was when Pat’s son, Seán, got up to say a
few words but, overcome with emotion, sang a few songs instead - his father’s songs:
‘Daisy, Daisy’ and ‘You Are My Sunshine’ and then, a great friend of Pat’s and Sean’s,
talented musician, Johnny Hillman, sang another of Pat’s favourites: ‘After the Ball Is Over’.
Pat Shortis was carried shoulder-high down the aisle of St. John’s as the Bereavement Choir
sang out ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’.
Pat Shortis, Freeman of Kilkenny City (and I appreciated the invite to that ceremony) was
escorted to St. Kieran’s by our councillors in their flowing robes of red and black but ahead
of them, leading the cortege, a Wren Boy, a Mummer, in black & amber robes and wearing
the traditional straw mask. Appropriate for sure as Pat, along with his family, always ‘hunted
the wren’ and he was, for many a year, the oldest practising Wren ‘Boy’ in Ireland. At the
graveside another touching moment as Jim Coady, on his trusty button accordion, played his
great friend, and Wetlands Orchestra partner, into the next life with, what else but: ‘If I Were
a Blackbird’ and ‘Now is the Hour ‘(when you and I must part) Curiosity getting the better of
me I approached the Mummer who, it transpired, I knew well, John Ryan. ‘We’ll sing a
song’, said John. ‘What song?’ ‘The Parting Glass.’ And there in St. Kieran’s cemetery, far
from the mourning crowd, the two of us softly sang ‘The Parting Glass’, improvising at the
end with: ‘Goodnight and joy be with you, Pat.’