Oh, this funny little town. People come, people go. People stay, people return. Sometimes people die and we miss them. Or else they just go back to Limerick. Ireland, that is.
Even though Peadar MacMahon isn’t returning to Limerick exactly, there is a certain romantic appeal to believing he is going home to a magical place named after an often bawdy poem. In the end, he was at least born in Ireland and he is definitely going back. And that is a sad turn and tall loss indeed, for this funny little town.
Anyone who remembers a Bellingham without Peadar MacMahon is either native to this place or else is older than they look. The 1990s were only weeks old when our young Irishman first pulled into town, seeking a new life in America like centuries of immigrants before him. There was extended family in southern Washington and a cousin working on the slopes of Mt. Baker. Peadar’s intent was to spend a season working on the mountain before making his way to the promised land of San Francisco.
He never left.
“My main reason in coming to the USA was so that I could live openly as a gay man” said Peadar, absently strumming the guitar that is always in his lap in idle moments. “Ireland was not a very good place for the gays in 1990. I had wanted to live in San Fran and just visit here for a while but the beauty of Bellingham and meeting musicians kept me here.”
TRUE enough. Bellingham was a different place back then, too. Camber wasn’t open yet. No one had free WiFi. Hell, there probably wasn’t even a cash machine in town at that point.
One thing Bellingham did have, though, was the 3B Tavern.
“Working at the 3B was amazing,” Peadar recalled. “Nobody died. A wealth of good music and bad business kept it going for years.”
Lots of residents and alum of Bellingham still associate Peadar with the 3B and vice versa. My own first recollection of Peadar was of standing in the back hallway, smoking of course (smoking! inside the bar! can you imagine?!). Peadar was telling about having recently spent his 40th birthday on a beach in Mexico. I recall thinking that 40 sounded old. (Can you also imagine…)
Peadar worked at Cicchitti’s and The Mt. Bakery, too, and eventually Trader Joe’s. He went through the surveying program at BTC and later wore the orange vest. Recently, he has returned to the taps and can be seen smiling ryely behind the bar of what many consider to be this century’s 3B– the Cabin Tavern on Holly.
More than anything, of course, Peadar will be recalled for his songs.
A multi-instrumentalist and touched songsmith, Peadar is one of those players who just seems to have been born doing this. He wasn’t. When he got to Bellingham, he was a reasonably-accomplished player, but he was no singer. He’d grown up at the piano and had played most anything with strings along with bagpipes. But Bellingham was where a young Peadar MacMahon honed his craft– adding not only songs, but styles to his repertoire, finding his voice and learning to write.
Shortly after arriving, Peadar fell in with some like-minded players and formed The Nowhere Garden. Lots of other bands and collaborations followed, from Cotton Mouth to The Elvi’s with countryman Michael Costelloe, MacArra and 8 Hand Reel. All during this time, he was also nonchalantly building a reputation for himself as a solo artist and storyteller. And whether he recognized it at the time or not, everything he was doing was leading him to the project that would define him and serve as a gateway to the Peadar MacMahon who will offer the first of what we can only hope is a series of farewell performances tonight at the Firefly.
The Legacy of Percy French was an immersive project which found Peadar atop a peak from which he could see both his future and his past. An ambitious work detailing the songs, sketches & stories of the great Irish artist, TLoPF was more than a record. It was more than a record with a multi-media live accompaniment. It was a revisitation of Peadar’s childhood during which his entire family would sing these same songs jammed into a stationwagon headed to the coast. And it was a pathway forward into what Peadar considers his most-informing musical collaboration, with Richard Sholtz.
“My most important Bellingham musical moment was at the Jamboree four years ago when Richard dropped in to my camp to hear what I was doing with the Percy French music,” Peadar said, explaining that Mike Marker had told Sholtz what Peadar was up to. “I feel that meeting Richard and having him as a mentor has changed how I feel about and play music.”
The Legacy package itself is a rewarding work of art, with pieces of Percy integrated into the booklet designed by Bellingham’s Jim Ward Morris. The sounds are rounded out by two other trusted musical confidants in Bruce Sparrow Shaw and Aaron Harmonson in addition to Sholtz of course. One can expect to hear selections from this document tonight at the Firefly along with Irish & Folk Night co-host Jan Peters, Sholtz, and guest Danny Vogel.
CHANGE can come slowly in Bellingham. It’s precisely the thing that some people find so comforting about this place, while others are driven quite insane by the very same stillness. But things changed abruptly for Peadar in 2007 when he met Bradley Leckron at Avellino. The courtship wasn’t long.
“It was 7 in the morning,” Bradley recalled, mixing a vodka tonic for a regular at the Cabin (he works there also sometimes). “We were making out by like 8:30.”
Newer to town at the time, Bradley had arrived in Bellingham by way of Kansas, San Diego and Singapore– that familiar route traveled by so many before him. An artist and musician also, Bradley’s experimental work in Maneken Hand & PRND was the perfect yang to Peadar’s traditional yin. Tall & boyish, he was similarly a natural compliment to Peadar– not tall and entering that gnomish sage stage which featured the long chin beard and prominent topknot.
The two were married as soon as it was legal, in August 2013 at a ceremony in Elizabeth Park. A raucous reception of karaoke and furious drinking followed on State Street, of course– at the Shakedown.
But Why? Why do you guys have to go? With 40 years’ combined residency, isn’t it more trouble to have to say goodbye to everyone? Wouldn’t it just be easier to stay? What’s the rush?
Both our heroes were working behind the bar on that fateful night in November 2016 when life outside Bellingham changed forever. Honestly, Bellingham’s bubbly crust seems pretty intact, but judging by what you see on social media, things have grown fairly ugly outside the city’s invisible walls. I remember that night, as the unimaginable results dropped in and Michigan or Ohio or whatever in the fuck clincher state was finally called, that Peadar had a very sober look about him and an uncharacteristic worry in his eye. He was thinking about healthcare.
The fate of non-citizens in Trump’s America still isn’t clear. But the couple definitely feels there are governments that take better care of their people than the one in power here. Ireland’s, for instance…
“You feel like you’re making progress culturally,” Bradley said, mixing another vodka tonic, referring to a time not so long ago when the US was not ruled by a racist, sub-literate red-butted nincompoop. “But America is just not going to recover in time for us…”
“Moving to Ireland will allow us to live a life more committed to the arts,” Peadar adds from the high road. But still, there is more to it. “Ireland has a queer prime minister who is not white!” It’s complicated.
Moving really is kind of a bitch. Moving internationally is that much harder– especially with cats. There are preparations to be made. Items to cull. Notices to be given. Houses to sell.
Well, this is a real estate website, after all. If you don’t wish to read about real estate, kindly skip ahead to the coda.
But if you’re interested in real estate, then get a load of this:
Bohemian 2-house urban compound in A+ Bellingham neighborhood walking distance from the blossoming Fountain District. Main 2-bedroom house has much Craftsman character including built-ins and hard & soft wood floors. Sunny auxiliary 1+ bedroom house features grand atria gathering space, vintage kitchenette and mid-century rose 3-piece bath. Usable basement, loft storage and lots of surprises. Masterfully-planted courtyard is lush yet manageable with new deck, old porches and lots of stories. This rad package has privacy, personality and pedigree.
If you’re reading this story, you’ve probably spent time in this house. But if you’d like to see it, just give me a shout. I’ll be open Sunday afternoon…
I’m very happy to be marketing this wonderful property, but I’d totally prefer that Peadar & Bradley were just not moving in the first place. It’s fitting that Peadar’s show tonight is at the old Green Frog, where the marquee consoled mourners after its closure late last year with an apt thought from Dr. Seuss.
“Don’t cry because it’s over,” the sign read. “Smile because it happened.”
So let’s not cry because Peadar & Bradley are leaving. Let’s smile because we know them. Here. Now.
Plus it gives us all an excuse to visit Ireland!
“I will miss so many people,” Peadar admitted, his bright Irish eyes glancing away. But then again, from the high road: “… at the same time we hope that all those that we miss will come and spend quality time with us In Ireland!”
Elvi’s singer Michael Costelloe told me that in Ireland, when someone is preparing to visit the US, the traveller’s friends and family throw what is known as an Irish Wake. The idea is that even though the move is not intended to be permanent, it is often the truth that the traveller is not seen in Ireland again.
Obviously it’s harder for all of us to go to Ireland than it is for Peadar & Bradley to return for a visit in Bellingham. So let’s hope this is not an American Wake.
“I have felt deeply loved here,” Peadar concluded. “I have met amazing people, been shown kindness beyond measure.”
Safe travels, friends.