Above: The Shannon Tide will return to Wilmington for a special performance at Catherine Rooney’s on March 11. (L-R: Jimmy Nalls, Bert Keith, Danny Costello, Martin O’Malley).
By Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald
There are plenty of reasons to love the energy and antics of St. Patrick’s Day in Wilmington. We’ll give you one more. Regional favorites The Shannon Tide — led by former Maryland governor and presidential candidate Martin O’Malley — are reuniting for a special performance at Catherine Rooney’s following the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday, March 11. None other than Kevin Freel, owner of Wilmington’s legendary O’Friel’s Irish Pub, helped set up the band’s appearance.
Says Freel: “Depending on your generation [on March 11], you’ll be able to get into the way-back machine and go Back to The Future, to ‘a galaxy far, far away,’ or even to The Twilight Zone, and for a few hours relive those great years of the ’80s with The Shannon Tide at O’Friel’s Irish Pub.”
We caught up with O’Malley in advance of his return to Wilmington to talk about the history of the group, what he’s most looking forward to, and what’s next. Here’s what he had to say …
O&A: So, how did The Shannon Tide get started?
O’Malley: When I was I high school, I fell into an Irish band with three other guys 10 years my senior — that band was called The Shannon Tide. Only one of us was married; only two of us could tune a guitar; and we knew 20 songs we played twice a night. But there was, at the time, an abundance of newly opened Irish bars and a shortage of Irish bands. In that supply/demand curve, we committed ourselves to playing out until we got better.
The songs we sang were mostly the old songs popularized this century by the Clancy Brothers and The Wolfe Tones. Stories of love and hope and freedom. And the sort of sing-along choruses that have stood the test of time.
Around 1980, Kevin [Freel] opened O’Friel’s [Irish Pub]. He and his brother Ed recruited us to make the trip and see if there might be a market for live Irish music in Wilmington. The first Thursday we played there, the place was packed, and the party was on from the first song. The next time, there were people lined up a block down the street. I can honestly say that the first time an audience respected us as a band was in Wilmington. And while D.C. and Baltimore were our bases, I’ll say we never had a better time than when we played at O’Friel’s.
And where are you all now?
O’Malley: The original band ran its course around 1983. We went separate ways, but we continued to play in other bands, started to write our own songs, and got better at tuning our own guitars. We all keep a hand in playing in other bands or on special occasions. While we stay in touch as friends, this will be the first time we’ve played as The Shannon Tide in Wilmington in 40 years.
Why make the return to Delaware?
O’Malley: Every since those early days of the ’80s, I’ve run into people — in politics and business — who remind me that we met at O’Friel’s back in the day. In fact, [former Delaware] Governor Jack Markell would often comment to me that he and his wife met during one of our shows at O’Friel’s. Small world. That’s Delaware.
Shortly before COVID struck, we’d gotten back together to perform a couple reunion shows in D.C. and Baltimore. But the shutdown prevented our world tour from reaching Wilmington.
Now we’re back, and honestly, our musicianship, coordination, and chops are far better now than they were then! When Kevin (now retired from full-time bar-owning) asked us to come back to Rooney’s for a Shannon Tide reunion show, we jumped at the chance!
What are you most looking forward to? What can fans expect from The Shannon Tide’s return?
O’Malley: We are looking forward to seeing a lot of old friends and friends who remain young heart as we conjure up the songs and energy of younger days. The magic and old songs of those bygone days still hold, along with a special energy from those heady weekends at O’Friel’s. Among those trusty old songs fans may hear: The One Road, A Nation Once Again, and The Wild Colonial Boy, to name a few.
What’s your favorite thing to play from your repertoire? What do you think your fans yearn for the most?
O’Malley: Some of the songs above. And honestly just the joy of hearing those same voices — seasoned but better — belting it out in unison, is a treat for all of us. We’ve finally become in retirement the band we imagined we might sound like in those earlier days.
Will The Shannon Tide be going back out on the road?
O’Malley: [LAUGHS] We won’t being going back on any road but I-95.
What are some of your fondest memories of the Wilmington scene?
O’Malley: [Former longtime City Councilman] Bud Freel and [me and Kevin] singing Rosalita along with Springsteen blaring the classic track over the house speakers at the end of high-energy night.
Who’s on Martin O’Malley’s playlist right now?
O’Malley: Kind of like Taylor Swift lately. But Springsteen remains the soundtrack of my life, along with all those old Irish songs.
Do you feel there’s anything similar about being a politician and being a musician?
O’Malley: Having played onstage on front of sometimes less-than-polite Irish-American crowds, I certainly didn’t suffer from stage fright when I fell into politics. I suppose there is something universal about the ability to see people as individuals whether in big crowds or one-to-one.