Updated: Aug 24, 2022
Lauren Alex O'Hagan
Cork, Ireland, July 2022
In July, I went on a pilgrimage.
A pilgrimage to the Emerald Isle. Cork City, to be precise. The home of my hero: the virtuosic
blues musician Rory Gallagher.
It was a pilgrimage that cleared my head, cleansed my soul and helped me make peace with
Ever since I was a child, I’ve struggled with anxiety, but things took a turn for the worse
during the pandemic and I found myself unable to cope with daily life. The only thing that
kept me going during this time and gave me a reason to get up each day was Rory Gallagher.
Rory’s music pulled me out of the darkest place I’ve ever been, and I knew that, come hell or
high water, I wanted – no, needed – to get to St Oliver’s Cemetery and thank him.
The moment I stepped foot in Cork, I was comforted. As if someone had swaddled me in a
warm blanket. Rory may have passed 27 years ago, but it was immediately apparent to me
that the city still beats with his heart. As I walked the streets, I sensed his presence
everywhere. I saw metaphorical ghosts of him around each corner.
On MacCurtain St, it wasn’t hard to imagine young Rory and his brother Dónal sneaking his
newly purchased Fender Stratocaster back home from Crowley’s Music Store. And passing
by Cork City Library, I could almost see Rory hunched over a book avidly studying how to
Then all down St Patrick’s Hill and through Fitzgerald Park, I could picture Rory – his bouncy
steps, his hunched gait, his swinging arms – just as in the 1972 Music Makers documentary.
Entering St Augustine’s church, I envisioned him and his mother Monica knelt in prayer as
they did every Sunday evening at 6.30pm.
I could also see an older, more troubled Rory, heading to Cork Opera House to perform in
1987 and to the Everyman’s Theatre in 1992. And finally, I visualised the streets lined with
people crying on the awfully sad day of his funeral in 1995.
As I boarded the bus to St Oliver’s cemetery on the outskirts of the city, my comfort was
replaced by the all-too-familiar sensations of anxiety. I started to panic about how I would
cope when faced with Rory’s grave.
Rory is so alive to me that I feared seeing his final resting place would be like a slap in the
face. A cruel reminder that he is no longer here. An unsettling silence in sharp contrast to
that man so full of life on stage.
But when I arrived and knelt down at his side, an overwhelming sense of peace and
calmness came over me like I’ve never felt before. Somehow, I just knew that he was okay,
that he was happy, that he had found the peace of mind that he could never find in life.
I told him about my journey and how much he means to me. I kissed the icy metal of his
gold headstone. I traced his engraved name with my fingertips. Then, I showered him with
gifts: a bolo tie, a neckerchief, an Irish flag, twelve white carnations (each with an individual
message of love), poetry, a beautiful painting made by my friend Ellen. And all the time I
could hear his soft voice telling me off for making such a fuss over him.
Once my gushing greetings were over, I put on my headphones and sat there silently, eyes
closed, engrossed in his music. Just me and him. All alone. Nobody else around us. It was a
magical, spiritual moment that I will never forget.
Tears ran down my face, yet I also smiled and even laughed. I was so overjoyed to be there,
so grateful to Rory for spreading – and continuing to spread – so much happiness through
his music, and I vowed to him to always keep his memory alive.
The day was dull and overcast, yet Rory’s headstone lit up the cemetery like the beacon of
light that he was. And my lasting image as I reluctantly said goodbye and walked away thirty
minutes later was that golden glow, a sign of hope emerging from sorrow, a phoenix from
the ashes. It filled me with optimism. I was stronger than I thought. I could heal. At last, I
was on the path to becoming whole again.
Lauren Alex O'Hagan is a researcher in the School of Humanities, Education and Social
Sciences at Örebro University and specialises in the study of music fandoms and identities.
She has published works on Rory Gallagher, Phil Lynott and Tom Petty, and is the co-founder
of the Rewriting Rory blog (www.rewritingrory.com)