His dismay originated from getting paid for work he hadn’t completed. He vowed that would never happen again. Fifty-five years later, that vow has served Irish Joe Lynch very well.
Joe has lived at Mount Mellum, just south of Maleny in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, for the last 10 years with his wife Ricki. Joe’s working life has been spent in the construction industry, with forays into labouring, boxing, and being a bouncer at the Irish Dance Hall in London during ‘The Troubles’ in the 1960s. His is a life of hard work and colourful stories, and it’s the latter for which he is widely known on the Australian festival circuit.
Music, storytelling and poetry around the fireplace were staples of Joe’s impoverished childhood. He developed a love for Yeats, Poe, Tennyson and Frost at an early age, and has always been able to spin a yarn. He came to Australia in 1977.At 6 foot four inches, with a lean muscular build, a mass of fair curls, and the gift of the gab sweetened by a mellifluous Irish accent, he had no trouble finding work. After a few years driving heavy machinery in Darwin and on Australia’s east coast, he ran his own earthmoving business in southeast Queensland and the north coast of New South Wales. He worked seven days a week, the first to arrive and last to leave, ‘always running,’ as his mates observed. He made a lot of money, bought houses, got married, and had three kids.
They were productive years; but work didn’t leave much time for family, and the marriage suffered. It was a girl in a takeaway shop in Lennox Head that halted his momentum. He started writing poetry from that day and never stopped.
His marriage eventually fell apart;taking a heavy financial and emotional toll. The business was sold on doctor’s orders—‘you’re a walking statistic’—and Joe moved to Nimbin for two years. Locals still talk about Joe’s arrival. A Rolls Royce pulled up at the bus zone in the village centre, a tall, lean, man unfurled himself from the driver’s seat, strolled to the boot of the car, and produced a guitar case. Within moments the case was open on the pavement, and he was busking in a rich Irish tenor voice. Even in a place as filled with odd characters as Nimbin, a Rolls-driving Irish busker was a singular phenomenon. Nevertheless, they were desperate alcoholic days as Joe fought his demons.
When his10-year-old son, Joey, came to live with him, it gave Joe ‘someone to look after’, and his recovery began. He moved to the Gold Coast, became involved in local theatre where he met Ricki, and went back to the earthmoving industry. He worked hard again, but made time for family, poetry, singing and storytelling. He tells of lunchtimes spent under a shady tree telling stories to his young crew. One day they were complaining about the cost of takeaways—‘$18 for a hamburger and drinks.’ — ‘That’s nothin’ he told them. ‘One day I went for takeaway during a job in Lennox Head and it cost me $750,000.’ It also produced one of the most ardent and romantic poems ever written, The Beautiful Smoko Girl.
In 2004, Joe went to the Woodford Folk Festival for the first time. He won Poet of the Week at the legendary Woodford Poets’ Breakfast and was encouraged to do his own gigs. His application to perform at the National Folk Festival in Canberra was accepted, and he was awarded ‘Reciter of the Year’ for Somewhere in Iraq, a poem inspired by a dialogue between a father and his son (Joe and Joey) who is fighting with the Australian forces in the Middle East. He has since become a star fixture at Australia’s two biggest festivals, packing out every venue he performs in.Enthralled audiences at the Tasmanian Poetry Festival, the National Celtic Festival, the Australian Celtic Festival and many others nationally and on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland. His late-life performance odyssey has also taken him to New York and back to Ireland. Joe has adapted many traditional Irish myths and legends as well as writing his own compelling material. The Children of Liris a half hour tale of ancient Ireland that a packed, spellbound audience at the Maleny Community Centre will never forget.
Since his Woodford coming-out, Joe’s star has risen relentlessly. Highlights include his mesmerising performance in front of 10,000 people at the Woodford Festival closing Fire Event and performing in the world-famous Speigeltent at last year’s National Folk Festival. Woodford Folk Festival founder and director, Bill Hauritz, asked what happened when he noticed everyone crying after returning from a key event at the Woodford Planting Festival last year. The culprit was Irish Joe Lynch and his poem, The Planter and the Tree.
Joe has recently retired from the earthmoving business, and with his number one supporter and muse, Ricki, intends to further his career as storyteller and poet.
The Sunshine Coast is fortunate to have a world-class poet/raconteur-in-residence; the excavator driver who’s found his true calling as a modern-day Seanachai—the traditional Irish storyteller. The same dedication shown as a seven-year-old Irish lad thinning the beets will ensure Irish Joe Lynch achieves the legendary status he deserves.

Kate Lawrence
Author: Kate Lawrence

Creativity, Community, Culture