- 12 Jun 20
While she dedicated herself to keeping the memory of her son Philip Lynott alive, Philomena Lynott was a powerful protagonist in her own right.
A whole 12 months have passed since the sad death of Philomena Lynott, mother of the great black Irish rock star Philip Lynott. It is hard to believe. However, what is striking is the extent to which the memory of her achievements and of the determination and resilience that she brought to life remain so strong. She left a powerful legacy.
On the first anniversary of Philomena Lynott's death, it is good for us to recall the very different circumstances that prevailed in Ireland – and the UK – when she grew up.
Born in Crumlin in 1930, in a family of nine children, Philomena left school at the age of 13 and began work in an elderly people's home. She left Ireland in her teens and got work as a nurse in Manchester after World War II, where she met Cecil Parris and became pregnant. Her first son, Philip Lynott, was born in 1949.
Whether in 1950s Dublin, or indeed the Birmingham area where she was based, raising a child of mixed race outside of marriage was a mighty challenge. In Ireland at the time, the treatment of single mothers was barbaric, so returning home was scarcely an option. Instead, Philomena did her time in the English equivalent of a magdalene laundry.
Hardship followed her, in an era in which women were not at all equipped by society to deal with issues relating to sex and sexuality – nor with the fecklessness of so many men of that era. Hardship followed her. She had two more children, with fathers who – like Cecil Parris – moved on. Left alone with three children to care for, she was confronted with a terrible dilemma. With no way of earning a living, she was forced to give her second and third child - Philomena and Leslie - up for adoption.
She took Philip back to Dublin and he was brought up in the family home on Leighlin Road in Crumlin; she returned to the UK, finally opening the Clifton Grange Hotel in Manchester. Later on, she returned to Dublin, where she lived from the end of the 1970s on.
Her story is often heartbreaking, but the instinct that Philomena Lynott had for survival in a society she refused to bow down to was extraordinary; she proved to be a formidable woman, who would not allow herself to be broken by any system.
In a moving eulogy written by Father Bryan this day last year, he spoke warmly of the woman he knew.
In particular, he focussed on her dedication to her son Philip Lynott.
"We all know of her devotion to her beloved Philip. In the last 33 years, she made sure that his legacy as an artist, a musician, and a poet was firmly passed on. All across the world so many people loved his music and he was like a bridge between genres. Philip Lynott was a pioneer to many that came after him. His mam helped in passing on the message."
Along the way, Philomena became a kind of extra mother to rock 'n' roll stars and showbiz personalities passing through Manchester, giving accommodation and a welcome to the likes of Thin Lizzy, the Sex Pistols and more in her Clifton Grange Hotel. She loved being part of the music and showbiz scene – in part at least because she herself had the instincts of a star.
While she became well known first as the mother of Philip Lynott, she ultimately became a protagonist, and a widely respected figure in her own right. Her memoir, 'My Boy', was published by Hot Press Books in 1995. A powerful story, told with passion and energy, it revealed a huge amount not just about her remarkable life but also about the horrible, restrictive nature of society in the 1950s.
Co-authored by Hot Press scribe Jackie Hayden, 'My Boy' became a No. 1 best-selling book twice over. While it connected with Thin Lizzy fans, and those who worshipped Philip Lynott, it was also hailed as an utterly memorable and moving woman's story, as she battled against the odds, and the vicissitudes of life – and in the end triumphed in her own inimitable way.
Those who knew her could always see where Philip's rock 'n' roll swagger came from. Her defiant sense of independence and charisma were also part of Philip's armoury as a singer and performer. That he loved her was never in doubt.
"And if you see my mother,” Philip Lynott sings on the track 'Philomena', “Tell her I’m keeping fine/ Will you tell her that I love her/ And I’ll try and write sometime / If you see my oul’ one/ Give her all of my love/ For she has a heart of gold there/ As good as God above." The song was released on Nightlife in November 1974, though her influence was previously seen on ‘Clifton Grange Hotel’.
Philip legendarily treated Philomena Lynott like royalty at Thin Lizzy gigs, introducing her to the audience and recognising her as a fellow wild spirit rather than just family. He bought a house for Philomena on the Strand Road in Sutton, called White Horses. She remained in that stunning spot overlooking Dublin Bay with her partner Dennis Keeley until he – and finally she – passed away.
Philomena was with Philip when he died of septicemia, in Salisbury General Infirmary, on January 4, 1986. In My Boy, she wrote about how badly she was crushed, and wounded, at the fact that she had lost the son she loved. But as she pieced her life together again, she was also committed to fighting against substance abuse; her advocacy of LGBTQ+ rights also reflected the open attitude she had to people who had too often been marginalised, in Ireland as elsewhere, by an unforgiving society.
The dedication showed by Philomena Lynott to fans of Philip and his music was immense. It was one of the great joys of her life that, following a long campaign which she spearheaded – with her close friend Graham at her side – a statue of her son was erected on Harry Street, just off Philip’s beloved Grafton Street in 2005.
To mark the first anniversary of Philomena's death, there will a Mass at 7pm today (Friday, June 12) conducted by Fr. Bryan Shortall, who presided at her funeral.
One year ago, Fr. Shortall mused in his eulogy about a possible reunion of mother and son. Certainly, today on the anniversary of her death, it is timely to think of them both together, to remember Philomena Lynott and Philip Lynott.
That surely is the way that she would have wanted it.
My Boy is available to buy now as part of our Philip Lynott collection below: