Wary o' the Green

Irishman Mossy Moran will take Cleveland over his homeland. And a Guinness, please.

Mossy Moran, between swigs of Guinness.
Mossy Moran, between swigs of Guinness.
Mossy Moran is getting thirsty. He's a few Irish rebel songs into his first set at the Castlebar Inn, a small pub near Kamm's Corners, but he's not about to wait until he's finished playing his song. Moran grabs the full pint of stout from the barstool in front of him with his teeth, lifts the glass to an angle that allows the black liquid to flow into his mouth, and drains it in one gulp, all the while playing his guitar as smoothly as the Guinness goes down his throat.

Not exactly Jimi Hendrix, but do not try this at home.

Home for Mossy Moran was, until the autumn of 1996, Waterford, Ireland. It's now Willoughby, where he lives with an American wife and a daughter on the way. Why America, and why Cleveland? And why the East Side? Doesn't Moran know it's the West Side that's Cleveland's "Little Mayo?"

"I left Ireland to get away from the Irish," he declares. "If I wanted to live near Irish people, I never would have come here."

In all seriousness?

"I met a couple of tourists in a hotel in Waterford, where I was working," Moran says. "They asked if I was interested in coming to Cleveland. I said, "Sure, why not?' I'll go anywhere if the money's good. I'm a prostitute for music."

And business is good. With St. Patrick's Day falling on a Friday this year, Moran, 29, naturally has a busy weekend ahead of him. But even when it's not the season when everyone pretends to be Irish, Moran keeps busy.

"If I only work three nights in a week, that's a very slow week for me," he says. "And I do like being in Cleveland. I love the size of it. It's not too big and not too small. I was surprised to find it as laid back as I did."

Although he jokes about being willing to follow the money anywhere in the world, that's what stunned Moran the most about being a musician in America. "I got my first gig at Mullarkey's Pub [in Willoughby] the first weekend I was in America," he says. "After my first four nights' work, I had $800 dollars in my pocket. I couldn't fucking believe it.

"I could never see myself living in Ireland again. Maybe in 10 years I'll want to go back. That depends on my wife and my new daughter, and what they want. But the money is so much better here, although the reaction is not as good. It isn't as rowdy as it was when I played in Ireland."

And it isn't as if Moran hasn't experienced hard times in his new country. Has there ever been an immigrant who hasn't, at some point, thought he or she had made a mistake?

"I was alone and broke on my first Christmas Eve," he says. "I called my mother back in Ireland, told her everything was fine. I'd lied, of course. I had 10 dollars and nowhere to go. When I got off the telephone, I cried like a little kid. I thought, "Am I crazy? What the hell am I doing here?'

"I went to a pub. I had just enough money for a hamburger and a beer. I told my story to a young woman, and she got me drunk for free. She wouldn't even let me give her my $10. I couldn't believe someone had shown me that kindness."

And it isn't as if Moran has not had some tough times musically as well. You won't hear his rendition of "Danny Boy" or "I'll Take You Home, Kathleen." As he points out, those songs weren't written in Ireland. Most of his songs are of the rebel variety -- "Come Out, Ye Black and Tans," "The Merry Ploughboy," and the like. Immigrant songs are also a big part of his repertoire. There aren't many love songs in the mix.

Moran got in trouble with a local restaurant/pub that was touchy about music deemed too politically potent. He played "Boys of the Old Brigade," a song of reminiscence about a man's days in the Irish Republican Army. He was told by the proprietor not to play it or any song in that vein that might offend customers with pro-British sympathies.

"I said, "All right, I'll leave.' He said, "No, we don't want you to quit. We want you back again.' So they want me back, but I can't play this or this or this. To hell with them. I will play what I want."

Eventually, their relationship soured to the point where the place didn't even want Moran to return. He was supposed to have played a charity concert with several other Cleveland-based Irish musicians at the venue in question, but was dropped from their lineup without being told. He found out when he showed up that evening.

"Please don't even print its name," he says. "I don't want them to get any publicity. They hate me more than I hate them, I think."

Despite his refusal to expunge rebel music from his shows, Moran is not a fire-breathing republican who believes a 32-county Ireland is the only answer to the problems his country has had with Britain through the centuries. He supports the Good Friday Agreement for a nationalist/unionist power-sharing assembly in the six British-occupied counties.

"The peace process is the best thing that has happened to Ireland in a long time," Moran says. "It's important people stop shooting each other. But I don't understand people who support the peace process and therefore think I shouldn't sing rebel songs. This is history. Some people want to forget the past and only look to the future, but you must use the past to build the future.

"Waterford is about as far south, as far away from the conflict, as you can be in Ireland," he adds. "Yet I became aware of what was happening, and that this is my country and I should care."

Moran's major foray into republican politics might be his inclusion on the compilation album Where Is Liberty? Moran's contribution is "Four Green Fields," a song written by Tommy Makem of the Clancy Brothers. The green fields to which the song refers are Ireland's four provinces -- Leinster, Munster, Connacht, and Ulster -- with "one of them in bondage."

The CD was compiled to help defray the legal bills of Noel Cassidy, a Monaghan native who has lived in Cleveland since 1983 and is currently facing deportation. Cassidy was a prisoner in Northern Ireland's infamous Long Kesh prison. He was released in 1981, the year of the hunger strikes, during which 10 republican prisoners died. Moran met Cassidy one night at Mullarkey's, and the two became friends.

Moran began playing guitar at age 10 and had his first paying gig at 14 -- an amateur night in a Waterford pub that netted him "10 pounds and all the Guinness I could drink." Later he became a busker in Dublin's tourist mecca, Grafton Street, and joined a couple of punk/new-wave groups, Nobody's Heroes (which once opened for the Pogues) and Race Against Time. Both were influenced by the Irish acts Boomtown Rats and Stiff Little Fingers. Moran regards those bands, plus Irish blues guitar icon Rory Gallagher, as influences on his style as much as the ballad singers.

Moran has his own debut coming soon -- a live CD recorded in Cleveland, Columbus, and Waterford, to be titled Live From Both Sides of the Pond. It's appropriate the record is a live effort, as perhaps Moran's feistiness onstage is a by-product of his punk rock days.

"I like to get really wild when I perform," he says.

It's not wild in the Castlebar Inn on this Thursday night, though Moran still treats fans to his simultaneous, unassisted drinking and playing. The bar contains mostly regulars who know Moran intimately, and he leaves the stage to take a seat on a stool and serenade the gathering, much as if he were giving an impromptu performance for friends at a private party.