In the mid-sixties, Colm O’Lochlainn’s songbook More Irish Street Ballads (1965) would feed into the folk revival and re-introduce the song to a new generation of musicians and audiences. The Dublin balladeer Frank Harte recorded a version based on O’Lochlainn’s lyrics in 1967. Popular celebrity singers, whose concerts filled large venues, picked up their songs from veteran local singers, who had previously performed in pubs and other such intimate settings. Christy Moore, for example, claimed to have learned ‘The Night before Larry was Stretched’ from Andy Rynne of Prosperous, County Kildare. The song has since featured on albums of internationally successful bands, such as the Wolfe Tones. When sung by the rock star Elvis Costello, it transcended the niche audience of traditional music and entered the realm of global popular music. In an age of increasingly visual popular culture, it was even adapted to the big screen. The recovery and digital restoration in 1998 of the long-lost footage of the avant-garde film ‘O’Donoghue’s Opera’ enabled its debut in Ireland, followed by its international release. Filmed 1965, the movie humorously dramatises ‘The Night before Larry was Stretched’ with the Dubliner’s Ronnie Drew – an iconic figure of the folk revival – in the leading role. Mainly set in Baggot Street’s O’Donoghue’s pub – a popular Dublin venue with a reputation for live traditional music sessions, it opens with a rendition of the ballad by the folk singer Johnny Moynihan and includes appearances of other celebrated folk artists (Seamus Ennis, the Dubliners, the McKenna Folk Group and the Grehan Sisters). This bohemian cinematographic gem paraphrased the Beggars Opera (through the filtering influence of the Threepenny Opera), locating Irish traditional popular culture once more at the cutting edge of cultural production.
Since its first appearance, ‘The Night before Larry was Stretched’ has provided immeasurable entertainment to a diverse range of audiences and readers and has appeared in many different spheres of popular culture. It was considered a representation of a local subculture and acclaimed as a showpiece of a national folk culture….