Songblog: The Road to Fivemiletown

I’m always trying to make people happy.

Somehow I can’t stand the thought that I’ll tell a story with an unhappy ending and not find offer shred of hope in the process somewhere. As a songwriter, I’ve always tried to find the light at the end of the tunnel. I laboured over this song for weeks, without successfully being able to rescue the character from the quicksand of her own life and unhappiness. Onstage I introduce it as a ‘little slice of South Tyrone gothic’.

And people seem to love it.

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As a character study it seems to work – maybe everyone knows an aunt or a cousin who made these choices in life and ended up stuck, trapped in a loveless dead end of a life. Anyway, it goes down well in concert, and I’ve had all kinds of kind comments about it online, so it shows how people love a little tale of misery in their lives now and then.

The origin of this one is a mystery to me – the guitar figure right at the start was the first part. I remember sitting on the edge of the bed playing this over and over until it was properly under my fingers. As for inspiration, I think the work of John McGahern may have rubbed off on me more than I thought – there seems to be a touch of the Amongst Women about it, that sense of being stranded alone and unloved in a rural landscape.

MUSICIANS: Anthony Toner – guitars and vocals; Peter McKinney – drums; Clive Culbertson – bass; John McCullough – drums; Neil Martin - cello

The Road to Fivemiletown:

She was the youngest of four daughters,

and she married way too fast,

in the days when vows were iron -

and you had to make them last.

But her father was a bruiser,

and he bruised them twice a week.

She couldn’t live the life her mother had,

and turn the other cheek.

So when she turned sixteen, she started counting off the days

- til she could find herself a husband, and finally get away.

He was a farmer with big farmer’s hands,

and she met him at a dance.

She set her sights upon him,

and he never stood a chance.

She thought the price of being choosy

was to live upon the shelf,

and she thought he’d do the job

as well as anybody else.

And when they both stood at the altar, he said he’d never let her down -

he had a farm and forty acres, either side of the road to Fivemiletown.

That first year the river burst its banks,

and half the countryside was drowned.

all the food that he had planted

lay and rotted in the ground.

He’d come home at night exhausted,

and lie dead between the sheets,

and she’d lie all night and listen to

the roaring of the beasts,

and it was dark - as dark as being lost and never found.

You wouldn’t even know your eyes were closed or open on the road to Fivemiletown.

Once upon a time she thought the world

would be hers to wrap her arms around.

Now she makes the bed, and lies back down.

She drew a disappearing heart, when there was no-one else around,

on a steamed-up kitchen window - looking out on the road to Fivemiletown.