Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Old Greenock Characters - Blind Dominick

From John Donald's first volume of Old Greenock Characters...

The mere mention of this well known and well remembered individual recalls many memories of youthful days long past; for it is impossible to think of Dominick without conjuring up contemporaneous persons, places and things. He was a blind fiddler named Dominick O'Donnell, a native of Ireland, from the town of Glenties in County Doengal who spent several years in America where, it is said, he was deprived of sight by sunstroke. On his return to this country he settled in Greenock and, until his death about thirty years later, earned a subsistence as a street fiddler, his income from that source being augmented by the generosity of shopkeepers and others upon whom he called periodically.

Tall, well set-up, with full beard and good features and decently clad in a tweed suit with a round felt hat, Dominick presented quite a respectable appearance.

While his performances as a violinist were in some respects striking, they by no means suggested the genius of a Paganini. His repertory was limited, very limited. The strains of 'The Girl I left behind me' and only they, come quevring through the past. Dominick may have essayed other tunes, but I cannot recall them. With a courage worthy of a great cause, he would tackle the special request of a patron, valiantly tackle any melody - and conquer it; for it speedily became absorbed in a fantastic fantasia of the irrepressible girl he could not leave behind him.

The story goes that Dominick was one day sawing away at his favourite melody when the late genial Dean Gordon of St. Mary's passed. Slipping a coin into the blind fiddlers hand, he said, smiling pleasantly "Hurry up Dominick, or the girl you left behind you will soon be before you."

When Dominick approached Provost Dugald Campbell with a request for a certificate of character to support an application to play on certain river steamers, the provost, with a due appreciation of the applicant, referred to him as "a man whose character is good, but whose music is not of the best!"

Dominick had a narrow escape from drowning at Sandbank one summer Saturday afternoon. The steamer 'Vivid' was embarking passengers, and Dominick, one of the last, stood on the quay outside the gangway with one hand on the rail while with the other he held his favourite instrument under his coat. Evidently thinking he was on the gangway, he stepped forward, and, before he could be prevented, fell into the water between the steamer and the quay. The screams of some women who had witnessed the accident and cries of "A man in the water" instensified the bustle and excitement which had immediately ensued.

It was at once observed that Dominick was not only uninjured, but that he was a powerful swimmer, and sufficiently self-possessed to follow exactly the instructions shouted down to him by the Vivid's crew. Captain Campbell, who was in command, kindly delayed the steamer until not only Dominick but his fiddle also, had been picked up by a small boat and taken on board. He had a great reception from passengers, who vied with each other in efforts to restore him to comfort and prevent ill-effects of the immersion. He was well plied with liquid refreshment while his clothes were being dried, and, as he bewailed the 'ruin' of his fiddle, a collection was promptly instituted which yielded the sum of about 30 shillings to enable him to replace the instrument, which, it may be said, sustained little injury, and was as good, or as bad, after its bath as before it. Indeed, he was so well treated and compensated that, before reaching Greenock, he declared his willingness to have it all over again.

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