Cleveland Musician Balances Family Ties Both Near And Far During Pandemic

Terence McQuinn with his banjo and son Eoin playing guitar, make music in an Irish bar over a couple of pints of beer. [Eoin McQuinn]
Terence and Eoin McQuinn make music in an Irish pub. [Eoin McQuinn]
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COVID-19 is having a curious effect on family life. In some cases, school closures have kept parents and children together all day in the house. For others, the pandemic is separating elderly parents from their children. Cleveland-based Irish musician Eoin McQuinn is feeling the pull in both directions.

McQuinn has lived here for about five years with his wife, Euclid native Mary, and their two kids, eight-year-old Ella and one-year-old Hugh. He's learning to balance being separated from his father back in Ireland with the close quarters of family life here in northeast Ohio. McQuinn’s also trying to figure out the balance between his art and fatherhood.

“A baby during these times, it brings all sorts of emotions and most are good emotions,” he said. “When you are surrounded by that kind of innocence, along with that comes a great sense of purpose. And along with that comes creativity. And then along comes art. And music. And poetry. And writing. And dance.”

McQuinn said the modern age is a rabbit hole filled with many challenges for parents.

“It’s no longer... just the baby, but it's everything else that's coming in around,” he said. “It's social injustice. It's the environment. What kind of environment is this child coming into?”

Eoin in the recording studio [Eoin McQuinn]

Although he realizes that families have powered through other global catastrophes, like war, the pandemic is unique because of people staying at home. With everyone in such close quarters, an artist must learn to grab moments of creative time at odd hours.

“It's between naps of the child,” he said. “And it's either going to stall your work or you have to say, 'how can I make it work?'”

A challenge like that can bring focus, he added. An artist might dream about a three-month getaway to Achill Island, off the Irish coast, to write a novel. But, there’s an infant across the room that’s telling you: “You’ve got three hours.”

Over the course of these months, Eoin McQuinn has found a unique way of staying in touch with his father, Terence, back in County Kerry across the pond. They get together regularly over the phone to work out the Irish Times crossword puzzle. One recent afternoon, Eoin admitted to being stumped by one clue.

“What is ‘witty banter?'" he asked.

“Oh, yes, yes, that's not a word that I would use,” said Terence. “It’s ‘repartee.’”

Eoin is clearly disappointed by this answer.

“I have not had witty banter with anybody,” he said. “I have had no use of that word.”

“Sure, we’re having it now,” said Terence, with a chuckle.

“It's like the name of a horse that came in last in 1982,” Eoin said, going into an imitation of an imagined racetrack announcer: “Here comes Witty Banter. He’s an hour behind everybody else. But he made it.”

Witty banter over the phone and pictures of the grandchildren, keep the family connected digitally across the ocean. But both Eoin and his dad are feeling hopeful about reports of a vaccine by spring or summer that will allow for the physical connections of hugs and kisses. And maybe a song or two.

Terence relaxes by the fire with the family cat and a good book. [Eoin McQuinn]

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