As the rock world celebrated the life and achievements of Phil Lynott’s mom Philomena Lynott following her death in June, one moment from 2012 was mentioned time and time again. That was the year Philomena, then 81, took on the might of U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

It was by no means the biggest battle in her life – along with having to deal with her son's death as a result of drug issues in 1986, she'd endured poverty, racism, religious pressures and the pain of giving up two children for adoption over the years. While Phil's success with Thin Lizzy had given her a level of security she'd never had before, she never lost her fighting spirit, and often went back into action to protect his legacy after his death.

In comments reported around the world, she objected to Romney's campaign’s use of the Thin Lizzy classic “The Boys Are Back in Town." “Mitt Romney's opposition to gay marriage and to civil unions for gays makes him anti-gay – which is not something that Philip would have supported," Philomena said.

"Neither would Philip have supported his policy of taxing the poor and offering tax cuts to the rich, which [vice-president running mate] Paul Ryan is advocating. There is certainly no way that I would want the Lynott name to be associated with any of those ideas. ... I would not want Philip's music to be used in any way that could hurt a single person, and this is the effect of what happened with Paul Ryan using and abusing my son's music in that way. A lot of fans and musicians are very angry about it and I can fully understand why.”

Listen to Thin Lizzy's 'The Boys Are Back in Town'

Philomena knew she was right, because it was a fan who’d written to her at home in Ireland to tell her what was going on in America. John King, a member of the U.S.-based Thin Lizzy tribute band Emerald, knew of her strong feelings about protecting her late son’s legacy.

“I am a singer-songwriter, and a firm believer in musicians being remunerated properly for their published work,” King tells UCR. “I’d seen the Republican party use ‘Barracuda’ by Heart in 2008, and I was disgusted by it. I was aware the Wilson sisters stepped up and decried the action, but things got tangled up in a combination of music-business and political limbo, and the urgency and message was lost on many people.

“In 2012, I watched the roll-out of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan," he continues. "I couldn’t believe my ears as I heard ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ playing as their intro song! I was livid. I was beyond pissed off. … By then I was aware that Philo was ferociously protective of ‘her boy’ even after all those years. I knew she took shite from no one, and that reaching out to her would be a more direct path than attempting to approach anyone in the music industry or lawyers, or even politicians.”

A member of his band told him how to contact Philomena directly, so King sat down to write. “I explained what happened to the Wilson sisters, and how Romney and Ryan were the types of people that would not only steal from Phil, but if he were a U.S. citizen, their policies would probably harm, or even help kill someone like him: a black musical artist with a dependency," he recalls. "I told Philo how much Phil and his music had meant to me over the years, how I fronted Emerald, and how I admired her for all she’d done for him and the fans all over the world. I can’t recall all of that letter, but it turns out I didn’t have to.”

King had no reason to believe his approach had been all that special, but he felt it was important to do his bit. Having done so, and seen Philomena’s reaction, he could be forgiven for thinking it was over. That was before a letter arrived from Ireland with a Phil Lynott stamp.

“I was absolutely floored when I saw the return address and the Phil stamp.” King said. “I just looked at it for a while. I wondered who it was from, since celebrities often have ‘people’ who handle their correspondence. I cried when I read it and realized that I’d achieved my goal, and that the letter really did come right from her own hand.”

John King
John King

In her handwritten reply, Philomena wrote, “Dear John, I’m sorry it has taken to long to answer your letter. But I have been ill. I’m getting better now. I asked mt nephew to email you and thank you for letting me know about Romney using my boy’s music. Well, I put a stop to it. My message went round the world. I told everybody about your letter. I even read it on radio. You brought it to my attention. So thank you so much. My kindest regards to you and all your loved one[s]. I wish you great success. May God bless you and yours always.”

Underneath the dedication “always” and two hearts with two kisses each, a postscript reads, “Sorry about scribble but I’m writing in bed. If you need anything, I will try to help. Please keep in touch.”

For King – who has the letter and envelope framed on his wall – it was a validation of everything he believed about Phil and Philomena. “I got the feeling that she was an absolutely real person,” he says. “She showed everyone via her living example how to adapt to various circumstances, get through tough times, how to help others and how to survive tragedy. She was the epitome of a loving mother, and proved what faith, hope and love can do. A mother’s love got things done in a far more speedy and effective way than outreach to any industry channel ever would. Philo certainly cut through the red tape!”

The year of her death arrived amid a series of personal tragedies in King’s family, so her letter was on his mind even even before the news of her passing was announced. “I think of Philo when things are tough,” he says. “She went through more difficulty than I have, and she did it with grace, compassion and class. And she kicked some ass. She reminds me to put my head down and keep going. I also think of her in good times as well. She also inspires me to find joy in life. She reminds me that love and passion fuel the fire that keeps us going. I wish I would have met her in person, but the experience I have will last a lifetime.”

King, who plans to visit Ireland one day and pay tribute at the graves of both Lynotts, insists Philomena "was a badass long before [Phil] was a badass. She also turned out to be a sweetheart.”

 

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