Goodbye To Jack, Fresh Halibut and Canasta

Yesterday we took Jack up country and dropped him off at a train station. He had to get up to Dublin to fly out today. He’s got Grayson’s graduation to get to and promised he’d call Ally and let her know more about the fun and frolics we’ve been up to. We drove back through Killarney and decided to take the road through the National Forest which turned out to be a gorgeous drive. The mountains here are very old, more like the Smokey’s, but they are really beautiful, though barren of forest, only sparse with trees in the upper reaches, they are green between all the rocks because of all the rain.

We stopped at a fish wholesaler on the way back to the cottage and Morgan who knows his fish took the lead. Turns out that this was a processing house and must do it for all the stores and restaurants in the area. They had fresh fish and that meant NO fishy odor. we selected some halibut and bought a kilo for 13 euro. Morgan broiled it and oh my God! There was nothing but satisfied sounds at table. We heard there was a session at a pub called The Lake House, so off we went. Nice pub, friendly folks but the session had very little energy, and there were four box players! We’d left our instruments in the car, so we listened, had a pint of Murphy’s and called it a night. We played Canasta. I’d been telling the guys how much fun the game was and found a rules book in Killarney yesterday so after some halting starts we got the hang of the game and had a great time. I think I’ve got some Canasta buddies now

A mighty session

Last night we headed to Kenmare in search of a session. After several tries we spotted a fellow sitting in the window with a fiddle case. It turned out that John was waiting for a ride to Kilgarvan, where there was a nice session with several very good players. It being Kerry, there was a nice mix of polkas and slides in amongst the reels and jigs. Brilliant playing from Eamon on box and John on a lovely David Boyle banjo, with Noreen and Dick on fiddles, folks we heard last night at Lake House. Paddy showed up later with another box, and there was a fellow from Brittany on guitar. with the addition of Morgan on fiddle, Rick on guitar, James on whistle and Don on mandolin and Anne on flute, Lisa on bodhrán, it was a mighty session. There was a lovely old man at the bar with a whiskey and a Guinness in front of him and two teeth in his head,  Mike, an enthusiastic listener, who graced us with a song, The Queen of Society, which has, unknown to him, a video on YouTube. Just search for Kilgarvan! Fair play! (James)

Woke up today and it’s a rain day. It hasn’t stopped all day so we’re sitting in and practicing tunes and trying to stay warm. I’m going to drive up the hill to the little store and see about scoring some coal so we can get it warm in here.
Morgan and I got up the hill to O’Shea’s store and met the proprietress who was a very nice woman. We bought a large bag of scrap wood for 4 euro and a bag of Polish coal for 8.80 euro as well as a few edible items we needed and then decided to go down to the bay and stopped in at O’Sullivan’s to see if we could grab a bottle of whiskey at James’ request. We weren’t sure if what they offered would work for James, so didn’t get a bottle. I was driving around a turn quite carefully and we almost hit a very large truck, looked like a garbage truck or something on that order, and he wouldn’t give an inch. I had to back up and keep backing up until we found a spot barely wide enough to pull up against the bank and he edged around us and avoided scraping us by mere inches. Bejesus that was close and bloody scary. Got back to the cottage and banked a good fire and finally drove the chill out of the place. We drove hot blooded Don out of the room as well, but the rest of us were warm at least. We played some new tunes and we’re getting some new sets together and are now getting dinner made. We’re having a lot of fun.

After dinner we got our instruments in the car and went to see if we could find a session in Kenmare. We only found one possibility at a pub called Crowley’s, but continued around the town and saw a fellow reading a paper in a shop window. We saw his fiddle case next to him and Morgan went in to ask him about a session. I followed in and saw a banjo case leaning up against the wall. He showed us his banjo, a David Boyle made in Ireland, a very nice instrument. He told us that the only real session was up in Kilgarvan a village we’d been through a couple of days back, and that if we wanted to head up there we’d be welcome. We thanked him and discussed it with James and Don and decided to go. We actually beat John the banjo/ fiddle player to Reilley’s ( we weren’t too obvious in our enthusiasm ) and soon a number of players showed up. A great group of folks and some fine players with great tunes and good spirits. It was what we’d been looking for since we’d come over and it felt so good. We were high on playing. There were John on banjo, Eamon on box, Pauly on box, with Ann on flute, Noreen on fiddle, Lisa on bodhran, Morgan, James, Don and myself. There was another guitarist from Brittany as well, nice guy and a good player. I had a funny discussion with Ann and Lisa and mentioned the Lake House session and how it was a bit slow for us. They asked who was there and when I mentioned there were four box players they laughed and said no wonder!! We received some sincere compliments on our playing, and we gave many as well. Mike Doyle sang a couple of great songs as well. Fair play Mike. What a night! (Rick)

A Day In the Sun and The Festival At Allihies

Time to catch up. Yesterday was a changeable day as far as weather went. Windy, cloudy then sunny, then windy, cloudy, etc. into which we sallied forth. We headed to a lake that Morgan had stayed near years back called Glanmore. It’s just up the road from us and it proved to be a picturesque lake surrounded by hills and small mountains of such character. Much of the geology in these parts is sedimentary strata that is all folded and twisted into hills, mountains and beautiful valleys and Coombs. We took lots of photos and one band shot with us in front of a beautiful little boat house.

Then we took off for a park we’d seen called Gleninchiquin. We drove quite a few kilometers in on a narrow little road only to find out that it cost 5 euro per person to get in and that it isn’t a public space but private. As soon as we got into the parking area the proprietor came over and inquired as to our intentions and James put on his diplomat hat and told him we were lost and looking for a farmer who sold cheese, which was partly true, but James was right in knowing that telling him we didn’t want to spend the money would have been insensitive. We understand that everyone here is scrambling for a living. We have a running joke going that since the O’Shea’s up the road told us about the park they all are colluding and so if we tore out our undercarriage on the road to the park we’d find O’Shea body works to fix it or O’Shea towing to get us! Not true at all, but it was a good story. James stayed with the story about cheese and the park owner gave him directions back to where we wanted to go and we left him with the impression that we might be back. So off to get more cheese, driving back to Peter’s on the tiny rutted lane only to make a turn and find a bunch of hikers lying in the road getting some sun. We indicated that we were turning right and not to get up and they smiled and waved. We headed up to Peters place to be greeted at the bottom of the drive by a German who was part of the hikers telling us that Peter wasn’t there.

Damn! We wanted more cheese and James wanted to try the C set of pipes out.

We took a short hike up the hill hoping he’d come back while we were there, but nope, no Peter. So back to Lauragh and the cottage. We grabbed naps knowing that we would be up late for the festival in Allihies and once we were all up we practiced some tunes, made dinner and headed to Allihies. I was under the impression that with all the posters we’d seen that the place would be jammed, but when we stepped inside Jimmy’s Bar we were the first there. Martin Quinn, John Rynne and Laura Ugur were scheduled to play at 9:30 it was 8:45 where was everyone? Jimmy asked about us and we filled him in. “Where you from?” says he. “We’re from Washington” say we, “Ah D.C.” says he, no “Washington State” say we, “so, are you lost?” says he. God, the Irish have a wicked sense of humour. All good natured though. So we ordered pints and hung out waiting. Finally Martin comes in and orders a pint and then Laura and finally John. It’s all so casual that it hardly seems like a show, but it turns out it isn’t a show, just some phenomenal players sitting in a pub playing tunes. People are sitting cheek to jowl with them, putting drinks on their table pulling out instruments and playing along. A little different than the states! The music was great. John is this larger than life character, a huge personality and a jokester. Morgan and James met him outside for a smoke and some of the conversation as reported was hysterical. When finding out that James played flute he told him to join in. James demurred and John told him no he could join in and if he wasn’t any good he’d tell him so and he could put it back in the case! I think he was only half joking. When asking Morgan for his pedigree Morgan mentioned the Irish player who led the session that he used to attend in S.F. in the 70’s and John, recognizing the name said that oh you must be pretty good then cause he would have thrown you out if you were a wanker, or words to that effect. Great stuff. But John also has an obvious ego, a very large one and as James puts it, not the guy to walk into a room and be second to anyone in it.

Morgan heard an exchange between Martin and John that consisted of John suggesting a waltz, Martin making a face and suggesting a hornpipe and John dissing that and telling Martin that hornpipes are for wankers and homosexuals. When Martin compromises and suggests jigs instead John says that Martin’s jigs all sound like waltzes anyway. Whew!!

Anyway they played on and asked Morgan to join in and he did, but had to sit out quite a few tunes either because he didn’t know them or they were so ripping fast. That’s the level they played at. At one point James and I were standing in this little smoking area out beside the bar and John joined us. Joking about how he used to get distracted by the women at gigs and then he told us a joke that I can’t include here. Sorry. It was really good though. It was getting late so we left and found a woman with a chips stand and as we waited for our order met a properly pissed trio standing with us. They were damn funny and as Morgan observed drunkenness doesn’t seem to blunt the Irish wit. I overheard them discussing the austerity vote and I was curious. We’d been seeing signs on poles up and down the west coast saying vote no to the austerity program. They were put up by Seinn Fein. Apparently the vote passed, so only time will tell its effect. As our drunken friend put it, it’s like having your *&%$ cut off, and one of them stated that the country was sold out. I have to admit I agree with the sentiment and I’m waiting for the robber barons back home to pull a similar stunt at some point.

A walk through the bog

A rare moment of sunshine inspired us to get out and about and to take a hike up a valley to an abandoned village in a completely isolated spot. Ten thousand sheep and the kind of solitude that inspires great songs and very strong drink! Caught this pic of the boys perched on a wall, the purpose of which was beyond us, since the sheep could easily get over it. Rick seems to be trying to snort digestive biscuits, so it’s obviously a strange place. The village, actually three houses, was apparently occupied by a murderous chap who was eventually hanged at the penitentiary at Tralee. No rose, I think… (James)

We just got back from a nice walk. We’d seen this sign pointing to a stone circle and thought we’d check it out. Once again James drives us down a narrow lane for quite some distance and came to what was left of a stone circle inside of a fenced meadow with sheep in it. Not terribly impressive, but a Mrs. Healy greeted us and told us there was a nice hike that led to an abandoned “village” . We had to cross their land so we paid 16 euro for the four of us and off we trudged. Unlike yesterday Mrs. Healy is a warm and friendly person, so giving her the money felt fine. So down the track, across a stile, then over a bridge and after that a barely discernible path most of the time. The ground was about half bog and half firm, but my boots from REI came through. Not even the hint of dampness inside the boot though I sank pretty deep at times. Poor Morgan and James didn’t have appropriate foot wear so they didn’t fare so well. We climbed and climbed, all the time surrounded by sheep on every side over some truly spectacular but desolate country. Once we got to the top of a ridge looking down into the valley we saw a trail marker above us and realized we’d gotten off track, so moved up to it and finally looked down into the old settlement. It sits right at the base of the mountain that forms the end of the Cummeengeera with steep cooms climbing up the mountain behind the settlement. A crazy place to live, but it turns out that one Cornilius O’Sullivan Rabach lived there and he was a real piece of work. A two time murderer who was finally captured and hung in 1831. The population ranged from 29 in 1841 to 7 in 1871 . It had to have been abandoned a long time back because all that shows are walls, no roofs, or any wooden sections that we could see from that distance. It would have been a long walk in or out and pretty meager in the best of times. We chose not to hike down into it. The going would have been tough, boggy and were fine staying where we were. Back we went reversing our steps but seeing the return of course in the opposite direction. A really beautiful sight and well worth the effort. (Rick)

Off To Mayo and Westport

We drove up to Mayo on Sunday. We stopped in Kenmare on the way out and had a coffee and stopped at the lace shop that we saw so Morgan could find something for Peg. It’s a nice shop and I found some nice little linen bags for the girls and Ally. Today the 11th we headed out to Achill Island. A very beautiful place and we drove out to the end of the road and Don remembered a beach that they’d been to on a previous trip. The beach looked like it belonged in the Caribbean with white sand and gorgeous blue water. We walked on it for quite a while and I took some video.

Tonight we’re going to head into Westport and get a pint at Matt Malloy’s Pub and see if there’s any music or a session we can go to. Well, Matt Molloy’s is a fun place, but filled with tourists so Morgan remembered a pub called McGing’s that he and Matt visited back in 1999 so we sauntered up there and loved the place. Very warm and the opposite of Molloy’s : mostly locals hanging out and talking with a pint in hand. As we were settling in Morgan started chatting with a fellow and they started discussing things and Morgan found out he’s a musician and he admitted to playing the pipes.

James and I got in on the conversation at this point and James said oh you play pipes and John, the piper, said that he didn’t have his with him. James said well I happen to have a half set in the car and Morgan said and we also have a fiddle and mandolin and guitar, etc. Well that’s all it took, we grabbed everything and brought them in, sat down and played tunes for a couple of hours. Noddy, who was tending bar kept bringing out fresh pints. The Irish are so hospitable. John’s a fine piper and a nice man. He called his girlfriend Maria, who’s a real fire cracker and she came down and we had lots of laughs and she took us under he wing and told us of some sessions. When we asked her why she didn’t bring her fiddle she admitted that often the spur of the moment sessions are rubbish, but if she’d realized how good the playing was that night she’d have bought it.

What we do when we’re not playing

An afternoon at the edge of the world, exploring a neolithic sight, discovered beneath a blanket bog, dating back nearly six thousand years. The Atlantic Ocean lies before us. A panorama so vast that the curvature of the earth is apparent. And the sun is shining!

Our ‘routine’ here involves a lot of practice, as you can see, and occasional laundry…

Mayo Proves To Be Our Musical Mecca

This is a summation of several days. Mayo proved to be an engaging place and kept us very busy. On Tuesday we went out to the coast and visited a Neolithic site that’s been very slightly excavated and it was pretty fascinating. The coast is beautiful, rugged and it looks due north. We got up into this tower and looked seaward and it was clear and blue and you can see the curvature of the earth the expanse was so broad. It felt rather lonely looking north and realizing that there was nothing between where we stood and Iceland. In fact it was a similar feeling looking west from Achill. I understand a lot of the songs written about leaving for the New World much better now. If you were watching the ship disappearing over the horizon carrying your loved ones away you would have known that you’d probably never see them again. It was a long, long way off in those days, and looking across that vast stretch of water would have only reinforced that feeling.

We drove back into town and Maria told us to meet her at Molloy’s and she’d introduce us to some good musicians she knows. John the piper is her man friend and he goes over to Dublin mid-week to work for Air Lingus. So off we go to Matt’s Pub at 10:00 pm looking for Maria. We get there and wait for her and she isn’t there yet. The place is a zoo, which is its normal state as far as we can tell. A very popular tourist spot with a mix of some locals, but rarely a place to sit and enjoy a pint or even the music for that matter. We stand around for a while and give Maria a call and tell her we’re off to McGing’s which suits us far more. We order some pints and text Maria. There are no other musicians to connect with this night so we finish our drinks and head home.

On Wednesday we practiced some of our new sets and drove in to Westport to do some shopping. Knocked about for a bit and found a few things. Morgan found an antique lace runner for Peg, I spotted a nice silver bangle for Ally that I think I’ll go back for. Got a call from Maria apologizing for last night. She drank wine at dinner and woke up at 2:00 am. Promised to meet us for a session at the Cobbler and introduce us to a bouzouki player and fiddler who are doing a session there tonight. We were to meet Morgan’s colleague Gary Leahy in Newport and visit him and see his work shop. He’s a nice man and according to Morgan a fine bow maker. We have a fine time with Gary and he tells us that he’ll meet us at a session tomorrow in Newport.

So far this leg of the trip is vastly different than the first. In Clare we were just getting our feet wet and acclimatizing, Beara is rugged and beautiful but the music is scattered and infrequent due to the small population. Mayo on the other hand is music, music and more music. We’ve decided to stay through Monday because Sunday is all day sessions in Westport. We’ve got tomorrow tonight in Newport, not sure about Friday yet, but Saturday again at Biddy’s this tiny little pub in Westport that Maria assures us is the magnet for all the characters in town. So back to the Cobbler. We arrive before Maria and meet Johnny the bouzouki player and apparently he plays many others instruments, and his partner Dan. They’re probably my age and a nicer pair you wouldn’t want to meet. Very inclusive with the dry Irish wit we’ve come to expect and cherish. We played from about 8:30 until 12:00 and went down to meet Maria at Molloy’s. We walked fast and found the front doors locked and shades drawn but went in the side where we found the place roaring! We squeezed in and found Maria with some very good players but there was nowhere for us to join in the place was cheek to jowl. Maria wanted us to go back to her place but we’re learning she’s one of those in the moment gals. She was playing and chatting and we were somewhat forgotten… No problem though, so we waved goodbye and went back to our cottage, played a few hands of Canasta and turned in. We visited Maria in the afternoon, next day. The day was rainy, all day just like last Thursday. We met her dogs and hung out until time to head to Newport. We went to Grainne Uaile pub to meet Gary for dinner and stayed for a session. Julie Langan and a box player named Tom and a fine flute player named Brian were there as well a a woman who played great bouzouki and later an American named Mick and a few other musicians as well as the four of us . Some great playing and great players. Morgan says that Julie is the best fiddle player he’s heard on the trip. She plays with an elegance and grace that is quite lovely. They loved our songs and complimented our playing, as we did theirs. Brian has a strong yet beautiful tone to his flute and Tom is one of the best box players we’ve heard. Julie paid us a rather high compliment by saying that she might try to come play with us on Sunday at one of the sessions.

Visit With A Pipe Maker and Boul Biddy’s

We worked on some new sets and then went to visit a pipe maker by the name of John Butler. John hails originally from Dublin area and now lives on Achill Island. His work shop is in an old school building and when we arrived the wind was blowing hard and it was threatening rain. He’s only been making pipes on his own for a couple of years, had helped another pipe maker at one point build some practice sets, but on his own just a few sets. His skills are evident, his work very clean and well executed. He’d been a designer of medical equipment but was made redundant by the economic times. He’s played pipes since he was sixteen and I’m guessing he’s in his late 30s. He showed us his personal set of Willy Rowesome pipes made in 1924. They’re beautiful things with full regulators and a sound that is sweet and pure. John gave James some advice on his pipes, offered some suggestions and I think James will have him build a new bellows for him.

We got back home and Morgan made a great pasta dinner and we headed into Westport to meet Maria at Hoban’s Pub. When we arrived it was apparent we were going to have to get some pints to catch up with Maria. She did get hold of her friend Padraig who came and chatted for a little while. Maria told us that he loves banjo and had a couple. Once he determined that we were OK ( he asked us several times are you going to play some tunes? ) he said he’d get his banjos. Don was quite pleased at the prospect of having one to play. Padraig gives one case to Don and when he opens it we’re VERY interested. It’s a Clifford Essex Paragon, one of the best English banjos made, bloody beautiful and awesome sounding.

We played for awhile and Padraig suggested strongly that we might want to take it down to Biddy’s a very cool, narrow little pub that was just roaring. Dan and Johnny were leading with the owner’s daughter Jennie on box and young Nigel on flute. They welcomed us into the circle and it took off from there. Some lads show up one in a wig and red dress who’s going to be married and then it really got wild. It got so loud I finally put my guitar away and played drum. Don was the life of the party. He played some blues and some jazz with Dan, A mighty session and great fun.