More Sligo Sessions and a Day In Donegal

So we know that we’re going to meet Seamus, Rodney, Dave and Seamus’ lovely partner Camille in Sligo for a late afternoon session at McGarrigle’s Pub. Beyond that we’re a little hazy. We’re thinking that perhaps we should at least check in on the session at Liam Cryon’s in Carrick, but we’re learning that the best laid plans are kinda futile. We meet Seamus and crew, settle in at a large table, get pints and get to it. We have so many tunes in common that it’s very easy to slide into a nice groove. Luckily Rodney and Dave are in a song mood and play some great ones. Rodney has learned how to accompany his song with bouzouki somewhat in the same manner as Andy Irvine. He studied with Andy a couple of times and told us that Andy is so deep in the subject and has such a knowledge base that Rodney couldn’t absorb much of what Andy was showing him. Despite what he says he has absorbed some of it, because he plays these counterpoint lines through the vocals and it’s beautiful and feckin’ difficult to do. Dave on the other hand plays great guitar, much different than me and I got a lot of ideas watching him. He’s absorbed some of what John Doyle does, but has made it his own and has a nice way of emphasizing the lyric of the song with beautifully turned descending or ascending chord changes that play across the vocal.

Playing music with these men is such a pleasure that I really don’t want it to end. So despite our intention to check out the Carrick session we’re all hungry after three hours of tunes, so off we go to a restaurant that Seamus and Camille know about. When we’re finished with dinner it’s 10:00 and too late to get to Carrick but not too late to walk down the street to Foley’s for another session. Many were back that we saw the night before and were very welcoming. So don’t make plans in Ireland. Forget the plans it’s all a waste of time. It’s much easier and a lot more fun to swim with the current and see where it takes you. The first night at Foley’s was packed, all of us players wedged into a corner of the pub but tonight, ah yes tonight we’ve even more of us wedged into the corner. Young Patrick is back with his parents and he grabbed a stool early so he can be closer to the action. Patrick is learning fast, you stake out your spot and hold it.

Dave and I sit next to one another so we can listen to what we’re doing. The two of us spent the first night sizing each other up. It’s inevitable that two players of the same instrument are going to take measure of the other, it didn’t feel competitive but you want to see what the other one’s got and what he’s going to deliver. Tonight though we’ve absorbed a little of what the other plays and we’re locked in. We get a mighty groove going on some of the sets and have the bottom locked down solid. Kevin is grooving on bodhran and it’s a mighty rhythm section rocking Foley’s. We had great fun, Seamus and Rodney, Morgan, Don and James spinning out the tunes and the rhythm section pushing it forward. Great craic, and it wasn’t really part of the plan. So again forget about the feckin’ plans. It’s a fool who thinks he can plan a night in Sligo or anywhere in Ireland. About 12:30 we took our leave we were all tired and Don was the D.D. and it’s a good 30 min. back to Drumshanbo. We shake hands, get hugs and talk about a session at Shoot The Crows Pub in Sligo, but we didn’t go as far as making a plan. We all know that’s worthless.

That was all last night. Today, Monday morning, we decided we needed to do a bit of touristing. We wanted to go north into Donegal and looked at the map and thought that Sliabh League would be a nice goal. They are huge cliffs that drop into the sea on the edge of Donegal. The highest point to the ocean is 1972′, that’s right! close to two thousand feet down to the ocean. Quite a drop. We meander up through back roads into some spectacularly rugged and beautiful country. From rolling emerald green fields dotted with sheep to rugged hills, into a spectacular valley with eroded mesas similar at times to the Columbia Gorge and out to the ocean. We stop in a lovely little village named Kilcar that had a woolen mill. Everything in it is hand woven on looms upstairs from the showroom. Don found a vest and I found a hat that I really like and then we pushed on up an increasingly tiny road that started out vaguely two lane and became closer to one lane, and then closer to half a lane. Meeting another car is always a bit hair raising and I’m glad that James was driving. He grew up driving on the left side and it’s second nature to him. We arrive at a lot at the top of a steep incline and walk the rest of the distance to the cliffs. They are spectacular but not quite as beautiful as the Cliffs of Moher, which aren’t as high. We looked around for awhile and headed back down.

Went back into Kilcar looking for a bite to eat and scouting out a pub that might have music. Nothing happening there so back to Kenkille where we grab a pint at a Hotel restaurant that’s understaffed, has poor service and high prices. It’s supposed to have wifi but that doesn’t work well either and when I frustratedly go to close up my iPad manage to knock over my pint all over the table and some into Don’s lap! I feel a fool, get towels from the barman and clean up the mess. Don takes it well, but it’s hard for me to let it go. Haste makes waste. So we find a smaller place get fish and chips and head toward Donegal city. We arrive there about 8:30 spot a pub that advertised a session. It’s called the Reel Inn and the walls are covered with photos of famous musicians. One big B&W photo has a young Joe Burke ( box ) Charlie Lennon ( fiddle ) and what appears to be a young Liam O’Flynn on pipes. A pantheon of iconic players. We’re assured by the barmaids that the session is open and we’d be most welcome to join. About 20 min. later Seamus and his playing partner John show up and we sit down and start tunes. Soon the place is full of what we find out are German tourists and some locals and the joint is jumping. We play until about. James and I are out back on smoke break and meet a fellow from Newry north of Belfast who plays flute and whistles urge him to grab his kit and he comes back. His fiancee also sings and the session turns out to be a lot of fun. Seamus asks if he can record us and we tell him no problem and let him know we’ve been doing the same at all the places we’ve gone to. We play until 11:00 or so and bid everyone goodbye and drive back to Drumshanbo. Not a bad day with minimum plans.

Great Craic in Sligo Town

Easter Sunday, April 20

We met Seamus in the small town of Ballisodare near 10:00 pm. Tunes don’t get going until late in the evening and that’s everywhere in Ireland. The fun starts late and ends late. Once you’re in the flow it feels no different than starting at 6:00 or 8:00, it’s just the way of it. We followed him and his girlfriend into Sligo and parked. As soon as we got out of the cars Seamus says that he wants to apologize for this pub, that it’s not always the best musical venue and the patrons aren’t always the best listeners, so he’s just warning us up front. We assured him that the whole experience is what we’re after and we can take it in stride; not to worry. So we walked around the corner and across the street to a roaring little pub, Foley’s, and crowded into a corner. This for me is the quintessential local Irish pub. It feels welcoming, a little dog eared, and friendly. This is where people meet and share stories and song, banter, joke and tell tall stories. Seamus introduced us to his mate Dave who plays guitar and we settled in, bought a round of pints and took stock of the scene. As we were unpacking instruments I looked over to see Seamus’ other musical partner Rodney. It turns out that Rodney plays concertina and bouzouki, his concertina was the first one I’ve seen pulled out at a session this trip and we were glad he did. He plays it beautifully and there was hardly a tune that was started that he couldn’t play and play it nicely. He’s a very solid player. If I got off track because of the noise I’d come back to Rodney. He kindly called out the keys on anything he thought we might not know. He’s also a very fine singer and delivered Paddy’s Lamentation with real pathos while accompanying himself on concertina. I love the song and he leaned over to tell me “no offense”. I told him none taken, that I loved the song.

For those reading that don’t know the song it’s a Civil War era tune written from the viewpoint of an Irish immigrant who gets swept up into the American Civil War, and told to fight for Lincoln and loses a leg for his trouble. He’s longing to return home and has seen enough war and trouble. Rodney did it as well as I’ve ever heard it done. Dave plays fine guitar. He uses drop D tuning which is the other tuning aside from that which I play, DADGAD that’s used in Irish Trad. John Doyle excels at the drop D which only lowers the low E string to D. I like it fine but found the left hand stretches just too much. It made my hand hurt, but Dave uses it well. He also has a lot of fine songs that he sings very nicely and I enjoyed listening to. Now to Seamus. He is an outstanding flute and whistle player. His father is P.J. Hernon and uncle is Marcus. He plays with that big, bold sound that cuts across the session. He has a command that only comes with decades of playing. I don’t know Seamus’ age but I’m guessing mid 30’s and he told me he’s been playing this session since he was 15. There are many sessions he plays, but this particular one he’s attended all that time. He, Dave and Rodney played some mighty sets that spanned 6 or more tunes and Seamus played utterly relaxed without a sign of strain or need for breath. It was fun being part of it and looking at the faces of the patrons who were really engaged in the music; impressed that some Yanks were sitting in and keeping up. As the night gathered speed so did the session. I looked up to see a very young fellow sit behind James and Morgan holding a banjo. His name is Patrick and he’s 11 years old. Rodney asked him to start a tune and by God he played really well.

Here is a huge distinction between the USA and Ireland. Patrick is shouldered up with the rest of us, his drink of choice is lemonade and he’s absorbing the tunes and atmosphere and playing his instrument. I didn’t see his soul being stained, or his trying to sneak a drink or being anything other than an 11 year old boy who loves the music. It was touching to see. His parents were over in a corner listening, proud of their young boy, as they should be. There was also a young girl sitting in one corner, about the same age, who was really engaged in the music as well. He started quite a few tunes and was a patron favorite as well as with us. At one point a man I’ll name Michael (I think that was his name) led a song The Rattling Bog. It’s one of those songs where you keep adding the subject of the previous verse to the current one and it gets longer and longer. Michael was hilarious and enthusiastic and we were all laughing. We were out on the sidewalk having a break and Seamus asked what we were doing tomorrow. This is always a good sign, it could just as easily be, ” it was nice meeting you, have a fun rest of your vacation “. James mentioned that we were looking at a session at Carrick on Shannon at Liam Cryon’s and both Seamus and Rodney said , no, no, no you must come to our session tomorrow afternoon. Seamus said, ” look, I don’t want to say that you won’t have a good session there, there’s a fine box player, but the craic will be better here”.

Now a short exposition on CRAIC. Craic is one of those terms that has many meanings. It can mean great atmosphere, great music, great banter, great fun, great jokes, great interaction, but it alway implies great fun and feeling. Despite the warning the session was great, and Seamus told me it was because we were part of it and offered the patrons a very different experience, that they were so used to what the three of them usually offered. As we were leaving various patrons were clapping us on the shoulder and shaking our hands and saying, “See you tomorrow”, So we’re off to an early session with Seamus and the lads at a different pub at 5:00 (early) and then if we wish back to Foley’s for another. Here we go, hold onto your hats and button your coats; we’re off to more good craic!

Westport Wore Us Out

Catch up day. We’ve all been practicing on our own and at times together, learning new parts memorizing new song lyrics all in an unhurried manner. Frankly our Westport friends wore us out. We texted Seamus Hernon in Sligo Town, which is about 35 kilometers west of here. Seamus is the son of Mai Hernon whom I take voice lessons from. She uses Skype to teach others like myself and the time I’ve spent with her has been great ear training as well as vocal training. She sings the old style of unaccompanied, ornamented singing and I’ve grown to be very appreciative of how it’s attuned my being toward really listening to melody. As an accompanist I’ve tended to feel my way through a tune, and to be honest at times in a haphazard manner, so I’ve taken it upon myself and at the urging of my bandmates to learn to play melody. I’ve been learning the tunes on whistle, flute and my guitar. It tunes me into the melody in a much more profound manner and I find myself being unsatisfied with how I’ve been accompanying a set and noticing deficiencies in my previous approach. All for the good and a chance to grow. I just realized I got off into a little side eddy there, so back to Seamus. Seamus plays flute and whistles and I’m sure other instruments as well and according to Mai knows everyone to know in Sligo’s musical environs. We’re going to meet him tonight and he’s going to take us to a session he attends, so that’s exciting! He’s also good friends with members of the Sligo band Dervish, which is one of my favorites, and they own a pub in town, so there’s a chance we may be able to get there while we’re in the area.

Newport And Grainne Uaile

The session at Grainne Uaile was everything we hoped it would be. Julie on fiddle and Tom on box (two row button small accordion), Eileen on piano accordion (but a nice one, says James) Maria on Bouzouki, John McHugh on fiddle, another Pádraig on banjo and several others and the four of us. Great fun and excellent playing. Tom, Julie and Maria remembered us from two years back, which was gratifying. John and Maggie McGing, along with Maggie’s mam, Kathleen, Maria and John’s brother Dan came over from Westport to enjoy the tunes as well.

We got back after 2:00 am and had to get up early to be out of Castlebar digs by 9:00 am. My iPhone alarm woke me at 8:00 and as unobtrusive as the alert is I found it really disturbing. Not enough sleep for any of us. We drove northeast out of Castlebar toward Dublin and are now in Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim. Lovely area of rolling hills, lakes and streams and the clouds have pulled away to reveal a robin’s egg blue sky. We drove through Carrick on Shannon and found Liam Cryon’s pub and he has 3 sessions a week, one of them tomorrow night, and just up the road from us there is a hotel that’s supposed to have a session on Sunday night, so prospects for tunes look great. (Later that day) It appears from the posters dotted about town that most of the music in Pubs here in Drumshanbo are gigs. We know how that goes after all, our night at Hills back home is just that, so we’re not going to go crashing in. Liam’s in Carrick on Shannon though is advertised as a session and features no one’s name, so I believe that’s where we’ll be off to this evening. We walked into the town of Drumshanbo and it’s a pretty little village and quite prosperous; very different from Castlebar. There appears to be a healthy tourist trade and we’ve been told it’s a mecca for fishing and they have a big music festival here each summer.

We saw a poster in the window of a shop advertising The Leitrim Equation, which is the title of an album I have in my collection, but they’d performed two days ago. Pity that. Leitrim has a very strong musical tradition and the Arts Council has had both Lunasa, and Dervish come to Leitrim and do a CD featuring tunes from the area and then a second CD performing with local musicians. I have the one featuring Lunasa and it’s a gem. I’m going to look to find the one with Dervish, who are from Sligo while here since I’ve had no luck finding it back home.

Last Day in Westport

Today is Don’s birthday, not sure if we’re doing anything special for it, but we’ll have to honor it in some way. Yesterday was a low key day. First one we actually had since we arrived. We worked on some new songs. James is singing the lead on Handsome Cabin Boy, he and I are sharing vocals on Slip Jigs and Reels and Don’s got the lead on Across The Western Ocean. We pulled them together, in the rough, pretty quickly. As James observed we’re getting very economical in our arranging and practicing, which is quite true. We’ll have at least two of the three ready for our performance in Clarinbridge.

We headed into Castlebar late afternoon to check out restaurants to take Padraig and Els to as well as just to walk around. It’s a fairly large city in transition. You can tell it was more of a bustling town at one time but the 2008 crash took parts of it down pretty hard. I had an interesting exchange with a man across the road from where we are staying. We’ve been watching him and others working on an impressive wall that runs parallel to the road and surrounds a good sized meadow that we’ve seen sheep grazing in. The thing is, it’s a very elaborate and seemingly expensive wall for one field and we didn’t understand why anyone would go to that much trouble and expense! The main wall is cement block, nicely laid and then faced with native stone that is being recycled from the old wall that runs about 6′ closer to the road. I saw one man working on it so I walked across and put the question to him, “Why would anyone spend that much labor on money on a wall around a paddock”? His answer was “Cause he’s mad”! I chuckled with him and he continued, “It’s either him or me that’s mad…….I’m the owner”. That took me aback and I was afraid I’d put my foot in it, but he wasn’t offended. He explained that the City Council was paying him to do it. There was no foot path for people to walk on, it’s a very narrow road with a lot of cars and trucks that travel it. So now it makes sense. I spoke to him then about the area and how we’d noticed that the town had the appearance of having been more prosperous .He told me that Castlebar and most of Ireland for that matter is suffering from another diaspora of the young having to leave the country for work. It’s not nearly as vibrant as it used to be.

Padraig and Els called and wanted us to meet them at a garage down the road closer to Westport. We thought it was going to be a nature walk but it was a famine graveyard in Islandeady. There are thousands and thousands of unmarked graves in the midst of an older graveyard and it’s a sad feeling to think of all those who died that way. Padraig told us that in the height of the famine between 1843-45 in county Mayo 1000 people died every day. The population before the famine was approx. 8.5 million after the famine and subsequent emigration to the USA and Canada the population sank to 3 million. It’s now a little over 4 million and is the only country in Europe whose population is less than it was 150 years ago. The island was awash in food by the way; it was all being exported. Native Irish were treated no better than the new American Republic treated its native population. Human beings have this capacity to dehumanize one another, and it’s a trait that I just don’t understand. I find it repellant and pray we can as a species rise above it, but I don’t think it will be anytime soon. Once you look into the eyes of another and listen to their story it’s nearly impossible to ignore the commonality we share in the joy and suffering of our human experience.

We took Padraig and Els to Bar One a nice pub and restaurant and had a great time sharing stories listening to Els and Padraig tell Barney stories and generally great craic. After the meal we repaired to McCarthy’s Pub to have a pint or two, or three and met with a young man named Brendan who is the second cousin of a woman who works with James. Turns out he’s a great guy full of wonderful stories (of course he – is he’s Irish) and we had a wonderful time bouncing between conversations with Padraig and Els, and Brendan and had a wonderful evening. Brendan told us to let him know the next time we’re over and he’ll get together with us. Once you start to make connections over here the networking is amazing. This second trip our network has increased many fold. Today we went to the McGings to play tunes for Maggie’s mother Kathleen. We had a nice lunch, great conversation and then repaired to Molloy’s for a last pint with Padraig, Els and John Deery. Called my beautiful partner Ally on Face Time and she was able to meet our wonderful Westport friends. We were in high spirits when I called and Ally seemed to enjoy the banter. It was great to see her and speak. This is our last day in Westport for tomorrow we’re off to Drumshanbo in County Leitrim. Tonight we’re going to Grainne Uaile pub for a session with Julie Langan and Tom Doherty. We’re hoping that Brian Lennon will be there, but believe he’s out of town. The session will be great regardless as long as Julie and Tom are there.

Another Day In Musical Paradise

I wake up at John and Maria’s around 10:30. John’s already taken off for work and everyone else is still asleep. So I type up the previous days activities and get my bearings. It’s hard work enjoying yourself; playing music til’ the wee hours, but what the heck, somebodies got to do it! So after having a nice breakfast at the McGing’s we hopped in the car and came back to Castlebar. After I went to bed at 3:00 am James and Morgan stayed on with Maria, Maggie Kelleen, and John and Maggie McGing and kept at it until 4:30. That’s some serious partying. Their stamina is impressive and I’d say it puts them in the professional category. So we all come back and everyone but me hops into bed for a nap.

After naps we get ourselves together to visit Mick Mulcrone and his wife Mary. They moved over here from the States about 15 years ago. Mick was a professor of media studies at Portland State and retired. By his last name you can tell he is of Irish heritage and the home that they renovated had once been in his family and had come up for sale, so it’s now in the family once again. Its a very nice old stone cottage that had fallen into real disrepair and Mick and Mary have put a tremendous amount of work into it and it’s now a beautiful, tidy and cozy place. Mick says they never stop working on it but it certainly looks to me like it’s worth the effort. Mick is also a fine musician on both flute and bouzouki and a fine singer as well. He has a nice tenor voice that cuts right through the noise of a pub. Gary Leahy joined us so we met at his place and followed him over to Mick and Mary’s. Padraig and Els were there when we arrived, so good company all around. It was nice to play tunes with friends in a relaxed environment.

While we were there Gary got a call from Julie Langan to tell us she would be at Grainne Uaille this Thursday night for the normal session. We love Julie and really wanted to sit in with her and Tom Doherty again. Julie just had twin babies and they’ve been in hospital because of low birth weight, so it wasn’t a certainty that she’d be there, but the babies aren’t going to be released before Thursday, so our good fortune. We’re going to put off our drive to our next stay in Drumshanbo, county Leitrim until Friday and stay and extra day so we can play with Julie and company. After enjoying Mick and Mary’s hospitality we drove into Westport to meet at Matt Molloy’s and see if we were going to sit in another session with Matt. The pub was packed, which seems to be its normal state; from observation it has to consistently be the busiest pub in Westport.

We ordered pints and a little later Maria and Maggie McGing arrived. Maria handed me my down vest that I’d left at her and John’s and as I was putting it on I felt something in the left hand pocket. I put my hand in and found a silvered paper box and looked inside. There was a beautiful silver pin. I’d told

Maria I wanted her help and asked if she’d help me find a nice silver pin to put on my beret, so she and Maggie McGing found a beautiful pin that represents the children of Lir, an ancient tale in which an evil queen transforms the children of King Lir into four white swans. It’s a beautiful pin and was such a touching and generous gesture. I’m going to have to be careful and not wish out loud for fear of initiating more gift giving. What wonderful friends we’ve made and what lucky men we are!

Matt arrived a little later and took one look at the size of the session and begged off. Matt’s well into his 70’s and prefers some quiet to a busy, noisy space. We understand. He’s been on the road as a professional musician since the early 1970’s. He’s earned his time to call his preferences. He asked us if we’d come back this evening for a quieter session, but then heard through Maria ( she’s a good friend of Matt’s ) that he had said that because he didn’t want to disappoint us. We asked Maria to let Matt know that we were honored to play with him the night before and had no desire to impose. We were grateful for the time spent with him. He’s a real gentleman! Instead of playing at Molloy’s we walked across the small alley to The Porter House just next door and sat in with Mick Mulcrone and John Deery for an impromptu session which was low key, relaxing and great fun. Also present was a fine gentleman named Paul whom we’d met at McGing’s two years ago playing box. He has a fine baritone and sings wonderful songs as well. Tonight we’re going to take Els and Padraig out for dinner and then try out a session here in Castlebar that we were told about at McCarthy’s pub. More on that later.

OMG We Play With Matt Molloy!

We needed to catch up with Gary Leahy, who lives out Newport way, just past Newport proper out on a spit of land surrounded by water and some of the prettiest land you could ask for. Gary is a bow maker of world renown and a colleague of Morgans. They’ve both exhibited at some of the same conventions and contests and both have received prestigious awards for their craft. Gary is one of the nicest men you’d ever wish to meet and it’s always a pleasure to visit him. I’m afraid we were all rather starved for internet access and the need to catch up and Gary let us hog his bandwidth which we managed to crash at one point when James and I were both using Face Time to catch up with our wives. A little reboot and no harm done.

We headed back into Newport and had dinner with Gary at Grainne Uaile pub where we shared a great meal and pints. We’d been told the night before that there was a chance that we’d be able to go back to Matt Molloy’s and have a few tunes with Matt himself. None of us was certain that would actually happen, Matt is a busy man and plays at such a high level that it seemed a remote possibility, but Maria told us to meet her there at 9:00 to 9:30. We were all pretty knackered, having had the flight over, several late night sessions so we arrived at Matt’s feeling like maybe we should just go back to home base. We called Padraig to tell him just that and tried to call Maria but she didn’t answer. We decided we’d best wait so Maria, both Maggie’s and John McGing didn’t come down to find us gone. I stepped out front because it was so hot inside and there was Maria and the others just arriving.

I told them how we were feeling and just as I turned around saw Matt arriving with his flute on his shoulder. The manager, Seamus, of Molloy’s asked us if we were going to play and we told him it didn’t look like there was much room for us but he assured us that we were expected and they’d held four stools for us. Just then Matt graciously came out to where we were sitting and inquired of us and said he was fine playing or not, but it just hit us that he’d made the effort and we’d be idiots to not sit in. Don was feeling poorly so he took the keys and went back to Castlebar. We got back into the session room and were welcomed into the circle and OMG are we glad we stayed. Matt grabbed a pint (As Noel Kelly said, ” you own the feckin’ place ) and put his flute together and we were off to the races.

Noel is one if the finest banjo players I’ve ever sat next to. The man is a roaring freight train, a storm force gale, a….. you get the picture. I was watching his right hand and the economy of motion was a beautiful thing to behold. He can play a running series of triplets with his right hand that are so beautiful and forceful you want to weep with both pleasure and awe. He asked if we were a band back in The States and I said yes, but when we come to Ireland we’re not here as a band, we’re here to learn. After the first set he leaned over to me and said, “Well, you’ve learned, you’re doing fine” and that was that. An honest recognition of our efforts and a gracious respect. I couldn’t ask for anything more. I told Noel that I was in frank admiration of his playing and that he was the engine driving the rest of us and he nodded and said that his brother John was much better than he, that he could drive a session like no one else; just spin off tune after tune and that he and Matt were amazing together. I can barely wrap my head around that. Matt was enjoying himself and played nearly the entire session. As we wound down he leaned over to us and invited us to come back and play again tomorrow. Maria assured us that this is not a common occurrence, that there are musicians that would kill to have such an invite, so we feel blessed to be asked. Matt wanted a copy of our CD to have in the pub and Noel wanted to buy one which we refused and gave him a copy as well. What a great night.

We catch a cab and go back up the hill to John and Maggie McGing’s for a bit of sustenance and a night cap. Maggie and John are gracious, treating us like family and keeping us entertained with some riotous talk and commentary. We learned some new phrases such as; “He’d skin a flea for its hide”, “He wouldn’t give you the steam off his piss , and “As tight as a fish’s arse”, all these implying a miserly bugger! I’m beginning to fade and Maggie insists that I stick around for a hot whiskey. I’m shaking my head no and she’s shaming me in a good natured way, as I’m heading out the door to sleep in a spare room at John and Maria’s I hear Maggie saying: “For feck’s sake, he’s only 66 and acts like his 87!” I’m laughing all the way ( must be 20 yards ) to bed and some needed sleep.

Westport Sessions and Matt Molloy’s

Well yesterday in Westport was great fun. We got up late because we weren’t to bed until nearly 3:00 am so woke up late of course. We put together something to eat and then sat down to put a set list together for Matt Molloy’s. Maggie and John McGing graciously invited us over for a late lunch. The McGing’s home is next door to John and Maria’s at the top of the hill above Westport and the view out back is really beautiful. When we arrived we were greeted by the McGing’s, John and Maria, Johnny Fagin and his partner Ruth, Maggie Killeen (our famous Crab song Maggie) and Noreen. Good company and fine friends all. The lunch was wonderful and they knew that Don’s birthday was later this week so had prepared a beautiful fruit flan surrounded by 10 candles. A very sweet gesture much appreciated by Don and all of us.

We headed down to Molloy’s Pub a little after 5:00. Sunday is session day in Westport. There are sessions scattered all over town, but this one at Molloy’s was set up for us by our friend Padraig McKenna. A real gentleman whom we have come to hold dear. He and his wife Els were very kind to us our last trip and I’d been emailing back and forth with Padraig ever since. Our last trip to Molloy’s we couldn’t wedge ourselves into the middle room, but this time we were given the seats to play and be part of a session, a real honor. Aside from us there were several local players, Sean a fine flute player, Steve and Susie had their bouzouki and tenor guitar, John Deery with his pipes, Maria on fiddle, Padraig with banjo, a fine young man named Joseph who is an up and comer on fiddle and bodhran, a fine older gentleman, Johnny Padden on box and scattered others who contributed song and wit. The room was filled in with many wanting to listen. We played about 2 hours and had a great time. Brian Lennon from Newport, whom we met last trip, was there with his vocal group Coda who sang two exquisite arrangements of old tunes. There were six of them singing and it was really breath taking and well received.

(C) CODA 2014

Brian pulled his flute out after that, he’s a great flute player, and played the rest of the session with us. Maggie McGing introduced us to Matt Molloy himself. For those of you reading this to whom this is meaningless Matt is one of the early movers of the Irish Music revival. A flute and whistle master of world wide renown, member of The Chieftains for decades and before that the Bothy Band. He has recorded many, many albums both as a member of the aforementioned groups and as a soloist. Here we are standing with Matt, who turns out to be a real gentleman Westport born and bred. What an honor to meet him.

Return To Boul Biddies

We got to Boul Biddies at half ten (10:30), yes sessions begin rather late, hey we’re talking musician’s hours! Anyway…..we were delighted to see Johnny Fagin, whom we met here our last trip. The session was great. Lots of energy and fun with songs added by locals out to have a pint and social connection. I believe I wrote about this on the last trip but it bears stating again. The Irish pub is not about hanging out at the bar and pounding down pints, although pints are imbibed. The drink certainly lubricates the tongue but it’s not about working to get drunk either.

The Irish pub is a well lit meeting space for friends to meet and catch up, to express joy or sorrow amongst peers or to sing an old or new song and dance steps to a tune that inspires the body to move. I’m sure there are some pubs that are more like some American bars, where people stare into their drinks avoiding one another but I’ve not been in one yet. The other feature is that alcohol does loosen the tongue but does not slow the wits, if anything it sharpens the Irish sense of humor and you’d better be able to take a little wry observation about yourself or you won’t have a good time. A perfect example is one on me. I fell to talking with a very friendly gentleman who was working on his drink and as the evening wore on he sensed that I was a patient listener, so I became the object of his attentions. Later on he was well in his cups and became difficult to avoid, not that I was trying, I liked him as he was a good fellow, but I did want a moment to connect with some others. As we were packing up, again at 2:00 am, Johnny looks at me and says with a sly expression; “you are the master of your own fate “. I looked at him and said; ” and you gave me just enough rope to hang myself “, ” that I did ” he replied, and then we both burst out laughing. Everyone in the bar knew this gentleman and his tendency and watched how I dealt with him. If I needed them they would have helped, but only if I was in real difficulty. Drink sharpens the Irish sense of irony, not dulls it. If you can’t laugh at yourself you’re in trouble.

Standing outside to cool off between sets brought fresh conversations with patrons. Derrick who is the partner of a woman we met at the radio station earlier noted that he’d heard that we were self conscious about playing the music we didn’t grow up with but he assures us that they love our take on it, that he finds it truly entertaining and fresh. He encourages us to keep at it and not feel apologetic. Maria joined in with her observations about pipers and how on average they are the most unsocial people imaginable. They just sit in a corner bent over the pipes ignorin’ everyone. Her partner John she notes would be happiest if he could never speak with anyone and just ask for food. Now we know that’s not true, we love John and he can be quite social, but this is Maria being Maria and once she’s into the story………well she’s telling the story, so just sit back and listen. She continues; (in paraphrase) so they just sit there bent over their pipes ignorin’ everyone. Their the most cantankerous unsocial bastards! I never have to worry about John with another woman, no with John it’s the feckin’ pipes he’s devoted to. “Ya know what the definition of a true gentleman is?” she asks, I shake my head no. “A true gentleman is one who can play the pipes and doesn’t!” At that we burst out laughing. Maria is an absolute gem. A master of the tale. So full of wit and style and we’re so lucky to have met her and John two years ago. I feel blessed that she cares for us not only because she knows everyone to know in Westport but because to have Maria smile on you is a ray of sun in an often sunless place.

First Full Day, Westport

We drove to Maria and John Deery’s and arrived around 7:30. First thought I have to comment on the fact that after two years Morgan and James remembered how to get there which is an impressive feat. To get there you have to drive up hill, along some extremely narrow tracks. I was clueless as to how to get there. All hail James and Morgan of the long memories. They live above Westport right up against what appears to be moorland; I don’t think it is but it has that look; rocky with rolling hills, craggy and covered with broom and gorse and it’s starkly beautiful. We were delighted to see our good friend Padraig McKenna and his lovely partner Els, who thankfully has recovered well from back surgery and she looks stunning. Padraig a lucky man! We all had a pint and caught up. Padraig, whose devotion to all things banjo is equal only to Don’s, played Don’s new banjo that we picked up at Tom Cussen’s shop. He didn’t want to stop playing it so he and Don got deep into banjos.

Meanwhile James and John are talking pipes. John is a very fine piper and also owns two sets of Andreas Rogge pipes, both C and D sets with regulators. James has his new set of Rogge pipes, so he and John were deep into pipe talk; discussing reeds and tuning, etc. We left with Maria with John following and Maria guided us through Westport and down to the harbor area to a nice little pub called The Quays. We met the owner of the establishment and he told us how he was flooded twice this last winter with the huge storms that hit both Ireland and England. He had a very philosophical attitude about it very accepting of what nature dished out, but looking at the size of the pub and imagining what it took to clean it up rather staggered me. The session was great. we had John and Maria, another John who is building a recording studio next to The Quays, who plays fine guitar and flute, our friend Gary Leahy from Newport and Mick and ex-pat American, whom we met at the Newport session two years back, and of course Padraig with his beautiful 1930’s Clifford Essex Paragon banjo and the four of us. Great session and great craic! Oh yes, and dare I forget Maggie the singer we met at Bould Biddie’s in Westport last trip. She sang The Crab song to great hilarity. The pub was filled with those we met the last trip and we all felt as if we were among old friends. There’s a real bond between those that love the music and good company. As is typical of a session there were singers among those who just happened to be in the pub for a pint and company and they sang songs to great appreciation. We wound it all up at 2:00 am and got back to Castlebar around 2:30. Whew! That was fun.

Today we drove into Westport and arrived about 2:30. We found the radio station just off James St. and stepped in and introduced ourselves. Aoife (pronounced Eefa) came in and did an interview with a young woman and about 10 minutes later invited us into the studio and set us up. She interviewed us and had us play some sets and it was great fun. She’s a good host and ran the board well because some of the station personnel who were listening to the feed said it sounded good as did Maria who called us after the show. We strode up to McGings one of our favorite pubs and said hello. They no longer do traditional sessions and have changed musical format, but it was great to see it again. We had a pint and caught up on emails, text’s etc. and took off for home base about 5:00 pm. We have another session tonight at one of our other favorite Westport pubs, Bould Biddie’s.