Off to Ireland again

We’re sitting in Logan airport in Boston waiting to fly out to Shannon. We rented a room at the airport Hilton and promptly crashed for about 4 hours. It felt great to get horizontal and sleep well. we’re having a bite to eat and having a nice pint of Guiness speaking excitedly about being in Ireland tomorrow morning. 

Aboard the flight to Shannon on Aer Lingus, watching a wonderful film, Jimmy’s Hall. The timing of viewing this film is interesting because I brought a book with me by Diarmaid Ferriter, A Nation And Not A Rabble, The Irish Revolution 1913-1923. I felt it incumbent upon me to learn more about the struggles that Ireland went through, this being the centenary of the 1916 Uprising. I did not understand the complexity of the period, all of the various factions and the elitist attitude that viewed the majority of the Irish population as an uneducated, illiterate rabble. This cut across quite a strata of Irish society, many, from clergy, college educated and within the revolutionary leadership, including the faction that signed the accord with Britain and those who wanted nothing to do with Britain were blinded by this attitude, even those committed to the struggle with the desire to raise the consciousness of the people and establish home rule. There’s something about us humans, we simply have this need to control and deny others the ability to have a meaningful and happy life. We become fixated on the righteousness of our own cause and cannot see the goodness or meaning in those outside our group. This tendency seems to run through every culture on the planet and the older I get the less I understand it. It’s a complex planet.

Today is my wife Alison’s birthday, happy birthday dear friend.

I forgot to mention that as we were getting seated aboard our Aer Lingus flight to Ireland we couldn’t help but notice a fellow our age coming down the aisle carrying mandolin and fiddle cases. We didn’t have any real conversation with him until the end of the flight and we learned that he owns a pub in Boston named The Burren and plays a lot of music solo and with his family, The McCarthy’s. We exchanged information and gave him a CD. He promised to send Don and I ones from him to play on our show. So before we even step off the plane the spell of the music feels like it’s being woven around us.

I’ll do my best to catch up, and today our first full day in Ireland has already been a very busy one. We landed at Shannon got our car, drove south to Cork and the little village of Ahakista, (pronounced Ahkeeshta). We got established played a few tunes and drove down to the next village Kilcrohane, and stopped in at Eileen Fitz’s Pub.

As soon as we stepped in we were enveloped in the magic of this island. We were of course asked who we were and where we were from and what brought us. As soon as music was mentioned a man named Wayne Sheehy began talking with us and of course there are two Americans Bob and Pam who own a place nearby. It turns out Wayne is a skilled musician and drummer who plays and tours with Damian Dempsey, he also is a friend of Ron Wood, guitarist with the Rolling Stones and produces and edits recordings of many artists. All of this is told to us without any sense of bragging or self aggrandizing. Don and I play Damian’s music on our show, we’re fans. Eileen, Wayne, Bob and Pam, as well as another local Frank want to hear what we can do. We grab our instruments and play one tune and they are quite pleased. Wayne invites us to his studio tomorrow to play and hang out. There’s no food at Eileens so we run up to Bantry and have a delicious meal then head back to Eileens. It’s late and though we don’t play tunes we’re approached by a very nice gentleman named Pat who tells us that he’s heard all about our playing and looks forward to hearing us. Frank who owns a shop asks if we can come down tomorrow morning and play for a good friend of his’ surprise birthday party. All this from hearing us play one set of tunes! He’ll fix us up with eggs, smoked salmon and take care of breakfast if we’ll play a few tunes to cheer up his friend. Welcome to Ireland. We love this island and its people, they open their arms to total strangers because they see how much we love the music and being here. If there are a more hospitable people in this world I’d love to meet them!

A great day in Kilcrohane

We woke up around 8:30, had some coffee, warmed up on our instruments and headed down to Frank’s store, J.F. O’Mahony (pronounced O’ Mannie) and sure enough there were tables set out in front of the store with eggs, smoked salmon, sparkling wine and coffee. Siobhan (“Shevawn”), the birthday celebrant, was there along with some of her friends. Frank comes out with a box labeled Trump. It’s a gift sent to him by visitors from Washington State he’d befriended. In it is a doll of Donald Trump and taped to the back are voodoo pins to apply to the doll. Damned funny! We played a couple sets of tunes and were gratified to see toes tapping, feet dancing and words of encouragement. Eileen stepped around to tell us we were booked for dinner at the Bridgeview B & B, and wondered if we’d come round for tunes after, to which we readily agreed. They insisted we take a break and have some food and then we played some more. Frank’s store is very typical of rural Ireland, combination of general store and post office. It’s been in his family since 1850, and is a delight to step into. Rows and rows of shelves behind a store length counter with many items. A row of old stock boxes from years past labeled with items like “fancy tassels”, “children’s vests” and other sundries. Frank asked when we were done playing if he could give us any payment and we said absolutely not. He gifted us with a fresh loaf of soda bread, fresh cheese and some other small items. A truly lovely man.

We got in our vehicle and drove up over the hill to Wayne’s home. It’s on the north side of the Sheep’s Head peninsula about 3 miles from Kilcrohane (pronounced Killcrowhan’). He has a snug home on land that looks over Bantry Bay to the Beara peninsula where we stayed in 2012. On the stairs are pictures that Wayne’s wife Avril insisted he display, Wayne is a truly modest man, showing him drumming with a band including Bono of U2, standing with Charlie Watts from The Stones, a full Stones band photo with Wayne in it, etc. We chatted had some coffee and Wayne set up two mics in the kitchen and we recorded The Coachman’s Whip set in which Wayne joined us on bodhran and the song Bedlam Boys. Wayne shares with us that he and other musicians he knows really appreciate the fact that we’ve embraced the music, and have taken it in and made it our own. They’re encouraging words, sincerely said. He’s going to come by Eileen’s this evening and drop off a burned CD for us. He’s a gentleman and a delightful man to visit with. Not a pretentious bone in his body. 

We got a text message from Janelle Hiccox. John and Janelle are traveling Ireland with friends Cathy and Timothy and are coming down to visit with us for the evening. We call Eileen and she changes the reservation for dinner to 8 at the Bridgeview B&B next to the church in Kilcrohane. We have a really nice meal and catch up with all the goings on and then head over to Eileen’s. When we get there it’s pretty slow, so we pull out our instruments and start playing and not long after people start trickling in, then John, Janelle, Cathy and Timothy step in, followed by a few more locals and pretty soon its full. Wayne shows up with the jacket I left at his home and his bodhran and we’ve got ourselves a session. Wayne is a very skilled and intuitive player, he’s with us all the way anticipating when we take short breaks between tunes in some sets. We have a very fun evening. Charlie, an older gentlemen, sings a song of longing for Sligo, from the view point of a man who’s wandered the world and longs to see his home, its a very touching song and another woman sang a humorous song sean nos style. Eileen has a good evening with orders and we all part company having had a great time. 

Unbeknownst to us Wayne posted some comments on Facebook about our meeting and interactions. See below. We heard about them from someone in James’ family.

 Wayne Sheehy’s Comments:

2 evenings ago these 4 American gentlemen arrived in at sundowner time in Eileens. They are 4 traditional Irish players travelling Ireland ( Morgan Anderson is the worlds leading bow maker),to learn and play. I know what you’re thinking, your saying “on no they probably don’t get the nuance” ?

Well they dropped over to Ocean briefly yesterday and my god are they extraordinary players . We had a fantastic session in Eileens last night, what great intelligent and respectful players . They are headed up the West coast they call themselves ” Floating Crowbar” and they do defy geographical notions of musical expression in the most humble and unaffected manner. Only sorry the lads in the band ( Damo) hadn’t seen them.

An evening with Hugh Quinn

Today we journeyed south to Skibereen. We first went a little further south to Leap and then on to Drombeg stone circle. We wanted to see it, since we used a photo of it on out recent album cover. We took some photos of us standing in the well next to the circle. A cold wind was blowing and by the time we finished at Drombeg we were half numb. We went then to Skibereen and knocked about, and had dinner at a Chinese restaurant. The real reason that we were hanging out in Skibereen was to meet a gentleman named Hugh Quinn and another fiddler named Richie Tisdall. Our good friend up in Newport, Gary Leahy, grew up in Skibereen and Hugh and his wife have known him since he was a youngster, so Gary contacted Hugh and he graciously invited us into his home to play tunes. 

When we arrived we found Hugh, his wife Nancy, Richie, and also Hugh’s grandson Eoin. Eoin is 18, finishing his secondary  education. We’ve spoken between ourselves about how lucky we are to have this opportunity. Here we are 4 musicians walking into the home of a complete stranger and there’s an instant connection. Hugh has us sit and Nancy has prepared tea in advance. After tea and introductions he asked us to play something. He worked his way around the circle asking each of us to start a tune. They’d join in when there was a tune they knew. Before long we were playing like we’d known one another for longer than a few minutes. Eoin blew us away at how accomplished he is on the pipes, he began when he was 12 and at 18 is becoming quite proficient. They are a very difficult instrument to master and he’s well on his way. Hugh gifted Eoin his set of Leo Rowsome pipes. Richie told us that Hugh was ready to stop playing a full set of pipes and gave them to Eoin, telling him “I think they’re in good hands now”. Leo’s pipes are incredible sounding, beautifully made and highly prized since most of them were made before 1960.  To put it in perspective they’re prized like a fine violin in classical music or a prized pre-war Martin guitar. A touching gift from grandfather to grandson. Eoin was telling me that he wanted to send his pipes to The States to a man who really knows how to restore them properly, but he was reluctant to send them. I asked him if he was aware of the penalties that the USA had imposed on anything going through customs that contained ivory. All the decorative turned rings on Leo’s pipes are ivory. He didn’t know about it. I told him to be careful, that they could easily be confiscated and he might not see them again. At this point he’s better off never taking them out of Ireland. The laws are at this point are blunt, stupid and enforced indiscriminately. 

Hugh’s in his latter 70’s now and plays a simple pipe, just the bag and chanter, but he’s still a very fine player and does he know the tunes! As the evening went on Hugh got better and better, he was on a roll and we’re pretty sure he would have played us into the ground. We love Hornpipes and Hugh knew some great ones. I recorded the session so we have material to work on. Eoin told us that he went to a festival with his grandfather. He went to bed at 12:00 and Hugh came in at 6:00 am. Hugh must have been a mighty session player in his younger days. We took a break and found that Nancy had prepared a table full of soda bread with smoked salmon and other sandwiches and a home made apple tart. That’s the kind of welcome strangers get in Ireland, at least in the West country. We had a great time We started playing at 7:30 and didn’t finish until 12:30. In that time we shared laughs, music and a camaraderie that comes from a common love and enjoyment of music. Great fun, good hearts, what a great evening! Hugh’s last words to us were “God willing we meet again”.

The Banshee House

So, here the story takes a turn. We’d rented a house up in Cullen, not far from Rathmore, in the heart of Sliabh Luachra.. This area is where many famous box players come from including Jackie Daly. It’s also the region that polkas and slides come from. We were also close to Kenmare and Kilgarvan where we’d played a great session our first trip in 2012. We found the house in Cullen and  the owner Tony greeted us and seemed a nice fellow. One weird thing: as we were unloading our instruments and bags from the car, he asked: “Do you play music?” We said we did, and he said, rather enigmatically: “Oh, they’ll like that.”

The photos on Imagine Ireland made it look really nice, and from the outside it does but once inside the place we realized we’d made a mistake. The house is an old stone structure, like many in Ireland, but it was apparent it had been allowed to fall in disrepair and then rather hastily brought back from the brink on a shoestring. One of three toilets didn’t work, one upstairs shower leaked into the kitchen below, less than half the light bulbs worked, there was no thermostat, so the heat was uncontrollable and dodgy at best, and the bedrooms smelled redolent of something……… unknown. There was a wood/ coal stove in the kitchen that had a rotted pipe and leaky doors, the chimney rained coal soot down onto the hearth, the firewood was damp and there was not enough coal, which was the only real heat we could gather around. Morgan and I scoped out the kitchen and concluded there wasn’t much to work with in the way of pans, but we’d make due. 

We drove down to Mulcroon, a fairly large town to see if we could get any clues for possible sessions. We went to a tea shop called Lynch’s and had some coffee and scones. The owner suggested we see if we can find Jim Murray, who owns a furniture store just down the street. Jim tours with Sharon 

Shannon who’s a really big name artist, she tours a lot, has recorded with many musical artists from every kind of musical style. She very smartly learned how to giver her music broad appeal and has done well for herself and her bands. We walked down the street found the signs for Jim Murray’s new and used furniture, made an inquiry was told he was next door and found him laying on the floor of his shop trying to get a reclining sofa to work. Turns out Jim hasn’t a pretentious bone in his body, shakes hands all around and is willing to share a few minutes with fellow musicians. He’s thinking of possible sessions for us when a friend of his walks by and Jim calls him over to see what he knows. Jim calls one fellow, no answer, tries a number suggested by his friend reaches him, listens and suggests a session that night at Sullivan’s in Kilgarvan. Of course we know Kilgarvan we were in a great session there our first trip in 2012. With that knowledge we headed back to home base.

Morgan made a nice dinner and we took off. 

We got to Sullivan’s Pub ordered some pints and waited for the musicians to show up. The fiddle player Noreen showed up as well as Ann on flute and whistles, whom we’d met at O’Reilly’s in 2012. They remembered us as we did them. Eamonn, who we’d also met in 2012 showed up with his box, but so did about 15 French players who’d been at a big Fleadh (festival) in Kenmare the week earlier and we’d left our instruments in the car. There were so many fiddles that Morgan didn’t see a reason to add his. There was a fine French piper and they were all skilled players, but it left us feeling like third wheels, so we drank our pints and split. Bit of a disappointment, but like Noreen said after we told her about the house session at Hugh’s, “well I don’t feel too sorry for ye”. She was envious of us having that session, she knew of Hugh and had played with Richie. We bid goodnight, they invited us to a session the following night in Kenmare, which we didn’t get to and here’s why.

After spending an uncomfortable night’s sleep, during which we all had vivid and disturbing dreams, we woke up and met in the kitchen, looked at one another and said, “lets get the hell out of here!” If there’d been a couple little things wrong we could’ve hung in there, but it was just too uncomfortable. The place creeped us out. James and Morgan made a list of all the things that were unacceptable and James called the owners and worked out the details for a refund of the days not spent. We wanted to stop by Inch, Dingle and say hello to Fidelis and John Foley. We had some great times there last trip, so James called and reached Fidelis and asked if they had accommodations. She assured him they did, so we broke camp, it did feel nearly like camping in Cullen, and headed north to Dingle. We arrived at Foley’s early evening and were told Fidelis was cooking (she’s a culinary wizard) and that John was up at the house, so make ourselves comfortable. We ordered pints of Murphy’s warmed ourselves at the beautiful little fire John had made and a few minutes later were seated for dinner. The dinner was great, all of us spoke very little and ate with a relish.

Fidelis sat down with us as her cooking duties were done for a bit and caught up with us. She assured us their daughter Katie was very happy to hear we were there. She was just finishing secondary school in 2014 and sat in with us playing her box (2 row button accordion). She’s a great kid and we’d told her then to keep playing, she’d kind of given it up at one point and was just taking it back up when we first met. 

Fidelis took us upstairs to show us our rooms which were perfect, and after our stay in Cullen looked princely. James asked her what the rates were and she told us that she and John had decided the rooms were on them and there was “to be no discussion and we’ll not be arguin’ about it”. We’d known them less than a week in 2014 and they wouldn’t let us pay for the rooms! In Ireland friends are FRIENDS! Such generosity of spirit and welcoming hearts. Family and friends are paramount and having fun, enjoying life, no matter your circumstances, rates high. This is our third trip and we have people I consider extension of family. I care about them as they do us. Westport, Co. Mayo, to Kilcrohane, Co. Cork, there are people, some we’ve known for 6 years and some just met. Frank O’Mahony, and Wayne Sheehy, Eileen Fitzgerald, Siobhan, whose birthday party we played at and her friends who were there, all those we’ve just met, I know that when we next meet they’ll greet us like old friends and it won’t be insincere. Anyway I digress.

After dinner we went down to the pub, which I can honestly say is one of my favorites. Foley’s Bar has been 5 generations in the same family, it feels homey, warm, snug, welcoming. The space is approx. 10′ X 30′ with a full length bar, the back counter full of knick knacks and bric-brac, old photos, Guiness posters from way back, advertisements, glasses it’s wonderful. I’ll try to include a photo so you can get the feel of it. When you get people in it, well it gets very cozy. We started playing tunes and in walks Katie, all grown up.

Now she’s in college and so much more self assured and she’s playing regularly in Cork and has really become a fine player. Two years can make such a difference. The tunes started spinning, the pints flowing and soon it was 12:30. I’ve been feeling a bit coldish, and thought I’d best get some sleep. Don followed not far behind me, As for Morgan and James I’ll let them describe the rest of the evening. 


At the start, there was a young French lad in a beret (!) who had an accordion as well, and I asked him if he wanted to join in, which he did, “Mais tres doucement!” (but really slowly!), and he wasn’t joking. Very solid, but very slow. This was a nice counterpoint to Katie’s driving, confident playing, which really has come along in leaps and bounds. She’s hoping to get a gig in Florida playing the music, and we really wish her the very best. Katie’s friends Des and Aidan were drinking at the bar but Des soon joined in with his guitar and his huge, ragged voice, both of which he used to great effect on trad tunes and modern songs alike (think the Pogues). He is a very talented player – very different approach from Rick and with an energy that hints of long days bottled up in the engine room of the ship on which he works as an engineer. One particularly memorable moment was when Katie, Morgan, and I were ripping through some reels and I called for “Devanny’s Goat”, a twisty but fun reel in D. Des dutifully slipped into key but you could tell he was restless – at one point his accompaniment was closer to “Wipeout” than anything we’ve ever heard a trad guitarist do, and I just couldn’t hold it together, bursting out laughing mid-tune. At the end Des apologized, not terribly repentantly: “Listen, when you have to play in D for that long, you have to keep yourself entertained!” 

After about 1:30, the parents went to bed and Katie barred the door. This meant that the smokers would have to step outside, but when we tried to, she said “No, no, you can smoke in here – I’ve made you an ashtray,” which she had, out of a beer mat with folded-up edges. “But I thought you can’t smoke in pubs in Ireland,” I said. “That’s true,” replied Aidan, but you see, it’s a double negative: we aren’t allowed to be in the pub at all at this hour, so the smoking cancels it out!”

The evening ended with a lot of songs – James Taylor, the Beatles, Molly Malone (requested by the French lad!) – and finally at 3:00 am Morgan and I decided to head off to bed.

Off to Clare

Don and I woke up about 9:30 and went down to get breakfast. We didn’t see James and Morgan, and since Fidelis usually stops breakfast around 10:00 I thought it best to wake them. I knocked on their door and poked my head in. After calling them, Morgan rather blearily raised his head and grunted a response; my duty done I went back downstairs. Don and I were working on our eggs when Morgan showed, and a little after that James. They looked the worse for wear and they asked if they kept us up. Our room was directly above the pub, and when I climbed into bed I could hear them, but I put my ear plugs in and could just barely hear it. I drifted off and that was the last I remember, for Don it was pretty much the same story. James and Morgan were amazed and grateful we weren’t pissed off and that’s when we learned they’d been playing and drinking pints until 3:00 am. Katie and Des apparently  leading the way, ah…the stamina of the young! John came in to say goodbye as he was on his way into Castlemain the next town up the road. He’s a quiet and humble fellow and we all like him immensely.

We packed our things and spoke with Fidelis on the way out. She told us that she was glad we’d had such poor accommodations and came up to be with them. “Thanks be to God”, she said because we were able to stay. Again, the Foley’s are friends that we’ll always want to connect with. As we were stepping out the door I said that we’d indeed see them again, the sooner the better and that friends and family was what made life meaningful, to which she readily agreed. Happy to see and sad to part. We all agreed that the next trip we’ll spend 3 or 4 days in Inch so we can have more time with the Foley’s.

We headed East out of Dingle then North toward Clare. The country changes quite a bit, from mountains, to rolling hills and then finally rolling open land that runs down to the sea. We got to the Tarbert ferry and went across the Shannon and into Co. Clare, West through the towns of Kilrush and Kilkee then up the coast through the famous music town of Miltown Malby, where we had our first session adventure in 2012, up through Lahinch where there were loads of surfers out catching some pretty good sized waves, past the Cliffs of Moher and the house we rented our first trip, past Doolin and finally reaching Fanore, an impossibly picturesque village with the ocean at its doors and steep hills at its back. We followed the directions to our next house and climbed a steep, narrow gravel road up higher and higher the view of the sea and surrounding countryside expanding with every turn in the road until we reached the home perched at the edge of a pasture looking west out into the expanse of the Atlantic, South down to the Aran Islands and North across Galway bay into the mountains of Connemara, a breath-taking panorama. We arrived to a beautiful blue sky with gorgeous cumulus clouds over Connemara and Galway. I walked around the hills shooting photos, learning my new camera, and James and Morgan walked up the road. I saw a man walking up toward me and we stopped to chat. His name is Kevin and he was visiting from Cambridge, England. He has relatives living in Fanore whom he said were having tea and “there’s only so much tea you can drink, so I decided to walk the hill, since I’d been here off and on for years and never walked to the top”.

We chatted a bit and he continued on and I kept taking pictures. The new house was such a step up from Cullen and with this view we’ve already decided if we can get this place again we will.

We headed up our hill and down the other side to Lisdoonvarna. There’s a famous tune named The Road To Lisdoonvarna. We’d heard there was a session led by Christy Barry and we thought we’d check it out. We took our instruments in case, but left them in the car. We’ve learned through experience that it’s best not to crash a session until you’ve found out if it’s an open or closed session. When we got there 3 players were spinning some nice tunes. Flute, box and fiddle, skilled players very relaxed and pleasant. Then two others showed up, box and tenor guitar. We sat and listened, the guitar player was very quiet and not up to the skills of the others. We sipped our pints but were cautious. Finally when we were close to leaving Morgan got up and thanked them and mentioned we were players. The box player said “if we’d known that we would’ve played better”, love that Irish humor! The fiddle and box player said, “so where’s your instruments”, Morgan told them they were in the car but we were leaving soon. They told us of 3 sessions, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I asked them if they were going to be at any of them and they more or less shrugged, that’s right! I learned that lesson last trip, don’t make plans in Ireland. The Wed. session is supposed to be led by John Faulkner, whom I admire very much. He cut several albums with Dolores Keane in the 70’s and is one of those icons of modern traditional music. I hope we get to participate but if not it will be a pleasure just to listen.


We woke to a cold and blustery day. Wind howling from the North, white caps on the water, rain blowing sideways. This nice tight house we’re situated in leaking cold air through the attic access door and up through a fireplace that howls like a tormented soul. I take a blanket and put it in front of the fireplace and it’s sucked in as if a giant has his mouth around the chimney and is drawing on it. The people who grew up here, especially in the old days when turf or coal fires were the only heat, had to have been extraordinarily tough. Sitting out weather like this in a leaky, cold  stone cottage……they were tough alright. 

We spend most of the day playing tunes, napping allowing the weather to dictate the pace. Janelle Hiccox texts and later calls to let us know they got into Lisdoonvarna and we arrange to meet them for dinner at the Imperial Hotel. Its great to see our old friends again in Ireland. Sharing moments like this in another country has a quality to it that’s not easy to explain, but it does feel special. We drive over the hill and into Lisdoonvarna where we meet Janelle, John, Cathy and Timothy in the bar at The Imperial order a pint, catch up on our email, etc. and 20 min. later tuck into a nice simple dinner. James and Morgan walk around to the The Roadside Tavern where we listened the other night and ask if they’d welcome some traveling musicians. The answer was yes, so they came back to The Imperial and told us we could play so up we got, grabbed the instruments from the car and marched into the teeth of the cold wind around the corner to the pub. We bought a pint each, Don had his tea. James said he’d had an exchange with a patron, commenting on the wind and the reply was “this is no wind, its just a breeze, now if it were blowing out of Siberia, that would be a wind”. Uh, huh!

We got set up, tuned up and off we went, toes tapping, drinks purchased, heads nodding, the bar keep walked past saying “you lads are good”  it was mostly a foreign crowd, a fetching young woman  who turned out to be the French tour guide for a bus full of her charges, was very enthusiastic, smiling and nodding, two very prim German women sitting a little stiffly on a small bench were looking intent, I’d say they were enjoying us, but their poker faces were on. Some people were taking videos, I think we helped the Publican sell a few more drinks than he would have on a usual Sunday night, for he stepped over at one point and replied to our, “are we doing alright” stated “better than alright, would you like some drinks”? This is always a good sign! We played another 30 min. and called it a night. I walked over to the bar to thank the Publican for having us and had a short exchange with one of the local patrons which went like this. “I hope you enjoyed the tunes”, “I did”, he said, “well, glad we didn’t drive you away”, says I, “its the reason I stayed” said he. He then told me where some other sessions were in the area. Morgan reported on a conversation with the French tour guide. “You’re the reason I come over here”, says she!  “We’re Americans” responds Morgan, “Oh, that’s alright” she responds charmingly. Floating Crowbar does its part in promoting goodwill between France and the USA.

A Session in Kinvarra

Ennistimon, lunch with friends and Kinvarra with Dermot Byrne, Florianne Blancke and others.

Spent a little time waking up, playing tunes (if you’re not a musician our schedule would drive you crazy). We live for the music on this pilgrimage, we eat, drink, breathe and bathe in the tunes. Often we’re playing before we’ve even really woken up, individually working aspects of a new tune or set we’ve wanted to learn or just heard the night before. Some might call it a madness, we just call it playing tunes!

Janelle texted then called wanting to set up a meeting and lunch. She suggested 10:00 and I countered with 11:00. We’re a bit bleary early, session start at 9:30 or 10:00 and end at 12:30 or 1:00, sometimes later. By the time we get back to our place and calm down we’re in bed at 2:00 or later, musician’s hours. We drove in to Lisdoonvarna met John, Janelle, Cathy and Timothy and guided them up to our eyrie on the hill. We had a nice lunch which Morgan presented beautifully as he always does. He’s an artist in so many things. Our guests had to drive back down and all the way to Shannon since they flew out the next day. We said goodbye and grabbed naps.

We were told by the musicians at The Roadside there was to be a session in Kinvarra so we headed over there in the evening. We didn’t know what pub it was in so we drove there, parked and scouted  until we found it at Connolly’s We saw a poster on the wall stating that Dermot Byrne and Floriane Blancke were at this place every Monday. As soon as we saw the name we knew who they were. Dermot is a great box player, he toured with Altan when they played in Spokane back in 1996 and has been an active musician for decades.

Florianne is a marvelous harpist and Don and I have played the CD they put out together on our radio show. The two of them together make very lovely music. By the time we got there the session was packed. Once again we were a bit late and didn’t feel like crowding in. A little more intimate session is what we crave, and as Morgan states, once you get a certain size it seems like it becomes about proving you can play the tunes and keep pace. They took a break and when we had a chance we said hello to Dermot and in the conversation it understood we were players. He said that we should grab our instruments that “it would calm down a little later” but we demurred. Morgan mentioned to him that he could play about half the tunes they played and Dermot with a moments hesitation said “well, why don’t you just play over the second half” Irish wit, man their fast.

Session at Cooley’s, Ennistimon, with Adam, Paul Dooley, Stefan, 2 Australian Bob’s, etc. 

We made up our minds that we’d not hesitate the next session. So off to Cooley’s House in Ennistimon. We were told that this was a really good session.

Cooleys is a cozy narrow pub very similar to the old Bould Biddy’s in Westport, but much warmer feeling. The session was to start around 9:30 and we got there at 8:00, staked out our spots and stayed put. When we arrived a woman was tending and we found out her name was Joan. We mentioned why we’d come and she assured us that we were very welcome and that musicians were more than welcome, the session was open and that Adam and his friends would be glad to see us. She also assured us that being American wasn’t and issue as there was only one player that usually came who was Irish, all the rest were from other points of the compass.

We ordered pints sat down and a colorful character showed up carrying a fiddle case. His name is Bob and he’s from Australia. Great guy, very open and talkative, as curious about who we are as we are him. The topics range from him learning fiddle by playing America old time music in Australia, to traveling to Ireland and settling here, to buying houses, etc. Then another man steps in with a fiddle and he too is Bob, Bob Singer another Australian. He’s also very open and friendly. Then the flute player whom we heard at The Roadside two nights before stepped in. He’s Stefan who’s not very talkative, and we believe is French.

Then Adam came in, young, energetic and greets us warmly. A few others show up and the fiddler we liked so well at at The Roadside steps in. He’s Paul Dooley the Irishman. Another American is there, Richard whose wife is the niece of Chris Droney a pretty famous concertina player from Bell Harbour. Richard’s a nice fellow, tells us not to hide our light, that he’d heard about our playing at The Roadside and wished he’d been there. We were getting a lot of positive comments from that. Greetings are exchanged, cases opened, strings tuned, flutes adjusted, all very unhurriedly and Adam and Stefan agree on the first set and away we go. The first tune is new to me, I’ve almost got it and Adam calls out a change for me, nods when I get it, and then to the next tune. When the set is finished conversation continues, pints sipped and the next set is determined with glances, a few opening notes played so the starters know what’s coming and off we go. This is the very kind of session we come for. It reminds me of the session we had in Kilgarvan in 2012. I’m starting to feel physically very hot. Adam says “Cooley’s is the hottest pub in Ireland”. I start stripping layers. He and Morgan continue the thread and Adam states that when they get a lot of players in it’s like a steam bath. They invite us to do a song, I sing The Mountaineer and it’s well received. I feel the tension ease inside of me and even Stefan is smiling at times. We’ve made the connection with fellow musicians and it feels like we’re in the right place at the right time.

We step outside to cool off and have a hysterically funny conversation with a young man from Scotland. He’s full of funny remarks and has Morgan and I laughing uncontrollably. Soon a friend of his also Scots comes out and we have a nice exchange. He fills me in on the state of the economy and how their banks were handing out loans like candy and all the people he knows that are in their homes upside down financially. The evening is a great success. We’ve met some nice people, played some great music, had interesting conversations, made connections, which is what its all about and there you have it!

Onwards to Mayo

We left Fanore and headed north to Co. Mayo. We’ve good friends in Westport and Newport and were looking forward to seeing them. We drove to Knock where there’s a small regional airport. James and Bridget needed to rent a car so they could journey north to Port Stewart in North Ireland and Don grabbed a car so he could pick up his wife and a good friend who will be with us for part of the trip. I checked my messages and email since I could get wifi in the airport and saw I’d gotten an email from Julie Langan. Julie is a very talented and highly regarded fiddler fro the Newport area. She’s known well outside the region and we in the band love her playing, she’s also a lovely person. We met her at the session in Newport both previous trips and loved the session and her playing partner Tom Doherty who plays box. 

She wrote: “did i hear rumblings that ye are ‘at large’ on the West Coast of Ireland???? I’m hoping it’s true!! I’m playing in Westport on Friday nights weekly at the moment. And the next seisiun in the Gráinneuaile is tomorrow wk the 20th. I hope we get to meet up, let me know where you are and i’ll try and come to ye either. it’s like the return of the cuckoo! summer must be on it’s way!!”

Were we excited about that? Oh yes! I answered her and hoped we’d connect.

We bid James and Bridget goodbye and Morgan and I got in our vehicle and Don followed us and we headed for Newport to find the house we’d rented. As we neared Castlebar the top of Croagh Patrick showed. It’s a beautiful mountain that dominates the southern shore of Clew Bay. Its the kind of mountain that’s difficult to take your eyes off. Before it became associated with St. Patrick it was a sacred site for the earlier Irish peoples. We found our place in Newport and dropped off our stuff, kept our instruments and headed to John and Maggie McGing’s. They became our friends in 2012 on our first trip. You can’t find a more generous pair. They’ve made us feel welcome from the start and Maggie and I have kept in touch since then. My wife Alison is staying with them, as is my youngest daughter Tahlia. Maggie and John hadn’t met them but welcomed them in with the generosity that is their natural state. Alison and Tahlia had spent a week visiting her mother and brother in England and caught a jumper flight to Knock where Maggie and John picked them up. I had lots of reasons to be pleased to get to the McGings. Tahlia had been texting me and said that Maggie had dinner waiting for us and knew of the session with Julie and where it was. We sat down to a fabulous home cooked meal caught up on some news and headed down to McCarthy’s Pub to find Julie. 

We got there to find we were a bit early, so we ordered pints put our instruments in a corner and had a seat. About 20 minutes later Julie showed up, it was great to see her. We heard she was playing with a box player but we had no knowledge of him. He turned out to be a man named Joe Carey. He pulled out his box sat down and we introduced ourselves to one another. Once we started playing it became apparent that Joe was a master. His command of the tunes and his instrument are superb. He plays with a strength and fluidity that only comes from years of playing. He plays similarly to the great Joe Burke, but his voice is his own, with power and grace. He also plays a Paolo Soprano box from the 1940’s which is what Joe Burke played. I now know why the accordions of that era are so esteemed. The sound of it surrounded me and carried me away. I’d never experienced anything like it, a really glorious experience. 

Julie plays with a mastery that fascinates me as well. Some players use a lot of motion in their playing, fingers flying, big bow strokes, lots of movement and show. Julie is an elegant player, with great economy of motion. Her left hand shows such little movement that it’s difficult to reconcile all the music leaving her fiddle with such a small amount of effort, but great music comes from her, absolutely beautiful phrasing and real soul to her playing. It’s an honor to be able to listen and interact with her. There’s times I just want to not play at all and just listen and there’s times I have to pinch myself and wonder why she wants to play with me. I didn’t grow up in the tradition like she or any of the other native players have, so I still feel self conscious. On the other hand my bandmates and I keep getting invited back to play so my self consciousness is something I’m putting on myself. Anyway enough of that!

We also got to play with another fiddler named Siobhain whom we met last trip and Tony Reidy a great song writer and guitar and mandolinist. Our friend Padraig McKenna sat in on banjo as well as a drunk with no sense of rhythm trying to play spoons until one of his mates grabbed him and took him away. Great fun and music, great craic. At the end of the session Julie and Joe approached us and asked if we’d be willing to come to Joe’s son’s wedding reception tomorrow and play tunes with he and Julie. Morgan and I accepted without hesitation, Don needed to drive to Shannon to pick up his wife Sheila and friend Claudia, so it was Morgan and I representing the group. We told Joe we had no appropriate clothing for such an event and he and Julie told us that the musicians could get away without dressing up and that would be OK.

Joe pointed to his clothes and said he’d be dressed like he was, so not to worry!