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!

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