Saturday, June 1

We’re in the new month and Friday turned out to be a lovely, sunny day. James, Bridget and I went to visit Doolin Cave. I tend not to visit typical tourist spots, I suppose it’s my elitism showing, or dislike of crowds but I own it. This is one time I’m glad I didn’t follow my usual aversion. I allowed myself to be persuaded by Bridget’s enthusiasm. This part of Ireland is large stretches of limestone. It is uplifted ancient sea bottom that was once in the latitude of Brazil. Glacial forces carved it up and created large cave systems in the porous limestone. The region was well known to cavers and spelunkers. To quote Wikipedia, “The cave was discovered in 1952 by J. M. Dickenson and Brian M. Varley of the Craven Pothole Club, an English caving club based in the Yorkshire Dales.[1] Entry was arduous, requiring a long, difficult crawl.” What isn’t included in this entry is that both men were 18 at the time and had decided to take off on their own, and do a little solo exploring away from the other cavers they were with. They told no one where they were heading so if they’d had trouble they would have likely died. They found a small stream disappearing into a small hole at the base of a cliff and correctly surmised that it might be draining into a cave system. So they pulled a boulder aside and wriggled in. The shit the young can do when you think you’re immortal, right? They crawled on their bellies for over 400 yards. Part way along they realized their headlamp batteries might fail so turned them off. They kept going in pitch black until they could hear that they were in a larger space. They switched their lamps on and were astounded to see this.

Europe’s largest stalactite

By the time the young men crawled out of the hole they entered 7 hours had gone by. From 1952 until 1990 the cave was the exclusive play ground of cavers. The land it is found on had been farmland for generations and sold to the Browne family in 1990. It was their desire to have it become a show cave which was met by much protest from the caving community. It is beautiful and worth seeing though I find myself wondering if it would have been best to leave it to the cavers.

James’s lungs have been bothering him for a couple of days. He decided it was serious enough to merit a consultation with a doctor. We drove up to the clinic in Lisdoonvarna but they didn’t have a spot to fit him in. He was given a list of other possible doctors and as we were leaving I looked to my left and saw a familiar face. I said “Christy”? Indeed it’s Christy Barry. He thinks he might have pulled a muscle mowing the yard and says he’ll see us at The Roadside tonight. We hope he’s not got something else going on. James managed to get an appointment in Ennistymon and he has been diagnosed with a chest infection. He’s got meds and should be fine.

We head over to The Roadside tavern around 9:30, the website says the session starts at 9:45. We arrive and the session is in full flight, remember the lesson we received in 2014 regarding making plans in Ireland? Here was a perfect example. Obviously the website was wrong and it started earlier. Christy and the box player, who wasn’t Colin Nea, and 4 others were whacking away. There was someone on bouzouki and another on tenor guitar, neither particularly dynamic players. Christy invited Morgan to sit in but pointedly stated they didn’t need any more back up. Well, that’s me out. The playing aside from Christy and the box player wasn’t that interesting so we left. We were spoiled the last time over when we caught Christy and Terry Bingham alone and we could sit down to a session of careful listening to one another. That’s the joy in sessions, the ability to listen and flow with the dialogue created.

We drove into Doolin but could find nothing going on in which we could participate. We dropped Bridget off at the house and were off to Ennistymon. We parked a block from Cooley House and checked out a couple of pubs we didn’t know. No music. As we approached Cooley House we heard an amplified voice and guitar. Nothing doing, singer night. Shit, shit, shit. I looked into the window of the pub next to Cooley House, Eugene’s Whisky Bar. I said to James and Morgan “check this out!”

Eugene’s Whisky Bar, Ennistymon

The minute we walked in we realized we were in a place we wanted to play. It has a warm and friendly feeling. One wall is filled with framed posters of the Lisdoonvarna Folk Festivals starting in 1978. It reads like the Who’s Who of Irish and English folk of the era. Eugene served us three pints while we soaked in the atmosphere of this gem of a public space. There were two Americans sitting at the bar, a man and woman and three women sitting over in the corner near us. A very quiet place. Eugene was engaged with the American couple and we listened. The man got up and went out for a smoke, the woman followed shortly and we started speaking with Eugene, we gushed on about how much we enjoyed his place, and the Lisdoonvarna Festival posters. We asked if he’d attended them and he said “I attended them all but I wasn’t really there. I was an alcoholic.” We got the point, but that got Eugene talking. I got up to take some photos and he kindly turned the lights on in the back part that had not been lit. A total feast for the eyes. As it turns out Eugene loves the music and the musicians who create it. He was drinking buddies with Tommy Peoples who was from up the coast in Donegal but was married to a Clare woman from around the area, “a disastrous marriage” according to Eugene. As Eugene tells it he woke up one day in 1989 and said “that’s it” and he quit drinking. When he got sober enough he realized he had left a trail of debt in his wake, money he’d borrowed that added up to 30,000 Irish Pounds. He says he’d paid it all back in October before the year ended. He worked, saved and bought the Pub he’s owned and proceeded to create a wonderfully unique place. He’s not had drink since 1989, doesn’t allow drunkeness in his establishment and, unique to Ireland, doesn’t allow you to take your drink outside the door. Most pubs do and it’s not against the law like the U.S. How did we miss this Ennistymon gem? We’ve been here three times and missed Eugene’s, right next to Cooley House, which we’ve visited every time. Better late than never.


Eugene told us that he asked Tommy Peoples to come play in the pub, at the back where he figured he wanted the musicians to sit. Each time he’d have Tommy play seated in a different spot. While he was playing he’d move around the room and see where the music projected and make mental notes as to how he wanted to build it out to best showcase the music. It was very intentional where he put in an arch or partition. We’re nodding, realizing this man is a serious music man. He had Tommy do this seven separate times until one day Tommy said “if you don’t want me here why don’t you just tell me so.” He didn’t understand why Eugene kept moving him around. They sorted it out and remained friends. Eugene regaled us with some very humorous anecdotes and told us we were welcome to come back and play. Two of James’s and Bridget’s children Zeke with his partner Amy and Fionn are coming to stay with us this weekend so we’re going to head into Ennistymon Sunday after 5:00 when Eugene’s is open, sit down in the back of his lovely space and play. We don’t care if anybody but family and Eugene listen, we want to soak up the atmosphere of his gorgeous creation.

Saturday June 1

We drove into Doolin for lunch and a little shopping. We stopped in at the little woolen shop and Bridget looked at sweaters. We tried one spot for lunch but the prices put us off. Doolin caters to tourists not local folk, whom I’m certain can’t afford very much in the village. Bridget dropped us off at the house and went back out to look at some more shops while not being encumbered with the three of us.

We practiced some sets and continued to put together some new ones. We’re having so much fun exploring this, for us, new combination. I’m continuing to find new ways to express myself through the cittern and James and Morgan find it highly complimentary to the music.

The Roadside Tavern was our favorite place to play until this trip. It can be foolish to base current expectations on the past, nothing stays the same. And so it has proven. We relied on the website only to find it was incorrect. We’ve been looking forward to playing with Paul Dooley and Terry Bingham, as well as Christy Barry this trip. Zero for four attempts so far. The website stated that Paul Dooley was playing Saturday night, so we arrived quite early. We left our instruments in the car and got inside the Roadside where I spotted some guitar cases and a small amplifier. Paul plays fiddle. We inquired of the man behind the bar where he confirmed that it wasn’t a Trad night. A good session is proving illusive. We go back to the car and drive over to Kilfenora, a nearby village that’s famous for music to a Pub Morgan remembered from 28 years ago called Vaughan’s. Morgan played with Tommy Peoples in a corner of that pub.

Tonight there was going to be a young singer/guitarist, so no Trad music there. We spoke with an older man who looked like he’d put in a hard days work. He proved to be an entertaining man, full of humor and pithy observations. Then a nice young man Éanna stepped out. It turns out that he works IT for Peter and his wife who own the Roadside Tavern and the Smokehouse, which prepares wonderful smoked salmon. It’s a small country. We had a very pleasant conversation with him. His wife and he are expecting a new member of the family, and while we were conversing another young man from the town came out of the pub and saw Éanna, interrupted and inquired as to how he was. He has the coffee and ice cream shop in Kilfenora. When Éanna told him they were expecting, the response was “ah sure, well you’re doing something right.” We didn’t get any trad music but we did have some great Craic with some locals.

Back home where we worked through sets and enjoyed the pleasure of one another’s company. Tomorrow, Zeke, Fionn, James and Bridget’s sons and Amy, Zeke’s partner arrive to spend the best part of a week traveling with us. We’re “planning” on playing at Eugene’s tonight but we’ll check in with him early evening and see if that’s a go or not.

Sunday, June 2

We met Eugene on Friday and he invited us to come play in his pub. I was hoping that it didn’t end up another dead end. Well, tonight proved to be the tonic that assuaged the collective disappointment with our lack of musical adventures in Clare.

We drove to Ennistymon to meet Zeke, Amy and Fionn, James and Bridget’s sons and Amy being Zeke’s partner. They had driven over from Dublin. The reside in London and could take the time off for a visit. We were all going out for dinner and then to Eugene’s. We stopped to check in with Eugene and just as we reached it he was coming out his door. We asked if it was still OK for us to come play and he said of course, “he wouldn’t be changing his mind mid-stream”. So up the street to the restaurant we thought would be nice, only to find out they were fully booked. It’s the June Bank Holiday weekend. Back down the street and we found a spot that had a table. We enjoyed a nice meal then walked down toward the bar.

James and I went to the car to grab cases and as we were walking to Eugene’s I mentioned that he was taking a chance on us. He has no idea if we can play or not. I am hoping we don’t disappoint him. Eugene showed us where he wanted us to set up, very thoughtfully showed where we could stash our cases, hang our coats and settle in. He’s the captain of his whisky bar ship and runs it tightly. It’s an impeccable place. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a cleaner pub. You notice these things when you’ve been in other establishments and learned to rate pubs by the filthiness of “the jacks” (bathrooms).

Zeke, Amy, Fionn and Bridget settle in with us and we play a set, then a song. There was a booth on the other side that had people who were definitely listening. I notice more and more people coming in. Eugene’s space is really perfect for music. We can hear one another and play with nuance and really enjoy ourselves and the space. About an hour in, a couple of men, Christy and Neil ask if they can join us. I’d noticed them checking us out for a while, not sure what their interest was. James noticed first that Christy was carrying a concertina case and Neil had a flute. Now we have the session we’ve been craving. They turn out to be good players and in the Clare style aren’t hurrying through the tunes. So tunes are swapped, jokes made, stories shared. This is the sweetness we come for. Christy tells us he likes our playing, he tells Morgan that we play the tunes sweetly and with lift. Now in fairness that is the Clare style of playing, one that we value and have internalized but/and it’s always nice to hear that from another musician that’s grown up in the culture. Christy told us he grew up in a musical family so there was no way he couldn’t be part of it. He’d lived in New York City for seven years, worked as a photographer and then a gallery. After a couple of sets Neil steps out for a smoke and doesn’t return. Apparently the young woman he’s chatting up at the bar is more interesting than the tunes. Christy has invited us to a session tomorrow night in the Cliffs of Moher Hotel.

Three hours went by very quickly. Eugene closes at 11:00. A man sitting at the bar stops me and compliments our playing. Asks where we’re from how did we get interested in the music. He told me that he’d been coming to Eugene’s for years and had never heard music there. He knew from his friendship with Eugene that 99’9% of the people who come in and ask to play have been turned away. “You must have done somethin’ right” he says.

As we are leaving Eugene shakes our hands and tells us we can come back any time. Zeke, Amy and Fionn tell Bridget it was a perfect first night in Ireland.

Scenes from Eugene’s Whisky Bar, Ennistymon, Co. Clare

Father Ted, which you can find on Amazon Prime was filmed near to Ennistymon. The cast and crew used to visit Eugene’s and the wrap party was there when the production closed.

Monday, June 3

Christy McNamara and Morgan at Cliffs of Moher Hotel, Liscannor, Clare

Today was a slow day, the only thing on the agenda is to meet Christy, whom we met at Eugene’s, for a session. It’s in the Cliffs of Moher Hotel in Liscannor a bit south of where we are.

James, Morgan and I get some practice in and are arranging two new songs to the mix. Morgan suggested some arrangement details to The Hares Lament which improved it greatly. Other than that, the day holds no surprises. Morgan makes a quick meal for the three of us and we bundle into the car around 5:30 and head down to Liscannor for the 6:30 session.

When we arrive Christy is there with his friend Dennis. We get our instruments out and sit down. Dennis plays fiddle and mandolin and is very good. Christy has his concertina as well as a very nice box. Christy asks us to start a tune and we launch into McKenna’s and soon we’ve got a good set going. In the Clare style the playing is relaxed and unhurried. There’s a couple of tunes Christy and Dennis start that I’m not familiar with, they’re a bit twisty with some surprise turn arounds that I have to sit out on long enough to catch. Dennis looks at me encouragingly and wants me to keep going. It’s a fun time, sitting and playing with friends, no pressure, very loose and relaxed.

We chat between tunes and find out that Christy knows the Neilan family and Julie Langan. It’s a small Island as far as musicians are concerned. There’s a lot of fraternization amongst them, crossing over between towns, fleadh’s (music festivals) and sessions. It feels very comfortable to sit down with friends of friends and share a mutual love of music and culture. Oona who is from Germany and is visiting her son who’s spent a year of study in Ireland has her bodhran. She’s aware of the reputation that amateur bodhran players have but it turns out that she is a very respectful player, plays a good steady beat and listens well. Christy welcomes her warmly as do we all. A woman named Ann, whom Christy knows, sits down and sings The Flower of Magerhally. Ann had lived in the U.S. many years, originally was from Dublin but moved back and now lives in Fanore, up the road from Doolin. She loves Fanore and being back. Oona’s husband Jan comes in a bit later and he sits quietly, enjoying the music and conversation.

Around 9:00 Christy and Dennis pack up so they make it to a session in Doolin. We choose not to that and stay to play some more tunes with Oona. There are appreciative listeners who stay with us when we wrap up close to 10:00. So ends another day.

Tuesday, June 4 & Wednesday June 5

On Tuesday Bridget, Zeke, Amy, Fionn and I went out to the Aran Islands. We traveled specifically to the large island of Inis Mór, Inismore. Here’s the Wikipedia page on the islands if you wish to learn more.

They are low lying Islands inhabited for at least 3,000 years. Once you’re out there you can see that they are made of the same limestone seen all over this western part of Clare called The Burren. There is no soil to speak of, potatoes are grown in a mixture of sand and seaweed. This method has created the meager top soil that you see between the many walled fields. Grasses take root in the created soil which allows for sheep, horse and cattle. Originally it would have been a very meager life but the early inhabitants were driven there by that maniac Oliver Cromwell. Thousands fled his bloody march across Ireland, many of them to the Aran’s.

We took a tour bus out to a small village, had some lunch, shopped for some sweaters and then started walking back towards the ferry. Amy loves to cold water swim and had a little dip in some gorgeous colored water. As she was getting ready to jump in I muttered “you’re really going to do this?” Yes she did! On the walk back Amy, Zeke and Fionn made friends with a couple of horses by feeding them hands full of sweet grass. A shuttle bus stopped and asked us if we wanted a ride back to the ferry. We were hoping to walk all the way back but it became apparent we weren’t going to make the 4:15 which was the last one back to the mainland. Joe Gill stopped and drove us back. He’s Aran born and I believe he said he’s lived his life there. The wind had been blowing all day, on the mainland and the islands. I asked Joe if it was always this windy and he said no, it could be calm. We had a sit down in the local pub and then walked to the ferry and had a much smoother ride back with the following sea and prevailing wind. We were glad we made the journey.

Today we pack up and head north to Westport, County Mayo. We’re going to stop in and visit Tom and Fintan Cussen at the Clareen Banjo workshop. Fintan and Tom are going to lend me a guitar for the sessions up in Westport. I’d like to have it just in case there is a smaller session and too many bouzouki’s and also so I can sing songs to it.


Wednedsday, June 5

Jackie Small and Brian Duffy, The Porter House, Westport, Mayo

On our drive up to Mayo we made a stop at Poll na brón an ancient megalithic site back in The Burren. It dates back at least 5,000 years and is a protected national monument. The entire site lies on limestone known as karst. It feels lonely, rather bleak and beautiful.

We made our way to Clarinbridge to visit Tom and Fintan Cussen. They make banjos under the name Clareen and are justifiably famous for their work. When my wife/partner and best friend Ally and I visited her brother in England back in 2016 we visited Ireland for a week. Tom kindly loaned me a guitar to play while there and has offered to do so again. It had been nearly 8 years since we last saw one another but it didn’t feel like it. Tom told us that their number of banjos sold have gone up steadily and half their sales are in the USA. Tom more or less retired at 72 and Fintan runs the business now. Tom admitted that Fintan has better business acumen than he and also has more exacting standards. “Where I would have let some little things slide in building a banjo Fintan won’t.” Those little things had to have been very small because I’ve never noticed what I’d consider flaws in any of the instruments I’d inspected. It was great to catch up with Tom and Fintan and Tom told us he really wanted to spend some time with us and play some tunes. We’ve arranged to meet back in Clarinbridge Monday evening.

We stopped at Paddy Burke’s in Clarinbridge for lunch. While looking at my messages I saw one from Padraig McKenna, one of our good friends in Westport. He told us that there’s an early session at The Porter House, led by Jackie Small and Brian Duffy. Jackie is one of our favorite people, a kinder soul you’ll never meet and as a musician he’s forgotten more music than we’ll ever learn. He was music archivist at ITMA, Irish Traditional Music Archives, is now retired and can be found in the Mayo area at sessions and festivals. He’s been an active part of the Irish Music scene since the 1960’s.

I texted Padraig and told him he’d brightened up our day with that news and we’d see him there at 6:30. We drove straight to Westport found the beautiful house we’re renting and had 45 minutes to get our stuff out of the car, grab a cup of tea and get to the session. Down the hill into Westport we go, find a place to park and into The Porter House where we find Jackie, Brian, Jim and a fellow who’s name I didn’t get. They’re taking a break so we find some stools, get instruments out and settle in. It’s pretty noisy in the pub. It looks like a lot of tourists and a few locals. I say tourists because they’re talking through the songs. Most people who grew up doing this know you don’t talk through the songs. You can talk through the diddly aye (music) but not the songs, that’s considered poor etiquette, but if you don’t know better……..well you don’t know what you don’t know. About a half hour in I look and see Padraig and his wife Els. It’s great to see them. He gets out a mandolin and banjo and soon he’s rolling with the rest of us.

We spend about two hours playing tunes, Jackie leaning across the table and signaling when he wants Morgan to start a tune, or add another. He asks me for a song. He winks and smiles and is disarmingly his gentle self. Padraig starts some sets on banjo. With Jackie everyone gets to start. After a good set and we break, he puckers his lips and hoots his delight. Jackie knows how to enjoy himself and share it with the rest of us. Jim sings a beautiful song in Gaelic that he learned from Mícháel O’ Domhnaill. Mícháel was a beautiful singer and guitarist who played with sisters Triona and Maighread in Skara Brae, his sister Triona in the Bothy Band, with Mick Hanly he released Celtic Folkweave, considered one of the seminal albums of the Irish folk revival. He also performed as a duo with Kevin Burke from Bothy Band. He had an ethereal quality to his voice and his guitar playing was sublime. Jim handled the song well. The session broke up around 8:30 and we had a dinner date with the rest of the family. Amy is 30 years old, so this is a big one! Jackie sets up a tea date for tomorrow. We agree to meet at The Wyatt Hotel at 5:00 Thursday. We’re looking forward to some quality time with Jackie.

After dinner we strolled over to Matt Malloy’s to check out a session that Padraig told us about. Padraig is there and signals me to come in. It’s noisy, there’s a fair number of musicians crammed into the corner and it’s not what I’m looking for. Morgan checks it out as does James and we’re in agreement that we’d rather go home. Here’s the thing, sessions like this are tough. For me I get overwhelmed with the sheer level of background noise, everyone talking loudly. Add then the music, the talking gets louder, it’s harder to hear the other musicians, I don’t find it at all pleasurable. There was a time, back in our earlier trips I would have thrown myself into a session like this like a punk fan into a mosh pit! I loved it and wanted the experience, give it to me, pour it on and rub it in, I couldn’t get enough. That’s changed. Our favorite sessions so far have been the kitchen session with Hannah Collins, our meet up with Macdara, Victoria, Conor and Masato in Cork. The small session at Eugene’s with Christy and Christy’s session at Cliffs of Moher Hotel. All of those were a delight. They were relaxed, you can focus on what you’re hearing and respond. I can still push myself into a big session, I can grab my guitar and play as loud as the rest of them, make myself be heard, but to paraphrase Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon “I’m gettin’ too old for this shit”!

Thursday, June 6

James still isn’t feeling well, we’re all feeling uneasy with James’s inability to shake off his chest infection. He saw a doctor in Ennistymon who prescribed an antibiotic and steroids but he’s not feeling any better. Fionn and he drive into Castlebar to the area hospital emergency room looking for answers.

Bridget, Zeke, Amy and I drive down the hill to Westport for lunch. A quick digression. I need to speak about the home we’ve rented. We chose this home because we were having Zeke, Amy and Fionn staying with us. It looked good in the rental site and has not been a disappointment. It sits high on the side of a hill looking down to Clew Bay and over to Westport. It’s spacious and comfortable. It’s the biggest splurge we’ve made on a trip here and has been worth it. The weather hasn’t been great but we don’t really come for the weather.

So, we headed to Westport and stopped in at Christy’s Harvest, a small friendly café in the heart of Westport. The food was good, and prices reasonable. We’ve been getting reports from James, they’re running tests to determine what he’s dealing with.

The plans we had made were to have a quiet visit with Jackie Small at the Wyatt Hotel, join him for another session at The Porter House and a late night session at The Grainne Uaille in Newport. We finally hear from James and Bridget, the hospital wants to keep him for observation, they’re not sure what the cause is at this point. So now we’re without our brother, looking at going to sessions without him. It doesn’t feel good or right. We came to do these things with the three of us, not just Morgan and I! Fionn is driving the rental car they have so he kindly drives us in to meet with Jackie.

Morgan and I meet Jackie for a delightful hour. We talk about how everything changed with Covid, his confinement to home, he drove out right after the initial response not having heard the news, and ran into a roadblock. He was told to go home and stay there. The occasional call out to the market to have groceries delivered was all he could do for weeks. We spoke of how we unintentionally make enemies of people we don’t even know with innocent choices we make. Jackie mentioned how when he first got into the music some of the artists he supported and liked offended some of the staunch purists. We spoke of our dismay at the need humans seem to have to claim superiority, make people they don’t understand “others” and many other things. Jackie doesn’t ring his own bell but he was one of the founders of ITMA, Irish Traditional Music Archive, he was there before it was anything official and stayed on as an archivist until a few years ago, he’s been involved in Fleadh’s, festivals, all over the country for decades and has tutored many young musicians. As Mick Mulcrone said last night, “Jackie’s famous.” I/we feel honored that such a man has taken us in so warmly.

Jackie needed to get Brian Duffy and take him to the session, we told him we’d see him at the session. Morgan and I walked with our instruments to The Porter House and staked out the corner we play in. There were people sitting at the table but they happily relinquished it, it was marked “Reserved for the musicians”. Our old friend Maggie McGing comes with her friend Tom to listen. Several people asked if we were going to play and we told them we were waiting for Jackie and Brian. They arrive, as does Jim from last night. We greet one another and take out instruments and put cases away. All the preliminaries handled we sit down to tunes. The people in the pub are more quiet than the night before, the session feels more intimate and we have a wonderful two hours of tunes and visiting. Meanwhile James is doing this.

Bridget comes to pick us up at 8:30 and shuttle us to The Grainne Uaile in Newport, a nearby community. Between going to visit James and shuttling us around Bridget is doing an inordinate amount of driving. She’s uncomplaining and we offer her an out but she insists on taking us. Usually the session here attracts some of the best players in the area, it’s always been great. Maggie, Morgan and I arrive just in time get a meal ordered before the kitchen closes. Julie comes as does Tom Doherty, Gary Leahy, Mick Mulcrone, John McHugh and a few others. I rush through the last of my salad while Julie grabs my Cittern case and finds me a place to sit. Mick Mulcrone with his bouzouki and flute is on my left and Siobhan (sounds Shavon) with fiddle on my right. We launch into the first set and it’s immediately cooking! Morgan and I can’t get the grins off our faces. Julie and Maria, bouzouki, are sitting together, they know how to read one another so well. We hear someone playing whistle back in the kitchen? Siobhan gets up abruptly and leaves. I’ve no idea what’s happening. Not long after that I sense someone joining and look up to see Brian Lennon. Brian is an amazing musician, if you’ve read the past blogs you’ve encountered him. He’s an M.D. and part of a musical family, truly a dynasty. His father Ben, who died in 2020 at 91 is considered one of the great masters. Charlie Piggott put it this way.

“If ever there was a grand gentleman of Irish traditional music, the honour should be his.”

Vallely & Piggott, 2008, p. 113

Brian plays flute, low whistles and fiddle. He’s a fabulous flutist and sitting next to him was a treat. I was nursing a pint, trying to keep it to one but Brian insisted on getting me another. When I told Morgan and Bridget of Brian’s gesture Morgan’s comment was, “I want Brian for my doctor”!

We had a fabulous session, the level of play in that group is up with the best. It’s an honor to be invited to sit in with them.

We received good news from James. The official diagnosis is environmentally triggered asthma attack. He’s still not been released but we’re hoping it’s later today.

Friday, June 7

I hadn’t remembered that today the kids were leaving, needing to get back to their lives in England. We’ve been enjoying their company and have shared some wonderful moments. They’ve liked observing us going about on our musical adventures, Amy has especially found it fascinating, it being so different from her life as a Communications Specialist. I didn’t understand what her work entailed until one evening we were talking about what it would take to create a charitable event. Amy was able to see possibilities and ask questions that led to some creative solutions. She kept spinning different scenarios and seeing various prospects, she’s an amazing problem solver and a very intelligent woman. Zeke works IT in the Investigative section for the British Guardian news organization. He’s a very bright young man. The Guardian has seen his skills and promoted him recently to that position. Fionn is looking at the possibility of working for a new Nature School that’s being developed. He’s great with young children, he has a real gift for reaching young minds. He’s recently moved over from New Orleans where he’d been since finishing college there. Among his studies he learned music recording production and has helped us with our last two albums.

We’re waiting to hear from James and we start receiving texts. He’s feeling much better but is still waiting for some test results, he’s hoping to be released but hasn’t gotten an affirmative yet. A little later we hear that his blood work shows no infection and the x-rays show no lesions or masses, so what is the issue? An hour goes by and James writes, “Environmentally triggered asthma attack. Called it. Basically my body over reacted to some trigger, maybe pollen, mould or dust and the body went into histamine overdrive. The usual drugs couldn’t get the message through.” Finally, late afternoon the hospital is satisfied with his blood oxygen levels and releases him.

James says he’s up for going to the session that Jackie Small and Mick Mulcrone are leading at the An File pub in Westport. We make a quick dinner and get ourselves ready. Bridget wisely chooses to stay home for a night, she’d been driving back and forth to Castlebar and taking Morgan and I to sessions and needed a night off. Off we go down the hill to Westport. There’s a Bluegrass festival but Westport seems fairly quiet. We find a place to park close to An File and stroll in. There’s Mick and Jackie as well as Padraig and some young players we’ve not seen. It sounds really good. It turns out that the youngsters are up for the Bluegrass Festival. Two of them are American, one from Chicago and the other is from North Carolina. There’s another fiddler who sounds Irish and the other young man playing guitar sounds French. If I have it right, they’re studying Traditional music at Limerick College. They are all skilled players and wanted to get in, as they put it, some Trad before they joined up to play with a Bluegrass band from Eastern Tennessee State College. Our old friend Paul Bordiss came in and sang one of his wonderful songs. We met Paul on our first trip here in 2012. The young group left after about an hour and it was the six of us old guys playing for and with one another.

We all took turns choosing tunes to start. Jackie liked The Bright And Hollow Fog that Morgan chose to play. He said it was a very old tune, he being the archivist, we trusted that. Apparently it’s also known as the Foggy Dew. Jackie added that someone had written a modern song using the melody and this morning I received a text from him with a link to that song. Building Up And Tearing England Down. A rather sad song about the Irish workers who re-built London and other parts of England after WW II. We played until 11:30, are you seeing a pattern here?, and came home where we had a little shot of whisky. James was feeling tired and said goodnight, Bridget followed and Morgan and I talked until 2:30. Another day in music paradise.

Saturday, June 8

View from Gary Leahy’s front door.

We went to visit a colleague of Morgan’s and a man who’s become a friend for all of us. His name is Gary Leahy and he makes violin family bows, as does Morgan. Gary also plays fiddle and we’ve sat in sessions together. Gary lives outside of Newport, down a small road and out into some very pretty countryside. Gary and Morgan talked shop which I was able to follow in part. The three of us are in the musical instrument trade, their skills specifically directed to bows for the violin family. Mine is fretted strings but there’s some overlap, we all use wood, specialized tools, varnishes, etc. We luthier’s love to geek out together. Bridget and James even found some of it interesting.

Gary, the inside and outside of his shop.

We chose not to go out for the evening. We’ve had a lot of sessions and late nights and thought it might be a good idea to get to bed at a decent hour. We’ve invited friends to come over tomorrow night and share some food and music and we need to shop and prepare the house for guests. We missed a concert with Julie Langan, Freda Hatton and Declan Askins. That caused some regrets but we can’t get to everything going on. It’s reconfirmed what we knew already, Westport is a hot house of music and we’re going to have to dedicate more time here the next trip.

Sunday, June 9

Our last full day in Westport and we’re regretting that we didn’t allow more time here. We have the most friends and certainly the greatest musical activities available. Westport has sessions and music going everyday. The next trip we’ll plan differently.

We’ve invited friends over to our rental home. The view is magnificent and we thought they would enjoy seeing the view of Clew Bay and Westport. The only problem is it’s been raining since we woke and shows no sign of stopping soon. We head into town to buy a few ingredients to lay a table out for our guests. We invited Julie Langan, Jackie Small, Padraig and Els, Maggie and Tom, and Gary Leahy. Gary is bringing a salmon he smoked, we’re looking very forward to that. We do a bit of last minute shopping for family and go back up the hill.

Julie wasn’t sure she could make it, her oldest is having an 18th birthday but she surprises us and shows up a little before 4:00 with her twin girls who are now 10. They were four last time we saw them and they are proper young ladies now. We sit down in the kitchen and play tunes with Julie for over an hour, a real joy and a generous gesture to us as we know how busy she is. Julie has to get back home so she and the girls bundle up and head home. A little after 5:00 Jackie shows which makes us happy indeed. Gary arrives, then Maggie and Tom and we’ve a nice gathering of friends. We chat and visit then sit in the living room looking down at the view. Jackie notices the old cottage that we’ve all been wondering about that’s down below. He thinks it could be the last remnant of a pre-famine village and might ask a historian he knows for details.

Possible remains of a pre-famine village.

We played until 10:00 and thought we should get down to The Cobbler and say hello and goodbye to Johnny Fadgin and Dan Delaney. We glimpsed Dan at a couple of session we didn’t jump into and thought this might be our only opportunity. We hadn’t seen Johnny at all, which wasn’t the case when we were last here, but that was six years ago. Both of them are fixtures in Westport. When we arrived the curtains of the pub were closed but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something going on. That’s the custom, close the curtains but keep going! Sure enough we open the door and the session is going grandly. Dan and Johnny are on the bench behind the table with a handful of players. I spot Tony Reidy as well, just like old times! Johnny and Dan greet us warmly. Bridget and I settle back to watch. I’ve played a lot in three weeks and didn’t feel any loss at sitting this one out but James and Morgan grabbed their instruments and settled in. The two of them lead a fun session, a mixture of Trad and Americana. After the session’s officially over we visit in the smokers courtyard, catch up on some of life’s details, Johnny’s a grandfather of a 3 1/2 year old girl. I could tell by his eyes he’s smitten with her. All of us are shaking our heads that it’s been six years since we last saw one another. Dan tells us he was in London at 12:00 noon that day and caught a quick shuttle back so he could play tonight. He laughed as he told us that he caught some kind of protest with what he estimated to be a couple hundred cyclists riding into traffic, all of them stark naked! He was on the bus trying to get to the airport and was held up. We say good night and go back home. Unlike our recent habits we head to bed soon after we get back. We have to pack up in the morning, tidy the home and head down to Gort.

Session at The Cobbler