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.

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