We took a day to follow James and Ceilan, Harry, Zeke and Fionn up to Port Stewart which is close by the Giant’s Causeway and other wonders. It’s pretty close to the very Northern tip of Ireland, with only a part of Scotland, the North Atlantic and Iceland above it. We met Dave, Denise, Euphon and Steven in Port Stewart, went for a walk along the nice strand of beach they have and had a great lunch. On request we played some tunes which they loved and then headed out on a sight seeing jaunt. We stopped at Dunluce castle which was originally built in the 13th century by Richard Og de Burgh then acquired by the McQuillan’s in the early 1500’s who lost it to the MacDonnell’s in the latter 1500’s. Their dream was for it to become a mercantile village in the early 1600’s which had some success but lacking a true harbor lost its status only to be destroyed in the rebellion of 1641. It’s a rather splendid ruin, partially restored and it certainly must have been a grand place, surrounded by a village that’s only been recently excavated. Then off to Giant’s Causeway, which was crowded with tourist’s, us among them but still a marvelous formation of columnar basalt.
We headed down to Cushendall grabbed a quick dinner and then to J. O’Connors pub to see about a session. When we arrive P.J. was behind the counter, a soft spoken man and a fine gentleman who poured us some fine pints of Guiness. We asked about a session and he didn’t seem to think there’d be anything, so we fell into an easy conversation. P.J. was born in New York and his entire family were from the Antrim region. They all returned when he was 17. I asked if he had any regrets and he said not really. New York in the 1970’s wasn’t all that nice. He had to adjust to the slower pace and more limited choices, but he’d met his wife here, raised a family and was happy. I really like him, he’s a gentle, soft spoken man who really considers his words. From him we learned about the local politics, the general knowledge that most in the Glen’s of Antrim region would be happy to have a unified Ireland, but he quietly told us you had to be careful about voicing such sentiments. What is clear is that no one, be they Protestant or Catholic wants a return to the troubled times of the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s. There was too much loss and heart ache on both sides and no winners, only losers.
Harry, Ceilan, Zeke and Fionn joined us and we adjourned to a nice glass covered courtyard that is very snug and warm and as we were talking lo and behold a session materialized. Morgan and I were the first into the tiny front parlor. An older gentleman on my left, Ciaran was on piano accordion and another fellow on my right on piano whose name is escaping me on my right. I was wedged between them, Morgan on a bench across from me, another young woman playing fiddle, a fluter, a blind whistle player all playing pretty well. James found himself wedged into a corner next to a window that got increasingly steamy! The pianist seemed to like my contribution, but what I was noticing was the rising temperature! I visualized myself as a thermometer and the mercury was about to explode through the top of my head. I stuck it out as long as I could and then got up, begged my leave and headed out to a place that was cooler. The covered patio was now filled with some new locals and the atmosphere was really to my liking. There was a small group at a corner table 4 women and one man, who were spontaneously singing songs, another group of mostly young men huddled at a small table in the opposite corner and we had taken over the long bench and tables on the other wall. Soon the man sitting with the women came over and asked about my guitar and how I tuned it, he introduces himself as Liam. I explain that it’s tuned in DADGAD and he tells me he’s been wanting to learn that tuning, so I give him a little demonstration. He asks if I can accompany him on Feelin’ Groovy, the Paul Simon song. I take a couple of moments to outline the chords and off we go. He’s got a great tenor voice, a truly stunning voice coming out of a rather burly looking guy. We get through the song and everyone erupts in applause. This is how it goes in an Irish Pub, unless you sit in a corner casting dark looks and muttering to yourself you’re not going to be left alone for long. If you’re a social creature like myself you’ll love it here. If you’re a wall flower you may find yourself squirming. Curiosity is not in short supply in Ireland. Soon Morgan and James and Jack come out for air, see the scene that’s created itself and join in. Songs are traded, tunes played. One of the young men sitting across from us asks if I will sing Peggy Gordon, everyone joins in. More tunes, dancing and banter. The craic is great! Fionn sings Swing Low, he’s got a gorgeous voice (he’s continuing his music studies in Operatic singing, and his Great Grandfather was Frederick Fuller). We find out after the fact that this great spiritual has been co-opted by English rugby fans, and here’s Fionn singing it in a Catholic part of North Ireland, oops! We’re educated by one of the men straight away and all is forgiven. A young man who’d been quiet all evening came up to talk with me, he’s from the area but has been living in Montana, he loved the evening. James, Morgan and I were very glad that Harry, Ceilan, Zeke and Fionn had gotten a taste of the spontaneity we’d been telling them about. As Harry said to me, “we thought you were making it up, but it’s really true!” They were all very pleased to have been part of the evening. We end up closing the Pub, it’s nearly 2:00am and everyone’s had a great time.