May 27

Three Castle Head

We woke up slowly after a good night’s sleep. I’m grateful that real sleep has returned to me after all the early risings before we arrived. We decided to drive over to Mizen Head the last peninsula south. It’s across Dunmanus Bay and at its tip is the most South Western part of Ireland. Morgan wanted us to see Three Castle Head, an ancient castle built by Donagh O’Mahonaigh in 1207. So, off we drove back to Durrus and the road leading South to Mizen Head. The day was looking increasingly dark and as we got closer the clouds lowered. James and I were falling asleep in the back of the car so we made a quick stop in Goleen. While Morgan got a map from the tourist center for the route to Three Castle Head Peg, James and I beelined to a coffee shop to see if we could wake up. We finished our coffees and feeling more awake headed back out on the road. The road gradually turned into a one lane boreen with lots of twists and turns and finally turned downhill to a parking lot and the trailhead. The trail lead up through a gate into emerald green fields full of sheep, sheep that were utterly non-plussed by humans traipsing through their fields. Most of them didn’t turn their heads as we walked within a couple feet of them. Up a steep field to another gate, out across another rising field and up, up, up a steepening slope. The view is magnificent but unfortunately with the lowering clouds and threat of rain it was obscured to where the cliffs and headlands of Mizen Head were reduced to grey smudges. Up a final rise and there below and across from us lay a small lake with Three Castle tucked into the rocky landscape. The hillside that the path wound through was full of Primrose. The castle had an eerie quality to it, the weather certainly adding to it, and as we approached it I looked to the left at a magnificent grey-black wall of rock that dropped a good 100 meters to the ocean below. No photo quite gives the scale or feeling of that rock wall, but it certainly made me feel small and insignificant. As we explored the castle it began to rain, not pelting but steadily so we reluctantly cut our visit short and moved as quickly as we could across slick grass and rock back to the car. By the time we’d retraced our path to the car our pants and shoes were soaked. Thankfully I had my rain parka and hiking shoes. Morgan and Peg had kept their light weight shoes on and got a bit damp and James had forgotten his jacket and Morgan had loaned him his outer rain shell, but we all got back fairly unscathed. We shed our wettest gear and hopped in the car grateful to have a warm and dry shelter and started to make our way back to Goleen and a nice restaurant for a hot meal.

The Car In Question

On the road toward Goleen we got a little confused and turned into the road that leads to Barleycove Beach. Realizing it was the wrong turn James turned a circle back out to the Goleen road and on a slope the car stalled. James tried starting it and……….nothing. The same result over and over, nothing. Then messages began flashing on the display. CHECK HILL START, then CHECK CES and on and on the warnings scrolled. We were beginning to have a real dislike of “smart” cars. There was so much computer power in the damned thing that you couldn’t fix it or jump it. It was a stick shift but you couldn’t pop the clutch and get it to turn over. Realizing we were fecked we called Herz emergency service who told us they’d get someone out as soon as possible. I was thinking we were going to be there for quite a while. We kept ourselves entertained making jokes about the Renault we were driving how it was a French plot to get us, etc. We got out of the car and looked across the inlet, in the distance we heard the sound of a cuckoo calling, the tide was rushing under the causeway there were wild yellow Iris’ beginning to bloom, it was a beautiful place to be stuck. But sooner than expected a truck pulled in and it was our rescuer. Morgan asked him “where’d you come from”?, we were surprised he was so quick, and throwing his hands in the air he replied in a thick Cork accented English “from heaven sent”! His name is Eoin (Owen) O’Rallaigh (O’Reilly) and he’s a born entertainer. After trying to start it in a myriad of ways Eoin wanted to look under the hood. He looked at us and said “we’ll try this and if that doesn’t work then it’s Au revoir mon ami and he mimed jacking a shell into a shot gun and aiming it at the engine”. We all cracked up, could hardly stop laughing. It was almost worth breaking down just to meet Eoin. It’s just these unexpected adventures that we treasure in Ireland, it never fails that the unexpected happens and it’s always fun, educational, challenging or enlightening. Eoin’s truck had been idling this whole time and James said to Eoin “that’s a nice truck you’ve got there, it’s running” to which Eoin grins. Eoin calls the tow truck and informs him that the Renault is DOA and tells us he’ll get us back to Ahakista. He lives close by. in Goleen and our place is easily a 40 min. drive. We’re grateful that he’s willing as he wryly tells us he’s not obligated to do so but since we’re nice Americans who didn’t vote for Trump he was happy to do so. On the way back we stop to assist a woman whose car blew a tire, turns out she’s an American as well, whom Eoin tells that he’s a vehicle full of other Americans who aren’t exactly Trump supporters. She scrambles out of her car comes up to my window, which I roll down, letting in midges as well as her booming voice exclaiming, “I hear there’s a bunch of Trump lovers in here”. We all exclaim no, no, no we didn’t vote for the man. She’s another larger than life extrovert in a cocky felt hat (are you seeing a pattern here? Ireland has a way of capturing people like this like a magnet pulls in iron filings) She says, “So it’s Melania’s birthday and Donald forgot all about it. Melania let’s him know she’s not pleased so to save himself Donald says, well just imagine whatever you want, you visualize that Melania and I’ll get it for you. So Melania screws up her eyes and really concentrates, she thinks and thinks. Later that night Donald’s dick fall’s off.” She roars with laughter as do we, it’s hard to do anything else. She tells us she taught school in Texas for 40 years, lived all over the place. Her mother’s side of the family were Irish generations back so she holds an Irish Passport. We wave goodbye and Eoin roars off, the locals drive the roads with abandon, and I’m holding on to the door handle trying not to slide into Peg. Peg is proving to be an able traveler, she’s taking all of this with alacrity. Eoin mentiones that he and his wife were running a B&B out of their home and most tourists were just fine but in his experience Australians were the worst for complaining and then in a very good Aussie drawl he imitates them complaining about the food, the homes and the roads, especially the curving roads. Eoin says, “well mate that’s cause your used to driving on roads for 5 hours that are dead straight, bends in the road a bit of a novelty for ya now aren’t they”. We’re laughing all the way home. Eoin deposits us safe and sound at our door. We thank him, Peg thanks him for being our knight in shining orange armor (referring to his safety vest) and we bid him goodnight.

We’ve lost our chance of a dinner out, it’s past 8:00, so we use all our remaining eggs and veg’s. and Morgan makes us a delicious omelet. We head down to the Tin Pub for a drink and a chat and Niamh isn’t there but her brother Cormac is behind the bar. It’s quiet with 3 people there before us who are just finishing up. We fall into easy conversation and learn some interesting things. I mention how much I appreciate the Irish gift of banter, how it’s honed to a fine skill. Cormac said that it’s really a default setting in Irish relations, that speaking of deep things is much more difficult in most Irish families. I’d never even considered that and it puts it in a different perspective. We also mentioned the difference we notice between the Irish Pub and an American Bar. The Irish Pub is a social gathering spot, not a place you go to avoid others. He told us that he noticed a real difference between the U.S. East and West coasts. He’d gone over to The States to visit when Niamh was working there. In New York and Boston he found a more social environment. In San Francisco he found the atmosphere inside a bar much less social, that people were in their own small groups isolated from one another, no real mixing. But even in New York and Boston he found himself isolated from people and he’d get lonely. He’d go to a barber shop and pay for a haircut just to have someone to speak with. When Niamh would come home she’d see the fresh haircut and ask him “were you lonely today?” Cormac graduated from University in criminal studies, but he couldn’t get any work. He’s going back to school for nursing. He’d been working the pub since he was a child, his mother had grown up in the home next door and had worked in the pub. His grandfather had owned it. We bid Cormac a goodnight and walk home.

May 26

Sculpture, The White House, Kilcrohane, Cork

Sat. May 26

After a good nights sleep we woke to a warm morning that became increasingly cloudy, but the temperature was still nice. After working on a few tunes we drove into Kilcrohane to look up Frank O’Mahonaigh (O’ Manny) only to find he’d taken the day off. We met an Englishman named Alex who sells antiques and other memorabilia. Alex recently turned 60 and seems typical of quite a few English expats we meet here. The Irish in thought and deed are very different than the English and there are some from England seeking something different. They visit Ireland, are charmed and decide to stay. It’s a compliment to the Irish that despite the centuries of cruelty inflicted by England they are able to recognize the qualities of an individual and see them on that basis, and accept them for who they are. We wandered West out of town and stopped at a nice coffee shop/eatery run by a couple originally from Yorkshire, do you see a pattern here? He has thick dreds and they both felt like English hippies, and I don’t mean that as a pejorative, Ally and I were hippies in our day and still carry most of the values we extolled then. Anyway, the Yorkshireman, I forgot to ask his name, told us he’s lived in Ireland for 28 years and the 6 years out here on the Sheepshead have been the happiest. They took an old defunct pub and refurbished it, have cleaned up the property, pruned back some dangerous trees, done some nice landscape work and have a lovely little establishment. The fresh made vegetable soup was excellent and they know how to make great coffee!

Morgan’s first trip to Ireland 22 years ago had been here on the Sheepshead. He wanted to take us over to Ballydehob on the peninsula South across Dunmanus Bay. We looked to see if there were any sessions and there weren’t. We had a pint of Murphy’s at Rosie’s which 22 years ago had been run by an older woman of that name who Morgan really liked. She’s long gone and the pub is in different hands but still has her name. We drove a bit further to Schull where it was quite busy, they were having a film festival and lots of visitors, and also found there were no sessions happening. So, back to Durrus and on to Ahakista where we stopped at the Tin Pub, it’s roof and sides are corrugated steel, to see if we could play there. They were amenable, mentioned that there was a group of people they were expecting, but that should be alright. We continued to Kilcrohane to Eileen’s Bar to find the wedding party from yesterday had regrouped there and there was no chance of playing music. We couldn’t even say hello to Eileen as she was madly busy filling orders. Back home we went, made dinner and headed to the Tin Pub close to 9:00.

We arrived at the Tin Pub and ordered some Murphy’s where the woman Niamh (Neve) behind the bar complimented us on ordering the local brew, Murphy’s is brewed in Cork City. I told her it was better than Guiness anyway and we always ordered Murphy’s when we could. She found that amusing and questioned us on what we were doing in Ireland. We told her we were musicians and she asked if we were playing and when finding out our instruments were in the car asked us to bring them in. A slight digression at this point. Last trip we were here in April, it was slower much more quiet, no tourists to speak of and NO midges. We unknowingly arrived for midge season. They are very much like no seeums in the States. They’re tiny, vicious little feckers whose bites feel like a hot little stab. You can’t even see the wound but you can sure as hell feel it. We mentioned to Niamh that the midges were really bad and she coyly remarked “don’t talk about small people like that”, ah that Irish sense of humor. So we set up in a corner and play a set of tunes. Pretty soon people begin to show up and it’s getting busy and loud. Every time the door is opened a cloud of midges swarm in and we’re trying to keep on top of the playing while swatting away the little feckers that are tormenting us. An hour in and we can barely hear ourselves, the party of people don’t seem to be music session listeners, but we’re getting some good playing in! Morgan goes up to order another pint for each of us and when they come we’re told they’re on the house. Niamh tells us that the musicians don’t pay but she waited to hear us first, “you might not have been any good, but ye are great” she says. We take a break, get a few compliments on our playing and head back inside running from the midges to where more midges await us! We play for another hour, but the heat, the midges and fatigue are setting in so we pack up. The place is still roaring so we head out the back. Niamh greets us as we’re leaving with a hug and compliments, thanks us for playing and we know at least one person was really listening to us and appreciated it.

Trip To Ireland 2018

Yesterday was a whirlwind of travel and no sleep. The last few weeks I was committed to getting every job I could out of my shop and back to my customers. With that being constantly in my mind I kept getting up earlier and earlier, to the point that I was waking at 5:00-5:30am, a good 2 hours earlier than usual, and I wasn’t going to bed particularly early, so sleep deficit was high along with general fatigue. I was nervous about the trip, I always get a bit nervous when it comes to long flights, so woke at 3:00am unable to sleep any longer, got up and into the day. James and Bridget came at 8:30, so after I kissed my beautiful wife Ally, we waved goodbye and off to the airport. Morgan’s wife Peg is coming with us for the first 10 days of this trip and her flight went out a couple hours before ours, so Morgan met us at the airport in Spokane and we checked in together. One of my concerns was having to deal with my luggage in Seattle but they were able to check everything through to Shannon so that took a lot of pressure off. The flight case for my guitar is a very large affair, designed to truly offer rugged protection and fully packed weighs in at over 30 pounds. My trust in it after two previous trips is implicit, so it’s worth having to lug it over. So, off to Seattle.

We arrived in Seattle safe and sound and with a 2 hour layover had plenty of time to get to the British Airways gate, check in, grab some coffee and board. I was seated next to a couple of women whom it turned were from Yorkshire, England. Both of Ally’s parents were originally from Yorkshire. We had some interesting conversations and it never fails that we got into shaking our collective heads over Trump and the general madness of the current political climate. They are just as concerned with Brexit, the lies and subterfuge used to sell it to the British public and the hardships that it’s going to bring about. It seems that a certain form of madness is taking over the world right now and most people I meet are quite worried about it.

I slept fitfully during the flight, I rarely sleep at all while flying. I never have done well sleeping upright and need to be horizontal to really rest, but I was grateful for the little I did get. I found myself giving thanks to the engineers who designed the plane I was riding in, to the assembly workers, the maintenance workers and everyone behind the scenes who assist in keeping these huge aircraft flying. The pilots who get such an ungainly craft off the ground and safely back down all get my thanks. It’s easy to take these little miracles for granted, that we routinely start a journey in one part of the world, board an aircraft that hurtles us through space and time at nearly 600 miles per hour and deposits us safe and sound in another part of the world some hours later. I for one am immensely grateful to everyone involved in making that happen safely. So, around 8 1/2 hours later we land in London rather bleary and stagger up into the immensity that is Heathrow looking for our connection to Shannon. We weren’t issued boarding passes for our Aer Lingus flight in Seattle and were told that we’d need to get them in London. We weren’t told how to get them and wrongly assumed that we’d get them at the gate. So as we’re trying to board the plane we’re turned back and told we need to go to some desk and get issued a pass. We speed walk through the terminal, find the necessary place, beg a couple of young women to allow us to cut in line, they weren’t as pressed for time as us, and after about 10 minutes got the passes. We ran/speed walked back to the gate and thankfully they were still boarding. Disaster averted! An hour later we arrive at Shannon to glorious sunshine, temperature is in the 70’s and we’ve never been so physically warm in Ireland. After checking through passport control, which is a wholly un-intimidating process, in fact the man I spoke with asked why I was visiting and when I told him I was here for the music cheerfully said to me “you know, there’s a music festival in Ennis this weekend”. We got all our luggage, it all arrived safe and sound which is another little miracle to be grateful for.

James had booked our car and after we saw all of our collective stuff realized we’d need a larger vehicle. We packed it and headed to Cork. We drove south through Killarney National Park, a wild and wonderful place, stopped at a lookout and met a man playing Uilleann Pipes. Of course we did, this is Ireland where wonderful surprises occur. I was taking pictures and listening to the pipes, he’s a fine player, while James who also plays the pipes wandered over and sat near him. When he finished a tune we all told him how we appreciated his playing. He said he usually plays bagpipes when it’s wet, but since it was such a fine day he’d brought his Uillean set. He was just as surprised that a group of Americans who were into the music happened by and that one of us played the pipes as well and how he never met pipers anymore. After some warm conversation we bid goodbye and continued South.

Our last trip we visited the Sheepshead peninsula, a very beautiful part of a beautiful country. This is where we had met Wayne Sheehy who tours as a percussionist with Damien Dempsey and has toured with U-2 and The Rolling Stones. Just before we left Wayne texted saying that he was going to be in Dublin while we are here, so sadly, we’ll not get the chance to see him this time. We found a road that signed us to Durrus, which turned out to be a rambling country track that took us over the spine of the Sheepshead and down to the road that took us to Ahakista. We meet with Margaret the woman who manages the house we’ve rented, same home we rented 2 years ago, and head up the road to Arundel’s Pub. We’re thinking food, but there’s a big wedding party spread over both local pubs, The Tin Pub being the other and they’re both so pressed for food that they aren’t taking any more orders. So instead we have a pint of Murphy’s, ah! we do love Cork where Murphy’s is on tap, and as we sip our pints watch the sun play on the bay and children and their parents play. We head home, make a vegetable and egg fry up, play a few tunes and stagger off to bed.

Going Home

So what do I take from this my third trip? Well firstly, I love my brothers in music. This shared journey cements a bond of music and friendship worth more to me than any other form of wealth. 

Second, the friendships we’ve made in prior trips are now stronger, cemented and more real. As Morgan stated, the friends here that we share with, feel like a part of our every day reality, not like some special area, far removed from the rest of our lives. The sharing of music with Julie Langan, Joe Carey, Pat Eades, Seamus Dean, Adam Shapiro, the Dave’s from Australia, Jackie Small, Padraig McKenna, Johnny Curtis, Tony Reidy, Gary Leahy, Hugh and Eoin Quinn, Richie Tisdall and Billy Archibald. Our new friends we met in Ennistymon, Lisdoonvarna, Kilcrohan, Inch, some new some old its a bond that goes deep. Tommy Neilan said just yesterday, when you can share the music, sit down and play with others it’s like having a secret passport. The smiles, joy and craic crosses every border and forms an international language. This shared experience is borderless. The Foley’s in Inch, Co. Dingle showed their regard by not letting us pay for our rooms that night, we wanted to pay them, they wouldn’t hear of it. We value this kind of generosity and openness more than anything. I carry these friends in my heart, all of them, they live inside of me and are part of me now. John and Maggie McGing taking my wife and daughter and I into their home and showing them and I such generosity, because of our past visits and shared experiences. They’re extended family each and everyone. The world needs so much more of this kind of sharing. Tear down the walls, suspicion, bigotry and hatred. This is the healing our planet needs.

A Great Evening at Jordan’s

We drove south to the Neilan’s whom we got to know last trip. They live on a 200 acre farm in an area of East Galway part of Shanaglish. It’s beautiful country and the Neilan’s are a wonderful family. We arrived late afternoon and were greeted by Tommy Neilan. Tommy’s getting on in years but is still young in spirit. We were all pretty tired and took the night easy. We conveyed Jackie Small’s greetings, as they are old friends.

Next day, Friday, was warm and sunny we asked Tommy and Martina if they’d spoken to anyone regarding a house session. Tommy and Martina said they were waiting for us to arrive, but they would now ask some friends. We visited Ennis and knocked about for the afternoon. We got back post dinner to find out that there were going to be guests so we rushed to make the space welcome. Over the space of an hour our guests began arriving and we were glad to see young Neil Martin. We last saw him 2014 and in that time he’d won the All Ireland for under 12 for his flute playing. He’d accomplished a great deal since our last meeting. Mary and Andrew came playing flute, box and pipe, Katherine, another box player and nice person, Martina and Tommy joined in on box, and Neil’s brother Liam played bodhran. P.J., the Neilan’s neighbor added some funny story songs and part way along Eugene Lamb came. We met him in 2014 as well. He’s a great player and this time he gave us some pipes, whistle, great stories, jokes and songs as well. The evening was great fun.

Saturday we took easy. Months before we left the U.S. we’d contacted Tom Cussen our good friend and banjo maker of renown. We’d tried and failed in 2012 to meet Tom for a session, and we had one short session when we played at the Clarinbridge Banjo Festival in 2014, but we wanted to sit in a more intimate session with Tom and his friends. This trip we made sure that it was planned in advance so that nothing would interfere.  We headed up to Clarinbridge early so we could go to an antique shop we’d been to last trip. It actually belongs to a cousin of James’ wife Bridget, whom she met in Jordan’s Pub quite accidentally last trip to Clarinbridge in 2014. We then took some small roads out along the bay and walked across a field to the edge of Galway Bay. We could look south to The Burren and north toward Connemara, a breathtaking sweep of a large part of that section of coast. We got back into town had a meal, grabbed our instruments and went into Jordan’s early. As we stood outside with our pints Tom Cussen pulled up with his lovely wife Mary. We said hello and not 5 min. into conversation Tom and I are talking shop, he the banjo builder me the repairman/ builder, its in the blood, get two or more luthiers together and we’re gonna go there. The session was great, lots of fine players, young Neil, who kept up very, very well, I’m amazed at how many tunes he knows already. Neil, the boy not long to be a man will be a force to be reckoned with in the world of Irish flute players. Katherine who we played with at the Neilan’s showed up after hitting a session in Galway first. A woman named Maureen was there with her partner and she sang a song by the late Tony Small (Jackie Small’s brother) that James and I said we must learn. [Update: We did! Here it is.] Tom is a very fine banjo player, he describes himself as a good band player, but his skills are considerable. I love watching his right hand, very economical of motion, his triplets look effortless, he’s got a very strong sound. Katherine who we played with at the Neilan’s showed up after hitting a session in Galway first. A man we met on our flight in showed up with his octave mandolin, that was fun. The session was jamming, very strong playing and LOUD! A great evening.

The Reek and Coda

Morgan, James, Bridget and I fit as many things into our last day in Westport as we could. Don, Sheila and Claudia had a hawk walk scheduled down near Gort, so left a day before us. We saw posters in Westport for CODA, who are a wonderful vocal and instrumental group from the area. Our previous trip in 2014 our friend Brian Lennon, a membner of CODA brought a few of the members down to a session we were playing in at Matt Molloys and sang acapella  for us. They sing 6 part vocal arrangements that are really beautiful, gorgeous harmonies and very tight arrangements. We didn’t want to miss them. They were playing in the large room at Matt Molloy’s which is a great space. 

James kept looking at Croagh Patrick and decided he just had to climb it. For those of you who don’t know, Croagh Patrick is the highest point in Ireland, a beautiful mountain that from Westport looks pyramidal. It’s been a sacred site for millennia, but since the Christian era has been associated with Patrick and is now a pilgrimage spot, a must climb for Catholics. We woke to a beautiful sunny, warm day, our first such since we arrived. A nearly cloudless sky. The mountain looked just over the hill from Newport, but was in fact many miles away, that’s how clear the air was. We got ourselves together and drove to the mountain, dropped James off told him to text us on his progress and headed down the Louisburgh Road toward the coast. Morgan thought it might be fun to see if we could catch the Clare Island ferry over to the Island and explore it a bit while James was climbing. We followed some very small roads to the ferry terminal only to find out that the only ferry was much later in the afternoon, so we scrapped that plan. The tide was out so we explored some tide pools looked out to Clare Island and into the Atlantic. We drove further, tried exploring some of the small lanes, had fun getting semi-lost in some wild looking country and found a local postman who helped us get our bearings, he also told us the only food we’d find was going to be back in Louisburgh. We were getting hungry so back to Louisburgh. James texted that he was half way up. We stopped in a small cafe, had coffee and some lunch and heard from James that he’d gotten to the top. Hooray! We drove back toward Croagh Patrick and stopped at Staunton’s Pub where we’d had that great Sunday session, grabbed a pint and waited to hear that James was back down. He got back down, looking happy and tired. His photos of Clew Bay from the top are amazing. We joked to him in a text that we’d need photographic proof that he’d gotten there and he showed that to us. Well done James. Back to Newport for naps and to get ready to hear Coda.

Back to Westport and to Molloy’s. We got in line early and it was a good thing we did. Standing in line we found some familiar faces, Tom Doherty, who we’ve played with at the session in Newport was running sound for the show, Brian Lennon one of the members of CODA whom we met in Newport came through and said hello, we’d seen Norman Wylie from Westport Radio we’d seen a bit earlier, soon the area in front of the door started getting crowded. One couple tried to get in but were rebuffed, a young fellow from Clare Island looked at me and I said “the doors are open, but they’re not open”, “Ah, that’s a question for philosophers”, says he. The Irish sense of humor, laced with irony, God I love it so! The doors finally “officially” opened and by that time the waiting area in the smoking yard was crammed. In we all went grabbed a seat and sat down to a tremendously entertaining show. If you’re at all curious get their first album or listen to them on YouTube

A House Session at Maggie’s

We were hoping to get together with some of our music friends a last time before we had to leave the area. There weren’t any scheduled sessions and Maggie suggested she’d be open to hosting a house session if we were willing. Maggie and John know many of Westport’s musicians so we knew they’d get the word out, we also have our friends in Newport, so we asked Julie Langan if she’d come and to ask anyone she knew to come as well. Maggie organized the food and laid out quite a tasty spread, vegetable soup with soda bread, cheeses, bean salad, egg salad, etc. she’s a great cook.

People began to show up, among them Tony Reidy, a neighbor of the McGings, Dan Delany, but he had to leave early, Julie, Padraig McKenna, Johnny Curtis, Pat Eade, Brian Lofthouse, a very talented luthier who brought two new instruments with him, Maggie Neilan and a few others who came to listen. We had some great tunes and sharing. Pat played some wonderful songs (we love his singing) and Maggie Neilan sang for us as well, we love her interpretations of the old songs, she’s a wonderful singer. All in all a nice small sharing with some of people we’ve come to respect and treasure.

Farewell to Ally

We had to say goodbye to Ally and get her on the bus. She had a busy schedule back home so we spent the afternoon knocking around Westport doing a last bit of gift shopping for grandkids. We got her down to the bus stop, no real station found the correct bus and waved goodbye. I was really pleased that she enjoyed Ireland, met our friends and shared the week with me and everyone else. She now understands what goes on here and why we come back.

The Towers and Staunton’s Sessions,

Sunday is session day and evening in Westport. The town is well known for its musical focus and Sunday each week is “the” day where it’s all going on. Ally and I have been staying with John and Maggie McGing, friends and hosts extraordinaire! The band and I first met Maggie and John in 2012. They both love to go to the sessions to listen and we happened to be in town that year. I first really remember Maggie and John at Bould Biddie’s Pub that year, that was a truly memorable session, that’s when we really started to visit and get to know one another. We’ve corresponded via email between visits and spent more and more time with them when here, and they’ve become great friends, true friends, and now Ally and I are talking about meeting them for vacation in some lovely part of the world in winter. John used to own McGing’s pub, just down the hill from where they live. It had been in his family for years and he’d grown up in the home that was above the pub space. Westport has always been home to John and he knows everyone and they know him. He’s 6′ 6″ and impossible to miss, is a very quiet man, with an extremely dry sense of humor, a quick, observational mind that misses nothing and the ability to make a wry comment that has you laughing uncontrollably. Maggie’s a perfect match, she’s a keen mind herself, a quick tongue that’s never cruel, and a lively commentator on life and social goings on. We love them both. Maria lives next door, and you’ve read about her in previous postings. She became our social liaison our first trip in 2012, introduced us to the McGings, Maggie Neilan, Padrig and Els McKenna, Mick and Mary Mulcrone, Pat Eade, Matt Molloy, Johnny Fadgin, Dan Delany, and many others, everybody that’s become part of our life each time we come here. Some have become good friends and some casual acquaintances and they form the web of connections that make our time here so wonderful.

Maria’s been really ill, she contracted pneumonia this winter and is still having a tough time. We’ve seen her some, and she’s had a few good days, but the illness has left her weak. We’ve missed her terribly this trip. She’s funny and great company. (I just was speaking with Maria over Maggie and John’s fence and I’m happy to report she’s feeling much better today). So, back to the Sunday sessions.

We headed first to The Towers, a nice restaurant with a little snug in front where the session is. When we arrived Jackie Small, Pat Eade, and Johnny Curtis and Padraig McKenna were just getting started. We’d met Pat our first trip here, he’s a great singer and bouzouki player, Johnny remembered meeting us previously, but Jackie was new to us. He plays box and we found out is an Archivist and Ethnomusicoligist with a deep knowledge of Irish music and a mind full of great tunes, and Padraig of course you already know. With my guitar and Johnny and Pat’s octave mandolin and bouzouki we had a lot of strings jangling. Morgan showed up with James and Don came through the door, so a lively session ensued. Another bouzouki player and singer showed, whose name I failed to get, and Mick Mulcrone and his wife Mary came in as well. At some point I put my guitar away and enjoyed listening to the others. Too many strings is too many strings! Listening and socializing is just as much fun as playing sometimes. By 8:30 the session wound down and Jackie and Pat invited us to a session at Staunton’s out the Louisburgh Road. We sat down to dinner with Don and his wife Sheila and their friend Claudia who’d just arrived in Ireland, James and Bridget, Maggie and John, Morgan, Ally and I, we’d become quite a group. The Tower has great food so we had a fine meal and headed out to Staunton’s. 

We arrived close to 10:00 and stepped into a pub that felt like some of the cozy country pubs we’ve encountered. It’s a local pub, where good friends meet and swap stories, sing songs they know and play tunes. Jackie, Pat and Johnny were already there and invited us in. It had all the joys and intimacy that a small session gives. Spontaneous stories, jokes, songs. Some wonderful singing by a woman named Nancy, who had powerful interpretive abilities. When she sang a song you felt it in every part of your being. We played til near 12:30, then had some wonderful talk with Pat, Jackie and Johnny as well as Terese the owner of Staunton’s. She’s a really nice woman running a pub that’s been in her family for 100 years.

A princely gift

Morgan and I had agreed to meet Julie in Newport at the National School. We waited a little while and Julie pulled in and guided us out to the hotel in Mulranny, situated further north along the shore of Clew Bay. On the way she diverted to a lane marked Kilbreen Cemetery. Down a twisting little lane that eventually opened up to a very old cemetery along the shore with a breath taking view of Clew Bay, Beare Island some of the smaller islets and Croagh Patrick looking down on it all. The cemetery is dominated by a circular stone wall in its center that is built atop a much older pre-Christian burial site. There’s no earth visible within the circle but it is filled with stones, large flat stones, like you would see over a sarcophagus inset into a floor. Very old inscriptions, many so weather worn their difficult to read. In the center is a standing slab with a carving of the Goddess Mother, the pagan quite at home with the younger religion. Morgan and I were very touched that Julie chose to show us to this spot. It has a very peaceful feeling.

We wound back out the lane to the main road and followed Julie to the Mulranny Park Hotel, which has a magnificent view of Clew Bay and environs. We walked up the drive to the Hotel and found Joe waiting for us at the main door, dressed in a three piece suit! Casual indeed. Morgan and I figured that between Joe and Julie they’d know many great musicians and that we’d be joining them, but it turned out to be the four of us. We were honored as well as a little afraid. Joe sat down gave us quick snippets of the tunes, told me the keys and away we went. Joe’s playing flows so easily and his assurance so sure that we soon relaxed and got in the flow. There were a few tunes I didn’t know that had tricky turnarounds so I’d play quietly until I could get back in, Morgan found himself doing the same, but on the whole we felt pretty good about our playing. At one point Joe got up to speak and gave his box to a young man who sat down with us. He introduced himself as Seamus Dean. He started a set and played at a level equal to Joe’s, except he had all the vigor of youth. I took a break needing to get rid of some of my Guiness and met Joe in the loo. I told him I was really impressed with Seamus’s playing and Joe said “perhaps you noticed an influence”. He’s a neighbor of Joe’s and has studied with him since he was little and obviously has learned well. We played a few more sets and it was time for the wedding party to go to dinner. Joe said he’d meet us in the parking lot, that he had a little gift for us. We met Seamus on the steps going down to the drive and he told us he enjoyed playing with us and hoped we’d get another opportunity. We heartily agreed. Joe met us as we walked the hill down to our car and handed us a wrapped bottle. We thanked him, told him how much we enjoyed playing with him and hoped to see him again. When we got to the car we pulled the wrapping aside and he’d given us a very special bottle of Jameson’s. A princely gift indeed.