Castlebar

We got up this morning all feeling better after a decent night’s sleep. Made some breakfast and worked on some new sets. One of them a set of slides that we’d intended to work on. Saw that Maria in Wesport had tried to call and after a couple of attempts, hers and ours, got hold of her. She tells us she worked out with a friend of hers that hosts a program on local radio and wants to interview us and play live on the show……..for 2 hours. We’re flattered and also a bit concerned but 2 hours? We’re to meet the host of the show tonight so we’ll see exactly what she has in mind.

As we were driving up Pontun Rd. just seeing the countryside, which is gorgeous, we get a call from Padraig telling us he has us booked to play in one of the rooms at Matt Molloy’s from 6-8 on Sunday and then sessions after that. I ask him if he’s joking and he assures me he isn’t. He tells me that as soon as the music starts for us in Westport we’re going to be very busy lads! Wow! Ya think? So we’re off to Westport tonight to meet Padraig at Maria’s tonight and then we’re off for a session at The Quay’s down on the waterfront in Westport. Man, are we going to have fun!

We Arrive in Ireland

We arrived at Shannon airport approx. 5:30 am. Great to get out of the airplane and stretch the legs. Great to be back in Ireland. I have an affinity for this land. It just speaks to me and I feel really good being here. It’s not just the music either, but the ambiance of the entirety of place. We’re now on the M18 heading north toward Galway and we’ll be stopping in Gort for some breakfast. The sky is blue, the sun is out; it’s dead gorgeous. Spoke too soon. The sun disappeared and its now typical Irish early spring. Chilly. We drove to Gort grabbed a nice breakfast. We’re sitting down to table and James bangs it with his long legs and makes a fairly loud racket. Immediately the waitress cracks, “Ya best be careful you might need that for later,” implying that he’d best not hurt his knee. There’s that razor sharp Irish wit we love so well. We drove up to Clarenbridge and found Tom’s shop straight off. He was glad to see us and us him. Don got his new banjo and it’s a beauty with a sound that will feckin’ make you weep as you stand with your fingers in your ears. It’s a cannon! After hanging out at Tom’s onward to Castlebar.

In Summary and a Farewell to Ireland

This will be a summation of our last two days. We’re all rather wistful knowing that our time is coming to an end. After last night we were a bit shagged and I’m beginning to feel all the playing and late nights catching up with me. On the other hand time is short so we’re bloody well going to take every experience we can home with us. No regrets. Sunday is sessions starting in the afternoon. Padraig warns us that the better session will be at The Cobbler’s and we should start at McGing’s but get down to the other around 8:15. With that in mind we decide to spend the morning and early afternoon driving past Cottage Grove where we went with Padraig and Els, and continue out to Leannan which is arguably a fjord, but regardless is a very beautiful spot.

It turns out that across the street from the little over priced cafe that charged the four of us E19 for tea and scones ( tourist prices are beginning to go into effect ) there’s a little gift shop that James and I go over to. Doesn’t look like much at first but James spots a sweater for Zeke and as I look it appears that it’s a nice shop. I find the perfect sweater for Dad and a pendant for myself and as we go to pay James asks if she gives discounts for musicians. As it often happens in Ireland that starts a whole discussion on music, what we do, where we’ve played a discussion about how she prefers the Westport music scene over Galway City which she considers caters too much to Americans, no offense! She’s charming and knocks E10 off my bill. I go back across the street and sit with the guys and remembered that I’d like to find something else for Mom. She sees that I’m back and I tell her the quest. She helps me find a nice silver brooch with a red garnet and after telling her the inflated prices across the street knocks some off the bill to make up for the overcharge at the cafe. What a nice woman. We drive back but take the route that goes back into the hills to Louisburgh. Padraig was telling us the day before that back in the famine some starving residents of Louisburgh had walked in horrid weather past a lake and over a pass to plead with the land lord of that area for help. He kept them waiting while he finished lunch with guests and then pretty much told them to bugger off. Most of them died walking back to their village. There’s a monument to them off the road. A sad, sad story. There were other land lords who were real human beings and did all they could to help. What I didn’t understand was that during the famine Ireland was exporting food through the entire time! Musn’t let famine and starvation get in the way of profits. Heartless bastards!

We got back from the trip and Morgan cooked up a delicious stir fry. He’s a great improvisational cook. We headed into Westport and McGing’s and there was John with his buddy Pat on bouzouki. We kidded Pat about wanting to play and he told us we’d have to pay and dug for the small change we had. He laughed and told us to sit down. John had brought his low pipes in C so we all tuned down a full step. Gary Leahy was waiting for us and we talked him into getting his fiddle out of the car. He’s far better than he gives himself credit for. The couple whom we rented Jim’s Place from Michael and Maura were there as was the McGing’s the original owners of the pub. They heard us at Biddy’s the night before and liked James’ Raglan Road. Maggie our Limerick expert was there as well. The session was great and we didn’t leave for the Cobbler. It felt right to end up where we started in Westport. The session was mellow the group of folks were really encouraging. A local named Seamus who writes these great humorous rhymes recites twice for us. I have them both on the recorder and can’t wait to find them. We closed McGing’s bid goodnight to Maria, we’re all going to miss her, we bid goodnight and farewell to Brendan AKA known as Noddy goodnight as well. He was serving our first night there and so the circle was complete. Aetna who is a real hand full was pretty sloshed and kept chatting us up and wouldn’t leave us. She danced in front of our car and when she finally stepped away we got away.

All of us were sad to know that was the last night for us to play with all of our new friends. We have offers of places to stay when we get back that way. What we can leave with is knowing that we as outsiders were accepted for our ability to play a music that we didn’t grow up with. Our efforts were appreciated and encouraged. The Irish people we met to a person are the most sociable, kind and at times brutally and hysterically honest. You can’t take yourself too seriously because they’ll sense it and take the piss out of you in short order. We humans are all quite laughable anyway and no one appreciates that more than the Irish. I’m fairly certain these traits were honed through the centuries of occupation, oppression, starvation and all the other hardships and indignities of a tough life. I love these people and identify with them easily. We’re in the plane heading home now. Speaking for myself I can state that part of me resides back in Ireland. I’m going to have to return to share it with my new found friends and places.

Here’s Paul Bordiss who sang “Health to the Company”.

Westport Rocks and Bould Biddy’s Is Our Axis

So we rise the next day at 11:00, this is getting to be a habit what with real musicians hours, and give Padraig a text and he says to meet him in Westport for coffee. He’d like us to meet his wife Els. This is one of the true differences between Ireland and the States. We meet a man through shared interest, that being music, and we like one another. The door to friendship is opened up and that’s it. We’ve all made friends in the States of course but the feeling of connection feels more cautious and hesitant there than here. The Irish are so hospitable. It’s uncanny.

We go into Westport to do some gift shopping and I find a few things for Ally and girls. James tells me that we’re meeting Padriag at Molloy’s and to meet them there when I finish up my shopping. I walk down to Molloy’s and find the door locked, walk around the side looks closed, scratch my head, try the door again and decide to continue shopping. I’m a bit miffed, but decide to let it go and sit down and read in a coffee shop. I come back out on the street and finally see James and Morgan. They ask me where I’ve been and I tell them I tried the door and it was locked. They look askance. I tell them I pulled the door, turned the knob and James observes that the door opens with a push. Christ! I’m and idiot.

So off to Padraig’s ( pronounced Poorick ) and Els’ where they give Don and I tea and digestives. Padraig shows us some memorabilia of his famous uncle Barney McKenna. I have to admit I’d neglected following Barney and he’s one of the seminal figures in the modern revival of traditional music. James comes over after taking Morgan to Gary’s for bow talk. We all pile into their car with their dog Tessa in our laps and head into the country for a pleasant walk through an oak grove and along a lovely river. Then back to Westport where we’re dropped off at our car and we get ingredients for dinner. Gary and Morgan arrive jut in time for dinner and then off to session. We head up to McGing’s and have a pint and walk down to Bould Biddy’s and things are just starting. A very different feeling than last night though. A different clientele, more settled and when we start playing it begins to feel closer to Cleary’s than anything else. People standing and listening break into song and everyone shushes the crowd silent for a respectful listen. Well we’re rolling along and Padraig the box player who apparently is a fine musician and also a fine drinker is soon leaning into me while talking to some mates, and I’m having to lean into him to avoid being pushed from my stool. I’m twisted around trying to play and it’s like stepping into Ciaran Carson’s Last Night’s Fun. Music, pints, fighting for a perch to play on…..great stuff!

Maggie sings a couple of songs and then after a good many pints belts out an absolutely filthy song that has us all rolling. We’ve got it recorded and I hope it sounds good when I go through and listen to it all.

Don’s got everyone eating out of his hand playing the Paragon and singing blues and old swing. We do Galway Girl which Don seems convinced is a bad choice and the whole pub is singing it in the first couple of measures. We’ve lost any sense of time and hear that Bri­d the owner wants to go home she finally turns off the lights while John is piping the last tune. I grab Maggie and tell her Morgan has a great joke about Limerick’s that she’ll love. As Morgan tells it he delivers the joke which she howls over then grabs his arm pulls it into her breasts, won’t let go and starts chanting one filthy Limerick after another into his ear. Brid insisted on giving me a Mayo hat, and four cigarette lighters for all of us and pays for the last pints as well. As I’m on my way out the door a young man puts out his hand to shake it. I put down my case and as he grasps my hand he tells me he’s been listening to Dan and Johnny for years and it was the first time he’d heard them have to really push to keep up and with a group of Americans, “good on ya” he said. I thanked him sincerely. We had lots of positives from everyone who approached us. From the woman who thought that Raglan Road should be unaccompanied only to effusively praise James’ rendition

 

Visit With A Pipe Maker and Boul Biddy’s

We worked on some new sets and then went to visit a pipe maker by the name of John Butler. John hails originally from Dublin area and now lives on Achill Island. His work shop is in an old school building and when we arrived the wind was blowing hard and it was threatening rain. He’s only been making pipes on his own for a couple of years, had helped another pipe maker at one point build some practice sets, but on his own just a few sets. His skills are evident, his work very clean and well executed. He’d been a designer of medical equipment but was made redundant by the economic times. He’s played pipes since he was sixteen and I’m guessing he’s in his late 30s. He showed us his personal set of Willy Rowesome pipes made in 1924. They’re beautiful things with full regulators and a sound that is sweet and pure. John gave James some advice on his pipes, offered some suggestions and I think James will have him build a new bellows for him.

We got back home and Morgan made a great pasta dinner and we headed into Westport to meet Maria at Hoban’s Pub. When we arrived it was apparent we were going to have to get some pints to catch up with Maria. She did get hold of her friend Padraig who came and chatted for a little while. Maria told us that he loves banjo and had a couple. Once he determined that we were OK ( he asked us several times are you going to play some tunes? ) he said he’d get his banjos. Don was quite pleased at the prospect of having one to play. Padraig gives one case to Don and when he opens it we’re VERY interested. It’s a Clifford Essex Paragon, one of the best English banjos made, bloody beautiful and awesome sounding.

We played for awhile and Padraig suggested strongly that we might want to take it down to Biddy’s a very cool, narrow little pub that was just roaring. Dan and Johnny were leading with the owner’s daughter Jennie on box and young Nigel on flute. They welcomed us into the circle and it took off from there. Some lads show up one in a wig and red dress who’s going to be married and then it really got wild. It got so loud I finally put my guitar away and played drum. Don was the life of the party. He played some blues and some jazz with Dan, A mighty session and great fun.

Mayo Proves To Be Our Musical Mecca

This is a summation of several days. Mayo proved to be an engaging place and kept us very busy. On Tuesday we went out to the coast and visited a Neolithic site that’s been very slightly excavated and it was pretty fascinating. The coast is beautiful, rugged and it looks due north. We got up into this tower and looked seaward and it was clear and blue and you can see the curvature of the earth the expanse was so broad. It felt rather lonely looking north and realizing that there was nothing between where we stood and Iceland. In fact it was a similar feeling looking west from Achill. I understand a lot of the songs written about leaving for the New World much better now. If you were watching the ship disappearing over the horizon carrying your loved ones away you would have known that you’d probably never see them again. It was a long, long way off in those days, and looking across that vast stretch of water would have only reinforced that feeling.

We drove back into town and Maria told us to meet her at Molloy’s and she’d introduce us to some good musicians she knows. John the piper is her man friend and he goes over to Dublin mid-week to work for Air Lingus. So off we go to Matt’s Pub at 10:00 pm looking for Maria. We get there and wait for her and she isn’t there yet. The place is a zoo, which is its normal state as far as we can tell. A very popular tourist spot with a mix of some locals, but rarely a place to sit and enjoy a pint or even the music for that matter. We stand around for a while and give Maria a call and tell her we’re off to McGing’s which suits us far more. We order some pints and text Maria. There are no other musicians to connect with this night so we finish our drinks and head home.

On Wednesday we practiced some of our new sets and drove in to Westport to do some shopping. Knocked about for a bit and found a few things. Morgan found an antique lace runner for Peg, I spotted a nice silver bangle for Ally that I think I’ll go back for. Got a call from Maria apologizing for last night. She drank wine at dinner and woke up at 2:00 am. Promised to meet us for a session at the Cobbler and introduce us to a bouzouki player and fiddler who are doing a session there tonight. We were to meet Morgan’s colleague Gary Leahy in Newport and visit him and see his work shop. He’s a nice man and according to Morgan a fine bow maker. We have a fine time with Gary and he tells us that he’ll meet us at a session tomorrow in Newport.

So far this leg of the trip is vastly different than the first. In Clare we were just getting our feet wet and acclimatizing, Beara is rugged and beautiful but the music is scattered and infrequent due to the small population. Mayo on the other hand is music, music and more music. We’ve decided to stay through Monday because Sunday is all day sessions in Westport. We’ve got tomorrow tonight in Newport, not sure about Friday yet, but Saturday again at Biddy’s this tiny little pub in Westport that Maria assures us is the magnet for all the characters in town. So back to the Cobbler. We arrive before Maria and meet Johnny the bouzouki player and apparently he plays many others instruments, and his partner Dan. They’re probably my age and a nicer pair you wouldn’t want to meet. Very inclusive with the dry Irish wit we’ve come to expect and cherish. We played from about 8:30 until 12:00 and went down to meet Maria at Molloy’s. We walked fast and found the front doors locked and shades drawn but went in the side where we found the place roaring! We squeezed in and found Maria with some very good players but there was nowhere for us to join in the place was cheek to jowl. Maria wanted us to go back to her place but we’re learning she’s one of those in the moment gals. She was playing and chatting and we were somewhat forgotten… No problem though, so we waved goodbye and went back to our cottage, played a few hands of Canasta and turned in. We visited Maria in the afternoon, next day. The day was rainy, all day just like last Thursday. We met her dogs and hung out until time to head to Newport. We went to Grainne Uaile pub to meet Gary for dinner and stayed for a session. Julie Langan and a box player named Tom and a fine flute player named Brian were there as well a a woman who played great bouzouki and later an American named Mick and a few other musicians as well as the four of us . Some great playing and great players. Morgan says that Julie is the best fiddle player he’s heard on the trip. She plays with an elegance and grace that is quite lovely. They loved our songs and complimented our playing, as we did theirs. Brian has a strong yet beautiful tone to his flute and Tom is one of the best box players we’ve heard. Julie paid us a rather high compliment by saying that she might try to come play with us on Sunday at one of the sessions.

What we do when we’re not playing

An afternoon at the edge of the world, exploring a neolithic sight, discovered beneath a blanket bog, dating back nearly six thousand years. The Atlantic Ocean lies before us. A panorama so vast that the curvature of the earth is apparent. And the sun is shining!

Our ‘routine’ here involves a lot of practice, as you can see, and occasional laundry…

Off To Mayo and Westport

We drove up to Mayo on Sunday. We stopped in Kenmare on the way out and had a coffee and stopped at the lace shop that we saw so Morgan could find something for Peg. It’s a nice shop and I found some nice little linen bags for the girls and Ally. Today the 11th we headed out to Achill Island. A very beautiful place and we drove out to the end of the road and Don remembered a beach that they’d been to on a previous trip. The beach looked like it belonged in the Caribbean with white sand and gorgeous blue water. We walked on it for quite a while and I took some video.

Tonight we’re going to head into Westport and get a pint at Matt Malloy’s Pub and see if there’s any music or a session we can go to. Well, Matt Molloy’s is a fun place, but filled with tourists so Morgan remembered a pub called McGing’s that he and Matt visited back in 1999 so we sauntered up there and loved the place. Very warm and the opposite of Molloy’s : mostly locals hanging out and talking with a pint in hand. As we were settling in Morgan started chatting with a fellow and they started discussing things and Morgan found out he’s a musician and he admitted to playing the pipes.

James and I got in on the conversation at this point and James said oh you play pipes and John, the piper, said that he didn’t have his with him. James said well I happen to have a half set in the car and Morgan said and we also have a fiddle and mandolin and guitar, etc. Well that’s all it took, we grabbed everything and brought them in, sat down and played tunes for a couple of hours. Noddy, who was tending bar kept bringing out fresh pints. The Irish are so hospitable. John’s a fine piper and a nice man. He called his girlfriend Maria, who’s a real fire cracker and she came down and we had lots of laughs and she took us under he wing and told us of some sessions. When we asked her why she didn’t bring her fiddle she admitted that often the spur of the moment sessions are rubbish, but if she’d realized how good the playing was that night she’d have bought it.

A walk through the bog

A rare moment of sunshine inspired us to get out and about on a hike up a valley to an abandoned village in a completely isolated spot. Ten thousand sheep and the kind of solitude that inspires great songs and very strong drink! Caught this pic of the boys perched on a wall, the purpose of which was beyond us, since the sheep could easily get over it. Rick seems to be trying to snort digestive biscuits, so it’s obviously a strange place. The village, actually three houses, was apparently occupied by a murderous chap who was eventually hanged at the penitentiary at Tralee. No rose, I think… (James)

We just got back from a nice walk. We’d seen this sign pointing to a stone circle and thought we’d check it out. Once again James drives us down a narrow lane for quite some distance and came to what was left of a stone circle inside of a fenced meadow with sheep in it. Not terribly impressive, but a Mrs. Healy greeted us and told us there was a nice hike that led to an abandoned “village” . We had to cross their land so we paid 16 euro for the four of us and off we trudged. Unlike yesterday Mrs. Healy is a warm and friendly person, so giving her the money felt fine. So down the track, across a stile then over a bridge and after that a barely discernible path most of the time. The ground was about half bog and half firm, but my boots from REI came through. Not even the hint of dampness inside the boot though I sank pretty deep at times. Poor Morgan and James didn’t have appropriate foot wear so they didn’t fare so well. We climbed and climbed, all the time surrounded by sheep on every side over some truly spectacular but desolate country. Once we got to the top of a ridge looking down into the valley we saw a trail marker above us and realized we’d gotten off track, so moved up to it and finally looked down into the old settlement. It sits right at the base of the mountain that forms the end of the Cummeengeera with steep cooms climbing up the mountain behind the settlement. A crazy place to live, but it turns out that one Cornilius O’Sullivan Rabach lived there and he was a real piece of work. A two time murderer who was finally captured and hung in 1831. The population ranged from 29 in 1841 to 7 in 1871 . It had to have been abandoned a long time back because all that shows are walls, no roofs, or any wooden sections that we could see from that distance. It would have been a long walk in or out and pretty meager in the best of times. We chose not to hike down into it. The going would have been tough, boggy and were fine staying where we were. Back we went reversing our steps but seeing the return of course in the opposite direction. A really beautiful sight and well worth the effort. (Rick)