Hammy Hamilton and the piping cheesemaker aka Hammy and Cheese

Our third day in Kerry (yesterday was an interesting day, but mostly for me because I wanted to drive to Dursey Island, whence come Bridget’s paternal grandmother’s family, the Healys; more on that anon) started with a long walk for Morgan and I up to a stone circle about two miles away, then a drive toCúil Aodha, charmingly pronounced ‘coolea’, to meet Hammy Hamilton, a maker of very fine flutes. Jack has an old English flute that needs some repairs, and Hammy does repairs as well. We had a great time chatting with him about different kinds of wood and so forth, and then drove back to Luraugh to make dinner. We stopped in Kenmare to buy victuals, and it turns out the Poor Claires came from there. It’s also famous for lace and very touristy. Anyway, on the way home we noticed a yellow sign that said ‘cheese’, so we bounced down a very, very narrow, lane over hill and dale to find a small farm where a bearded, tie-died t-shirt wearing chap from Lancashire (think Wallace) who sold us a very fine blue cheese, his Bearra blue, and some Gouda style cheese. We mentioned that we are musicians, and he revealed that he has a full set of C pipes by a famous maker who lives in France (anyone?) that he wants to sell. Not too sure about a C set, and I’m not sure which child I’d sell to afford to pay for them. Still, serendipity or what? Then back to O’Sullivan’s for a few tunes and free pints courtesy of Helen Moriarty, the landlady. This time only the locals were there, a table of six older chaps playing a marathon game of whist and an old guy at the bar practicing being a rock. They didn’t pay any attention to the music until we sang a couple of songs, which were greeted with ‘lovely job, lads’ and ‘mighty!’ You get the impression that most folk barely tolerate the dance tunes, as a sort of necessary evil between songs. Mind you, at one point I suggested that we all take turns starting polkas until we ran out, which was actually less fun than you mighty imagine, but the locals did tap their feet along to that…So about those Healeys: You can see why they left Dursey, a godforsaken rock at the end of peninsula connected to the mainland now by a cablecar, and separated from it by a quarter-mile channel of boiling sea that seemed to be flowing in three directions. It would easily take an hour to row across that, and then as Jack pointed out, you’d be on Dursey! I’m hard pushed to imagine what in God’s name people would find there other than complete isolation from the rest of humanity. On our walk, Morgan and I passed the local post office in Lauragh and I wanted to buy a few postcards. Outside the PO was a van which said ‘Sean Healey, construction’ so I found the guy and asked him if he was Sean Healey. He goes, ‘No, he’s not here,’ so we started talking and I explained about the Healeys who had moved to the states, and so forth. After a while, he relaxed and admitted to being Sean himself, grand-nephew of Kathleen Healey or whatever. I figure he must have been wondering who was asking… (James)

Today was a fun day. Don and I made oatmeal for breakfast and enjoyed that. Jack called Hammy Hamilton and we took off later in the early afternoon and visited him. He lives in a little village called Cooley and has a really modest shop. His work is really beautiful and he was very kind to let us interrupt his schedule for a visit. On the way over we took a winding small road up over some hills that led to Hammy’s and passed the highest pub in Ireland. It’s called Top Of Coom but unfortunately it had burned down a couple of weeks back. A real shame it was the only pub in the area. Hammy told us that it started from a pillow that caught fire near the fireplace and somehow got into the wall and took off. Turns out that was a true disaster in several ways. To wit, the proprietors were full swing into a renovation and upgrade, it was the only pub close by the residents of Cooley ( Hammy’s village ) and several others and it was a well known musical venue. There are some famous recordings that were made there. Hammy’s shop is a very minimal space with three lathes and a mill with which he makes his tooling and a small clean room where he does all his finish work, keys and ring work. Billets of Blackwood and Mopani that were partially bored and turned as well as squared billets were lined about on shelves and on the floor. He’s a really open and generous man. He and Jack discussed the little F flute that Jack brought to see if Hammy could restore it. We chatted a bit and sensed that we were cutting into Hammy’s work schedule so said goodbye and drove back over the hill and back to Lauragh where we are staying. On the way back we turned off on a side road that was marked with a sign that said FARM CHEESE. It turned out to be several kilometers of winding single lane, or boreen, that ended in front of a decent cottage with absolutely no indications that we were in the right place! James and Don went looking and Morgan, Jack and I pulled ourselves out of the car when Morgan called us saying we would want to see this. Up some steps we climbed and into a nice sun room and there on a table were some beautiful wheels of cheese. Peter is the name of the gentlemen and it turned out he was originally from Lincolnshire, England and had been living in Ireland for decades. He’s a great guy with a wonderful sense of humor a ready smile and some outstanding cheese. He had a Gouda style and an unbelievably silky blue that he calls Bearra Blue. He’s a small producer about 1000 kilo’s a year, he’d made more in the past, but scaled down some. After questioning us about what we did and finding out that we were here for the music he mentioned to James that he had a full set of pipes in C that he was considering selling since he hadn’t played them in years. I wouldn’t say that sparks were coming off of James, but damn near. James is going to go and check them out possibly with the idea of buying them if they’re affordable. (Rick)

A Day In the Sun and The Festival At Allihies

Time to catch up. Yesterday was a changeable day as far as weather went. Windy, cloudy then sunny, then windy, cloudy, etc. into which we sallied forth. We headed to a lake that Morgan had stayed near years back called Glanmore. It’s just up the road from us and it proved to be a picturesque lake surrounded by hills and small mountains of such character. Much of the geology in these parts is sedimentary strata that is all folded and twisted into hills, mountains and beautiful valleys and Coombs. We took lots of photos and one band shot with us in front of a beautiful little boat house.

Then we took off for a park we’d seen called Gleninchiquin. We drove quite a few kilometers in on a narrow little road only to find out that it cost 5 euro per person to get in and that it isn’t a public space but private. As soon as we got into the parking area the proprietor came over and inquired as to our intentions and James put on his diplomat hat and told him we were lost and looking for a farmer who sold cheese, which was partly true, but James was right in knowing that telling him we didn’t want to spend the money would have been insensitive. We understand that everyone here is scrambling for a living. We have a running joke going that since the O’Shea’s up the road told us about the park they all are colluding and so if we tore out our undercarriage on the road to the park we’d find O’Shea body works to fix it or O’Shea towing to get us! Not true at all, but it was a good story. James stayed with the story about cheese and the park owner gave him directions back to where we wanted to go and we left him with the impression that we might be back. So off to get more cheese, driving back to Peter’s on the tiny rutted lane only to make a turn and find a bunch of hikers lying in the road getting some sun. We indicated that we were turning right and not to get up and they smiled and waved. We headed up to Peters place to be greeted at the bottom of the drive by a German who was part of the hikers telling us that Peter wasn’t there.

Damn! We wanted more cheese and James wanted to try the C set of pipes out.

We took a short hike up the hill hoping he’d come back while we were there, but nope, no Peter. So back to Lauragh and the cottage. We grabbed naps knowing that we would be up late for the festival in Allihies and once we were all up we practiced some tunes, made dinner and headed to Allihies. I was under the impression that with all the posters we’d seen that the place would be jammed, but when we stepped inside Jimmy’s Bar we were the first there. Martin Quinn, John Rynne and Laura Ugur were scheduled to play at 9:30 it was 8:45 where was everyone? Jimmy asked about us and we filled him in. “Where you from?” says he. “We’re from Washington” say we, “Ah D.C.” says he, no “Washington State” say we, “so, are you lost?” says he. God, the Irish have a wicked sense of humour. All good natured though. So we ordered pints and hung out waiting. Finally Martin comes in and orders a pint and then Laura and finally John. It’s all so casual that it hardly seems like a show, but it turns out it isn’t a show, just some phenomenal players sitting in a pub playing tunes. People are sitting cheek to jowl with them, putting drinks on their table pulling out instruments and playing along. A little different than the states! The music was great. John is this larger than life character, a huge personality and a jokester. Morgan and James met him outside for a smoke and some of the conversation as reported was hysterical. When finding out that James played flute he told him to join in. James demurred and John told him no he could join in and if he wasn’t any good he’d tell him so and he could put it back in the case! I think he was only half joking. When asking Morgan for his pedigree Morgan mentioned the Irish player who led the session that he used to attend in S.F. in the 70’s and John, recognizing the name said that oh you must be pretty good then cause he would have thrown you out if you were a wanker, or words to that effect. Great stuff. But John also has an obvious ego, a very large one and as James puts it, not the guy to walk into a room and be second to anyone in it.

Morgan heard an exchange between Martin and John that consisted of John suggesting a waltz, Martin making a face and suggesting a hornpipe and John dissing that and telling Martin that hornpipes are for wankers and homosexuals. When Martin compromises and suggests jigs instead John says that Martin’s jigs all sound like waltzes anyway. Whew!!

Anyway they played on and asked Morgan to join in and he did, but had to sit out quite a few tunes either because he didn’t know them or they were so ripping fast. That’s the level they played at. At one point James and I were standing in this little smoking area out beside the bar and John joined us. Joking about how he used to get distracted by the women at gigs and then he told us a joke that I can’t include here. Sorry. It was really good though. It was getting late so we left and found a woman with a chips stand and as we waited for our order met a properly pissed trio standing with us. They were damn funny and as Morgan observed drunkenness doesn’t seem to blunt the Irish wit. I overheard them discussing the austerity vote and I was curious. We’d been seeing signs on poles up and down the west coast saying vote no to the austerity program. They were put up by Seinn Fein. Apparently the vote passed, so only time will tell its effect. As our drunken friend put it, it’s like having your *&%$ cut off, and one of them stated that the country was sold out. I have to admit I agree with the sentiment and I’m waiting for the robber barons back home to pull a similar stunt at some point.