The Banshee House

So, here the story takes a turn. We’d rented a house up in Cullen, not far from Rathmore, in the heart of Sliabh Luachra.. This area is where many famous box players come from including Jackie Daly. It’s also the region that polkas and slides come from. We were also close to Kenmare and Kilgarvan where we’d played a great session our first trip in 2012. We found the house in Cullen and  the owner Tony greeted us and seemed a nice fellow. One weird thing: as we were unloading our instruments and bags from the car, he asked: “Do you play music?” We said we did, and he said, rather enigmatically: “Oh, they’ll like that.”

The photos on Imagine Ireland made it look really nice, and from the outside it does but once inside the place we realized we’d made a mistake. The house is an old stone structure, like many in Ireland, but it was apparent it had been allowed to fall in disrepair and then rather hastily brought back from the brink on a shoestring. One of three toilets didn’t work, one upstairs shower leaked into the kitchen below, less than half the light bulbs worked, there was no thermostat, so the heat was uncontrollable and dodgy at best, and the bedrooms smelled redolent of something……… unknown. There was a wood/ coal stove in the kitchen that had a rotted pipe and leaky doors, the chimney rained coal soot down onto the hearth, the firewood was damp and there was not enough coal, which was the only real heat we could gather around. Morgan and I scoped out the kitchen and concluded there wasn’t much to work with in the way of pans, but we’d make due. 

We drove down to Mulcroon, a fairly large town to see if we could get any clues for possible sessions. We went to a tea shop called Lynch’s and had some coffee and scones. The owner suggested we see if we can find Jim Murray, who owns a furniture store just down the street. Jim tours with Sharon 

Shannon who’s a really big name artist, she tours a lot, has recorded with many musical artists from every kind of musical style. She very smartly learned how to giver her music broad appeal and has done well for herself and her bands. We walked down the street found the signs for Jim Murray’s new and used furniture, made an inquiry was told he was next door and found him laying on the floor of his shop trying to get a reclining sofa to work. Turns out Jim hasn’t a pretentious bone in his body, shakes hands all around and is willing to share a few minutes with fellow musicians. He’s thinking of possible sessions for us when a friend of his walks by and Jim calls him over to see what he knows. Jim calls one fellow, no answer, tries a number suggested by his friend reaches him, listens and suggests a session that night at Sullivan’s in Kilgarvan. Of course we know Kilgarvan we were in a great session there our first trip in 2012. With that knowledge we headed back to home base.

Morgan made a nice dinner and we took off. 

We got to Sullivan’s Pub ordered some pints and waited for the musicians to show up. The fiddle player Noreen showed up as well as Ann on flute and whistles, whom we’d met at O’Reilly’s in 2012. They remembered us as we did them. Eamonn, who we’d also met in 2012 showed up with his box, but so did about 15 French players who’d been at a big Fleadh (festival) in Kenmare the week earlier and we’d left our instruments in the car. There were so many fiddles that Morgan didn’t see a reason to add his. There was a fine French piper and they were all skilled players, but it left us feeling like third wheels, so we drank our pints and split. Bit of a disappointment, but like Noreen said after we told her about the house session at Hugh’s, “well I don’t feel too sorry for ye”. She was envious of us having that session, she knew of Hugh and had played with Richie. We bid goodnight, they invited us to a session the following night in Kenmare, which we didn’t get to and here’s why.

After spending an uncomfortable night’s sleep, during which we all had vivid and disturbing dreams, we woke up and met in the kitchen, looked at one another and said, “lets get the hell out of here!” If there’d been a couple little things wrong we could’ve hung in there, but it was just too uncomfortable. The place creeped us out. James and Morgan made a list of all the things that were unacceptable and James called the owners and worked out the details for a refund of the days not spent. We wanted to stop by Inch, Dingle and say hello to Fidelis and John Foley. We had some great times there last trip, so James called and reached Fidelis and asked if they had accommodations. She assured him they did, so we broke camp, it did feel nearly like camping in Cullen, and headed north to Dingle. We arrived at Foley’s early evening and were told Fidelis was cooking (she’s a culinary wizard) and that John was up at the house, so make ourselves comfortable. We ordered pints of Murphy’s warmed ourselves at the beautiful little fire John had made and a few minutes later were seated for dinner. The dinner was great, all of us spoke very little and ate with a relish.

Fidelis sat down with us as her cooking duties were done for a bit and caught up with us. She assured us their daughter Katie was very happy to hear we were there. She was just finishing secondary school in 2014 and sat in with us playing her box (2 row button accordion). She’s a great kid and we’d told her then to keep playing, she’d kind of given it up at one point and was just taking it back up when we first met. 

Fidelis took us upstairs to show us our rooms which were perfect, and after our stay in Cullen looked princely. James asked her what the rates were and she told us that she and John had decided the rooms were on them and there was “to be no discussion and we’ll not be arguin’ about it”. We’d known them less than a week in 2014 and they wouldn’t let us pay for the rooms! In Ireland friends are FRIENDS! Such generosity of spirit and welcoming hearts. Family and friends are paramount and having fun, enjoying life, no matter your circumstances, rates high. This is our third trip and we have people I consider extension of family. I care about them as they do us. Westport, Co. Mayo, to Kilcrohane, Co. Cork, there are people, some we’ve known for 6 years and some just met. Frank O’Mahony, and Wayne Sheehy, Eileen Fitzgerald, Siobhan, whose birthday party we played at and her friends who were there, all those we’ve just met, I know that when we next meet they’ll greet us like old friends and it won’t be insincere. Anyway I digress.

After dinner we went down to the pub, which I can honestly say is one of my favorites. Foley’s Bar has been 5 generations in the same family, it feels homey, warm, snug, welcoming. The space is approx. 10′ X 30′ with a full length bar, the back counter full of knick knacks and bric-brac, old photos, Guiness posters from way back, advertisements, glasses it’s wonderful. I’ll try to include a photo so you can get the feel of it. When you get people in it, well it gets very cozy. We started playing tunes and in walks Katie, all grown up.

Now she’s in college and so much more self assured and she’s playing regularly in Cork and has really become a fine player. Two years can make such a difference. The tunes started spinning, the pints flowing and soon it was 12:30. I’ve been feeling a bit coldish, and thought I’d best get some sleep. Don followed not far behind me, As for Morgan and James I’ll let them describe the rest of the evening. 


At the start, there was a young French lad in a beret (!) who had an accordion as well, and I asked him if he wanted to join in, which he did, “Mais tres doucement!” (but really slowly!), and he wasn’t joking. Very solid, but very slow. This was a nice counterpoint to Katie’s driving, confident playing, which really has come along in leaps and bounds. She’s hoping to get a gig in Florida playing the music, and we really wish her the very best. Katie’s friends Des and Aidan were drinking at the bar but Des soon joined in with his guitar and his huge, ragged voice, both of which he used to great effect on trad tunes and modern songs alike (think the Pogues). He is a very talented player – very different approach from Rick and with an energy that hints of long days bottled up in the engine room of the ship on which he works as an engineer. One particularly memorable moment was when Katie, Morgan, and I were ripping through some reels and I called for “Devanny’s Goat”, a twisty but fun reel in D. Des dutifully slipped into key but you could tell he was restless – at one point his accompaniment was closer to “Wipeout” than anything we’ve ever heard a trad guitarist do, and I just couldn’t hold it together, bursting out laughing mid-tune. At the end Des apologized, not terribly repentantly: “Listen, when you have to play in D for that long, you have to keep yourself entertained!” 

After about 1:30, the parents went to bed and Katie barred the door. This meant that the smokers would have to step outside, but when we tried to, she said “No, no, you can smoke in here – I’ve made you an ashtray,” which she had, out of a beer mat with folded-up edges. “But I thought you can’t smoke in pubs in Ireland,” I said. “That’s true,” replied Aidan, but you see, it’s a double negative: we aren’t allowed to be in the pub at all at this hour, so the smoking cancels it out!”

The evening ended with a lot of songs – James Taylor, the Beatles, Molly Malone (requested by the French lad!) – and finally at 3:00 am Morgan and I decided to head off to bed.