The session at Grainne Uaile was everything we hoped it would be. Julie on fiddle and Tom on box (two row button small accordion), Eileen on piano accordion (but a nice one, says James) Maria on Bouzouki, John McHugh on fiddle, another Pádraig on banjo and several others and the four of us. Great fun and excellent playing. Tom, Julie and Maria remembered us from two years back, which was gratifying. John and Maggie McGing, along with Maggie’s mam, Kathleen, Maria and John’s brother Dan came over from Westport to enjoy the tunes as well.
We got back after 2:00 am and had to get up early to be out of Castlebar digs by 9:00 am. My iPhone alarm woke me at 8:00 and as unobtrusive as the alert is I found it really disturbing. Not enough sleep for any of us. We drove northeast out of Castlebar toward Dublin and are now in Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim. Lovely area of rolling hills, lakes and streams and the clouds have pulled away to reveal a robin’s egg blue sky. We drove through Carrick on Shannon and found Liam Cryon’s pub and he has 3 sessions a week, one of them tomorrow night, and just up the road from us there is a hotel that’s supposed to have a session on Sunday night, so prospects for tunes look great. (Later that day) It appears from the posters dotted about town that most of the music in Pubs here in Drumshanbo are gigs. We know how that goes after all, our night at Hills back home is just that, so we’re not going to go crashing in. Liam’s in Carrick on Shannon though is advertised as a session and features no one’s name, so I believe that’s where we’ll be off to this evening. We walked into the town of Drumshanbo and it’s a pretty little village and quite prosperous; very different from Castlebar. There appears to be a healthy tourist trade and we’ve been told it’s a mecca for fishing and they have a big music festival here each summer.
We saw a poster in the window of a shop advertising The Leitrim Equation, which is the title of an album I have in my collection, but they’d performed two days ago. Pity that. Leitrim has a very strong musical tradition and the Arts Council has had both Lunasa, and Dervish come to Leitrim and do a CD featuring tunes from the area and then a second CD performing with local musicians. I have the one featuring Lunasa and it’s a gem. I’m going to look to find the one with Dervish, who are from Sligo while here since I’ve had no luck finding it back home.
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.