Today is Don’s birthday, not sure if we’re doing anything special for it, but we’ll have to honor it in some way. Yesterday was a low key day. First one we actually had since we arrived. We worked on some new songs. James is singing the lead on Handsome Cabin Boy, he and I are sharing vocals on Slip Jigs and Reels and Don’s got the lead on Across The Western Ocean. We pulled them together, in the rough, pretty quickly. As James observed we’re getting very economical in our arranging and practicing, which is quite true. We’ll have at least two of the three ready for our performance in Clarinbridge.
We headed into Castlebar late afternoon to check out restaurants to take Padraig and Els to as well as just to walk around. It’s a fairly large city in transition. You can tell it was more of a bustling town at one time but the 2008 crash took parts of it down pretty hard. I had an interesting exchange with a man across the road from where we are staying. We’ve been watching him and others working on an impressive wall that runs parallel to the road and surrounds a good sized meadow that we’ve seen sheep grazing in. The thing is, it’s a very elaborate and seemingly expensive wall for one field and we didn’t understand why anyone would go to that much trouble and expense! The main wall is cement block, nicely laid and then faced with native stone that is being recycled from the old wall that runs about 6′ closer to the road. I saw one man working on it so I walked across and put the question to him, “Why would anyone spend that much labor on money on a wall around a paddock”? His answer was “Cause he’s mad”! I chuckled with him and he continued, “It’s either him or me that’s mad…….I’m the owner”. That took me aback and I was afraid I’d put my foot in it, but he wasn’t offended. He explained that the City Council was paying him to do it. There was no foot path for people to walk on, it’s a very narrow road with a lot of cars and trucks that travel it. So now it makes sense. I spoke to him then about the area and how we’d noticed that the town had the appearance of having been more prosperous .He told me that Castlebar and most of Ireland for that matter is suffering from another diaspora of the young having to leave the country for work. It’s not nearly as vibrant as it used to be.
Padraig and Els called and wanted us to meet them at a garage down the road closer to Westport. We thought it was going to be a nature walk but it was a famine graveyard in Islandeady. There are thousands and thousands of unmarked graves in the midst of an older graveyard and it’s a sad feeling to think of all those who died that way. Padraig told us that in the height of the famine between 1843-45 in county Mayo 1000 people died every day. The population before the famine was approx. 8.5 million after the famine and subsequent emigration to the USA and Canada the population sank to 3 million. It’s now a little over 4 million and is the only country in Europe whose population is less than it was 150 years ago. The island was awash in food by the way; it was all being exported. Native Irish were treated no better than the new American Republic treated its native population. Human beings have this capacity to dehumanize one another, and it’s a trait that I just don’t understand. I find it repellant and pray we can as a species rise above it, but I don’t think it will be anytime soon. Once you look into the eyes of another and listen to their story it’s nearly impossible to ignore the commonality we share in the joy and suffering of our human experience.
We took Padraig and Els to Bar One a nice pub and restaurant and had a great time sharing stories listening to Els and Padraig tell Barney stories and generally great craic. After the meal we repaired to McCarthy’s Pub to have a pint or two, or three and met with a young man named Brendan who is the second cousin of a woman who works with James. Turns out he’s a great guy full of wonderful stories (of course he – is he’s Irish) and we had a wonderful time bouncing between conversations with Padraig and Els, and Brendan and had a wonderful evening. Brendan told us to let him know the next time we’re over and he’ll get together with us. Once you start to make connections over here the networking is amazing. This second trip our network has increased many fold. Today we went to the McGings to play tunes for Maggie’s mother Kathleen. We had a nice lunch, great conversation and then repaired to Molloy’s for a last pint with Padraig, Els and John Deery. Called my beautiful partner Ally on Face Time and she was able to meet our wonderful Westport friends. We were in high spirits when I called and Ally seemed to enjoy the banter. It was great to see her and speak. This is our last day in Westport for tomorrow we’re off to Drumshanbo in County Leitrim. Tonight we’re going to Grainne Uaile pub for a session with Julie Langan and Tom Doherty. We’re hoping that Brian Lennon will be there, but believe he’s out of town. The session will be great regardless as long as Julie and Tom are there.