I wake up at John and Maria’s around 10:30. John’s already taken off for work and everyone else is still asleep. So I type up the previous days activities and get my bearings. It’s hard work enjoying yourself; playing music til’ the wee hours, but what the heck, somebodies got to do it! So after having a nice breakfast at the McGing’s we hopped in the car and came back to Castlebar. After I went to bed at 3:00 am James and Morgan stayed on with Maria, Maggie Kelleen, and John and Maggie McGing and kept at it until 4:30. That’s some serious partying. Their stamina is impressive and I’d say it puts them in the professional category. So we all come back and everyone but me hops into bed for a nap.
After naps we get ourselves together to visit Mick Mulcrone and his wife Mary. They moved over here from the States about 15 years ago. Mick was a professor of media studies at Portland State and retired. By his last name you can tell he is of Irish heritage and the home that they renovated had once been in his family and had come up for sale, so it’s now in the family once again. Its a very nice old stone cottage that had fallen into real disrepair and Mick and Mary have put a tremendous amount of work into it and it’s now a beautiful, tidy and cozy place. Mick says they never stop working on it but it certainly looks to me like it’s worth the effort. Mick is also a fine musician on both flute and bouzouki and a fine singer as well. He has a nice tenor voice that cuts right through the noise of a pub. Gary Leahy joined us so we met at his place and followed him over to Mick and Mary’s. Padraig and Els were there when we arrived, so good company all around. It was nice to play tunes with friends in a relaxed environment.
While we were there Gary got a call from Julie Langan to tell us she would be at Grainne Uaille this Thursday night for the normal session. We love Julie and really wanted to sit in with her and Tom Doherty again. Julie just had twin babies and they’ve been in hospital because of low birth weight, so it wasn’t a certainty that she’d be there, but the babies aren’t going to be released before Thursday, so our good fortune. We’re going to put off our drive to our next stay in Drumshanbo, county Leitrim until Friday and stay and extra day so we can play with Julie and company. After enjoying Mick and Mary’s hospitality we drove into Westport to meet at Matt Molloy’s and see if we were going to sit in another session with Matt. The pub was packed, which seems to be its normal state; from observation it has to consistently be the busiest pub in Westport.
We ordered pints and a little later Maria and Maggie McGing arrived. Maria handed me my down vest that I’d left at her and John’s and as I was putting it on I felt something in the left hand pocket. I put my hand in and found a silvered paper box and looked inside. There was a beautiful silver pin. I’d told
Maria I wanted her help and asked if she’d help me find a nice silver pin to put on my beret, so she and Maggie McGing found a beautiful pin that represents the children of Lir, an ancient tale in which an evil queen transforms the children of King Lir into four white swans. It’s a beautiful pin and was such a touching and generous gesture. I’m going to have to be careful and not wish out loud for fear of initiating more gift giving. What wonderful friends we’ve made and what lucky men we are!
Matt arrived a little later and took one look at the size of the session and begged off. Matt’s well into his 70’s and prefers some quiet to a busy, noisy space. We understand. He’s been on the road as a professional musician since the early 1970’s. He’s earned his time to call his preferences. He asked us if we’d come back this evening for a quieter session, but then heard through Maria ( she’s a good friend of Matt’s ) that he had said that because he didn’t want to disappoint us. We asked Maria to let Matt know that we were honored to play with him the night before and had no desire to impose. We were grateful for the time spent with him. He’s a real gentleman! Instead of playing at Molloy’s we walked across the small alley to The Porter House just next door and sat in with Mick Mulcrone and John Deery for an impromptu session which was low key, relaxing and great fun. Also present was a fine gentleman named Paul whom we’d met at McGing’s two years ago playing box. He has a fine baritone and sings wonderful songs as well. Tonight we’re going to take Els and Padraig out for dinner and then try out a session here in Castlebar that we were told about at McCarthy’s pub. More on that later.
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”.
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.
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.