Return To Boul Biddies

We got to Boul Biddies at half ten (10:30), yes sessions begin rather late, hey we’re talking musician’s hours! Anyway…..we were delighted to see Johnny Fagin, whom we met here our last trip. The session was great. Lots of energy and fun with songs added by locals out to have a pint and social connection. I believe I wrote about this on the last trip but it bears stating again. The Irish pub is not about hanging out at the bar and pounding down pints, although pints are imbibed. The drink certainly lubricates the tongue but it’s not about working to get drunk either.

The Irish pub is a well lit meeting space for friends to meet and catch up, to express joy or sorrow amongst peers or to sing an old or new song and dance steps to a tune that inspires the body to move. I’m sure there are some pubs that are more like some American bars, where people stare into their drinks avoiding one another but I’ve not been in one yet. The other feature is that alcohol does loosen the tongue but does not slow the wits, if anything it sharpens the Irish sense of humor and you’d better be able to take a little wry observation about yourself or you won’t have a good time. A perfect example is one on me. I fell to talking with a very friendly gentleman who was working on his drink and as the evening wore on he sensed that I was a patient listener, so I became the object of his attentions. Later on he was well in his cups and became difficult to avoid, not that I was trying, I liked him as he was a good fellow, but I did want a moment to connect with some others. As we were packing up, again at 2:00 am, Johnny looks at me and says with a sly expression; “you are the master of your own fate “. I looked at him and said; ” and you gave me just enough rope to hang myself “, ” that I did ” he replied, and then we both burst out laughing. Everyone in the bar knew this gentleman and his tendency and watched how I dealt with him. If I needed them they would have helped, but only if I was in real difficulty. Drink sharpens the Irish sense of irony, not dulls it. If you can’t laugh at yourself you’re in trouble.

Standing outside to cool off between sets brought fresh conversations with patrons. Derrick who is the partner of a woman we met at the radio station earlier noted that he’d heard that we were self conscious about playing the music we didn’t grow up with but he assures us that they love our take on it, that he finds it truly entertaining and fresh. He encourages us to keep at it and not feel apologetic. Maria joined in with her observations about pipers and how on average they are the most unsocial people imaginable. They just sit in a corner bent over the pipes ignorin’ everyone. Her partner John she notes would be happiest if he could never speak with anyone and just ask for food. Now we know that’s not true, we love John and he can be quite social, but this is Maria being Maria and once she’s into the story………well she’s telling the story, so just sit back and listen. She continues; (in paraphrase) so they just sit there bent over their pipes ignorin’ everyone. Their the most cantankerous unsocial bastards! I never have to worry about John with another woman, no with John it’s the feckin’ pipes he’s devoted to. “Ya know what the definition of a true gentleman is?” she asks, I shake my head no. “A true gentleman is one who can play the pipes and doesn’t!” At that we burst out laughing. Maria is an absolute gem. A master of the tale. So full of wit and style and we’re so lucky to have met her and John two years ago. I feel blessed that she cares for us not only because she knows everyone to know in Westport but because to have Maria smile on you is a ray of sun in an often sunless place.

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 toCĂșil 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)