An evening with Hugh Quinn

Today we journeyed south to Skibereen. We first went a little further south to Leap and then on to Drombeg stone circle. We wanted to see it, since we used a photo of it on out recent album cover. We took some photos of us standing in the well next to the circle. A cold wind was blowing and by the time we finished at Drombeg we were half numb. We went then to Skibereen and knocked about, and had dinner at a Chinese restaurant. The real reason that we were hanging out in Skibereen was to meet a gentleman named Hugh Quinn and another fiddler named Richie Tisdall. Our good friend up in Newport, Gary Leahy, grew up in Skibereen and Hugh and his wife have known him since he was a youngster, so Gary contacted Hugh and he graciously invited us into his home to play tunes. 

When we arrived we found Hugh, his wife Nancy, Richie, and also Hugh’s grandson Eoin. Eoin is 18, finishing his secondary  education. We’ve spoken between ourselves about how lucky we are to have this opportunity. Here we are 4 musicians walking into the home of a complete stranger and there’s an instant connection. Hugh has us sit and Nancy has prepared tea in advance. After tea and introductions he asked us to play something. He worked his way around the circle asking each of us to start a tune. They’d join in when there was a tune they knew. Before long we were playing like we’d known one another for longer than a few minutes. Eoin blew us away at how accomplished he is on the pipes, he began when he was 12 and at 18 is becoming quite proficient. They are a very difficult instrument to master and he’s well on his way. Hugh gifted Eoin his set of Leo Rowsome pipes. Richie told us that Hugh was ready to stop playing a full set of pipes and gave them to Eoin, telling him “I think they’re in good hands now”. Leo’s pipes are incredible sounding, beautifully made and highly prized since most of them were made before 1960.  To put it in perspective they’re prized like a fine violin in classical music or a prized pre-war Martin guitar. A touching gift from grandfather to grandson. Eoin was telling me that he wanted to send his pipes to The States to a man who really knows how to restore them properly, but he was reluctant to send them. I asked him if he was aware of the penalties that the USA had imposed on anything going through customs that contained ivory. All the decorative turned rings on Leo’s pipes are ivory. He didn’t know about it. I told him to be careful, that they could easily be confiscated and he might not see them again. At this point he’s better off never taking them out of Ireland. The laws are at this point are blunt, stupid and enforced indiscriminately. 

Hugh’s in his latter 70’s now and plays a simple pipe, just the bag and chanter, but he’s still a very fine player and does he know the tunes! As the evening went on Hugh got better and better, he was on a roll and we’re pretty sure he would have played us into the ground. We love Hornpipes and Hugh knew some great ones. I recorded the session so we have material to work on. Eoin told us that he went to a festival with his grandfather. He went to bed at 12:00 and Hugh came in at 6:00 am. Hugh must have been a mighty session player in his younger days. We took a break and found that Nancy had prepared a table full of soda bread with smoked salmon and other sandwiches and a home made apple tart. That’s the kind of welcome strangers get in Ireland, at least in the West country. We had a great time We started playing at 7:30 and didn’t finish until 12:30. In that time we shared laughs, music and a camaraderie that comes from a common love and enjoyment of music. Great fun, good hearts, what a great evening! Hugh’s last words to us were “God willing we meet again”.