Monthly Archives: June 2014

Spancil Hill – “It being the 23rd of June”

Yesterday I found myself at the Cross of Spancil Hill. I wasn’t dreaming and I wasn’t in California. Look all you like and you won’t see a Cross, which I always imagined in my mind’s eye as I sung the song that made the place famous. In Ireland, as I soon discovered, ‘crossroads’ are simply called a ‘cross’ and it just refers to this.

The Fair at the Cross of Spancil Hill was one of the most important in Ireland during the 1800s and was of course made famous by Michael Considine’s wonderful song which referred to above. It still is one of Ireland’s largest horse fairs. Have a listen to the full version sung by Robbie McMahon.

Differs considerably to that made popular by the Dubliners.

It is like stepping back to an older Ireland way before the Celtic Tiger pounced and even before the motor car. A world of horses, donkeys and chickens, of blackthorn sticks and buggys. There are obvious changes of course with everyone seemingly on the end of a mobile phone and burgers and curry chips the standard fare at the Fair.

I had been warned by numerous people to watch out because of the travelling people but I didn’t have any problems. Not that I would recognise one from us ‘stationary’ people.

The original song has the following verse.
“It being on the twenty third of June, the day before the fair,
Sure Erin’s sons and daughters, they all assembled there.
The young, the old, the stout and the bold, they came to sport and kill,
What a curious combination, at the Fair of Spancilhill. “

There seems some confusion as to the date but the fair is always on the 23rd unless it is a Sunday in which case it is the next day. Hence the “day before the fair” as the song relates event that occurred on the sabbath.

I’ve attached some photos which I hope capture a bit of the “curious combination at the Fair of Spancilhill”.

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Categories: Real Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

House Session at Kilmaley

I was invited to a House Session last night at Patsy O’Grady’s house near Kilmaley on the night of the 23rd June, After some difficulty finding the place we arrived to a roaring bonfire celebrating the Summer solstice and St Johns day. A few of my new friends were there (Thierry, Fu, Geraldine, Liam Lewis) and I was warmly welcomed by the host and his family. We soon moved inside into a renovated cow shed and played some tunes. It was the most luxurious cow shed I have ever played in! The sound was fantastic. Pipes, bouzouki, box, concertina, banjo and six fiddles. Who could ask for more?

There was some lovely sean nos dancing from Suzanne Leahy and some sets as well. It was a brilliant night and it seemed to me to be a bit of an insight into what being Irish means in this part of the world, harking back to a tradition of music in the house that seems to be nearly gone. It was so nice to play outside a pub with an attentive audience, lovely food, dancing and time for conversation.

Thanks Patsy. And thanks Trish for inviting me.

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Categories: Sessions, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Burren

I just love the Burren – maybe even my favourite place on earth.  It is a limestone plateau in the north west of Clare comprising an amazing and varied landscape with a unique scientific and cultural stamp that sets it apart from anywhere else.  As a geologist in my former life I can appreciate the insight into geological process involved with limestone deposition and karst weathering that are usually not seen due to climatic and geological impediments or the impact of man.  I won’t go into the detail here but it is worth chasing up on google as the geological history is fascinating (well to me anyway)

The Burren is a remarkable terrain and it is amazing how farmers eke out a living in such a place.  I love the hostile beauty of its rocky pavements and the jagged cracks and crevices (grikes and clints) and where tiny plants hang on to a precarious existence.  I love the intricate patterns (fluting and rinnenkarren) caused by the slightly acid water etching the exposed rock or the ripple marks caused by the lapping waters of an ancient sea, 320 million years ago or the trace fossils left on the sea floor by some antediluvian worm.  It is hard not to be in awe of the power of the massive glacier that ripped off the overlying cover rocks and created this majestic landscape 10,000 years ago, evidenced by giant erratics deposited from the melted ice. I love the human heritage going back to Megalithic times 5,000 years ago wth the area dotted with tombs, dolmen, ring forts and other archaeological sites to the stone walls of today marking the boundary of one seemingly useless barren field from his neighbours.

I have been there three times so far on this trip and seen its various moods and I have no doubt I will go there many more times but I thought I would post some images that hopefully capture something of the place.

Poulnarbrone Dolmen.  The Burren

Poulnarbrone Dolmen. The Burren

Poulnarbrone Dolmen.  The Burren

Poulnarbrone Dolmen. The Burren

Poulnarbrone Dolmen.  The Burren

Poulnarbrone Dolmen. The Burren

Poulnarbrone Dolmen.  The Burren.  Clints and Grikes in the foreground

Poulnarbrone Dolmen. The Burren. Clints and Grikes in the foreground

The Burren.  Flowering plant

The Burren. Flowering plant

The Burren.  Flowering plant

The Burren. Flowering plant

The Burren.  Fine spiders web on flowering bush

The Burren. Fine spiders web on flowering bush

Poulnarbrone Dolmen.  The Burren

Poulnarbrone Dolmen. The Burren

The Burren.  Stone fence

The Burren. Stone fence

The Burren.  Flowering plant growing in grike.

The Burren. Flowering plant growing in grike.

Limestone pavement with clints and grikes.

Limestone pavement with clints and grikes.

Limestone pavement. The Burren

Limestone pavement. The Burren

The Burren.

The Burren.

The Burren.  Cottage near Mullaghmore.

The Burren. Cottage near Mullaghmore.

The Burren.  Stone fences.

The Burren. Stone fences.

The Burren.  Fern growing in rinnenkarren near Fanore.

The Burren. Fern growing in rinnenkarren near Fanore.

Driving into the Burren

Driving into the Burren

The Burren

The Burren

The Burren. Dry stone wall

The Burren. Dry stone wall

The Burren.  Looking towards Mullaghmore.

The Burren. Looking towards Mullaghmore.

Rural landscape.  THe Burren

The Burren. Fern growing within rillenkarren.

Categories: Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Night at Gus O’Connor’s Doolin

Today was one of those days that are not supposed to happen in Ireland. The temperature reached 27 degrees in Ennis with clear blue skies. The country went a little crazy – wherever you looked you were dazzled with displays of white skin with guys taking their t shirts off and girls wearing skimpy shorts that clearly don’t get much use.

That evening I decided to drive the half hour to Doolin to sample again the session at Gus O’Connor’s. I have written a lot about Sessions but this one is different. For the most part the sessions in Ennis are ignored by the punters who just talk louder so they hear themselves over the top of the music. Or the pub might be nearly empty and silent with people politely applauding after every number. At Doolin,  O’Connor’s is always chock a block with tourists. The pub does a roaring trade on the back of Doolin’s reputation for trad music. I had been reluctant to go there because of the perception that the ‘real’ Doolin had gone but I thought I’d give it another go.

It was Noel O’Donoghue on flute and Seanie Vaughan on box with Brian Mooney on bouzouki. It didn’t get off to that good a start when Noel whispered across to me that they were in Eb and he suggested I retune the fiddle. I had never done this before and it took a while as they got sick of waiting for me to and started playing. Eventually sorted and I could join in. The music was great – fast and tight. Then Ted McCormack (who seems to be a regular) arrived and sang a few songs. I got chatting to a family from Virginia, Mike and his three daughters (Kate Jenny and Ciara) here in Ireland for nine weeks. They come every two years and have been since the girls were babies. Lucky girls!  Seanie persuaded Mike to sing a song and he did an excellent rendition of Bold Thady Quill after which his eldest daughter Kate sang Spancil Hill. Takes courage to get up in front of a crowded pub and sing. No doubt they will take away priceless memories.  This started a progression of songs from the audience including Frits from Holland, with two lovely Irish ballads, an Irish guy with Band Played Waltzing Matilda, myself with Jim Jones and Níamh from Mallow in Cork who sang Caledonia. There was a great atmosphere and the punters appeared well satisfied. I went over afterwards and had a chat with Niamh and her friend Tina They were in Doolin on holidays which was great. Irish touring Ireland. They delighted in telling me there address was Newtwopothouse Mallow (is there an Oldtwopothouse Mallow?) and Tina wasted no time in telling me I should visit Kinsale and her sister’s restaurant for a fine dining experience. They were great crack as they extolled the virtues of Cork City over Dublin and why it should be the capital of Ireland and what was wrong with Perth in Western Australia and their views on the Irish living there and anything else that came to mind. The night finished at 1.00 am and I headed home along empty roads with a giant glowing half moon sitting just above the horizon. But the night wasn’t completely over!

A few kilometres outside Ennistymon I was flagged down by a guy who said he was walking from Ennistymon to Ennis a distance of twenty something k’s. Against my better judgement I picked him up and he explained that there had been some trouble, a fight or something, in Ennistymon and the Garda had told him to get out of town. This did not sound promising.  He was trying to phone his wife who had the car and was pregnant and…yes I learnt a lot about Dylan and Siobhan in that few minutes. Eventually he made contact with her and they then proceeded to have a domestic over what he did or didn’t say to a friend at a party. The conversation was pretty intense but I could only hear one side of course.  It didn’t take much to fill in the gaps between the ‘you fecking eejit’s that filled the car .  There was then a convoluted discussion with her  about getting me to drop him at the brown house in a remote village where the drugs were and that he had the 300 euros. Now I was really concerned.  Anyway we finally we found a house he was happy to be dropped at and he disappeared into the black……I was glad to be shot of Dylan and got safely home at 2:00am. Ireland continues to surprise.

Ted McCormack singing in Gus O'Connell's at Doolin

Ted McCormack singing in Gus O’Connell’s at Doolin

Mike from Virginia singing in Gus O'Connell's at Doolin

Mike from Virginia singing in Gus O’Connell’s at Doolin

Kate from Virginia singing in Gus O'Connell's at Doolin

Kate from Virginia singing in Gus O’Connell’s at Doolin

Frits from Holland singing in Gus O'Connor's at Doolin

Frits from Holland singing in Gus O’Connor’s at Doolin

Niamh from Newtwopothouse Mallow singing in Gus O'Connell's at Doolin

Niamh from Newtwopothouse Mallow singing in Gus O’Connell’s at Doolin

Enjoying the crack with Niamh from Newtwopothouse Mallow in Cork at Doolin

Enjoying the crack with Niamh from Newtwopothouse Mallow in Cork at Doolin

Categories: Sessions, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Humours of Ennistymon Revisited


You might recall I posted last week on Ennistymon and the magical falls on the Inagh River. Well late yesterday evening I was coming home through Ennistymon again and noticed the scene had changed considerably.  What a difference a week makes.  Here is a before and after shot and a couple of other photos. It was really weird to see donkeys grazing in the Clare sunshine where last week was a raging torrent.

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Doolin Folk Festival Day 3

Final day of a fabulous three day Festival saw an enthusiastic crowd wowed by Gavin Moore, Siobhan Peoples, Murty Ryan and Pat Marsh, Lisa O’Neill, the New Road, The Unwanted, Dezi Donnelly and Mike McGoldrick, Damien Dempsey and Blackie O’Connell and friends.


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Doolin Folk Festival Day 2

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Well it just gets better! Highlights today were the talented Tommy McCarthy and Louise Costello, the delightful and inventive Twin Headed Wolf, the amazing Mick O’Brien and Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, the beautiful Whileaways, the energetic and dynamic Moxie and The Bonny Men,  the unbelievable Mairtin O’Connor, Cathal Hayden and Seamie O’Dowd, the sensational Solas, a guest appearance from Luka Bloom and the captivating and charismatic Kila.



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Doolin Folk Festival Day 1

What a fabulous line up for the first day! Here are some highlights. The wonderful songs of  Cillian King, the gorgeous Anna, Clare and Shiela of the Friel Sisters, The amazing Chris Droney with his family, the fabulous Ilis Kennedy and Pauline Scanlon who make up Lumiere, the legendary Paddy Glackin and Liam O’Flynn and the outrageous Seamus Begley and Jim Murray.  Who could ask for more!

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Categories: Festivals, Trad Irish Music | 2 Comments

Humours of Ennistymon


Cascade on the Inagh River at Ennistynmon


The Inagh River at Ennistymon


Another view of cascades on the Inagh River at Ennistymon


The Inagh River and the Falls Hotel.


Reed beds on the Inagh River at Ennistymon


Detail from the wall of a stone bridge on the Inagh River at Ennistymon


Lonely foxglove in the forest near Ennistymon


Creek near Ennistymon


Creek near Ennistymon


Foam traces of swirls and eddies in the Inagh River Ennistymon, after heavy rain


Tranquil Inagh River just below the falls at Ennistymon


Another view of the Falls at Ennistymon

Here I am in the village of Ennistymon. Or is is Ennistimon? They can’t seem to make up their minds. Most of the shops including the Post Office (who you’d think would know) spell it with a ‘y’. Pretty much all the road signs spell it with an ‘i’. This confusion about spelling of the town names in Clare is everywhere. Is it Lahinch or Lehinch, Corrofin or Corofin, Ballyvaughan or Ballyvaghan. Maybe it’s all over Ireland and not just Clare. I don’t know. I’ll report back on this another time. Anyway I digress.

The Humours of Ennistymon is one of my favourite jigs and as I say I am here in Ennistymon. There seems to be some confusion about the definition of the ‘Humours’ common in numerous tune names referring to places. I like the definition that it relates to the ‘vibe’ of a place and in particular the waters as they refer to the medieval concept of ‘humours’ or fluids, the balance of which make up life. I spent a few hours yesterday experiencing the ‘vibe’ or the ‘Humours’ of Ennistymon.

Sisters and fiddle players, who live locally, Yvonne and Caroline Casey, both independently said I must do this walk. So when there was a sufficient break in the weather I headed for Ennistymon. There had been torrential rain earlier in the day so this meant there was plenty of water flowing in the Inagh River on the banks of which the pretty town is situated.

“Just head past the bridge, through the arch and past the Falls Hotel” so that’s what I did. I was rewarded with a lovely vista as the river cascaded over giant flat steps eroded from the interbedded sandstone and shale. I followed the trail through a dripping rainforest with moss covered banks, occasional giant trees, thick lush scrub (as we would call it), some of which I recognised such as holly and ivy (they do grow together as in the song), ferns, epiphytes and flowering plants such as daisies, buttercups, lilies and foxglove. The swirling waters generated a froth which when it hit the calmer water spread out and formed thin lines which traced the eddies and swirls in the now calm river. I have not seen this before.  The river flowed gently past the Falls Hotel, a Resort and Spa Hotel built around a Georgian Mansion from the 1740s and run as an hotel since the 1930s. The forest opened out as the river entered a thick reed bed. I turned to follow a path up a tributary with its water bubbling over rocks from its source deep within the forest.

I spent hours experimenting with my Canon 5D looking for the perfect shot of, first the falls, and then the creek, taking care not to ignore the many photographic opportunities of the surrounding forest. Of course there is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ shot but I am happy enough with the results.  I have attached some of what I think are my better shots. Hope you like them.

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Cliffs of Moher


How many ways can you photograph the Eiffel Tower and make it look interesting or original? This is the problem I had the other day at the Cliffs of Moher. I had resisted going because I took lots of photos last time and wanted to avoid the crowds, but the day was fine with patches of sunshine so I headed out there one afternoon about 3.00, It was a memorable afternoon. I walked past O’Briens tower and around the cliffs towards Doolin getting perspectives that were unfamiliar.

The Cliffs are a special place.  I love the way you can walk out unrestricted onto overhanging rock platforms and stare down at the swirling ocean hundreds of feet below. Back home we would have railing fences preventing you getting near the cliff edge but here there is just an incomprehensible pictogram which seems more concerned with the welfare of the grass and the birds and the phone number of a suicide help line. I love the lush green blanket that drapes over the cliff edge sometimes going half way down the slope until the alternating bands of sandstone and shale eventually assert their dominance, And as at Loop Head sea birds nesting precariously on tiny rocky ledges where along with a dozen others they seem to have reached a harmonious arrangement. 

The light was iffy and didn’t help the photography but I stayed until 8pm. At this time I was pretty much on my own. The evening chill meant the tourists were back in their B&Bs though it would be still light until 10.30. I should have stayed but unfortunately I had a session to go to!

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