Monthly Archives: April 2018

The Cliffs of Moher Cycle Challenge. Never Refuse an Invitation

No I haven’t joined the lycra brigade.  Let me explain.

Never refuse an invitation has been one of the mantras that I have followed since I started living in Ireland and I know I have written before about some of the surprising encounters that have resulted.  This was demonstrated yet again one wet Saturday in early April.

A couple of days previously I had received an email from a friend telling me that the organisers of the Cliffs of Moher Cycle Challenge were looking for musicians to entertain the riders during their lunch stop in the very north of Clare at Ballyvaughan.  Without knowing anything about the event of course I agreed.

The instructions were simple.  “Be at the Hall at 11.30”.  It’s about an hour’s drive from Spanish Point and as I headed north of course, sun turned to rain.

This event, hosted by the Riverside Cycling Club Ennistymon, is in its 6th year. It has built up to become an important part of the Clare cycling calendar with 630 participants this year.  The Burren and the Atlantic coast of Clare hosts some very popular cycle events such as the Tour de Burren, Ring of Clare, SRAC Atlantic Challenge and a ladies only ride Turas na mBan.

It’s not surprising really as the route is rated as one of the finest in Europe.  There were a number of shorter journeys of 40 and 80 km  but The full loop started and finished in Ennistymon and takes in the Cliffs of Moher (of course) and other iconic Clare sites such as Doolin, Fanore and Black Head on the spectacular Burren coast road, Ballyvaughan, Carran, the hairpin bends of Corkscrew Hill and spa-town Lisdoonvarna.

So I arrived in Ballyvaughan with the rain just in time to see the first riders arrive.

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The first riders enter Ballyvaughan

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Not far behind was this colour coordinated group

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Riders make their way through the town

Some kept going, not bothering to take a break but most were diverted to the National School Hall for an inviting spread of sandwiches, fruit and warm tea.

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Decision time.  Most chose lunch.

And who could resist the local smoked salmon on soda bread and the piles of home made sandwiches.  It was also time to exchange stories, meet new friends and check progress.

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Time to show off the new bike.

I joined a small group of musicians belting out jigs and reels with a mighty Kilfenora rhythm. How could it not be so with Anne Rynne (a member of the Kilfenora Ceili Band) and her family leading.  It was so much fun to be part of.  The riders seemed to enjoy it though I am not sure they  realised that despite the youth of  a number of the players , the music was world class.

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It is a surprisingly small country Ireland, and the music world which I am part of has strong links across other activities. I think of it this way.  Traditional music  is like a strong thread in a patchwork quilt that seems to stitch everything together. From farming to football. To illustrate, there in the crowd was my friend Thierry, a keen cyclist and fiddler, who, still clad in riding gear, helmet and gloves,  just couldn’t resist the temptation to borrow my fiddle and play a few tunes. Best of both worlds.

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A great cross section from all over Ireland turned up.  Even the Mayor of Clare was there, wearing not his official garb, but riding colours.  This was a charitable event and a community event.  There were no winners and everyone was a winner.  Oh God.  Did I write that!

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A Mayor from Clare

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Everyone wanted to be in the picture

I headed back home, but not after a little bit of drama leaving my fiddle behind in the hall.  Retrieved it eventually.

I ran into the cyclists again on my way back (figuratively speaking that is) as the sun dramatically re appeared occasionally.  I stopped at the beautiful Carran Church on the roof of the Burren to watch them ride past. You have to admire cyclists’ dedication.  Still plugging away, only 40 km to go, I wonder how many were in the frame of mind to take a look at the stunning scenery or was their mind focused on the formidable Corkscrew Hill just a few kilometers ahead.

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Ruins of Carran Church

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View towards Mt Callan.

I finally ended up back in Ennistymon around 4pm as the last riders were triumphantly ending their 125 kilometer journey.   6 hours and 12 minutes is a long time to be peddling a bicycle.

These events take quite a lot of organising.  Route marking,  food and drink stops, publicity, traffic management and a host of volunteers contribute in all kinds of ways.

A very pleased Committee posed for me outside the Community Hall.

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I hope the cyclists had as good a time as I did. Like I say, never refuse an invitation.

 

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Springboard Fiddle Retreat 2018. A Dive into the Unknown.

I had high expectations. An intensive four days of workshops from Caoimhin O Railleagh, Four nights of ‘luxury’ on the shores of Bantry Bay. Meals. All the ingredients were there. Food, fellowship and fiddle.

Would my expectations be met?

I am a bit of a workshop junkie and I am guessing that over the past four years I have had instruction from well over forty different fiddlers while living in Ireland. But Springboard Fiddle Retreat sounded different. Workshops in Ireland generally follow a set pattern, in place since the Willie Clancy Festival started nearly fifty years ago. Bring in a name fiddler, for up to a week. Three hours a day; usually a mixed class of fiddlers or wanna-be’s of all ages and stages. The teaching is based around learning new tunes but there is rarely time for individual instruction or to gain a deeper understanding of the instrument.

But Springboard did not follow this formula.  As I said it is residential and there were only a dozen of us.  It was a Thursday afternoon and fiddlers from all over Ireland, a couple from Scotland and from the  US and a couple of ex-pat Aussies joined others at Linden House on the shores of Bantry Bay in West Cork.  The location was hard to find but stunning.   I have separately blogged on this little corner of Ireland and the beauty of Glengariff and the surrounding forest, so you can see more HERE.

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The calm waters of Bantry Bay at Glengariff

But it wasn’t just the location. The house was purpose designed to accommodate up to 20 people. There were two wings and multiple stories and it made a beautiful architectural statement as it stepped its way down the contours of the land melding into the forest and surrounded by beautifully tended gardens and tall gaunt oaks.  There were a number of large living spaces with giant picture windows taking in the vista and plenty of nooks to meet and play fiddle in small groups or withdraw for some quiet time. Everything was provided for a wonderful livable escape.

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Linden House.  The venue for the retreat

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The view from the main living area

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A perfect place to think, read, and play.

Then there was the food. Oh dear. Expectations regarding this weren’t that high when I read it was vegetarian. Nothing against vegetarianism, but I will be honest, I do enjoy the  meat-and-three-veg world . But as it turned out absolutely nothing to worry about here. We were incredibly well looked after by chef Jenny and her assistant Anda. The food was truly a marvel. It was prepared with great thought and obvious love. A riot of colour and flavours with some ingredients I have never even heard of and others used in ways you wouldn’t have imagined.  All combined with skill and originality. The food was indeed part of what was a total experience We were constantly reminded of the parallels between our explorations with music and the eating experience. Each day one ingredient was chosen as a theme and dishes reflected different and sometimes surprising approaches to the use of this. Just as we would choose a theme for the day on our journey with the fiddle.

Speaking of the fiddle that’s what we were there for, so let me talk about that.

Caoimhin is an accomplished and widely respected traditional Irish fiddler. His collaborations are many and include musicians from wide backgrounds such as piper Mick O’Connor, West Kerry box player, Breandan Begley,  sean nos singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, Clare fiddler Martin Hayes and musician/physicist, Dan Trueman.  He plays with The Gloaming.  His music is rooted in the traditional world of piping and Sliabh Luachra but he has explored Norwegian and Icelandic music, the Hardanger fiddle and plays in various cross tunings.  He has always been seeking new ways of voicing the fiddle.  As a result he has developed a unique and recognisable playing style.

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Instructor Caoimhin O’Railleagh as a snow shower passes through

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A reflective moment

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The beautifully carved scroll of Caoimhin O’Railleagh’s Hardanger violin

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Caoimhin O’Railleagh’s violin.  Five strings are just not enough.

Very quickly I realised this fiddle workshop would be different. Caoimhin is a brilliant, relaxed and engaging teacher with an innovative approach. The time available and the ambience allowed plenty of space to explore concepts that were very new, to me at least. We spent little time actually playing. But always new concepts were put in the context of playing traditional music. We spent a day on cross tuning. For myself I stuck with GDGD but others went off in all directions. Indeed people were playing together with wildly different tunings producing surprising outcomes. There were no boundaries. We were encouraged to play tunes we knew opening up new possibilities and to then try our hand at composing melodies.

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Caoimhin O’Railleagh makes a point.

Another day we looked at tempo and the concept of expanding and contracting time. We were introduced to the Cyclotron, software by Daniel Trueman, that enables you to vary the space between notes within a tune and ultimately the rhythm and feel. We looked at discovering amazing sounds by exploring the real estate of the fiddle and the bow. We looked at difference tones – notes that only exist in the mind, and we looked at poly-rhythms.

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Sounds heavy but it wasn’t. There was were five hours each day of classes, but it went so quickly.  And it wasn’t all work.

Afternoons were filled with activities; organised or less-organised. There were ad hoc workshops including ‘dalcroze eurythmics’, yoga, role play games or you could brave the cold (it actually snowed one day) for a swim with the seals. Or you could just go off and practice.

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A quiet place to play 1

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A quiet place to play 2

 

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A class in ‘dalcroze eurythmics’?

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Or time for a dip?

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Jotting down some wise words.

The evenings sometimes went in surprising directions; activities including table rugby and games that totally messed with the brain in quite different ways.

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Ireland vs the Wallabies in Table Rugby.

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A highlight was the Dining in the Dark experience. On this occasion we were treated to a wonderful five course degustation menu prepared and presented by Jenny and Anda, who were the only two ‘sighted’ residents of the house for the night. There were plenty of surprises with our taste buds made keener by the darkness.  A butter tasting. Who would have thought? Kale served three ways. A colcannon to die for. A sweet dish which baffled me but turned out to be carrageen pudding and a cheese plate highlighting how good Irish cheese actually is. The meal was interrupted at one point by a spellbinding soundscape of wild fiddle from Coaimhin the sound coming from everywhere as he strolled around the house. Then there was what seemed like an eternity of silence. This was brought to an end by tentative noises made by just one or two at first but then by the full ensemble with whatever came to hand, ultimately turning into an untamed cacophonous symphony of sound and noise of Dada-ist proportions rising out of the darkness.

It is hard to quantify what one gets out of such an experience. I didn’t learn any tunes. There were no sessions in the traditional sense. But I didn’t come for that. What I did get were immeasurable experiences of sharing music and musical thoughts, new ways of looking at timing, rhythm and tone, An insight into new paradigms of playing music and lifetime friends.

A true springboard.  Definitely a dive into the unknown.

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The Springboard Fiddle Retreat was held on 15th to 19th March 2018.  Check their site http://www.westcorkmusic.ie/retreats/springboard for info on 2019.

 

Categories: My Journey, The Fiddle, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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