Posts Tagged With: Connemarra

Wild Connemara

My last post was on my musical journey through Connemara and Galway. In this post I want to concentrate on the spectacular physical beauty of this part of Ireland.

Connemara is an ill-defined area in the west of Galway incorporating mountains, seascapes and bogs. It is hard not to talk about it without resorting to clichés – wild, rugged, unspoilt; but this is a part of Ireland that almost defies description, it is so beautiful. So I have tried to capture its beauty with the lens. A tall order.

I have visited it three times – just driving through, but on each occasion I was lucky enough to be blessed with patches of sunshine which displays the hills and lakes at their glorious best. Sometimes achingly so.

My first visit was in June in the height of summer, then again in August and most recently in December. As the mood changes with the arrival of the sun, so it changes with the seasons. In summer shades of green and grey predominate as the lush grass covers the slopes. In winter it turns to stark reds and browns but is no less beautiful. These photos (I know there’s a lot but it was hard to leave any out) I hope capture the things that make Connemara special to me – the rugged landscapes, the birds, the ponies, the placid lakes, mist, snow, rocks, bogs, turf and the built landscape, from stone walls and shepherd’s huts to Abbeys. But they also serve as a warning that we must do what we can to preserve such treasures. I was shocked to see the encroachment of wind farms into this wilderness.

I will return to Connemara.

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Categories: Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Connemara Hills are alive with the Sound of Music (and Galway too)

Last weekend I headed for Galway and Connemara. I had had a previous brief visit to Connemara when I attended the TraidPhicnic in Spiddal, but never Galway and I have to say I loved it.

The immediate reason was to attend a Master Class and House Concert by Maurice Lennon at Bridge Barker’s house deep in the wilds of remote Connemara. A great initiative from Bridge to open her house for this – hopefully the first of many.

The trip up from Clare was treacherous with my first experience of driving in sub-zero temperatures and on slippery roads. There was definitely no hurrying. I collected Maurice in Glaway on the way and became so engrossed in the conversation that we managed to end up on a detour along the shores of Lough Corib, that meant the trip took an extra hour. Once we got there the weather was kind enough, so that while Maurice took the kids’ class, I went for a short walk with Vince, Bridge’s partner. They live with their family in a stone cottage that, chameleon-like, blends into the rocky Connemara landscape. Bridge tells me it has been in her family for generations. They have turned a traditional stone cottage into a wonderfully warm and welcoming family home. Adjacent is an abandoned cottage, apparently formerly that of a tailor. It seems to have been empty for decades but still stands remarkably intact as a reminder of the hardship that must have been life in these parts. There was no road and customers would have to ride up the rocky ridges to be fitted. The house has a central room with a large fire place and a door on either side. One can imagine this was the kitchen and the centre of family life. Maybe even where music was played. On either side of this is what would have been the bedrooms each with a smaller fire. Relics of a tough existence are everywhere including bottles and empty containers, an old Singer sewing machine stand and empty and derelict hand crafted furniture. The roof is made of timbers nailed together and filled with bog material and then presumably covered in thatch but now corrugated iron. The windows small anyway are almost completely blocked with stone allowing only a tiny opening to minimise the ingress of rain and wind but making the house very dark. There were no windows on the western and southern sides speaking eloquently as to where the weather comes from. A marvellous window into a past world but not too far distant from the reality of living here now.

Nearby in the rocky bog-covered landscape was a delightful creek with water cascading over granite boulders and flowing through the brown tufts of grass, dotted with patches of bright green where richer glacial tills have provided more fertile ground. Numerous walled fields provide evidence of a much more intensive agriculture on the slopes of the barren hills.

This area was a renowned location for the manufacture of poteen, the famed liquor made traditionally from malted barley but later from corn or potatos. Poteen manufacture was and is of course illegal and so it prospered in remote areas like Connemara where unwelcome visitors could be seen coming for miles. It is said that from the top of the hill behind the house you could see someone coming from Oughterard, 20km away as the crow flies. Vince showed me an old still, one of four in the immediate area. These are used to build a turf fire and heat the wash for several days while guards stood watch ready to respond to anyone attracted by the smoke. The quality of the poteen was highly variable and it needed a fair bit of skill. A bad batch is said to cause blindness. I was given a taste by a fiddler friend when I visited Cork City recently, and I have to say it was terrific. Sure packed a punch though.

As the misty rain set in and hid the snow-capped hills in the distance we returned in time for me to join Maurice for the workshop. There were seven of us and it was a delight. Plenty of good advice on how to hold the bow and how to get a better sound and we learned a couple of Maurice’s own tunes in an intensive hour and a half. Then a quick trip to the nearest pub (about 20 minutes away) for a cleansing ale and some fresh air with Maurice. I don’t want to offend anyone who may come from this part of the world but you could hardly say we were welcomed, or if we were it was with suspicion. There was no small talk as the half dozen or so punters went about their business as If we weren’t there. Slightly uncomfortable.

Returning for some tunes and some curry we then settled in for a concert in the front room of Bridge’s house, in front of a roaring fire, comprising a couple of hours of solo fiddle and viola from Maurice. There was some inspired playing.  We all joined in for a couple of sets at the end. Really a special night with the stone walls reflecting a brilliant sound. Those who travelled into the Connemara wilderness were well rewarded.

I was very kindly put up by Bridge and even before the scrambled eggs were put on the stove next morning I joined Bridge and her talented daughter Siofra in some tunes around the kitchen table. When Maurice arrived back from his lodgings he joined in. A true ‘kitchen session’.

I had decided to spend a couple of extra days in Galway and catch some of the sessions of which so many people had raved. So dragging ourselves away at lunch time I returned with Maurice who was also staying in Galway. There was a slight detour as I stopped every now and then for some photos and a further delay as we caught the second half of the Manchester United – Liverpool game (won by Man U) in a pub in Oughterrard.

Arriving late in the afternoon I went on a search for music. I ended up meeting fellow Aussie friend , Alice at Taaffe’s Bar where there is a 5:30 session every day. So civilised. Why don’t they do this in Ennis? This was the first of three sessions I attended that night and over the three days I was there I went to eight. There was a memorable session late on Sunday at the Old Forge where we were entertained among other things by a Santa-clad mini-skirted drag queen doing an Irish step dance with a packet of Tayto’s in one hand. Brilliant. It was great craic everywhere and hopefully the pictures give some idea of it. I met some wonderful people with as much passion for the music as I see in Ennis. Plenty of blow-ins who have made Galway home. As well as Alice from Oz, there is Ana from Brazil, Brandon from England, Anders from Netherlands, Patrick and Sean from San Francisco, and others from Spain, Germany and the odd Irishman. Lots of interaction too between the musicians and the punters, many of them tourists hearing Irish music for the first time and having a fabulous time. I was kindly invited to a great house session on Tuesday, led by Sean Flanagan, a box player, designed for intermediate players to learn and share tunes. Brilliant idea. I returned to Ennis renewed and inspired and vowing to visit Galway again soon. Thanks to everyone who made me feel so welcome.

The sun shone briefly on Monday and I took the opportunity to go for a drive through the magnificent Connemara hills to Clifden. Glorious. I will post some photos from these travels soon in another blog. The photos here are all from near Bridge’s house or in Galway City.

Distant snow, Connemara

Distant snow, Connemara

Tailor's cottage, Connemara

Tailor’s cottage, Connemara

Tailor's Cottage, Connemara

Tailor’s Cottage, Connemara

Inside Tailor's Cottage, Connemara

Inside Tailor’s Cottage, Connemara

Poteen still, Connemara

Poteen still, Connemara

Cascade, Connemara

Cascade, Connemara

Barn, Connemara

Barn, Connemara

Maurice Lennon, Fiddle Master Class, Connemara

Maurice Lennon, Fiddle Master Class, Connemara

Maurice Lennon Fiddle  Master Class, Connemara

Maurice Lennon Fiddle Master Class, Connemara

Maurice Lennon Fiddle  Master Class, Connemara

Maurice Lennon Fiddle Master Class, Connemara

Maurice Lennon Fiddle  Master Class, Connemara

Maurice Lennon Fiddle Master Class, Connemara

Maurice Lennon, Adult Fiddle  Master Class, Connemara

Maurice Lennon, Adult Fiddle Master Class, Connemara

Maurice Lennon, Adult  Fiddle  Master Class, Connemara

Maurice Lennon, Adult Fiddle Master Class, Connemara

Maurice Lennon, Adult students Fiddle  Master Class, Connemara

Maurice Lennon, Adult students Fiddle Master Class, Connemara

Maurice Lennon, Kitchen session at Bridge Barker's, Connemara

Maurice Lennon, Kitchen session at Bridge Barker’s, Connemara

Maurice Lennon, Bridge Barker.  Kitchen Session

Maurice Lennon, Bridge Barker. Kitchen Session

Hungry sheep, Connemara

Hungry sheep, Connemara

Session, Taaffe's Pub, Galway

Session, Taaffe’s Pub, Galway

Session, Taaffe's Pub, Galway

Session, Taaffe’s Pub, Galway

Session, Taaffe's Pub, Galway.  Sandra

Session, Taaffe’s Pub, Galway. Sandra

Session, Taaffe's Pub, Galway. Alice

Session, Taaffe’s Pub, Galway. Alice

Session, Taaffe's Pub, Galway.  Happy listeners

Session, Taaffe’s Pub, Galway. Happy listeners

Session, Taaffe's Pub, Galway

Session, Taaffe’s Pub, Galway

Session. Tig Coili, Galway

Session. Tig Coili, Galway

Session, Taaffe's Pub, Galway.  Maurice Lennon

Session, Tig Coili, Galway. Maurice Lennon

Session, Tig Coili, Galway

Session, Tig Coili, Galway

Session, Old Forge Pub, Galway

Session, Old Forge Pub, Galway

Session, Old Forge Pub, Galway

Session, Old Forge Pub, Galway

Session, Old Forge Pub, Galway.  Dancing Santa

Session, Old Forge Pub, Galway. Dancing Santa

Session, Garvey's Pub Galway

Session, Garvey’s Pub Galway

Session, Garvey's Pub, Galway

Session, Garvey’s Pub, Galway

Visitors from Germany, Garvey's Pub Galway

Visitors from Germany, Garvey’s Pub Galway

House Session, Galway

House Session, Galway

Another session at Taaffe's Galway

Another session at Taaffe’s Galway

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

Traid Phicnic – An Spidéal

I know it’s a while ago now but early in July I headed to Spiddal in Galway for the Traid Phicnic. This is only in its third year and it is a great concept where a terrific assemblage of artists performed in an outdoor stage in the heart of the town. The programme included a swag of luminaries appearing over two days and was faultlessly organised by Bridge Barker and her colleagues. Unfortunately she couldn’t organise the weather and the showers may have kept some away but it didn’t dampen the spirits of those who did make the trek to Connemara.

Headlining were Dezi Donnelly and Mike McGlodrick but we were treated to some special music from among others, Charlie Lennon, Tola Custy and Laoise Kelly, Siobhan Peoples and Murty Ryan and Dermot Byrne and Steve Cooney. There were workshops for fiddle, concertina, flute, accordion, harp, lots of craft workshops and stuff for the kids. And there was a session on the Saturday night that was worth the trip on its own. Where else could you play with Dermot Byrne, Mike McGlodrick, Laoise Kelly and Tola Custy? Brilliant.

maith thú, Bridge and I’ll be there next year.

Here are some photos of the weekend.IMG_7950 IMG_7969 IMG_7974 IMG_7990 IMG_8119 IMG_8478 IMG_8621 IMG_8644






































Categories: Festivals, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A New Home?

It’s been so long since I blogged and so much has happened. The really big news for me which I got today is that I have approval to stay in Ireland for the next 12 months. The journey which I started three months ago is not over. I can now plan for the future. Buy a car and rent a house for starters. And see if Ireland is really for me. Everyone (and I mean everyone!) tells me I won’t be able to handle the winter. We’ll see.

In the last six weeks I have been on the Festival trail. A journey that has taken me through Clare (Willie Week, Tulla and Feakle Festivals and the Clare Fleadh at Kilaloe) to Galway (TradPhicnic at Spiddal), Sligo (Fleadh Cheoil and Tubercurry), Leitrim (Drumshanbo) and Mayo (Achill Island summer school). I have attended concerts, lectures, workshops, recitals and of course sessioned relentlessly. Indeed every day for the past 97 days! Is there a Guinness record for that?

It has been a wonderful experience but the festival season has come to an end. I haven’t dared look until I knew what my visa status was but I am sure there will be some fantastic events ahead of me. Perhaps more space in between them now!

It just occurred to me that the reason I have come here is to learn fiddle and while I have played fiddle every day, sometimes for 10 hours in a day I have not done any ‘practice’. Playing in sessions is not practice. I have hundreds of hours of recordings of workshops, sessions and concerts to sort. Great material for new tunes.

Of course I ’learnt’ heaps of new tunes at the Schools, from James Kelly, Paddy Ryan, John Daly, Liam O’Connor, Tola Custy, Siobhan Peoples, Martin Hayes, Eileen O’Brien and Yvonne Kane, but am having trouble recalling any of them. So there’s a lot of work there for me. Likewise I have literally thousands of photos to sort from the Festivals and from my travels through Mayo and Connemarra as well as here in Clare.

I have met some wonderful people and have some great stories to tell, so bear with me and I will start posting again when I can.

A quick thankyou to everyone who has supported me and encouraged me in what I am doing over here. I won’t name you all but you know who you are. I have been warmly accepted into the musical and broader community here in Clare and am really looking forward to the year(s) ahead.

In the meantime with my mind firmly on where I might live for the next year I have identified a few likely properties. The views can’t be faulted!

Stay Tuned…..


Castle near Mullaghmore, Sligo



House on Inishbiggle, Achill. Co Mayo



House in Connemarra



Benbulben, Sligo



Connemarra, Co Glaway



Keel, Achill Island. Co Mayo



Achill Island Co Mayo



Achill Island. Co Mayo



Co Sligo



Innisheer, Co Galway



Cottage, Connemarra, Co Galway



Connemarra, Co Mayo



Categories: My Journey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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