Posts Tagged With: Donegal

The Waves of Tory

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Magheroarty Beach, where the ferry departs to Tory Island

 

 

Tory Island. Those two words resonate loudly in my ears.

Back in the late 70s and early 80s when I played in Bush Bands in various remote parts of Australia, one of the favourite dances was the Waves of Tory. Well our version of it. With that lovely descriptive name reflecting the motion of the dancers with high potential for total chaos yet at the same time conjuring up romantic notions of a windswept wild wasteland in the North Atlantic.

As far away from the beautiful windswept wild wasteland of the Australian desert as could be.

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Waves of Tory

 

Well now I have ridden the Waves of Tory and the imagined and fanciful has become real. It is wild and it was windy and those waves were something to behold but it was not a wasteland. It is surprisingly different to the other inhabited islands I have visited here such as Achill, the Aran Islands and Sherkin.  It is stunningly beautiful.

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Tory Island as seen from Magheroarty Beach

Tory Island, or just plain Tory, lies about  14km off the coast of Bunbeg in western Donegal. On the day I decided to go the ferry had already left from Bunbeg but I had time to drive to Magheroarty and catch the 11:30am.

 

I picked my day and was lucky. The forecast was spot on with sun predicted all day because I really wanted to photograph it in a clear light. But I forgot to check the ocean conditions and boy was there a mighty swell which made for a very rough trip.

We were warned to be back at the boat by 2pm, much earlier than scheduled,  and if we didn’t get it we would be there for at least four days as storm conditions were expected to prevent the boat sailing for that time. This gave me about 1 ½ hours on the Island . I was disappointed but it is amazing how much I could see in that time, albeit fleetingly.

So back to the Waves Of Tory. We took the smaller of the boats, the romantically named Whispering Dawn, that usually do this run and it was filled with returning residents, with their shopping and all sorts of oddments that can only be got on the mainland. There was plenty of Guinness and whiskey and a massive birthday cake. Well that was what I guessed it was by its shape and the way they were carrying it, and a big bag of helium filled balloons which said 40th.  So many things to plan for with life on a remote outpost. Goods were passed down the steps in a human chain, as they probably were since the boat started sailing there.

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Everyone joins in to load the boat.

 

So the boat was packed finally, though a few late comers forced us to turn around after we had already headed out to sea. Wouldn’t happen with the Manly Ferry! When we finally got going it was rough. we were tossed around like one of those toy boats in a bathtub that Hollywood used to simulate a violent storm.  Except this was real. Waves would swamp the deck as we listed first one way then the other.  The Captain doing a marvellous job to turn the boat into the massive waves to avoid them hitting us broadside. Photography was pretty difficult with salt on the camera and the cameraman, but I got a few. Remarkably I didn’t get sea sick.

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Ploughing through the waves on the way to Tory

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All kinds of passengers

 

The Island loomed into view so slowly. The eastern end looked rugged and mountainous while the western seemed more topographically restrained. We pulled into the wharf with some relief and the passengers disappeared into their little slice of this Island world.

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I knew Tory had a King.  The current king is local artist and musician, Patsy Dan Mac Ruaíri.  Elected by popular vote of the Islanders he has ruled since 1993. I was expecting to be met by him and his accordion.   Every account of a visit to Tory talks about the King. Well not this one, because he just wasn’t there.  Perhaps he was engaged on other official duties.  I can only assume that it was of the gravest urgency to have kept him from meeting the boat and welcoming me.

The Island is fringed with granite boulders and slopes gently up from the seashore with a treeless plain that heads off to the horizon where there are a few rocky knolls.

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There is a cluster of houses which is the main village and in the distance I could see other smaller clusters with only a few scattered houses in between. Much of the land seems barren and empty but you are drawn to explore.

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The village is just a lovely higgledy piggledy jumble. Nothing is straight. The main road snakes around and the houses are built at different angles to each other. One suspects people here over time have just done what they pleased. Many vacant and ruined houses sit next door to beautifully painted and maintained cottages. In the centre of it all is the remains of a round tower, a bell tower from the 7th century and the only remaining part of a Monastry founded by St Columcille as a sort of getaway from the no doubt stressful life of being a saint. Prominent in the town is a generator and you are reminded of what it must be like to live here.  Especially in winter.  Indeed, in 1974 a massive storm cut the island off for two months.  The response of the Government was to attempt to resettle the 130 residents on the mainland, but the islanders resisted and won the right to remain.  A pyrrhic victory as there are virtually no facilities remaining.

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The 6th Century bell tower is the only remains of the original monastery

 

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Boats share the main street with houses

 

It’s maritime connection is never far away. Old boats are scattered through the village most unlikely to see their hull in water again, now part of the permanent streetscape.

They must be a special breed, the people who live here.

I loved the feel of the place. The hand painted signs, the unpretentiousness. The rawness reflecting a life that this particular day’s relatively benign weather temporary masked.

I had less than an hour left and I had no idea what the Island had to offer. I could see a light house in the distance but no time to go there.  I should have done my homework I suppose but I went there on a whim. After walking through the town I kept seeing those knolls and ridges in the distance; so I headed across the bare paddocks.

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A view towards the lighthouse

 

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Wind assisted. When I got there the ground suddenly dropped away into preciptious cliffs. I had to work hard to avoid being blown off into the Atlantic. The view was stunning.

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Land bridge in quartzite cliffs

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Stunning, sublime, arresting, breathtaking.  Substitute any other hyperbolic synonymy and you still won’t be able to describe it adequately. Some of the cliffs were of granite and some were of quartzite. And they were different to each other and to the cliffs of Clare. The granite cliffs were smoother, more rounded and with boulders perched precariously. Those of quartzite which formed the high cliffs of the northern end of the island were jagged and irregular with many offshore stacks and islands and even a land bridge. I continued to walk along the cliff edge and each corner would reveal another spectacular vista of rugged bays and pinnacles.

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A quick look at the time and I had twenty minutes left to make it back to the boat. Got there no problem but disappointingly no sign of King Patsy to say goodbye to me and reluctantly just a handful of us embarked for the mainland.

But the trip back was not very pleasant. We had a bigger boat (Turasmara ) which seemed to handle the waves better but the sensible Islanders remained behind, ensconced in their homes in front of their warm fires while the few of us returning to ‘civilisation’ struggled with effects of the Rolling Waves. Some lost the battle. I fully expected to be a victim but somehow by standing outside in the open and clinging to a door handle with my legs braced against each wave and my eyes fixed on the receding Tory I rode it out

Forty five minutes later with heavy clouds moving in as if on cue, to announce the end of the journey, we were back somewhat unsteadily on land.

With my legs regaining their function I left the Kingdom of Tory behind and it was back to Bunbeg for a warm fire, a settling whiskey and a tune.

Two hours was definitely not enough. Next time I will stay and explore this remarkable place at my leisure. Definitely overnight.

Maybe I’ll even get a royal audience.

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

Glenties and the Blue Stack Mountains; The beating heart of Donegal fiddle music.

I hadn’t planned on going to Glenties. Don’t get me wrong it’s a delightful place in the west of Donegal set in mountainous country and its lovely leafy village setting is a surprising contrast to the treeless wild of this part of the world.

I had just spent a wonderful week of music at the Scoil Gheimhridh Ghaoth Dobhair (a winter school for traditional music at Gweedore) and was ready to go home. It was the last night and the final session was coming to a natural exhausted conclusion. I was saying my goodbyes when Sile Friel of the renowned Glasgow/Donegal based Friel Sisters asked if I was interested in attending a session the next night. This is how the conversation went.

Sile        “I’m trying to organise a session with a few of us and the Campbells at Glenties”

Me         “Um. Who are the Campbells?”

Sile        “You’ve never heard of them? Jimmy and Vince are fiddling royalty up here”

I felt embarrassed by my ignorance. But my interest was of course piqued and my travel plans instantly changed.

Next morning I headed south taking a detour to the Glengesh Pass (between Glencolmcille and Ardara), which ironically I had visited earlier in the year on a miserable summer day in stark contrast to this glorious winter’s day. Well worth the detour.

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Glengesh Pass.  On a sunny day in the middle of winter.  January 2017

 

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Glengesh Pass.  The same view on a foggy day in the middle of summer. August 2016

 

But my main objective was a little pub a few kilometres from Glenties in the middle of the Blue Stack Mountains.

I spent the afternoon discovering the Blue Stacks, also known as The Croaghgorms. It is the most significant mountain range in Donegal, separating the north from the south. Typical bare, rounded hills with the characteristic remote wilderness feel to it that makes Donegal so appealing. The special winter russet colour which takes on a red tinge when the sun shines.  And not a tree, except the occasional pine forest.  I took random roads, which turned into random lanes and then random boreens. It was beautiful but scary. The roads were so narrow that there was no chance for two cars to pass and there was bog on either side. And being so remote there were few houses and fewer laybys. I drove in fear of meeting someone and having my reversing skills challenged over distances measured in hundreds of metres.  This world though is well off the commuter trail and the major road traffic was of the four footed kind.

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I arrived at the Glen Tavern (everyone calls it Dinny’s despite that name not appearing anywhere on the building) a respectable period before the nominated time of 7 pm. Of course I should have known better.

I had plenty of time to get to know the owners, Annie and Mary because it was at least an hour before the first patron arrived let alone musician. And then some. Of course, I was made to feel very welcome. I guess an Aussie fiddler tuning up was a bit unusual.  Or maybe it wasn’t.

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Mary and Annie.  Mine hosts at Dinny’s

 

The first surprise is that you enter the pub through a little shop. Just your basics mind you, but a shop nonetheless.

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Open for business.

 

As well as a shop and a bar it is also a residence. A door to the right took me into the now empty bar. Cosy and inviting with those corner lounges so typical in Ireland just waiting to be filled with musicians. This looked like a great place for music. But not right now.

I settled down for a chat with Mary and Annie and a glass of Jamieson and heard the stories of this place and its music. In my ignorance I had not realised that these mountains and this pub were at the beating heart of Donegal fiddle music.

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A bar with an house fiddle is my kind of pub.

 

The legendary itinerant master tinsmith and fiddler Johnny Doherty lived in these parts and played here and the Campbells (who Sile had mentioned) are a direct link to that legacy. Vince and Jimmy learnt their music from their father who played with him. Johnny had stayed with the Campbells as he had in many houses across the mountains.  I had inadvertently walked into this time capsule.

Gradually people arrived. Peter Campbell, Jimmy’s son, also a fiddler and Condy Campbell; not sure where he fitted in but he took up what looked like his regular spot in the corner and settled in for the night.

Two hours now and the musicians who were coming from Gweedore had yet to arrive. Occasional texts from the Friels advised they were ‘on their way’. But this is Ireland. Turns out they called in to visit Danny Meehan, another legend of Donegal fiddling and he wouldn’t let them go. I’m sure there’s a great story there.

So it was well after 9.00 pm when they finally arrived and then another half hour before the tunes began.

The place had gradually filled (I’m sure there were a few more Campbells among the crowd) as the pipes and fiddles took over. Joining Sile Friels on pipes and sister Clare on fiddle were brothers Fionnán and Iarlaith Mac Gabhann, from Dublin, on pipes and flute.

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Peter Campbell, Fionnan Mac Gabhann, Clare Friel, Sile Friel and Iarlaith Mac Gabhann at Dinny’s

 

The music was sensational. We were in full flight with, of course, a heavy smattering of highlands, mazurkas, flings and a waltz or two, which , for the most part, I had to sit out. We even played Donegal’s only polka. Well that was what I was told. We got the story of that tune from Condy but I have to be honest, I can’t tell you any of it because with his thick, but delightful, brogue, I didn’t get a word.

The musical visitors had decided to move on so about 11 they started to pack up ready to go. Then Jimmy Campbell arrived. That changed everything. “Just one for the road”.  Jimmy insisted that they keep playing and he just sat and listened. In that peculiarly endearing Irish way he would interject with “lovely”, “lovely”, which is surely the ultimate accolade. And it was meant.

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Jimmy Campbell watches and listens.

 

He was persuaded eventually to grab a fiddle. “I can’t play” he said wryly. “I can’t play like that”.

But he did and he could! No one joined. It was our turn to admire and just listen. He played solo and he played with son Peter.  The boys from Dublin had never been to Donegal before and I could see the reverence and joy writ all over their faces at hearing this music. I felt the same. Here was a whole world of playing I knew nothing about.

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Father and son.

 

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A good tune followed by a good laugh.

 

Of course no one left and the musical conversation continued until 1:30 am. Even the goodbyes took an hour.

I had the chance to sit and chat to Jimmy. A nicer gentleman would be hard to find. Nearly 80. He had left Donegal and lived in London much of his life but was now back home. His son Peter, born in England, followed him back. He is full of tales. A session with Jimmy is an experience. It is beyond now. Every tune has its moment. Often there are no sets. Just a single tune. We hear about where he learnt the tune or who wrote it or the story behind it or where the name came from. The tune is a window into a social history. With his words it ties us to people, time and place.

It was a special evening. Two worlds meet with both embracing each other. Music was just a facilitator for people to connect at completely different levels. A good session is more than just playing tunes together. This was a good session.

The beauty is though that I can take something away with me. On the wall is a framed musical notation of a tune, The Jack in the Tavern, written by Jimmy. It’s on my to-learn list now.

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To think that but for a chance conversation with Sile I would have missed this. That’s how it is in Ireland.

Happenstance and serendipity.

There is a music weekend every year in the Glen Tavern in September and I have marked it in my calendar already. Try and keep me away.

Hopefully I will have learnt Jimmy’s tune and a few more highlands and mazurkas by then.

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Categories: Sessions, Stories, The Fiddle, Trad Irish Music, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Glencolmcille, Donegal. Fiddles in the Glen. And Much Much More.

First I should apologise to my blog followers. I have been travelling and attending many festivals over the last two months so I have neglected you.  It has been an amazing Summer with visits to Festivals in Dungarvan, Doolin, Spiddal, Miltown Malbay, Tubbercurry, Drumshanbo, Achill Island, Glencolmcille and Feakle.  I have many stories and photos and I will try and bring my readers up to date over the next little while.

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In the first week of August I went to Glencolmcille in the south west of Donegal. There is a Fiddle Festival there which I had yet to attend, but not only that it is a place of remarkable beauty.

I had been there before but it was the depths of winter and it was so cold with biting wind and lashing rain and I had a cold and the memory is generally not a pleasant one. I should add also that it was the first place in Ireland that I missed playing music. January 2nd 2015. After almost eight months.

I had driven up from Achill and the most glorious weather welcomed us on the Monday. I had a carload from Italy, France and Spain that were also visiting the Festival. The first thing that struck me about this place was the awesome grandeur and beauty. It was just too beautiful. I didn’t know where to start exploring it. It’s rather like turning up to a session with a dozen great fiddlers and you leave your fiddle in the case, because you don’t know where to start. It’s just too intimidating and daunting.

I was originally booked into a Bed and Breakfast but a friend convinced me to give the Dooey Hostel a go. I have shied away from hostels because I never sleep, with snorers and tossers-and-turners and people coming in late and getting up early, but I went along with it. It is truly a unique place. It is built into the hill with the natural rock being one wall and the other side giving magnificent views over the strand and the bay one way and the glacially scoured valley the other way. There is a crazy paved floor as you would have out on the patio and ivy and all sorts of plants growing up the walls. The walls are damp with the natural seepage and there is piping to take away the water when it rains, which gives the sound of an ever present waterfall. It is on many levels with four dormitories each with their own shower toilet and kitchen, another generous kitchen, some private rooms and a gorgeous common room that overlooks the bay. There is plenty of eccentric and eclectic memorabilia and trinkets everywhere. 

 

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Dooey Hostel, Glencolmcille

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The view from the Common Room of Dooey Hostel

 

Miraculously I didn’t have a snorer in my dorm so I slept brilliantly.

The hostess is Mary, quite an institution in this part of the world. And mad as a March hare. You can’t really describe her but she is as wild as the Atlantic and had us in stitches much of the time. “I just compost people who fall out of their bunks”, she says. The residents were an interesting lot too. Many there for the fiddles but many just travellers. By a country mile, the majority were from France. Some spoke exclusively French which was a bit annoying for me but it was a diverse bunch with many interesting stories. I met of course loads of new friends and I could not help but become part of the craic.

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I decided not to do the classes and Monday was so beautiful I had to get out and about. I was told of a lovely beach called Port, so that’s where I headed. Google Maps misled me though (I have to blame someone) and I ended up high on a remote bog.   As I was sinking deeper and deeper into the unsealed road I decided to retreat. A 21- point turn executed with fear of my wheels leaving the road and of getting stuck in the ditch. But there’s always a reason for things happening in Ireland and I spent a lovely hour exploring photographic possibilities in this remote part of Donegal.

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On returning to Glen I found myself following some road signs to the Holy Well of St Columbcille. This was not what I expected as after quite a walk I discovered the well site protected by a massive Donald Trump style wall. Continuing the walk I ended up at the Tower, which was built to keep a lookout for Napoleon and the invading French. One would have to say it was unsuccessful as the French continue to invade! The views from the top are impressive though.

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St Columbcille’s Well

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View towards Port Beach

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As far as the music goes this festival or school is completely different. First it is fiddle only. Second it is Donegal style and tunes only. It is classes morning and afternoon so if you don’t do the classes the place is pretty deserted except for the tourists. It is pot luck after that. There are only two pubs so it is hard to miss a session. After about 9 pm it kicks off. Roarty’s was the spot and on the Monday night there was a session there with 45 fiddles. For a brief time there was a single guitar. It was a unique sound. Not to everyone’s taste, I know but how often do you get to hear that in Ireland. I recognised about 10% of the tunes, but played along where I could. A who’s-who of Donegal fiddling was there. Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Martin McGinley, Ciarán Ó Maonaigh,  Conor Caldwell, Danny Meehan.  But it was hard to get a seat so I did a lot of listening.  The tunes are infectious and probably easy to learn but the fiddling is not my style with its sawing bowing.  But it was great to be there.  Some of the best sessions though were in the Common Room of the hostel or outside overlooking the bay.

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Fiddlers in the Glen

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The bad weather closed in (well it is Ireland and it is summer) and Wednesday started out very unpromisingly. But it looked to be brightening up so I decided to go to Maghera Caves of which I had heard a bit about. When I announced my intention at the Hostel I immediately had half a dozen takers to come with me. In the end  I was accompanied by Blandine from France, Alex from Italy (the Great Bastoni! but that’s another story), Tall Paul from Holland and People Katherina from Germany, a 20 year old on her first solo overseas trip who, the day before, had walked 27km with her 20kg pack in the driving rain.

The weather did not ease up. The rain came and went with and without wind and we had in total 15 seconds of sunshine. The caves were not what I expected. They are only accessible at low tide which luckily it was, They seem to be caused by erosion along faults associated with dolerite dykes and sills in very siliceous sediment. They are right on a really wide beach. Stunning. The wind at times whipped the sand along creating and eerie landscape.  And there was a labyrinth, similar to the one on Keel Beach on Achill.  Someone put a lot of work into it but I can only guess how long it will be there before the sea subsumes it.  On the way there was Assaranca Falls: a ferocious waterfall fed by the heavy rain at the time. Unfortunately photographing it was tough in the weather. We went cross country then to the majestic Slieve League cliffs. Conditions were attrocious with the mist descending, sometimes to a complete whiteout. I loved it though; when the clouds parted to reveal the rugged landscape for a few moments and then closed in. Thee was no pattern to it but it provided everchanging vistas and light. Then a visit to the gorgeous beach at Malin Beg which I have to say would rival Keem Strand on Achill for a place nearthe top of the list of best Irish beaches I’ve seen.

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Assaranca Falls

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Near Ardara

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The road to Maghera

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Cave at Maghera Beach.  One of 27

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Dolerite sill and later crosscutting dyke.

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Sheared dolerite dyke and cave.

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even the water is green!

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Maghera Strand.  A wicked wind!

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Maghera Strand.  Another view

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Labyrinth at Maghera Strand 

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Have you seen green like this?

 

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Heather on the Moor.  Slieve League

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Slieve League

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A few minutes later.  The clouds descend

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Try standing up!

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A soft day at Slieve League

 

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Malin Beg

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Malin Beg

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Malin Beg

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Weathering bands in schist.  With sandhopper

 

I enjoyed this place so much that only playing a few tunes in the evening didn’t seem to matter. We sat up chatting in the Hostel till about 4am and the sweet Katherina, full of self doubt about travelling Ireland on her own yet so confident to walk such huge distances could not contain herself. Every few minutes saying “I am so happy”. In fact she held on from going to the toilet for an hour because she was worried we would go to bed and the night would end.

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Monarch of the Glen

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The Festival overlaps with Feakle Festival which is one of my favourites so on Thursday I headed off back to Clare.

I will definitely return to Donegal. Maybe next time I’ll get to Port Beach without getting lost……..

Categories: Real Ireland, The Fiddle, Trad Irish Music, Uncategorized, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ireland – The Next Chapter

I’ll start this blog with some good news. Those of you who follow me on Facebook will already know that my application to remain in Ireland has been accepted and I can stay another 12 months.  The wait has been interminable. Over four months without a word and without any response to enquiries.  Everyone I spoke to about it seemed to think that was pretty normal and that I just had to wait.  Meanwhile my visa had expired and my life was on hold.  My inability to prove residency and obtain an Irish driving licence led to refusal to re-insure my car and so for three months I have been unable to drive.  It will still be a couple of months before that is rectified.

I wonder why some countries make it so difficult for people to come and live.  I am sure Australia is just as bad with people wanting to reside there.  I just don’t get it though.  I am self-sufficient, I have met all the requirements, I accept that I can’t work or run a business but still I have to go through all these hoops and am met with a wall of silence when I try to find out what’s going on.  In Ireland, the hundreds of millions of people in the Eurozone can come and go as they please but the few thousand Aussies who want to make Ireland home (even for a short while)  find that to stay longer than 90 days is laced with any number of difficulties.   A country looking to recover from an economic catastrophe should be welcoming anyone who wants to come here and spend money.

Anyway I am undaunted because I am not ready to go home.  Over the next year I will explore ways of obtaining longer terms of residency to continue on my musical journey.  But Ireland has become much more than that to me.  It has etched its way into my being.  With a few exceptions, which I won’t dwell on, I have been welcomed here with open arms and open hearts.  It is such a contrast to the anonymity of Australian suburbia where you can live for years and never be recognised by your neighbours. Here I live in a small community and people take you as you are.  I am often greeted by strangers “with a warm and kind hello” as in the lyrics of the song “The Clogher Road”.  I have had many offers of lifts to do my shopping or get coal as people became aware of my predicament.  And in my cycles around West Clare I am often tooted with recognition or waved at by people who obviously know me even if I don’t recognise them.

And I feel part of the wider community also, throughout Clare and beyond.  Facebook and this blog have allowed me to keep in contact with the hundreds of people I have met through music in Ireland and around the world.  And to share my experiences and images.  I have received a terrific response to my posts and it seems to me that the Irish and followers of Irish music around the world love to read about and see what’s happening around the country.   Many of my overseas friends tell me they live a little vicariously through my blogs until they can actually get here themselves.

So I will continue to write and photograph.  I will of course play music.  Both in sessions and at home.  I can feel myself improving and want that to continue.  Perhaps I won’t go to sessions every night – I will speak about that in another blog.  I want to explore more of this country and as soon as I can drive I want to revisit some of my favourite places (such as Connemara, Aran Islands and Donegal,) and to find new favourite places, especially in the remotest parts of Ireland to discover the people and music there.

So please stay with me on my blog and follow me on the next stage of my journey…

Here are some of my favourite pictures from the past year or so, which may help you understand why I don’t want to go home.

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A stormy day near Spanish Point, Co Clare

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The last day at the old Brogan’s Pub in Ennis.

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Sunset at Caherush, Co Clare

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A peek into a session at Pepper’s Pub, Feakle, Co Clare

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My cottage in Clare

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Near Mullaghmore, Co Sligo

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The Burren bathed in golden light

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The magical Mount Errigal, Co Donegal.

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Doolin Folk Festival 2015, Day 2

Only a few words today. I am going to let the pictures talk. I’ll just say that the full house yesterday was treated to an incredibly strong showing of what ‘Folk Music’ is today in Ireland.

We had solo singer-songwriters such as Fiach Moriarty, we had a dose of Sliabh Luachra with Brian O’Leary’s band and then the perfect hangover cure with Colm Mac Con Iomaire. This group deserves special mention. All eleven of them had made the trip to Doolin and their eclectic and extraordinarily beautiful arrangements of ‘trad meets trance’ was a real eye-opener.

We had ‘modern’ trad with the Four Winds reprising their gig of a couple of weeks ago at the Fleadh Nua in Ennis and if anything they lifted it a notch from that show. I especially loved Farewell to the Gold, a song I have been singing since the early eighties. We had the Lost Brothers, two guys who definitely weren’t lost. Two brothers, two voices and two guitars; lovely stuff. We had more brothers with We Banjos Three (who are actually four – explain that; oh sorry, this is Ireland!) , where ‘trad meets old timey’.  Their extraordinary virtuosity makes them a standout wherever they play.

Then we had Cork man Mick Flannery and his band, another unknown to me.  Not easy to follow the Banjos but they delighted their loyal fans.

The highlight of the day for me though was Fiddler’s Bid, four lads from Scotland and the Shetlands who, surprisingly, all play the fiddle.  They were supported by some of the finest harp playing you will ever here and a rhythm section with guitar and bass and sometimes piano . But wow! Four fiddles, sometimes in unison, sometimes weaving in and out with harmonies and chords but always electric, energetic and enervating. I had heard them at New Year in Donegal a the most amazing Hogmanay and they certainly did not disappoint this time. Not much more to be said. Oh except the night was finished with Aldoc (for me at 1:30) with Alan Docherty’s amazing flute at the core, but with a lot more going on around him.

Today was another perfect gaggle of gigs. Not everything is to everyone’s taste. But as I said yesterday that’s what makes a great Festival.

One last thing. I met heaps of fantastic people yesterday. From all over Ireland and the world. I also took lots of shots of people of all ages enjoying the craic. I will put some of these up on my blog in the days to come. Without these wonderful people there would be not be a Festival.

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Categories: Festivals, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Winter in Ireland !

They said I wouldn’t survive the winter.

Well it’s approaching the end of January and I am still here. But I have to say that these last few weeks I have really felt what it is that everyone has warned me about. The realisation hit as I stood on the cliffs of Sleave League in southwest Donegal trying to stand up straight enough to take a photograph, wrapped in multiple layers but still feeling that wind cut through to the bone. It was a brisk 4˚C at midday but with the wind chill it was sub-zero. It was numbingly cold but the photos I took that day look deceptively pretty, with blue skies and gorgeous colours reflecting the sun off the cliffs. The camera never lies but it doesn’t always tell the full story.

And then the other day the maximum on the mercury back home in Clare was 1˚C. It was snowing across the county, indeed all over the west, but not here at Caherush on the sea.

I stand outside my front door. The wind here is relentless and constant. This day you can hardly stand up as it whips the usually calm waters of the bay into a seething boiling maelstrom and further out past Mutton Island, massive waves roll in through a sea of foam and whipped up spray I can see the spray drive high over Mutton Island covering its castle as waves crash in from the west. Some intrepid gulls fight the elements to carry on with their continuous search for sustenance seemingly just hanging in the air almost enjoying the challenge as they feast on the abundant feed whipped up by the furious waters. And a handful of ducks continue to forage on the shoreline despite being buffeted hither and thither. And on the land, cattle turn their backs to the wind to provide some protection. There is no rain at the moment, in fact patches of blue appear through the clouds to tantalise and at least give an impression of warmth soon dispelled by the reality closer to the ground. I don’t stay out there long. Valdo, the farmer’s border collie runs up, stone in mouth, inviting me to play, seemingly oblivious to the unfriendliness of the elements. No walk along the shore today Valdo, that’s just a distant memory. Back inside though the house is cosy, the fire goes all day and if I’m not warm enough I sometimes turn the central heating on also. I play music. I write. I read. I watch the odd movie. And when I get bored I play some more music. My day really begins at 9pm when I head out to look for tunes, an increasingly difficult challenge.

So I am still here. My adopted countrymen can’t understand this. They see the endless blue skies of a Summer Bay Utopia and a bikini-barbecue lifestyle to match and wonder why I would want to come here. They all have relatives in Perth who will never come home. And they all want to join them there in the warmth. So why don’t I feel the same way. Don’t get me wrong I love Australia (well when it is not being stuffed up by uncaring governments!) but I have had decades of it and the Australian summer holds no attraction for me anymore. Yes, day after day of blue skies, but it comes with often unbearable heat (depending where you are, and I spent a lot of my time there in 40 plus temperatures in the desert), the threat of fires, not sleeping at night, hot westerly winds. It all makes you actually crave some ‘weather’. That craving for weather is certainly satisfied here. In recent days I have seen it at its rawest – driven through a snow storm, been pelted by hailstorms, 130kph winds and 30m waves. But seriously this wild winter is a small price to pay to live in this glorious country and be surrounded by music every day. I feel blessed.

So if I go home it definitely won’t be because of the weather.

Here are some photos that say winter and Ireland to me…….

the wild Atlantic.  Spanish Point Co Clare

the wild Atlantic. Spanish Point Co Clare

Spanish Point

Spanish Point

Stating the obvious.  White Strand near Spanish Point, Co Clare

Stating the obvious. White Strand near Spanish Point, Co Clare

Cattle turn their backs to the wind.  Spanish Point, Co Clare

Cattle turn their backs to the wind. Spanish Point, Co Clare

Caherush, Co Clare

Caherush, Co Clare

wind blown foam,  Spanish Point Beach.  Co Clare

wind blown foam, Spanish Point Beach. Co Clare

Spanish Point Beach.  Covered in foam.

Spanish Point Beach. Covered in foam.

Wild Atlantic.  Spanish Point.  Co Clare

Wild Atlantic. Spanish Point. Co Clare

Sleave League, Co Donegal

Sleave League, Co Donegal

Ice.  Gweedore, Co Donegal

Ice. Gweedore, Co Donegal

Fanore Beach, Co Clare

Fanore Beach, Co Clare

Caherush Bay during a gale.

Caherush Bay during a gale.

Caherush Bay. Co Clare.

Caherush Bay. Co Clare.

Ice crystals on the windscreen.  Sixmilebridge. Co Clare

Ice crystals on the windscreen. Sixmilebridge. Co Clare

Ice on the road.  Mount Callan, Co Clare.

Ice on the road. Mount Callan, Co Clare.

Categories: Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Scoil Gheimhridh Ghaoth Dobhair. Winter School, Gweedore.

I posted the other day on the final night of the Winter School in Gweedore, County Donegal. Here is a selection of photographs from the earlier days of the Festival which ran from 27th December 2014 to 1st January 2015.

I am going to let the photos do the talking but as you will see it was a fabulous event. Can’t speak for the other workshops but Brid Harper’s fiddle was outstanding. Concerts and recitals from Boys of the Lough, Liz Carroll and Brid Harper, Harry Bradley, Brendan Begley, Seamus Begley, Seamie O’Dowd and great sessions where humble plebs like me could find themselves playing next to these guys or a host of others, perhaps less well known but just as good. A smooth, well-organised Festival. Great job Conor Byrne and all the volunteers who made it all happen. There were even a couple of days of sunshine.

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Categories: Festivals, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Hogmanay Donegal Style

Well! where do I start to talk about the festival I have just attended. The Scoil Gheimbhridh Ghaoth Dobhair or the Winter School at Gweedore in Co Donegal. It used to be the Frankie Kennedy Festival but has been reborn this year.  The school ran from 27th December to 1st January, climaxing in a Hogmanay to bring in the New Year for 2015.  So I’ll start there, at the end, and post on the other aspects of the Festival later.

What a night! Held a bit out of the way in the GAA rooms at Bunbeg,  it kicked off at 9:30 with a group of young local Donegal musicians led by multi-instrumentalist Cathal Curran. They were surprisingly good and well received by the audience. But if the entrée was smoked salmon then the main course was a thick succulent juicy steak and that is what the crowd had come to feast on . And they got it in spades. Fiddlers Bid are a group from the Shetlands fronted by four fiddlers, Chris Stout, Kevin Henderson, Andrew Gifford and Maurice Henderson with the celebrated Catriona McKay on harp and piano and a pumping rhythm section comprising Seán Óg Graham on guitar and Neil Harland on bass,

From the first chord they had the crowd dancing.

I am still new to Ireland and it was indeed impressive to see the class music coming from the stage matched by the class exhibited on the dance floor with all sorts of cavorting and gambolling, some highly inventive dances and some great steps being displayed equally well in runners  or high heels. The floor would clear every now and then, just as in Saturday Night Fever,  for some skilled sean nos – at one point a line of six dancers. River dance as it should be.

This crowd wanted to have fun and they did. There was a conga line, and unbridled enthusiasm as 2014 disappeared. The set they played to bring in the New Year started ten minutes before midnight and was impeccably timed for the countdown, launching effortlessly into Auld Lang Syne and then back to their trademark energetic reels. The set went for forty minutes without a break and at the end of it sweat and bow hairs were flying about the stage.

There was a break for some food while the band regained their composure and they fired up again with the crowd not letting the music stop until well after the scheduled close. At various times the band were joined by Brendan Begley, Cathal McConnell,  Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Conor Byrne. Great craic.

There is not much more to say. Everyone clearly had a great time. A difficult event to photograph in low light with so much movement and of course I don’t use a flash. But I think I have captured the spirit of the evening. The joy of the crowd.  Well done Conor, an inspired choice for band and I know where I’ll be when 2016 comes around.

Follow me to keep up to date with future posts which will cover the concerts, workshops and sessions of this great festival.  I will also post on my travels through the beautiful south west of this wild and glorious County.

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Categories: Festivals, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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