Posts Tagged With: Ennis

A Musical Week in Clare, Ireland

I have lived for the past 2½ years on the coast near Spanish Point in County Clare. There has been a constant stream of visitors during this time. Some were family, some good friends but some were strangers. Some stayed for a night, some for more than a week. All leave as life long friends.  I have hosted 76 guests, many more than once.

They are all people I meet through music, or the music session, or during my travels in Ireland. They have come from Ireland, Australia, France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, United States, UK, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Denmark and Czech Republic and each has a story. Every single one of them has enriched my time here and it has been a joy to have met, enjoyed their company and shared a shared passion for things Irish.

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French Windows

 

Just last week I hosted three wonderful friends, Julie, Romain and Anna from Carcassone in the south of France. Of course we played tunes, that’s what they came for, but we cooked, imbibed, sampled cheese (sorry, fromage!), and exchanged stories.

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The sun came out on the last day.  Lunch on the porch.

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Cheese, wine and bread from Carcassone.  View from Caherush. 

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It didn’t matter that it rained. I am grateful that we were able to experience an ideal slice of Clare music and musicians in the week they were here. This is what is so special about this place. So many memorable moments, but come next week and it will be the same, but completely different.

So many highlights. Sunday. A pub session in Miltown Malbay at Hillery’s with Conor Keane and Jackie Daly firing on all cylinders, Julie and Romain brought some elegance to the proceedings as they danced a mazurka, French style. Monday.  Fitz’s Bar in Doolin, Tuesday. The cosy Cooley’s House in Ennistymon. On Wednesday a trip to Ennis – a chilled out session at Brogans did little to prepare my guests for the madness of Moroney’s in Ennis where the victorious young Clare hurling team were in full voice and there was some fiery sean nos style dancing from Canada, US and Ireland. A visit to the Burren Thursday and sharing some tunes stories, songs and poems in the kitchen of the irrepressible Oliver O’Connell . And they joined in on my regular Thursday house session with some local West Clare musician friends. The craic went until 4am.  Situation normal.  Oh and what a way to finish! A phalanx of pipers led by Blackie at the Friday Piping Heaven Piping Hell session in Ennis.

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Sunday.  Jackie Daly, Conor Keane and Dave Harper at Hillery’s Bar in Miltown Malbay.

 

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Sunday. A French mazurka in an Irish pub.

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Monday.  Tunes in Fitz’s Doolin.  Photo Anna. 

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Monday.  Fitz’s

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Tuesday.  Cooley’s House.  Ennistymon.  Photo.  Anna.

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Wednesday.  Eoin O’Neill, Brid O’Gorman, Jon O’Connell.  Brogan’s Ennis

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Wednesday.  Anne Marie McCormack, Marcus Moloney and a member of the young Clare hurling team.  Moroney’s Ennis.

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Thursday.  Joining Oliver O’Connell in his kitchen.  Photo Anna.

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Thursday.  House session at Caherush.  With John Joe Tuttle, Ciaran McCabe and J-B Samazan. 

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Friday.  Piping session, Blackie O’Connell, Tom Delaney and friends.  O’Connell’s Bar, Ennis,

 

For me these musical experiences are enhanced immeasurably when I am joined by those who approach the music with the same ardor as me. It is my privilege indeed to host such people.

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New friends.

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Blue and green. 

 

Categories: My Journey, Sessions | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fleadh Cheoil na hÉirean. Ennis 2016

I usually don’t do diary-type blogs.  But for the Fleadh in Ennis I will make an exception. This is essentially a rehash of my daily posts on Facebook but many of my blog followers are not on Facebook so I am repeating it here for you. Apologies to those who have read it before.

August 13th 2016.  Day 1

Just the beginning…  The first night of the Fleadh for me was at PJ Kelly’s Pub.  Mental. Pub was packed by 9:30 for the regular Saturday session with room for only half a dozen musicians. Great craic but I can only guess what it will be like later in the week.

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August 14th, 2016.  Day 2

I’ve said this before, but what happens outside a festival can be as good as being there. This night was a completely different chilled out experience with songs and tunes at one of my favourite haunts, Cornerstone Bar Lahinch. With Eoin O’Neill, Brid O’Gorman, Willie Cummins, Noirin Lynch, Lorraine Battersby and Luka Bloom seeking respite from the mayhem.

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August 15th, 2016.  Day 3

There is a great buzz in Ennis and today I felt it for the first time. It was a glorious sunny day and the town looked a treat. Streets adorned with bollards. Ha. No seriously; shops were painted, there were window displays everywhere, some pop-up shops selling music stuff and there were people on the street. I went to a concert in glor with Christy McNamara, Yvonne Casey and Eoin O’Neill.  Great music. Narrowly missed Martin Hayes, doing a spot for FleadhTV, looked in at Knox’s, played some tunes at Cruises with Denis Liddy and family, Brid O’Gorman, Lorraine Battersby, Caoilfionn Mooorhead, Veronika von Ruden and Kathleen Bremer and listened to The Fiddle Case in the Sanctuary. In the process I wandered around town and caught a bit of the vibe. Like a street carnival.

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August 16th, 2016.  Day 4

The sun beckoned; so today I ended up on Lahinch Beach with my Fleadh houseguests from Czech Republic (Iva and Tereza) and from Germany (Katherina). It was a very high tide and the sea was rough and smashed against the rocks. The red flag was flying so there were just a few mad surfers in the water. I now see why Lahinch brings the surfers. We found a patch of sand near the river mouth and I ended up in the water for my second swim of the summer. Hardly the sun bronzed Aussie but it was a perfect tonic. Eventually we ended up in town for Supermacs and to catch the last of the evening light. Crowds are bigger today and the buskers have hatched. They are everywhere. Then the rain came around 930 and scattered them and the pubs filled. It was tunes at Cruises again and then we ended the night with Los Paddys de las Pampas. Thanks Lorraine for dragging me onto the dance floor. I hope the bruises have recovered. There’s no doubt about where this Fleadh is being held. Ennis is writ large. Thanks to Tereza for the photos with me.

 

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August 17th 2016, Day 5.

Stayed away from Ennis today but not away from the music. My cottage was filled during the afternoon with the fiddle and pipes of house guests Haley Richardson  and Keegan Loesel from New Jersey in the States practicing for their Competition spots. Keegan had entered eight! JC Talty would have been very pleased. And in the evening a very special session at Duggan’s at Spancil Hill where Haley and Keegan and I joined in with Yvonne Casey, John Weir, Christy McNamara and a few other lucky people. There were some some gorgeous songs and a sean nos dance from Kristen, another visitor from Boston. Back into the mayhem tomorrow.

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August 18th, 2016.  Day 6

Every day is different, Today started with threatening weather and a battle with the Fleadh traffic. Eventually I found a park miraculously two minutes walk from town but it still took half an hour to get through the throng at 3.30 to the Tune Challenge organised byBoston-based Tommy McCarthy. We were supposed to play Humours of Tulla but we played some reels and barn dances and listened to some songs and then just as we were all ready to launch into it the  rain came. Ten minutes later it was fine again. Oh well. This is Ireland. Then I had the most fabulous time dressing up in ridiculous clothes and rehearsing for the Chapel Gates Wren Boys gig (All Ireland Champions you know) and then on to the Gig Rig at 9pm for the absolute highlight for me, of the Festival. What a thrill playing in front of the jam packed street. Many thanks to all the wonderful people who allowed me to participate. Too many to thank but in particular Grainne Fennell and Joan Hanrahan.  Thanks also tomy friend from Boston, Kristen, for grabbing my camera and taking some amazing shots. The street party continued until late in the night as the rain held off. Even the security guards were getting into the silent disco!

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August 19th, 2016.  Day 7.

At the heart of the Fleadh is the All Ireland Competition. It’s why Comhaltas started the whole thing back in the 1950s. Today I went to the Fiddle Competition. I watched extraordinarily talented kids perform with aplomb in the Under 15s, with my house guest from South Jersey in the US, Haley Richardson coming in second. And then second again in the Slow Air. Congratulations Haley. Amazing playing. There were sessions everywhere like at Nora Culligan’s with Claire Egan, Jack Talty and Paraic Mac Donnchadhna and  Friends but try finding a seat! Dodging the showers I settled in for the night at PJ Kelly’s with Eileen O’Brien and Deirdre Mc Sherry etc. Great tunes in a great pub. The picture of the lad with the massive trophy is of William who had just won the U15 Mouth Organ!

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August 20th, 2016.  Day 8.

No tunes for me today. Just caught the end of the Under 15 Ceili Band Competition. Absolutely jam packed tent. Congratulations to winners Tulóg Ceili Band from Tulla. Up the Banner! Another showery day but the music continued in the pubs and on the street, in tents, in a caravan at the back of the Old Ground Hotel and even in the shops where I stumbled on the Toyota Ceili Band from Japan. The ferrets were captivated. The crowds were a real challenge and by 9pm many pubs had closed their doors and just weren’t letting anyone else in. So I settled into a corner of Cruises with some new friends and enjoyed the party until the small hours. A quiet day tomorrow? Maybe!

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August 21st, 2016.  Day 9.

Wet, wet, wet. So not a lot of time on the streets today. I spent the afternoon checking out the merchandise tent (been there, done that, got the t-shirt) and catching some of the sean nos dance competition. Class. The evening I headed to Miltown Malbay in the pouring rain for a concert by the Tulla Ceili Band. Except it wasn’t a concert it was a mini-ceili. With a few guest acts. This was such a wonderful contrast to the streets of Ennis and very few of the Fleadh visitors made the trek. This was real. No need for the whoop-whoop of FleadhTV. I even got up and danced the Siege of Ennis (appropriate?) A first for me. Then a mighty session at Friels Lynch’s with Joanie Madden and couple of the other Cherished Ladies and Haley Richardson.  I like to think of this Fleadh as a Plum Pudding. A great big blob of delicious sweetness but with explosive surprises dotted through it. This was one of those plump little raisins……..

Thanks to Kristen and an anonymous punter for the last two photos.

 

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August 22nd, 2016.  Day 10

The Final Fling!

Monday was such a glorious day of sunshine I didn’t make it in to Ennis until 6.00pm. After saying goodbye to my Fleadh houseguests, Donn and Haley and Lynette and   and Keegan, the afternoon was spent on the shoreline at Caherush but I needed just one final fling. So I headed to town. It was quieter on the streets but the pubs were still doing a roaring trade until the rain returned and Ennis regained some semblance of normality. I played a bit in Nora Culligan’s before doing a final wander and returning home well sated.

Some final words. There is something different about a Fleadh in your own home town. I enjoyed it so much more than Sligo. This was a truly unique week. OK I didnt play much and I went to very few concerts but just being part of something like this was enough. Despite the occasional cold and wet there was warmth and welcomes everywhere. It didn’t matter that you couldn’t move in the pubs or get a seat. Everyone was here to enjoy themselves and they did.  This is the natural home of the Fleadh.

See you next year. And 2018?

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

My First Gig with a Ceili Band

I’ve done a lot of things in Ireland that I had never done before. I’ve blogged about most of them. Participating in the Guinness World Record attempt for the biggest session, been a Wren Boy, slept in a 16th century castle; but there’s one thing I hadn’t done. Until last night.

Friday 24th June 2016 and I was on stage with the brand new Lissycasey Ceili Band under a marquee at Lissycasey, a village to the south of Ennis in Co Clare. The occasion was the first Lissycasey Music Festival, a community organised event which will showcase traditional, country and a range of other music. For the occasion they had erected a giant marquee. Not just an ordinary marquee mind you but a glass walled one complete with chandeliers. And a dance floor. And an optimistic amount of seating which by the end of the night was fully rewarded with bums on seats.

Talking to some Lissycasey locals I was told that regular marquee dances were the social events of the 1940s and 50s, with dance bands and show bands entertaining all ages. Indeed many people met and courted under the marquees. This event harked back to those days, with the majority of the patrons well old enough to have been at those dances and probably were. I imagine it recaptured many nostalgic moments. Maybe many of them met their partners there.

The event had added poignancy as it celebrated and honoured a much loved daughter of Lissycasey, concertina player, Dympna O’Sullivan, who so sadly passed away last year.

I have always had mixed feelings about ceili bands. There is some disdain towards them in some quarters but I have to say my first experience playing in one was an absolute blast. From the moment that wood block sounded its click, click-click  heralding in, in perfect unison, fiddles, concertinas, accordions, flutes, and keyboard belting out familiar tunes in perfect unison (well most of the time) at a brisk pace and with that characteristic ceili rhythm, I was flying. There was a Caledonian Set and the Siege of Ennis and some waltzing and there were smiles all around the room.

It was much faster than I usually played. Not a problem. I was carried along with the other musicians and even got most of the changes right. And boy don’t you love those tune changes. And that feeling when the music ends in perfect agreement with the dancers. I’m hooked.

After us there was a band featuring Don Stiffe and the dancing continued with plenty of enthusiasm.

Thanks to Joan Hanrahan for the invitation to play and to the many wonderful Lissycasey musicians who welcomed me, a refugee Aussie, aboard. And to the organisers who did such a fantastic job. It is amazing what people can do on their own with just the support of local sporting and cultural bodies, looking for no kudos other than to provide something to their community.

This is the real culture of County Clare.

Thanks to Martin O’Malley for the photos of the Band (photos 6 – 10).

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It’s a long, long way from Alburquerque to Clare

I hope you don’t mind me telling this little story.

I was busy doing what I do, juggling the camera and the fiddle, at a café session on Tuesday, 24th May at the Fleadh Nua. Session leaders were Cyril O’Donoghue and Blackie O’Connell. These Café sessions are a tradition now and for me one of the highlights of this festival. During a break I was approached and asked “You’re not that blogger are you?” After establishing which blogger she meant, Jeanne went on to say I was the reason she was here in Ennis at the Fleadh Nua.  She was here with three of her four nieces, all musicians, and other assorted family all the way from Albuquerque, New Mexico. A mini-bus full of them.  She filled me in on the story. They had been searching for information on Festivals in Ireland and google directed her to my blog on Fleadh Nua from 2015. What they read and saw there was enough to convince them to come to Fleadh Nua and Ennis.

They managed only one day there in a hectic short trip but, for sure, they made the most of that day. Joining in enthusiastically with Cyril and Blackie and doing a duet there with fiddle and bodhran and later singing a wonderful version of Orphan Girl at Frank Custy’s afternoon session. Following that with a mesmerising version of The Sally Gardens. Their fresh, energetic sound and gospel-like harmonies was warmly received.

I was grateful to meet Jeanne, Natasha, Evelyn and Gabrielle and the other travellers and more than humbled that my blog touches people such as them all around the Irish Music world.

That’s why I blog. Thanks guys.

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Categories: Festivals, My Journey, Sessions, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why I love Irish Music Festivals. Especially the ones I don’t go to.

If you’ve read any of my blog posts you will know I love Festivals.  Traditional Irish Music Festivals to be more precise.   But sometimes I like them even better if I don’t go.  Let me explain.

This weekend 1st to 3rd April in Ennis is a Festival devoted to the concertina.  Clare is of course the home of the concertina in Ireland so what better place to have it.  There is a rich tradition in both East and West Clare and many of the greatest exponents of this instrument either come from or have connections to Clare.  So as you can imagine there are plenty of visiting musicians.  In itself a weekend of concertina music is not such a big drawcard for me though I have planned to attend some of the events.  But what I love is the possibilities that sometimes get thrown up for some really wonderful collaborations.

One such of these happened on Friday night at Kilshanny House.  Kilshanny House is a rural pub located about 10 km north of Ennistymon, which itself is twenty minutes north of Ennis.  Bravely they have started a regular Friday session hosted by Eoin O’Neill.  This night he invited  the wonderful  Kinvara-based accordion player and long-time member of Altan, Dermot Byrne and when it became known that concertina and flute player, John Williams from Chicago, but once resident in Doolin, would also be there this acted as a catalyst for a number of other local and visiting musicians.  Among those sitting around the coffee table with them, giving more of the feel of a living room than a pub, was Adam Shapiro, Conor Byrne and Terry Bingham three musicians well known in Clare.  And the next generation of concertina players Dara and Sarah, joined in also.

This was a relaxed and special session.  Quite different to what was probably happening in Ennis at the same time in the  packed noisy pubs.  You could hear every note, every nuance and it was a real thrill for me to be part of.

Can’t wait for the Fleadh Ceol in Ennis.  Especially for those nights when I won’t be there.

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St Patrick’s Day, Miltown Malbay 2016

Last year I wrote about the St Patrick’s day parade in Ennis.  This year I decided to stay local and I’m glad I did.  This was the real St Patrick’s Day.  Not jam packed with ‘Irish-for -the-day’, green Guinness- hatted parodies that you see in Sydney or New York but this was the Irish celebrating their culture on their soil on their day.

OK, there were green beards and flags and the like but it was Irish men, women and children dressing up so that somehow seemed OK and less jingoistic than in Australia on Australia day when it is just an excuse to get drunk and carry on like a pork chop.

There was something real about it, perhaps it was the rural setting of Miltown Malbay closer to the ‘real’ Ireland than Dublin or even Ennis.  And boy did they go to a lot of trouble.  All the local schools had floats with the obvious theme of 1916. All were dressed in costumes of the day and re-enacting significant events.  There were farmers, soldiers, nurses, politicians and it was so good to see the kids and adults throw themselves into it with gusto. Oh and plenty of guns.   There were vintage cars and there was around a dozen bikes.  Now that’s something you wouldn’t see in Oz,  with the hysteria around bikie gangs, but they got a giant cheer as they roared their bikes in unison drowning out the tin whistles and mandolins.

A couple due to get married at the Armada, one hour after the start of the parade at 3pm, became part of the festivities.  It was great craic and I am sure gave plenty of memories to take back to the States.  I’ve included a few photos.  By the way I was told they flew over from New York with 100 friends for the weekend!

Did I mention there were guns?  And  tractors!  Many of the pubs had a float as did many of the local businesses, the GAA, and some of the community organisations.  And there was plenty of Irish trad accompanying them.  Most of the pubs had musicians, there was music on the ‘gig rig’,  there was the guitar school and the students from Brid O’Donoghue’s music school smartly dressed and proudly playing.  Brid herself leading a flock of youngsters ‘clothed-all -in-green-ho-ho’,   like a modern day Pied Piper.  There were set dances, a brush dance, two fabulous gymnasts and songs and recitations.  What more could you want?

The weather was kind as we basked in one of those rare sun-waves (four days in a row!), though chilly, at the end of it there was welcome warmth in Friel’s Pub where I joined in the session with the music of Aiden McMahon and Frances Cunningam playing to a packed throng.

The pub was already getting noisy and chaotic by the time I left after 7 so that was it for me.  Rather than join the festivities , which I have no doubt would stretch to the small hours I headed home, well satisfied, for an early night!

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Miltown Malbay waits for the parade to start

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Entertainment from the gig rig

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A bridal party stops the parade.  A couple of those groomsmen are a little nervous.

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It’s a long way from there (New York) to Clare

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This has to be better than the parade in New York

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Miltown’s Marvels?

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Guns, whistles and shamrock.

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Guns and guitars

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Rineen school brings the whole class, desks and all.

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Legs and shamrocks

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What would a St Patricks Day parade be without tractors?

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The Pied Piper

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Poor Willie

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Kevin Burke in Concert, Ennis 2016

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As a young geologist my first job was in the far west of New South Wales in outback Australia at a place called Cobar.  It was a small mining town of 5,000 in the middle of nowhere.  A highlight was a regular three hour drive to Dubbo for a shopping trip.  Sydney was 8 hours away.  This was 1979 and I was already heavily into the fiddle so as often as I could I would drive down to Sydney and head straight to Folkways Record Shop in Paddington.  There I would check the latest imports from Ireland and buy most of them on spec.  This is how I discovered Kevin Burke.  And right through the 80’s he was my inspiration.  From the solo If the Cap Fits to Promenade and Portland recorded with Mícheál Ó Domhnaill and then the collaborations with Jacky Daly and Andy Irvine and Patrick Street.

Fast forward to February 2016 and I am sitting in the back bar of Lucas Bar in Ennis.  I have never been here before and the place is not renowned for music.  Indeed this is a first for the Pub.  A small but enthusiastic crowd had gathered to hear Kevin play. Solo. No distractions.   Just the clear clean sound of a fiddler on his own.    I looked around.  There were many well-known fiddlers in the room and they treated the master with absolute respect and reverent silence.  It was hard to believe that nearly forty years after discovering him I was hearing him live for the first time.

Burke’s playing has both breadth and depth.  His interpretation of traditional Irish music is rooted in the Sligo tradition but has absorbed so many influences from his days in London and the US. Personally I love the fiddle on its own.  Nothing wrong with ensemble playing and his many collaborations are testament to his skill at that but a masterful player such as Burke can bring out the internal rhythm of the tunes without the need for other instruments or backing.    He displayed this virtuosity with over 90 minutes of reels, polkas, slides, jigs and airs.  And we also got some bluegrass, some Yiddish music (via Sweden), some Quebecois and some musette.

It was a captivating and rewarding performance.  The tunes were linked together with some delightful stories and restrained banter and perhaps the biggest cheer was reserved for his song about his days in London.  There were many highlights for me though.  An outstanding rendition of Maudabawn Chapel, the haunting Frielach, and the wildness of the Boys of Malin and Stenson’s reels stand out.

Kevin is in Ireland to receive the Gradam Ceoil for 2016, the Irish Musician of the Year award from TG4.  What a worthy recipient,  having given us four decades of inspirational fiddle music.  Thanks.

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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

Where Does the Music in Ireland go in Winter? Answer…. Fitz’s bar in Doolin.

It’s the last night of November.  I am in Doolin in West Clare.  The rain is lashing.  It’s windy and cold.  Normal Irish winter actually.  So of course the only place to be is in a pub in front of the fire with a hot whiskey or a Guinness and listening to or playing Irish music.

Well that’s the plan anyway; during the summer here in Doolin you can find music every night of the week in any of the four pubs; not so now.  All the mid-week sessions have pretty much packed up.  Except that is on Monday nights at Fitz’s Bar at the Hotel Doolin.  Every Monday night, summer or winter, for the last couple of years this session has acted like a beacon in the musical desert (sorry about the mixed metaphor).  Or perhaps an oasis in a stormy sea (there I go again!).

That’s where I ended up in any case.  It has a peculiar welcoming vibe.  The session is hosted by Eoin O’Neill, Quentin Cooper,  Adam Shapiro and Jon O’Connell who are collectively The Fiddle Case and all very well-known musicians around Clare.  They love playing together and that infectious energy is picked up by the musicians attracted there to play with them.  This night we had noted box and concertina player Terry Bingham and Christy Moore’s siblings, Anne Rynne and Luka Bloom join us as well as regulars such as Andee from the States and Séverine from France along with local and international visitors.

Walking into this pub on a Monday is like a welcome home party.  There are so many regulars, locals for which this is their only night out and visitors who though strangers at the beginning of the night may be lifetime friends by the end.  There is always a good mix here.  The tunes are of course at the centre but there will be songs, always of surprising quality, and often from unknowns that Eoin plucks from the crowd.  After thirty years of doing this in Doolin he is a master.

Always a highlight for me is when Jon O’Connell sings Liscannor Bay.  This wonderful song written by local man Mick Flynn has been made his own by John and with the subtle and restrained backing of the fiddle, bouzouki and slide guitar from the band has truly become an anthem.  The great news is that a definitive version has been recorded.  It is not yet available commercially and can’t even be heard on line but it is receiving airplay on ClareFM and wherever good traditional music is played.  Keep your ear open for it.  I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do.  Even better news is that an album will be released soon with Liscannor Bay included.  Can’t wait.  I really hope it catches the spirit that is Fitz’s on a Monday night.  I am sure it will be very sought after by visitors wanting to take a little of that magic home with them.

It continues to surprise me why many pubs get rid of musicians in winter.  Fitz’s shows what you can do if you pick the right musicians and create the right vibe.  But luckily it’s not the only one.  Try Friels in Miltown Malbay on Friday, Saturday or Sunday or Cooley’s House in Ennistymon on Tuesdays or the Cornerstone in Lahinch on a Sunday if you can’t find anything in Doolin or Ennis.

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

Irish Celebration. Music at the Heart of it.

Maybe I live in an unreal world but I went to two events in the past week which have highlighted for me the hugely important place traditional Irish music has at the centre of Irish culture and celebration.

One was a funeral and one was a birthday party.

For a birthday party fair enough, but you may think ‘celebration’ is a strange choice of word for a funeral.  Let me try and explain.

All of Ennis and the broader Clare and Irish Music communities were saddened by the untimely death of Dympna O’Sullivan.  A noted concertina player and stalwart of the Ennis music scene, I met her briefly and played in a couple of sessions with her last year.  You could not fail to like her and to be inspired by her playing.   I attended her funeral mass at Lissycasey on Sunday 22nd November.  I had not been to a Funeral in Ireland and, though I knew they were a big part of the Irish fabric, I was unsure what to expect.

What I saw when I arrived was a village choked with cars and the spacious church filled to capacity.  Family and friends included many musicians and many brought their instruments.    The traditional mass was interspersed with not-so-traditional traditional Irish Music.  And it made for a wonderful service at times moving and reverential and then stirring.  This brings me back to the ‘celebration’ word.  Yes it was truly a celebration of a wonderful joyous musical life and there was no incongruity in the long line of mourners queuing to pay respects to the relatives while friends and fellow musicians played spirited jigs and reels.  At least thirty musicians played in the packed church and their contribution made for a unique send off.  Later at the graveside a solo accordion player from the village played a haunting air which lingered in the cool crisp winter air.  I can’t think of a better way to remember a life.

The other event was a 60th birthday party for Christy Barry.   Christy is one of Ireland’s most respected flute and whistle players.  He spent much of his life in the States but for some time has lived back home in County Clare.  His birthday party filled the function room in Fitz’s bar in the Hotel Doolin with family coming from all round the world.  This was more than a birthday party though. The gathering was an excuse for a mighty session.  The word was out and upwards of forty musician friends of Christy’s turned up.  The music continued with hardly a break from around 8 until I left at 1.30 am.  Christy was at the centre of it driving many of the sets whether he was on the flute, whistle or spoons. At the same time he found the time to welcome and embrace every new arrival.  The session ebbed and flowed as musicians came and went.  One minute Christy was leading a set with half a dozen whistles and flutes.  Then the fiddles took over, including James Cullinan, Joe Rynne, Michael Kelleher and Paul Dooley, and then there was a duet with Christy and John King and then there were forty musicians belting out Lucy Campbell.  There were songs interspersed and of course some impromptu dancing.  This was true craic.  Christy also formally received his delayed Lifetime Achievement Award from the Doolin Folk Festival to rousing applause.  A well-deserved accolade.

As I said Irish music was at the centre of both events.  This was not a pub session or a concert  or something laid on for the tourists but this was real; an integral part of life and living.

I really don’t have the words this time to explain the connection adequately.  Maybe these photos from Fitz’s will help.  But you have to experience it to understand.

 

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Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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