Posts Tagged With: Kerry

As I was Going over the Cork and Kerry Mountains. Part 2. The Gap of Dunloe. December 2017

As I was Going over the Cork and Kerry Mountains……

Recently I posted on the spectacular Killarney National Park.  Though the blog only saw the light of day in December it related to a trip completed in June.

Now six months later I had the notion to revisit these mountains.  Storm Caroline had dumped snow all over Ireland so I wanted to see the National Park covered in white.  In this regard I was disappointed.  It seemed the show was restricted to the north and the very highest mountains,.  So I didn’t linger along the road from Killarney to Moll’s Gap, the road I covered in my previous blog (Part 1).  It certainly put on a different face.   Firstly hardly a tourist.  I was the only car at the Ladies View.  Indeed I was almost the only car on the road.  No buses and this time my brakes worked.

Funny how you miss things.  But last time I didn’t see the ruins of the castellated Musgrave Barracks of the Royal Irish Constabulary right on the edge of the road.  The lush green forests I talked about last time were not so welcoming with the now leafless trees.  There was still in many places the carpet of mosses covering the land, that impressed me so much in June.  Sometimes as if a green billiard cloth had been draped over the rocks

I decided to explore the Black Valley and the Gap of Dunloe which runs up the western side of the National Park and maybe head into the higher mountains.  Good decision but unrealistic timewise.  It was bitterly cold and and walking was not particularly inviting but it was truly spectacular even from the roadside and I just kept stopping so I ultimately ran out of light.  Just past Moll’s Gap on the inland road to Sneem (Not the Ring of Kerry) you see a small single lane road to the right.  No sign of any indication where it actually went.  But as it seemed to be the only way to head into the mountains and with no Google, I took it.  The road crosses the broad glacial valley framed to the north with the snow capped ranges of the MacGillycuddy Reeks before heading back east and then cutting sharply back up to the north and over the ridge towards the Gap of Dunloe.

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Killarney Lakes.  view across Muckross Lake

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Killarney National Park.  Ruins of Musgrave Barracks

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Killarney National Park.  Sharing the road.

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Killarney National Park.  A green tablecloth.

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Killarney National Park.  Bare hills and bare trees.

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Ladies View car park

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View from the car park – (December)

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View from the car park (June)

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Killarney Lakes.  View of Looscaunagh Lough

 

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Heading up to Moll’s Gap

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Moll’s Gap

This next series of photos were taken on the Black Valley Road.  Beautiful interplay of light.

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This bridge heading up to the Gap of Dunloe had two passing bays due to inability to see what’s coming!

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This is my kind of country.  Wild, rocky, desolate and seemingly nothing living here except sheep with identifying patches of pink and purple.  The Gap itself is a very impressive break in the sandstone hills caused by a glacial breach.   It has been a famed tourist route since Victorian times. Also easy to see why the area is so popular with rock climbers. We follow along the valley of the River Loe and pass a string of lakes crossed by a number of single arch stone bridges.   The entrance to the largest of the lakes is guarded by by two giant boulders through which the road passes.  This locality known as The Pike seems little changed since the 19th century.

Just the occasional car today but I can well imagine the chaos on this one lane road with the summer tourist traffic, cars, vans, bikes, walkers and pony traps.

Go in Winter!

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The Gap of Dunloe looking north

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Another view of the Gap

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The Pike December 2017

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The Pike 1888

 

 

 

 

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As I was Going over the Cork and Kerry Mountains. Part 1. June 2017. Killarney National Park

As I was Going over the Cork and Kerry Mountains.

Well I didn’t meet Captain Farrell, but I did discover a glorious land of misty mountains, lakes, cascading rivers and verdant mossy forests.  ‘Discover’ is the wrong word, I know, because I had to share it with half of Germany, so I guess the world had already ‘discovered’ it.  Indeed the road I took is from Kenmare to Killarney, two tourist hotspots and on the famous Ring of Kerry.

It was mid June and I was returning from a festival in West Cork;  I had spent the night in Kenmare. As cloud and rain set in I was in two minds to go the ‘scenic’ route or just head straight home to Clare.   Luckily I was talked into going over the mountain but my hopes were not high.  As it turned out my brakes were playing up and when I limped back to Ennis my garage told me that I had done the whole trip with no front discs.  I wondered what that noise of metal on metal was.

So on to Moll’s Gap and then beyond; the rain held off though and occasionally the clouds would part and a startling landscape would be revealed.

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Heading up to Moll’s Gap

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Heading down from Moll’s Gap

I pulled into a lay-by not far from Moll’s Gap to let the stream of buses pass and the cloud lifted long enough to get a glimpse of the valley view. But it quickly closed back in.

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Mist in the valley

Before I decided to head off again, I crossed the road for a pee. I know this is too much information, but, in seeking a bit of privacy, I wandered just 20 metres off the road and I found myself in the middle of a ferny  fairyland (I think I even found a fairy residence!). Moss-covered trees and boulders. It was primitive and primordial.  Vigorous vines embracing trees and consuming them;  epiphytes sharing their world and mosses making their hosts unrecognizable.   Unlike anything I had seen here in Ireland.  I went back and got my camera and spent the next hour attuning myself to this lush, leafy, sylvan Arcadia.

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Hundreds in coaches and cars streamed past headed for the spots marked with brown signs, unaware of what they were missing but no doubt with boxes to tick.

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Having soaked my fill and hopefully capturing a little of the feeling of the place in my photos, I headed on to join the throng at the next brown sign. This was near the ‘Ladies View’. There was room for half a dozen coaches to park.  Sort of.

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Indeed the place was swarmed as dozens disgorged, charged up the hill in the by now ‘soft cloud’, as the Irish call it, pulled out their cameras and recorded the complete white out in front of them.  The perfect selfy with nothing in the background to distract. I too tried to photograph the scenery but found much more interest in those struggling to deal with the reality of touring Ireland.

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Heading down the hill a bit to the real ‘Ladies View’, suddenly the cloud lifted enough to see the valley below. I could now see what impressed Queen Victoria’s ladies so much!

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A lady admiring the view

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But the view is not just for ladies.

Then I heard the skirl of pipes across the valley. Highland pipes not Uillean. I walked back up the hill to where the sound was coming from and found myself back at the coach stop. The crowds were still there but now they had something to see.  And hear.  The highland pipes in their natural environment.  Well almost.  The hills of Killarney are not quite the Scottish Highlands.  Derek said he plays the Uillean pipes too but doesn’t bring them if the weather is bad.   But it was as if the pipes had scared away the clouds and the cameras this time had something to photograph.

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He was very patient with the hordes that wanted a photo record of their moment in the clouds with him.

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It didn’t take long though for another shower to come sweeping in.  Enough this time for the piper to pack up and discreetly retreat along with the bussers.

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The storm approaches 1

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The storm approaches 2

Time to move on.  Further down the mountain I stopped at a lakeside rest. A serene place which the buses had bypassed.  The cloudy, misty atmosphere seemed to add to that wonderful ataraxic feeling.  I wished I had more time.

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Muckross Lake

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Killarney Lakes.  So inviting.

Then I rejoined the multitude at the Torc waterfall. Here again we find ourselves in a stunning forest. Huge trees on steep slopes.  Green and lush.  Chaotic and ordered. It seemed truly ancient and there was this lovely dark light as the sun suddenly had to battle the obstacles of cloud and canopy, in its efforts to break through.

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Tall timber

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Downstream from the waterfall

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Torc Waterfall

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This little taste of the mountain forests and lakes of Killarney national park was a breathtaking tonic. Hugely different to the Ireland I have grown accustomed to – waves, cliffs and buffeting winds are the norm for me in West Clare.  I guess I now understand its popularity.

I will return soon and hopefully the sun will be shining.

 

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Dingleingdinglelingering. Living on the Hedge.

So what’s the word for someone from Dingle? Maybe a Dingleling?  Sorry about that.

And what if someone from Dingle spent a relaxing day touring the Dingle Peninsula? Well that would be Dinglelingdinglelingering wouldn’t it?

Well enough of this silliness.  I am not a Dingleing but I would be quite happy to be.

7th August 2017.  The weather forecast said scattered sunshine and showers. That was like a gold-plated invitation to spend the day outside. So I decided to go Dinglelingering.

The weather forecast however, luckily, was wrong. There was NO rain and lots and lots of sun. So a quick trip around the Peninsula saw me and my very worthy photo assistant for the day, Sophia, from Bavaria, a first time visitor to Ireland, doing a quick tour over Conor Pass to Dingle, Ballyferriter, around the Slea Head Road to Inch and back to Tralee.

The scenery is of course astonishing and a huge contrast to the magical winter wonderland I posted on my blog in March.

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Here’s a few samples from the most recent visit. Glorious panoramic views from the Conor Pass;  an elevated glacial lake way above the road;  truly spectacular striations on the bare rock caused by glacial action; the coastline along Slea Head, Inch Beach; a busker, lots of tourists.  Tourists yes but thankfully not the stream of buses you get in the Ring of Kerry.  But after all it is August.

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Elevated glacial lake above the waterfall on the Conor Pass

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View from tht top of the Pass.

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colours in the floor of the lake

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Glacial striations on the edge of the lake, caused by movement of ice.

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The water exits the lake by this narrow channel.

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Lakes on the valley floor.

 

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Beehive huts from 2,000 BC

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Detail of a hut wall

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Beehive hut wall and roof.  Corbelled.

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Inch Beach

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Inch Beach

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about in this blog.   I want to focus here on what I think is the highlight of a summer soirée in this part of Ireland.

Living on the Hedge.

I can’t speak for the rest of Ireland but Clare and Kerry are in late July and early August absolutely ablaze with a riot of colour lining the roadside. This is my fourth summer here but I never noticed this intensity of flora before. This year has produced magnificent displays of wild flowers. We had it earlier in the Spring with the Spring Gentian and orchids carpeting the Burren and then the incredible Whitethorn and now this vivid show.

Hedges are a major feature of the Irish roadside if you leave the N’s, particularly if you travel the byways – R’s and L’s. Most of the year you don’t notice them. A drab and featureless tangle of green or in winter, seemingly dead and leafless.  And then the rest of the year, they are vigorous and compete with the tarmac making the roads considerable narrower.   And they can block your unimpeded views of the countryside.  But it’s a different story when they are in flower.

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So here in Dingle I decided to have a closer look. This particular boreen is a part of the Cosán na Naomh or Saints Road, an 18km pilgrimage road to the foot of Mt Brandon.  The magnificent backdrop is of the coast around Ballyferriter with the Three Sisters being prominent.

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The hedge is a layered pastel of orange, red, white, yellow and purple.  I was intrigued and wondered how much of this display was endemic.  I knew fuchsia wasn’t. What about the rest?

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So here is a bit of a rundown of the most obvious plants that make up this display. I’m sure I’ve missed heaps as I am not a botanist but it’s what my eyes and camera were drawn to.

Fuchsia.  Fuchsia loves Ireland. I struggled to grow this back home in Australia. Too dry, too hot, too much sunshine.  But here those issues are not a problem. You don’t see the many exotic varieties just the one purple and blue single bell shaped flowers.  Of course the flowers are exquisite and despite its origin in Chile the bush has been so naturalised that it is the Cork county emblem.

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Fuchsia

Wild Angelica. Standing out against the orange and red are the white many rayed umbels of this tall perennial. A native of Ireland

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Wild Angelica

Brambles/Blackberries   One of the pleasures of Ireland is the gathering of blackberries from the roadside. No worries about spraying as in Oz. This time of the year the brambles are flowering and developing berries.  A taste of what’s to come. You have to look hard among the verdant growth but soon they will dominate.  Native to Ireland but a pest in Australia.

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blackberries

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Blackberries

Wild Carrot  A tall erect plant with a cluster of white flowers. Native.

 

Centaury. Small 5 lobed pinkish red flowers, somewhat overpowered by its neighbours. Native

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Centaury

Tufted Vetch. A splash of purple on long stalked racemes. Not so common here but ver abundant.  Native

 

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Tufted Vetch

Montbretia.   The most startling plant. Long strap like leaves and multiple flower stems with bright orange funnel like flowers. I love the way this plant is described as a Naturalised Garden Escape.  So definitely not a Native.

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Montbretia

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Montbretia

Meadowsweet   Creamy-white scented flowers. 5 petals. Tall erect plant.  Native

Common Knapweed / Hardhead   Flowers are red-purple on erect stems.  Height to 1m.  Native.

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Common Knapweed

Hawksbeard.  Splashes of yellow among the reds oranges and purples.  Clusters of small yellow flowers with erect buds. Grows to about a metre.  Native and very common.

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Hawksbeard

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Hawksbeard

 

So, turns out most of the plants are native. But and here’s the big but. The two dominant plants of the roadside are the Fuchsia and the Montbretia and both these are introduced. The hedges without these two plants would be very different and I’m guessing would be dominated by brambles with the other plants struggling to get a foothold.

If you are visiting Ireland in Summer, do take time to stop the car and have a look.

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Tom Carmody – Home in a box.

I first met Kerry accordion player Danny O’Mahony in Birmingham in 2016 at a Festival, where he surprised with an amazing set in concert with renowned fiddler, Liz Kane. I then heard him again more recently at Ballyferriter in West Kerry. It was here he played his mighty Tom Carmody accordion. It was hard not to notice it. As dazzling as his playing.

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Intrigued, I chatted to him afterwards about this instrument, and my interest was piqued so we agreed to meet at the Rowan Tree Café in Ennis for a chat. I want to write here about the story that unfolded. It is a story of a tradition that spans time and continents. Of happenstance and passion. Of connections and stewardship. And of rescue and revitalisation.

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I have to start somewhere so who was Tom Carmody? Danny explains. Tom is not well known today but he was a master accordion player born in 1893 in Dromlought near Listowel in Kerry and emigrated to New York in 1925. He immediately made an impact and during the Irish recording boom of the 1930s appeared on many 78s with James Morrison.  New York was a melting pot of Irish melodies; and new tunes and new influences made for a vibrant scene. Indeed, Danny says that Tom introduced James to the tune “Stick across the Hob” which was to become the famous ‘Morrison’s Jig’. One can only assume Tom was in much demand as he became the first to play Irish music at the Waldorf Astoria and was employed to organise music there.

Flashy players required a flashy instrument. And Tom had the flashiest. He commissioned an Italian maker in New York, F Iorio, to make this instrument for him. It was loud and brash as was its exterior. Gaudily decorated with the Irish and American flags and detailed inlays in mother of pearl on the fingerboard incorporating a harp and shamrocks. The name TOM CARMODY is boldy emblazoned across the instrument where it will have maximum exposure. It is a work or art. But the story behind it is just as interesting. It was nearly lost.

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Tom returned to Kerry in the 1970s and died in 1986. This was the year Danny started to play the accordion. Danny grew up with no knowledge of this Kerry man, despite the fact he was a distant relative. He is a grand nephew. Growing up, Danny tells, his father was an accordion player with a overriding passion for the instrument. There were three gods in his house. As in most Irish homes silence was demanded for the Angelus when it came on the radio but in the O’Mahony home, silence was also demanded if there was a tune from Joe Burke or Tony McMahon.

Twenty years later Danny discovered the legacy of Tom Carmody and in 2006 he found the location of the Tom Carmody box. Following the death of Tom’s wife in the 90s it had passed to Denis Moran, her nephew. Denis did not play and it lay forgotten in a shed behind his cottage.

Danny approached Dennis to ask if he could borrow it with a view to photographing it. What he discovered was the accordion in its original case in a very sad state. It was all there but held together with binding twine and caked in dust and grime and a home for live insects.

It was almost too late. Its fate was somewhat ironic. From what we know about Tom and from contemporary photos he was a very dapper and meticuluous man, always well presented and his instrument always in immaculate condition. No doubt he would not have been pleased to see it now.

Denis agreed to let Danny take it away. It was cleaned it up and this revealed it to be in marvellous condition externally but totally seized up. Seeing it now Danny, was desperate to get it back to playable condition. Further negotiation ensued and with some trepidation it was agreed to let Danny take it for two weeks to see what he could do. With the help of accordion guru from East Clare, Charlie Harris, they feverishly went to work and brought it back to life, carefully cleaning and tuning the original reeds which were underneath it all in perfect condition. The only part that needed replacing was the left hand leather strap!

It must have been a remarkable experience to hear that box sing again just as it did in the 1930s.

Danny was concerned that it would continue do deteriorate if kept under the same conditions. He broached this with Denis asking him if he, Denis, could keep it in his bedroom with him so it was not subject to extreme temperature variation. The answer was “Oh no, I couldn’t do that”.  But Denis had done his homework and was happy that Danny would be a suitable custodian of the instrument and gave it to his care.

Danny also obtained valuable material on Tom including photos and all his recordings so since then he has researched his legacy and Tom’s tunes on Tom’s box are a feature of some of his concerts. The work of this forgotten box player lives on.

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I love stories like this. But it could have been very different but for Danny’s persistence and a little bit of luck. If you get the chance to hear him, go listen.  You might be lucky and hear him play the Tom Carmody.

Meanwhile you can check out his website at http://www.dannyomahony.com/

 

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A Tour through Sliabh Luachra. Russian Collusion?

Anton Zille is from Moscow. He plays the fiddle, is a regular visitor to Ireland and is totally obsessed with Irish music. Not just Irish music but music from Sliabh Luachra. He runs Sliabh Luachra sessions and dances in Moscow and is a fund of knowledge on the genre.

Sliabh Luachra  is an ill defined area in the heart of Munster, straddling the Cork-Kerry border. Here a unique musical and dance tradition evolved, perhaps, due to its isolation. Perhaps also because of this isolation it remains preserved to this day. Numerous dance sets survive with local variations and with local tunes for accompaniment.

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Catherine Mosksovskova and Anton Zille outside Padraig O’Keeffe’s house, Glentaune.

 

Oh yes, Anton.  I had spent the week with him and another visitor from Moscow, harp player Catherine Moskovskova,  at the Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh in Ballyferriter, near Dingle.  This was back in February 2016. When I mentioned to Anton that I knew nothing of Sliabh Luachra, he seized the opportunity. “Oh there’s a session in Newmarket you might like on Monday. Why dont you give me and my friend Catherine, a lift there?” “And I will show you Sliabh Luachra”.

It did cross my mind that there was something ironic about being shown the hidden secrets of an area, that most Irish know nothing about, and having the culture explained to me by a fiddling Muscovite.  Naturally I agreed.

Mea culpa time. I have already admitted I knew nothing about Sliabh Luachra.  Its music, its geography, the culture. Of course I had heard of Padraig O’Keeffe and Johnny O’Leary and Jackie Daly and Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford (I even own a copy of Star Above the Garter on vinyl). But growing up in the Australian trad music scene, such as it was, no one played polkas except beginners and if they did play them they didn’t know how to play them properly. This was reinforced when I moved to Ennis, where it is rare to hear a polka or slide in a session.  When you do, often as not, someone would raise their fingers forming a cross as if to ward off vampires.

But Sliabh Luachra is not just polkas and slides. Reels, hornpipes and jigs get a good look in. There is a wonderful book on Johnny O’Leary’s music by Terry Moylan. His repertoire showed a surprisingly even distribution of polkas, slides, jigs, reels and hornpipes, though slides and polkas together made up nearly 50%.   This pie chart shows this.

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Tune types in Johnny O’Leary’s repertoire.  Data from Johnny O’Leary of Sliabh Luachra by Terry Moylan.

 

In fact the arrival of polkas and slides was probably in the late 19th Century.  Prior to this manuscripts from Sliabh Luachra are devoid of these tunes and dominated by reels, jigs, airs and programme music.

The name Sliabh Luachra. One translation is ‘mountain of rushes’ which would be fairly apt as it is covered by bog and beds of rushes.  Another says the name comes from Ciarraí Luchre,  a pre-celtic god who also gave Kerry its name.   In any case the area was largely uninhabited until the 16th Century and then stayed a remote outpost away from the gaze of the authorities.  It wasn’t until the 19th Century that roads were built and the area became noted for butter production.

Culturally the area has a unique heritage. Famed for it’s literature and poetry as well as its music.

So Monday night in Newmarket found us in Scully’s pub.

 

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Scully’s Bar Newmarket.

 

Behind the simple unpretentious façade is the perfect session pub. The music is in the back room as it has been for over forty years. Large enough to accommodate twenty musicians comfortably. This night there were a dozen.

The pub has been in the Scully family for over nearly 100 years. Sessions started at the behest of Jackie Daly, who lived five minutes away in Kanturk, in the early 70s and have been held every Monday since.

It became THE gathering place with Jackie Daly joined by Johnny Leary, Julia Clifford, Jimmy Crowley and many others. With many of the attendees being taught by Padraig O’Keeffe there was a direct link to the master. It is kept alive today by stalwarts like Timmy O’Connor, who unfortunately wasn’t there this time, and Ray O’Sullivan and John Walsh, who led the session this time.

This was a gathering of musicians who wanted to play together for the sheer fun of it. So of course it was a bit up and down. There were some beginners and they were given quite a bit of scope to start tunes. There was Marie Forrest on the piano; she’s been coming for 36 years. This added a strong rhythmic element and you could just imagine the floor filled with dancers.

Of course there were polkas and slides but there was a good mix of all the old standards. Many of the polkas I didn’t recognise, but many I did.  It certainly helped that I play regularly with Jackie Daly, who now lives in Miltown Malbay in County Clare and plays in Friels Pub every week. What I really loved was the sharing culture of this session. If people didn’t know the tune then it was played again, slower, for people to pick it up. Perhaps this was a hangover from the days when people such as Jackie and Johnny O’Leary were the custodians of the tunes and passed them to the next generation.

The pace was gentler than I expected. Sweeter. Not at all like the West Kerry version with its preponderance of accordions and driving rhythm (Cooney/Begley influence?) .

This seems to be the only regular session in the Sliabh Luachra region which was surprising for an area with such a rich tradition.  A bit like East Clare I suppose where it is hard to find a session outside of Feakle.

Next day Anton, as promised, was my guide on a tour of the area. There were so many familiar town names. Ballydesmond, Scartaglen, Newmarket. All with polkas and slides named after them. Apparently the local set dances had no names and the early collectors identified them by the locality. The tunes attached to these sets were then somewhat arbitrarily named also. Many tune names became attached to towns only as a matter of convenience so not too much can be read into the name.

We had to visit the holy shrine. The birthplace of Padraig O’Keefe. The house where he was born in 1887 is at Glountane Cross. It is still there. Just. He lived there until he died in 1963.

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Padraig O’Keeffe’s house.  Another view.

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Commemorative plaque at Padraig O’Keeffe’s house

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Padraig O’Keeffe’s house.  Beyond repair?

 

His father was the headmaster of the nearby national school and Padraig became a teacher there in 1915.  We visited the school which is also a crumbling ruin.

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National School at Glountane. 

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Interior of National School, Glountane

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Anton Zille at National School Glountane

 

He was not happy in the job and left about 1920 to become and itinerant fiddle teacher.  For the next 40 years he walked up and down the hills of Kerry/Cork sometimes as much as 30 miles a day.

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General view Sliabh Luachra

 

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Padraig O’Keeffe walked these roads for forty years

 

By all accounts he was a good teacher and developed his own style of notation.  A system of 4 spaces between 5 lines to show the strings and the numbers 0 1 2 3 4  to show the fingers.  A number of his manuscripts survive and are housed in the Irish Music Traditional Archive.  These images come from their online copies.

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From a manuscript showing Padraig O’Keeffe’s unique notation.  Courtesy ITMA. 

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Another page from the same manuscript.  Courtesy ITMA

 

He frequently played in Jack Lyon’s Pub in Scartaglen which is still there.

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Lyon’s Bar Scartaglen.

 

Among his pupils were Denis Murphy, Murphy’s sister Julia Clifford and Johnny O’Leary.

Sliabh Luachra is not just Padraig O’Keeffe and the music.  There are a lot of interesting things to see.  It gets quite hilly to the south with the Paps of Anu dominating the landscape to the south.  The name originates from the similarity of the two mountains to the shape of the breasts of the legendary pre-Christian goddess Anu (Danu).  THis is the same Danu that gave her name to the Well known traditional band, the River Danube and Denmark!  You can drive through these mountains though the roads get a bit rough.  We visited Shrona Lake.  Ruggedly spectacular.

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The Cork and Kerry Mountains

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The Paps of Anu

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Walking in the Paps

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Lake Shrona

 

Then there is An Cathair Cubh Dearg.  Also known as The City, this site with the Paps as a backdrop is said to be the first place populated in Ireland and the  oldest centre of continuous worship in the world!  Tuatha De Danann (descendants of Danu) settled here 10,000 years ago.  The ring fort wall dates from this time.  It was later used as a place of Christian worship.

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Ring fort wall at The City.  Paps of Anu in the background.

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An Cathair Cubh Dearg, showing ancient wall and Christian elements. 

 

So that’s it.  Sliabh Luachra.  Great music, heritage, landscape.  And thanks to Russian ‘collusion’ I now understand it better!

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Dingle Peninsula. The Irish Alps

I have blogged about Dingle quite a few times and posted many photos. Even the name has a delightful ringle to it.  So what else could I possibly say about it?  But. There’s the thing about Ireland. There are always surprises and you can go back time after time and each time it’s like you’re there for the first time.

It was the end of February and my annual pilgrimage to Ballyferriter was completed (I have written about this Festival in previous years and it delivered yet again). It was time to go home. I’d been up that night until 4am playing tunes with wonderful people whose friendship is renewed every year.  That’s what’s great about Festivals.  It’s not just the music.

Anyway, during my short time in bed I lay awake listening to the wind lashing and the hail thrashing. A wild night.  Next morning it was calm and there were patches of sun, so I decided to head around the Slea Road back to Dingle, one of my favourite drives. I’d had Aidan Connolly in the cd player all weekend so it was time for a change. I stopped to retrieve a new CD and something made me look back towards Mt Brandon. I was stunned by the view. Completely shrouded in snow with Ballyferriter nestled at the bottom. This is what I saw.

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Mt Brandon, the third highest mountain in Ireland looms over Ballyerriter.

A quick change of plans and I headed the other way making the instant decision to return via Conor Pass.

Perhaps a little foolhardy but the weather looked ok and I doubted I would get another opportunity like this. It turned out to be an inspired decision. As I got closer to the pass the patchwork of paddocks gave way to a carpet of white.  The weather came and went in waves as I headed up the hill.   I was greeted at the top by another snowfall. But also enough sun to revel in the alpine glory. I was in the heart of the Kingdom and I had been granted admission to the Palace. I was lost for words and I really can’t describe the feeling I had immersed in this wilderness.

On this occasion I will let the camera talk. And talk it will. Loudly. Driving over the top and down Conor Pass, there were surprises with every turn in the road . I headed to the villages of Cloghane and Brandon and out to Brandon Point and then returned along the coast to Aughacasla. All the time snow clad ranges framed the views.

Please enjoy these photos of an Ireland rarely seen.

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The green fields of Kerry on the road up the Conor Pass, from Dingle, turned progressively whiter,

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and whiter,

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and whiter,

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and whiter.

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The view from the top.

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Heading down the mountain

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Corrie lakes in the glacial valley

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The start of the steep bit! Or the end if you’re coming down.

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And then…..

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It started to snow.

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It’s not easy to photograph snow.

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At the bottom of the pass is this view towards Mt Brandon.

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And the light kept changing.

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This is still Ireland.

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The Irish Alps

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Slieveanea from the base of the Pass

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Approaching Cloghane

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A view of Mt Brandon near Cloghane

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Cloghane with Mt Brandon.

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Mt Brandon looms above Cloghane Church

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Mt Brandon

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The sun shone

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The road from Cloghane to Brandon

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looking across the bay to Beenoskee

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And then it was raining

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Fenced in

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The mountain disappears in the mist

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View from the pier at Brandon

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The pier at Brandon

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Another view across the bay towards Beenoskee

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Incongruity.  Surfers in the bay.

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Colours.

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The village of Brandon

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Cappagh Strand near Brandon village

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View across Brandon Bay and Cappagh Strand

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Cappagh Strand

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View from Cappagh Strand back towards Mt Brandon

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The village of Cloghane

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Cloghane or have I been teleported to Switzerland?

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The hills are alive with the sound of……

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A last view of Mt Brandon.

Categories: My Journey, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trip to Ballyferriter. Over the Conor Pass.

I had  been to the Dingle Peninsular three times before and each time the weather was so bad I was warned off crossing Conor Pass.  Not this time.  I am off to a music festival in Ballyferriter and as I crossed the water to Kerry via the ferry from Kilimer there was glorious sunshine.  And then there was rain.  And then sunshine.

I could see the Slieve Mish mountains and they were snow-capped and so enticing I decided to risk the Conor Pass.   I pulled into a garage to fuel up and the guy behind the counter in a rich Kerry brogue says,  “So where are you headed?”  “Dingle”.  “Ahh.  You’ll be going over the mountain then.” I could only agree.

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The Pass is the highest in Ireland.  It is a winding,  often single lane road and  buses are banned.  At one point the road climbs continuously for over five kilometres.

It didn’t take long for the cloud to descend and by the time I reached the Pass it was snowing.  Just light wonderful flakes drifting hither (and thither).  Not enough to settle.  My fingers were numb but I clicked away furiously.  It was around 1oC but I was charmed by the beauty.    The landscape had been scoured by glaciers in the most recent Ice Age and all the features I had learnt about at Rock School were there.  U-shaped valleys, tarns (or as they are known here corrie lochs), a string of them in fact (called a paternoster) and moraines and deposits of glacial till.  One corrie sits well above the valley floor in a perched valley (cirque).  There was a perfect glacial pavement with striations caused by the scraping of rocks carried along the bottom of the glacier.   Check the photos. Aside from being a geological wonderland it was a place of extraordinary beauty.  The one lane road crept up the mountain to the top of the pass where to the north I could see Castlegregory and across to the Blaskets and to the south Dingle stretched before me.

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Conor Pass.  Glacial moraine in the foreground.

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Glacial pavement with striations, Conor Pass

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Corrie lakes, U shaped valley, cirques.  Conor Pass

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Top of Conor Pass

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How hard is it to build a straight wall?

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View towards Dingle from the top of the Conor Pass

 

 

On to Ballyferriter and I was greeted by an intense hailstorm .  Just a couple of minutes but enough to create a temporary whiteout.  Four seasons in one day.  Was I in Melbourne?

I will talk about the music festival that took me to Ballyferriter in my next blog.

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All Ireland Wren Boy Champions!

You don’t have to be in Ireland long to become aware of Kilkenny’s dominance of that uniquely Irish sport, hurling.  They have been All-Ireland Champions eight of the past ten years.  But you may not be aware of the dominance of one West Clare village, in recent times, of another quintessentially Irish pastime – the Wren Boys Competition.  That village is Cooraclare, 10 km from Kilrush on the south western tip of the County and they have just returned from the All Ireland Wren Boys Championship in Listowel, Kerry, where they have been crowned for the fifth year in a row.  OK, there was only one other team competing but this does not diminish the achievement.  You may not even be aware that there was a Wren Boys Competition I wasn’t.  But I am now and my participation in the 2015 team makes me a most unlikely All-Ireland champion.  Might have to rewrite my CV.

I have participated in a Wren Boys event before and I suggest you head to my blog for a bit more of the background.

https://singersongblog.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/st-stephens-day-and-the-wren-boys/

This story though for me started at the Crotty Galvin Festival weekend in August in the village of Moyasta.  I have also blogged on this recently.

https://singersongblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/19/crotty-galvin-weekend-moyasta-2015/

Here I met Grainne, one of the organisers, and she invited me along.  Clearly they were short of numbers to have countenanced such a thing but I never refuse an invitation despite in this case knowing absolutely nothing about it.  I was told to get myself to Cree and a bus will pick me up at 6pm on the Friday night and drop me back at 6am on Saturday morning. She assured me the craic would be mighty and that was all I needed to know.

A couple of weeks later I am sitting next to Joe Joe Marrinan on a bus headed to the Ferry at Kilimer (with forty others)  as he fills me in on some of the history.  The competition had been going in Listowel as part of the Harvest Fair for 57 years.  Cooraclare’s participation started forty years ago when local identitiy Denis Ledane decided it would be a good idea to take a team there.  Interest faded but in 2011 the tradition was revived after 35 years in honour of Joe Joe’s father Marty who died that year.  Joe Joe was installed into the prestigious role of King of the Wren.  In their first visit to Listowel they won and have not lost since and it is easy to see why.

On the surface it looks a bit ridiculous, dressing up in skirts, silly hats and bright colours and tinsel.  (at least there weren’t any bells and sticks a la Morris Dancers) but underneath it is a serious desire to preserve a fading Irish culture.  The competition involves each team putting on a 45 minute show incorporating music, singing, set dancing, step dancing, sean nos, storytelling all presented with humour and passion.  The team marched through the streets of Listowel, with turf fires burning atop hay forks, to a stage in the centre of the town square, to the strains of the Centenary March and from there on it was a celebration of all things West Clare.    Many songs told of West Clare including the eponymous Chapel Gates at Cooraclare (after which the team is named) and this little corner of Kerry certainly knew about the virtues of the Banner County by the end of the night.   A highlight was the finale with a lovely rendition of Feet of a Dancer leading in to a simply outstanding display of set dancing..  There were all ages participating with the dancing dominated by youngsters from villages dotted through West Clare, such as Moyasta, Kilrush, Cree, Mullagh as well as Cooraclare.  Many of them were All Ireland champions from the recent Fleadh in Sligo and it absolutely shone through.  There is no reason not to suppose that Cooraclare will continue to participate in and dominate the Wren Boys competition in the years to come judging by the enthusiasm with which everyone threw themselves into it..

A fantastic session at Foynes in Limerick on the way home and people had to be dragged back to the bus well after 2am.  The music continued on the bus with a rousing singing session and the night finished for most people well after 4am as they were dropped off into the West Clare night by our long suffering bus driver.

Thanks to Grainne and Joe Joe and Tony and everyone else for making me feel so welcome.  I felt privileged to be part of this tradition and I hope these few photos do it justice.

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

Wild Dingle, Co. Kerry

With all the festivals of late I haven’t had any time to post any pictures from the various road trips I have made in the last few weeks. So I will try and catch up slowly. This post is about the beautiful Dingle Peninsular. When at Ballyferriter (https://singersongblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/scoil-cheoil-an-earraigh-ballyferriter-co-kerry/) I had a couple of opportunities, with breaks in the weather, to get out and have a look at the countryside between Slea Head and Mount Brandon. I was pretty lucky but it was frustrating as well as I couldn’t help thinking she was like a heavily-veiled Turkish dancer shyly lifting her shroud to reveal the beauty within and then quickly covering up again. Tantalising me with fleeting glimpses, just as the sun peeks out before another squall or hailstorm swept in. You had to be quick with the camera to catch it. There was a snowfall the day before I arrived and another while I was there so Mt Brandon had a good dusting which, when the mist lifted, contributed to an Alpine feel.

The west Kerry landscape is so beautiful. A little more ordered than Clare (without the wildness of the Burren) but a patchwork of stone-walled verdant fields dotted with quaint villages – almost the archetypal Ireland. It has a rugged Atlantic coastline in common with West Clare and some spectacular beaches, which on this particular weekend were being pounded by some mighty waves. It is no wonder the area attracts tourists in droves along with artists, filmmakers, musicians and people seeking the ‘real’ Ireland.

Here are some photos which I think will give a taste of the extraordinary beauty of this part of Ireland.  But it is only a taste and I will return to have another look and explore further when the weather is kinder.  So expect more.

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Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh, Ballyferriter, Co Kerry

I have just returned from another festival/school, this time at Ballyferriter on the Dingle Peninsular in West Kerry.  And it really was a beauty.  It is called the Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh which translates slightly optimistically as Spring Music School.

The Dingle version of Spring involved rain, hail, mist and wild winds whipping up the Atlantic, but in the warmth of one of the many sessions you didn’t notice. Ballyferriter is almost the classic Irish village, with mandatory three pubs, hotel, church and shop. What sets it apart is its glorious setting right at the western end of the peninsular sandwiched between Slea Head and Mt Brandon . When the rain stopped as it did on a couple of occasions and the mist lifts, Mt Brandon, all 952 metres of it, stands proud with is snow capped peak and to the west the beaches and hills beckon. It is obvious why this area was chosen to film the seminal classic Ryan’s Daughter. It is also very compact so everything is within staggering distance and this is important when you are trying to find your way home at 6am.

Everyone said I would love Kerry and I do. This festival was a wonderful introduction to the Kingdom and the music.  This blog is just about the Festival.   I will post some pictures later of Dingle’s spectacular scenery.

The Scoil Cheoil Earraigh seems to hold a special place for many people. For some it is the only festival they attend. Of course there is a strong local contingent but there are also visitors from many other counties and from the UK, France, Russia, Germany. So what is it that brings them here?

It is not a huge festival and it benefits from this. It was very well organised with no obvious hitches. The workshops over three days were with top class tutors. How many opportunities would a guitarist have spend three days with Steve Cooney? Many of the tutors performed in a number of impressive concerts along with other headline acts. The stamp of the Begleys was everywhere.  I’m not sure what the collective name for a lot of Begleys is – perhaps a boggle of Begleys but whatever it is it translates to pure musical genius. Along with Seamus and Breanndán with their vibrant and pulsating rhythms interspersed with wonderful soulful songs sung in Irish was Breanndán’s son Cormac displaying his virtuosity on a range of concertinas and other members of the extended Begley family popping up in various sessions. But it wasn’t just the Begley show. Other guests included Galway’s Páraic Mac Donnchadha on the banjo, Connie O’Connell renowned fiddler from Cork, Steve Cooney, back together in a big way with Seamus and adding his driving rhythms to a variety of other artists and in sessions, Harry Bradley , musician of the year last year, Tommy McCarthy a traveller singer with an extraordinary presence, and a huge repertoire of songs and fascinating stories and Brendan Powers from NZ master harmonica player across many genres stirring up the trad scene by utilising technology to take the music into uncharted territory. There were also informal concerts in cafes which was a great counterpoint to the frenetic energy of the sessions.

I just loved the way the whole festival was conducted in Irish. It didn’t seem to matter that you didn’t understand much of what was going on. This was West Kerry being West Kerry and while visitors were welcome it was very much a showcase for the unique heritage of this part of the world. This was reflected in the music which was of course riddled with polkas and slides, the spontaneous dancing of sets and half sets – vigorous and energetic, reflecting the music, the craic and the warm welcome all visitors received. I attended a lecture on the origins of polkas and while I didn’t understand a word I picked up enough from the slides and musical examples to be totally riveted.

The workshop was one of the best I have been to in the last year – and I have been to plenty. We had two tutors. Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, well known for his many musical collaborations including more recently the Gloaming, who explored dynamics and how to extract more feeling. We didn’t learn a tune but it was a revelation. And young Aiden Connolly showed the group (exclusively adults) how to play polkas and slides – something that had never been explained so clearly to me before. I came away inspired which is what a good School should do.

There was a concert on Saturday, in the wonderful setting of St Vincent’s church, of all the workshop groups led by their tutors. This was the most successful format of any I have seen where similar things have been tried. Everyone played in their seat eliminating massive logistical problems. The highlight was the finale with all groups led by Breanndán Begley playing a stirring version of Fáinne Geal an Lae.

What to say about the sessions. These were numerous and exhausting. All the ‘stars’ who appeared at the concert joined into various sessions. Something that doesn’t always happen. Those who were at the Bar an Bhuailtin on Saturday night will never forget the musical treat provided by Begley, Cooney, O’Connell and a host of others until six in the morning, There was a session in Tig an t-Saorsaig with a contingent of musicians from Thurles where sets of reels lasted forty minutes without a break and another session at Tigh Ui Cháthain led by Cormac Begley on his bass concertina and Páraic Mac Donnchadha on banjo which must have gone for eleven hours and it would not surprise me if they didn’t repeat a tune in that time. Spellbinding. But for me the real highlights were playing in quiet sessions such as with Alph Duggan on the Thursday and with Fergal, Breige and Anja on the Sunday with hardly an audience just sharing tunes and songs.

As I say I have never played music in Kerry before so I should talk a little about my introduction to their music. While the Corca Dhuibhne (Dingle peninsular) is not part of the Sliabh Luachra, the more widely known home of polkas, the West Kerry Gaeltach has a long musical tradition and much in common. The music played here historically was for the West Kerry dance sets and comprised mainly polkas, slides and occasionally hornpipes. For many years this music was considered ‘foreign’ having been thought to have been brought in by the occupying military forces, but the Goodman collection of the late 19th Century demonstrated a rich tradition which was largely ignored by collectors such as O’Neill and Breathnach. Polkas were among the first tunes I learnt many years ago when starting out on the fiddle. They were considered easy. And of course in Australia no one knew how to play them properly so they were pretty awful. I couldn’t play reels, so in my various bush bands we used polkas instead. We got away with it with the unsophisticated Aussie audiences but it was hardly satisfying. So I developed a dislike for them and it seems this is shared by many over here as well. Even in Clare you rarely hear them unless you’re playing with someone from that tradition such as Jacky Daly. Hearing these tunes however delivered by masters steeped in this tradition and on its home turf was a revelation.   The tunes are full of an internal energy that drives the music forward all the time. They are infectious. The rhythm sucks you in and drags you onto the floor to dance. I wouldn’t say I have come away converted but I will take this body of music much more seriously and revisit those hackneyed tunes I rejected so many years ago. Thanks Ballyferriter.

I say well done to the organisers for a memorable experience. I understand the lure of this place and its music and I too will be back.

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

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