Posts Tagged With: Miltown Malbay

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

Miltown Malbay. Who Needs Willie Week?

Miltown Malbay is my local town. It is of course legendary in the annals of traditional Irish Music as the place where thousands congregate each year to hear the best. But that’s just one week of the year. The rest of the year sessions go on with unheralded players in quiet corners playing to the locals and occasional visitors. Only occasional visitors because Miltown doesn’t have the lure of Doolin except for that one week.

I went to one of these sessions last night. About a dozen musicians were there and you would struggle to put a name to anyone. In fact for most this is their only session of the week. This was an eclectic bunch. There was one player who was hard of hearing but undaunted, struggled to play along.  We had key changes, deliberate or otherwise, in the middle of a tune, we had a singer sing a song while he played guitar in a different key, we had American tunes such as Oh Susannah, we had Johnny Cash songs and and  we had Cow Cow Yippy Yippy, we had Kevin Barry, and even an Aussie song thrown in .

Somehow none of the jarring moments mattered. It was all part of a wonderful joyous mix. There was enthusiasm, vigour and musicians and crowd were involved and supporting every effort. Of course it was noisy. The pub buzzed but the applause at the end of each number showed they were listening in that peculiar Irish way. And in amongst it all there were absolute gems. Michael Galvin and his daughters provided special moments and at the end of the night Cian  Talty delighted with songs until after 2am. This was a real hooley. It was more than a session and while the purists would probably be horrified, there was not one person who didn’t leave that pub totally satisfied.

And isn’t that what it is all about?

I didn’t have the camera so just a few photos with the phone.

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Categories: Sessions, Stories, Trad Irish Music, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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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Categories: Real Ireland, Sessions | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

The Good Mixer – Music from a London Pub in West Clare

Talk about a wild night.  I stepped outside in the wind and it blew me into Friel’s pub last night.  That was mighty lucky as Noel O’Grady (bouzouki), Henry Benagh (fiddle), John Carty (banjo) & Marcus Hernon (flute) were there launching their album “The Good Mixer”.  And what a good mix it was.  The title of the album references The Good Mixer pub in  Camden Town in London where these four guys lived in the 1980s.  For five years this pub was the go-to place for Irish music both among locals and Irish visitors alike.  And this CD gives us an inkling as to why.  The recordings were made one afternoon in 1989, in the home of John Carty, as the sessions were coming to an end.  Essentially live to tape.  And it is surprisingly good.  The band has got back together to do four low-key launches in the home towns of each of the members,  Henry is from Miltown Malbay (hence Friel’s), next stop is Galway, then Matt Molloy’s in Westport and finally in Roscommon, John’s home.

The CD contains a terrific selection of lively tunes and I love it but to hear and see the musicians in the flesh was a real treat.  Even though they had not played together for over 25 years it was tight and energetic with a fresh, original sound.  But the boys soon got sick of playing on the stage and adjourned to the middle bar of Friel’s where they were joined by John’s daughter Maggie and some of the local musical talent in Miltown including Liam O’Brien, Therese McInerney and Bernadette McCarthy who had played piano on some of the tracks on the recording.  Interestingly this was the first time Bernadette and Marcus had met for 27 years.  It was a great night and a privilege for me to play with them and we were totally unaware of the storm raging outside until we staggered into the night at 1:30.

If you get the chance try and catch them or failing that keep an eye out for some video I will post in the next few days.

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

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

Willie Week 2015 – Chasing the Dream or Living the Reality?

My silence of the last few days does not mean I have nothing to say about Willie Week. Firstly I just haven’t had the time but I am also having trouble formulating the words to describe the experience.

What a difference a year makes; last year I was chasing a dream this year I lived the reality.

As a Willie Virgin in 2014 I found it overwhelming.  The sheer quantity of music, the crowds and the whole atmosphere was almost crushing. I had only been here a little over a month and my insatiable desire to participate in sessions and to play with Legends and Gods led to much frustration. The crowds were oppressive, particularly in the popular pubs such as Friels and the Blondes and at night it was a challenge at many levels. OK I was naiive.

This year was different though;  I decided not to do the School which immediately meant I got more sleep and was able to ease into the day. I was at my home which is only a short drive away and had a houseful of guests so that added an extra dimension. Beanie and Anne and Jeff from North Carolina, Ana Carolina from Brazil and Bardon from UK and Julie from Denmark. I was able to retreat to my little oasis and chill out if needed.  Sometimes play a few quiet tunes and eat properly with some magnificent cooking from my housemates.

Yes the crowds were there, and the weather was bad and despite spending a lot less time looking for the killer session I actually played in better sessions and enjoyed them more.  I was much happier to stand and listen. Of course there were sessions I would love to have joined such as with Seamus Begley and Clare Egan in the new room in Fries or with Frankie Gavin and Noel Hill or the street session with Anton Mac Gabbhann, but there were many I did such as with Jacky Daly and Matt Cranitch. Some of the best sessions however were with people I had never met but are now good friends. That’s how it works at Willie Week.

I started a few sessions myself in the afternoons and that was a new experience. Just quietly playing a few tunes with a friend in the kitchen at the Blondes or at the back of Martin Flynns and feeling the session grow around us. The evenings however were chaotic. There were times you could not move in Friels and being on the street was challenging so most evenings were spent in Mullagh or the Quilty Tavern. At Quilty I could play with Johnny Connolly, Johnny Og Connolly, Colm Gannon, John Blake and avoid the crowds.

The Willie Week experience happens on many levels. There are actually a number of parallel worlds and sometimes they don’t meet. There is the Summer School with over a thousand pupils mainly kids many of whom never leave it; There are the concerts and recitals and ceilis, there are the sessions in Milltown, there are the mini festivals at the Bellbridge, Mullagh and Coore, there is the dance festival at the Armada and there is the private world of the house sessions in the many cottages around.  But mostly there is the catching up with people not seen for a year. People go there for any of these reasons and are rewarded accordingly,

There were many highlights. Meeting Tommy Peoples for one. But perhaps for me what will stand out was dropping in to Friels on the last Sunday afternoon. I was getting ready to drive to Tubbercurry but just had to have one more dose. There was no music but sitting in the front bar was Padraig Mac Donnacha. who I had met at Ballyferriter, and he invited me to join him for a few tunes. Initially there was just the two of us but then Thiery Masure and a few others sat in. I won’t overplay it but itnwas special moment for me.

So that’s Willie Week for 2015.  I get it now.  I get the mystique and the draw. Such that I know where I’ll be in the first week of July next year.

Just a few of the many photos I took. I know I missed many opportunities but you cant be everywhere. The photos of me were taken by Anne Gerhardt.  Thanks Anne.

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

Willie Clancy Summer School – Monday.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. The sun was shining, not too much wind – I’ll ride to Miltown! It’s only five kilometres. Great. No problem with traffic or parking. What was I thinking!  I rode home in the driving rain at 1am buffeted by squally winds in the pitch black being overtaken at breakneck speed by an endless stream of Willie-ites heading back to their cottages, caravans or campsites. The Bellbridge was a safe haven about halfway so the obvious solution was to sit there, soaked through, in the warm pub and play tunes with complete strangers. A silk purse from a sow’s ear?

In between though I experienced just a little of the magic of Willie Week. I played with Sean Moloney from East Galway in the sun at the back of the Blondes, I saw Frankie Gavin and Noel Hill at Michael A’s (no chance of a seat there!) , then there was Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Eileen O’Brien at Friels and Jacky Daly and Matt Cranitch at the Yard and…….

In the evening we were treated to a smorgasbord of fiddling styles from some of the best in the country and beyond. It is so good to hear all these fiddles back to back. I know it’s unfair but highlights for me were Tara Breen and the wonderful sweet fluid playing of Yvonne Casey and then Claire Egan. Perhaps I’ve been in Clare too long.

Then I finished the night with a session at the Bellbridge; but I’ve already mentioned that.

And this is only Monday.

Just a handful of photos.  I will wait until the end to sort them all.

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Categories: Concerts, Festivals, The Fiddle, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

St Patricks Day in Ennis. Fifty Shades of Green.

My first St Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

It has always been something I have avoided in Oz. An excuse for all and sundry to parade themselves as being Irish (whether they are or not) fuelled by green beer and endless renditions of Wild Rover and the Fields of Athenry. Not always a pretty sight. And sessions on St Pats Day are non existent as every person who can hold a fiddle or accordion is gigging somewhere that night. So I was keen to find out what it was like back here.

St Patrick’s Day honours the death of St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, in 461 and it is celebrated as a national holiday in Ireland and Northern Ireland and around the world by the Irish diaspora. It has moved from being a religious holiday to a day of secular celebration much to the chagrin of the church. I like this quote from Father Vincent Twomey who wrote in 2007, “It is time to reclaim St Patrick’s Day as a church festival without mindless alcohol-fuelled revelry” and concluded that “it is time to bring the piety and the fun together.” This plea seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

March 17th was a glorious sunny day in Clare so I headed into Ennis. The place was decorated with bunting and flags in preparation for the Parade, which kicked off at 11.00. Parades are a big deal here and every town and village has one. Not as big as Dublin of course which is now supposedly beats that in New York but definitely not as small as the one in Dripsey in Co Cork (which celebrates the fact that it has the shortest parade in the world – 100 yards between the village’s two pubs).

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They are often staggered so the limited number of brass bands and prime movers can rotate between the villages. Community groups and schools go to a lot of effort and there are prizes for the best float or display. And everyone dresses up, with green of course being the dominant colour. At least fifty shades of green. Somehow it’s not tacky as it tends to be in Australia. It is the Irish celebrating their Irishness. So I saw nothing incongruous in leprechaun beards and green wigs as I might have in Australia if worn by Australians.

The other thing that struck me as the Parade moved past me was that just as in Australia now, Ireland is a multi-layered society and a quick flick through the photos shows groups with a diversity of ethnic identities. There is a strong representation of support groups for people with special needs. It was quite a window into what is important to the people of Clare. The whole thing is very much a family day and this spilled over into the pubs and restaurants with family groups continuing the celebrations as others geared up for a big night.

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I had heard there would be tunes all day at Cruises so at 1:00 I joined Eric and Hugh Healy with Brian O’Loughlin and Catherine for some great tunes.  Energetic and fast – great fun. Accompanied as we were by a young lad who practiced his dance steps continuously for well over two hours! Gradually the families left the pub and by 4 pm there was a change in musicians to Eoin O’Neill and Quentin Cooper and friends.  The pub was rapidly filling up but at 6:00 I decided to head back to Friels at Miltown Malbay where there was a session in full swing when I arrived with with Damien O’Reilly, Caoilfhionn Ni Fhrighil, Eamonn O’Riordan, Brian Mooney and Thiery Masur .  The pub was packed like I haven’t seen it since Willie Week and there was plently to like about the music. At 8.30 it wound up and my next stop was Liscannor where Ennis band Los Paddys de las Pampas were playing at Egans.  I have to say I had never heard them before and wasn’t sure what to expect – Ireland meets South America?  But with talent like Adam Shapiro and Kirsten Allstaff involved it had to be good.  And what a great night.  The music was surprisingly infectious and even a boring old fart like me was up on the dance floor bopping along.  There were some great cameos from Clara Buettler and two flamenco dancing sisters (can’t remember their names) and then Lenka Hoffmanova took to the floor looking resplendent in her dress of orange white and green.  Flamenco meets sean nos!  Great stuff!

Now that was how St Patricks Day should be celebrated.

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

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