Posts Tagged With: people

CD Review: Not Before Time. Paráic Mac Donnchadha.

I normally don’t do CD reviews of Irish music. Firstly I am friends with many of the musicians involved so it is an area that is fraught and secondly the vast majority are brilliant expressions of the variety and many nuances and interpretations of Irish music today so reviewing them is pretty pointless.

I do make exceptions though. The recent release by Páraic Mac Donnchadha Not Before Time, is one of these. First I have to declare some conflicts of interest.  Páraic is a friend and has been very supportive and welcoming to me on my own musical journey and I am grateful to him for that, and secondly he has used one of my photographs on the CD. But having said that I love this album. I was lucky enough to be at the first launch concert at the Feakle Festival and got my copy there. More on that concert later.

Páraic’s playing of the banjo is a revelation the first time you hear it, and a wonderful advertisement for the much maligned instrument. The first thing that strikes you is his gentle tonality and the unadorned clarity of his music along with his steady pace where the musicality takes precedence.  There is always a wonderful rhythm and pulse that is hypnotically engaging.    Primarily a session player he surrounds himself with players with a similar musicality. A lover of small sessions where each musical layer can be clearly heard and contributes to the whole and where he explores unusual keys and instrumental pairings. I have had many memorable experiences listening to Páraic.  Who could forget a session with Cormac Begley in A-flat at Ballyferriter, Co Kerry, in 2015 I think, that lasted 11¾ hours? Or in Friels in Miltown Malbay, during Willie Week. There is a generosity in his playing that comes out when he is sharing with like-minded players.

If that feeling was what Páraic was trying to capture in this album then he has been wildly successful. Much of it is recorded in Pepper’s Bar at Feakle and I was lucky enough to be there for one of those recording sessions. For this album Páraic has involved many of his most recent sparring partners. And that’s when his playing shines. Whether it is the sublime fluidity of Claire Egan’s fiddle or viola or the insistent rhythmic pulse of Cormac’s bass concertina or the wonderful ensemble playing of Graham Gueren, Colm Murphy, Noel O’Grady and Libby McCroghan, Páraic’s banjo is there at the heart of it. Crisp, clean and simple. No distractions. It’s all about the tune. He also plays to great effect with his brother Mac Dara and sister Sinéad and in a tribute to his roots, honours his father Séan by revisiting one of his songs. But there are a few tracks where he is on his own, and this is where his mastery comes to the fore.  He plays with just the subtle and supportive bouzouki of talented young Waterford player and instrument maker, Macdara Ó Faoláin or the gentle guitar of Terence O’Reilly.

The tune selection is fantastic. Really, really good.  Many are familiar, some not, but they always come up fresh with Páraic’s playing approach or with his local versions or the unusual key selections.  Sometimes it ensnares you and you just don’t want the track to end.

The CD itself is brilliantly presented with a comprehensive and informative book integrated into the cover. Paraic’s musings on his musical journey and influences reveal a man who writes as well as he plays. And I found the thoughtful and well researched tune notes by Graham Guerin added considerably to my listening enjoyment.

The concert to launch the album was held in the marquee at the back of Pepper’s Pub during the Feakle Festival. Gracing the stage were (almost) all the musicians who played on the album.  With the wonderful bonus of a guest spot from Martin Hayes who spoke eloquently of Paraic’s music and its East Galway roots and the connection with East Clare.  Having all this amazing music served up to us in a venue packed with appreciative fellow musicians, had me salivating!

So on the drive from the concert to my home at Quilty, a drive of well over an hour, I listened to the album.  Such a generous slab of music reflects the man.  Eighteen tracks took me to my front door!. And I listened again the next morning . This time on a good sound system. Just beautiful.  And it hasn’t come off the player since.

How could I fail to love this music.  It has truly captured the spirit that Páraic engenders when he shares his music making with his fellow musicians.  Now he has shared it with us.  We can all sit in.

Not before Time. 

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Macdara Ó Faoláin, Paráic, Claire Egan and Terence O’Reilly

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Paráic Mac Donnchadha

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Macdara Ó Faoláin and Paráic,

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Macdara Ó Faoláin

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Terence O’Reilly

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Macdara Ó Faoláin, Paráic, Mac Dara Mac Donncha and Terence O’Reilly

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Paráic Mac Donnchadha, Mac Dara Mac Donncha

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Paráic and Claire Egan

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Claire Egan

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Claire Egan

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Martin Hayes launches the CD

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Paráic and Martin Hayes

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Martin Hayes

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Martin Hayes

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Martin Hayes

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Noel O’Grady, Paráic, Graham Guerin and Colm Murphy

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Colm Murphy

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Noel O’Grady

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Graham Guerin

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Martin Hayes and Cormac Begley

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Paráic and Cormac Begley

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Cormac Begley

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Cormac Begley

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Libby McCroghan

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Sinéad Nic Dhonncha

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An appreciative audience.

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

Dursey. An island at the end of Ireland.

Dursey Island lies at the end of the Beara Peninsula in West Cork. It has been inhabited since antiquity and though it lies only 200 m from the mainland it has always been one of the most remote and inhospitable places to live in in the whole country.

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Dursey Island looking towards the mainland.

It had a tortured early existence and was the site of one of the most horrific events in Irish history.  Following the Battle of Kinsale and the defeat of Donal Cam O’Sullivan at Dunboy in early 1602, the English moved to clean up the last of the rebels.  Many of the O’Sullivan Clan’s non-combatants had been sent to  Dursey to keep them out of harm’s way.  An English force attacked the small garrison guarding the island. They butchered the entire population of the island, women, children and the garrison. Three hundred people executed on the cliffs and their bodies (some were still alive) cast into the sea.  O’Sullivan survivors from the whole of the Beara Peninsula, about 1,000 of them, then marched 550 km north to seek shelter from the O’Rourkes of Leitrim, but that’s another story.

As with the rest of the west coast of Ireland, Dursey suffered during the famine with a 30% reduction in its population in the 1840s.  Its subsequent and continuing depopulation reflects that of many other Irish islands but its survival displays the resilience and strength of its people. In 1860 the three villages of Ballynacallagh, Kilmichael and Tilickafinna,  a population of around 240 eked out a lonely life on the treeless but well pastured island.  By 1969 this number was down to 53. A feature of the island now is the large number of abandoned houses from these times.  This eloquently tell the story of a disappearing population, but they also give the island its remarkable character.

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Abandoned village

Up until 1970 the only way to get on and off the island was by boat across the channel.  A channel that could become so treacherous with storms and a tidal surge  that for a month and a half each year the island was completely cut off.  Considering that there was no electricity, TV, doctor, priest, food supplies and no hall or pub, life must have been very bleak indeed.   After much agitation from islanders the Government agreed to build a cable car to provide a lifeline and, while that did save it from the same fate as the Blaskets, which were abandoned in 1953, it did not stop the population drain until, by 2011, there were only three permanent residents.

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Treacherous tides and surges made this channel very dangerous to cross.  Not these days.

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Approaching the island

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Anticipation. A picture window.

But the cable car opened the island to the tourist.  6.5 km in length, there is much of interest.

To walk the island takes at least 4 hours but I spent over 6 hours ambling and rambling, getting lost and finding myself again.  Just absorbing the ambiance and grateful for the glorious sunshine and the warm breeze that accompanied me. It is glorious to walk either along the sometimes paved road (which despite the alarming speed sign is almost devoid of vehicles;  I saw only one) or across the hills but best to stay on the marked paths unlike me.

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There is a marked walking trail across the hills.  Looking across to the mainland.

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If you leave the path walking through thick vegetation and across stone walls can be a challenge.

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I can never understand Irish speed limits.  100 kph!?

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Looking from the western tip of the island back towards the mainland.  A signal tower stands on the highest point.

On your walk you will come across the remains  of St Mary’s Abbey, a Napoleonic signal tower, historic ruins, spectacular views, rocky cliffs, birds galore, native orchids and your best chance  in Ireland to see dolphins and whales.

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St Mary’s Abbey

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Cliffs on the southern side of the island

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Dolphins

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I tracked this pod of dolphins for over half an hour down the coast

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Native orchids are common

At the western end of the island are three small islands.  Well, rocks really.  They are known as Calf Rock, Cow Rock and yes, you guessed it, Bull Rock.

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Looking west across Dursey to the imposing Bull Rock, two miles off shore

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Cow Rock and Bull Rock

A lighthouse was established on  Calf Rock in 1866.

Less than three years later a storm damaged the lighthouse.  This led to another tragic event in the saga of Dursey.  The Keeper, on Dursey, thought he saw distress flags and six boatmen were dispatched.  Those on the island were safe however, on the the return trip, the boat capsized and all six were lost

On 27 November 1881 in another  violent storm the the tower and lantern just snapped off above the steel base and fell into the sea. No one was hurt but it took two weeks to extract the four men stranded on the island. You can still see the base of the tower to this day.

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Calf Rock with the remains of the steel base of the light tower. Wrecked in 1881

To replace this lighthouse one was built on nearby Bull Rock, work commencing in  1882.  The light didn’t open until 1888.  It is worth pondering the challenge of constructing this on an island of precipitous cliffs measuring 230 m by 160 m and rising to 90 m above sea level.

The station consisted of an octagonal lighthouse tower, dwellings for the Keepers, and an oil-gas works.   This was a massive undertaking and the optic was the biggest in Ireland.

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Bull Rock with its lighthouse.  You can also see a gull colony and the entrance to a natural tunnel that goes right through the island.

The light still stands proudly today though it was automated in 1991. The island is swarming with gulls.  Also noteworthy is a natural tunnel that goes right through the island.  You can see the eastern entrance in the picture above.

That’s Dursey.   Take everything you think you’ll need because there are no supplies on the island and not even a toilet. And it won’t always be mild and sunny as it was for me; go prepared for bleak and wild.

But don’t miss it.

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Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Story time. Of copper at Doonen, arches at Reenroe and a picnic on the bay.

You hear the words ‘hidden gem’ so many times in Ireland but more often than not they are not hidden and nor are they a gem.  I try to avoid the expression especially when it appears on tourists’ must-see lists (hardly hidden then).  But actully they do exist and when you find one part of you wants to scream and shout about it and another part says ‘Shhh! Let’s keep it hidden’

The Arches at Reenroe are one such place. I had been to Allihies on the Beara Peninsula three times but not heard about it.  That’s the downside of my penchant for arriving blind to a place to discover it on my own.

Spectacular as the arches are, I want  first to tell a bit of a story, about how I discovered it and the adventure I had on the way.  Stories such as this so typify, for me travel and living in Ireland and the way things just unfold here. Surprise upon serendipitous surprise. The people, culture and place are interwoven like nowhere else.  These experiences are truly the hidden gems.

Let me start at the beginning. Or even a bit before the beginning.

It was a gorgeous sunny June morning (yes, this is Ireland) and I was visiting the location of the Dooneen Copper Mine.  This is a marked tourist spot on the Wild Atlantic Way a few kilometres from Allihies, so it has the squiggly iron marker to let you know that it is worth stopping. And to a lapsed geologist such as myself that is indeed true. This is the site of the first of Puxley’s copper mines discovered in 1812.  Because of its location on the coast, it struggled both technically and commercially, but the upside of this is that the site is largely intact and we can get a unique insight of how it must have looked before it was exploited.

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A google maps satellite image with the copper lode at Dooneen outlined. Looking north

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The ore zone at Dooneen is a distinctive promontry.  Obvious for its shades of cream, brown and orange representing oxidised rock.

The cliffs here are a series of headlands of Devonian sandstone. One of these promontories is in shades of orange and cream rather than the more normal greys. It is about 80 m long and up to 10 m wide. This unique coloration is due to oxidation of what was essentially a quartz sulphide rock. As you walk along the narrow path you see traces, under your feet and in the walls, of bright green staining. This is malachite, copper carbonate and a telltale sign that deeper down there are copper sulphides.

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Looking east along the ore zone.  Note the patches of green malachite in the cliffs

Walk onto the next headland to the north and look back. Now you see it in it’s full glory. Brilliant green patches tell of a very rich lode. But why is it still there considering it contains such valuable minerals?

At the eastern end at sea level is an adit and there appears to be another in the adjacent cliff at the western end.  These would have been where the miners first chased the copper but constant inundation made it impossible. A shaft was sunk on the land side but again flooding meant more and more sophisticated machinery was needed to keep on top of the pumping.  Eventually the elements won and in the 1870s the mine was abandoned never really making much money.  But this has left us with this magnificent example of a virtually untouched outcropping ore body.

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Looking from the south,  Adit above the high water mark visible at the left.

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As it looked 200 years ago.  Except for the tunnel at the western end.

But I digress. In the car park I met Viv Kelly, visiting from Dublin, with members of her family. She said they were going to look for what they called the Arches and headed off on foot. I was intrigued and headed off in the same general direction. But for me the search proved fruitless and I actually had no idea what I was looking for.

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Viv and some of the Kelly Gang.  Beautiful synclinal fold behind them.

So I continued my explorations, by car, of what is one of my favourite drives, between Allihies and Eyries. The road snakes through sculpted hills, twisted rocks and abandoned houses and at one point the highway (if you can call it that) drives through someone’s yard with the house on one side and the barn on the other. Harking back to the time when living right on the road would have been hugely desirable.  There were panoramic vistas, bicycles and bog cotton.

Satisfied, I headed back to Allihies to join an afternoon session with two legends of Irish music – Jackie Daly and Matt Cranitch. I soon forgot about arches and such.

It was now about 6.30 pm the music had ebbed away and I was sitting outside O’Neill’s Pub pondering my next move.  I was approached by a lady who became my immediate best friend after she complimented me on my fiddling.   She mentioned she had been that day to visit some sea arches!  Those same arches that Viv had told me about.  She reached for her phone to show me some pictures.  I politely covered her screen (I hate spoilers) and asked instead for directions after telling her of my earlier vain search.

Basically it appears I was in the right place.  ”Look for a white cottage on the left and opposite you will see a wooden gate with a blue rope and a sign saying ‘please shut the gate'”.  That seemed simple enough so I had another go. At about the spot she indicated I saw a white building, more of a bungalow really and it wasn’t on the left it was on the right and I couldn’t see a gate, so I was confused and drove on. Fruitlessly.  Now the Irish are not great on giving directions so I went back to that bungalow thinking maybe ‘left’ meant ‘right’, and sure enough there was a gate, my view blocked by a beautiful old vintage Mercedes. The gate had a blue rope and a hand written sign saying ‘please shut the gate’. Finally.

I headed along the well worn track, passing a group of picnickers. They had selected an idyllic spot.  Smoke rising from a fire and the smell of cooking chicken. I was just a little jealous but I apologised for intruding and after getting a little sage advice on what I was looking for, I continued my search.

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Picnicking.

Not far ahead I came across the first arch. You don’t actually realise you are on it until you make your way down to the shore and look back. Way grander than I’d imagined.  Tantalisingly the calm water in the chasm disappeared to the left.  You knew there was more.

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Back up to the top and I continued across the fields until I reached a rocky headland. Here there are more arches. Two precarious bridges span a steep sided chasm.  One looks like it is about to collapse into the ocean as one day soon it inevitable will. Real selfie territory.  They have formed by selective erosion of softer rock (probably along a fault) in places leaving the remnant bridges of rock.  I had brought a sandwich and doughnut with me and enjoyed my own little picnic.

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“Can you step back a bit?  Can’t quite get you in the shot”  Arch no 2

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Two bridges span this chasm.  Arches no 2 and 3.

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My little picnic

I felt there had to be more and sure enough I found a number of other narrow steep sided arches and then a perfectly protected and wave free channel passed under another series of bridges. This turned out to be the other end of the channel under the first arch.  I followed it back and observed two land bridges over this channel.

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View east along the main channel (arch no 1)

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View west along the main channel.  (Arch no 6)

In total I saw six arches.  It might make more sense if you look at the google map image. The major channel has essentially created an island with two natural bridge accesses (nos 1 and 6). This has followed a major east west fault.  The other arches (numbered 2 to 5) have formed on softer shaley bands within the sediment sequence so they parallel bedding.

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Google satellite image showing six arches referred to above.  Main channel is marked in red. North to top.

I absolutely loved this place.

That should have been the end of my story but it wasn’t.

I must have been exploring for an hour and a half. Heading back past the picnickers I was surprised at being asked to join them. They plied me with wine, crab claws, chicken, potato and roasted seaweed.  The burgeoning friendship nearly ended though when they offered me a hot rock to sit on!  Brian, from Edinburgh, a scholar in all things gaelic, explained that the picnic was in memory of a time when they ‘cooked’ a salmon in this very fire 20 years ago. Sashimi salmon in the dark was the outcome.  No fish this time though.

I met Cormac Boydell and his partner Rachel, who live next door to that white bungalow overlooking this dramatic bay.  Cormac is a renowned ceramic artist.  I wished I had time to have a closer look at his work.  But what was really interesting was that in a previous life he was a geologist.  Spooky enough but, hey, he worked in Australia during the nickel boom of the 70s and, get this, he worked for CRA, the first company I worked for.  And he was based in Kalgoorlie in western Australia, where I lived for six years.

We talked for ages as darkness descended and until the lure of the music back in Allihies became palpable.  I took my leave, happy that my search for the Arches, initiated by a chance meeting with Viv from Dublin had ended with such a rewarding encounter.

These days are truly the hidden gems of Ireland.

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Spancil Hill is……

I’ve been going to Spancil Hill Fair in Co Clare for five years now.

The Fair has been going for 300 years.  I’ve blogged on two previous occasions (2014.   2015)     So I thought I would do something a little different this time.

 

Spancil Hill is a spectacle. A melange.
Folk from Ireland and beyond
Travellers and settled; families and bachelors
Horses and donkeys, ironmongery and saddles
Buggies and carts, burgers and fries

Spancil Hill is sticks.
Of blackthorn, hazel, fibreglass or ash
Sticks in earnest conversation
or just to lean on
or to sit on.

There’s a man selling sticks. I bought one.

Spancil Hill is a toddler eye to eye with a pony

Spancil Hill is a runaway pony,
Scared.
Horses rearing.
Until it is cornered and held safely and lovingly in a boys arms.

Spancil Hill is the Irish Cob
How do they see?
Full-maned and feathered, by buyers prodded and stroked.
Mouth pulled open and poked (I’m sure there’s a reason).
Or another pulling a buggy,
or cantering imperiously.

Spancil Hill is John Sheridan sealing the deal on a pied cob.
Slapping hands with the seller.
His family posing proudly for the camera.

Spancil Hill is Sean O’Leary standing with his pony.
Waiting all day for a buyer.
Is it the smallest in Ireland?
For this tiny equine there are many who are keen.
But will they meet his price?

Spancil Hill is a man in a beige suit,
Another without a shirt.

Spancil Hill is lorries loaded with horses.
Headed for Europe.

Spancil Hill is a giant spade.

Spancil Hill is ice creams.

Spancil Hill is John Dooley, a Feakle man sitting in his chair
Since 1946 he’s been there.
It’s his 72nd Fair
The stories he could tell.

Spancil Hill is Aisling and Paddy leading home the newest member of their family

Spancil Hill is Albert and his family selling buggy wheels.

Spancil Hill is Ireland then and Ireland now.

An apposite anachronism.

I love it. 

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Spancil Hill is Sticks.  In earnest conversation

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Or to lean on

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Or to sit on

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Spancil Hill is a giant spade

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Mouth pulled open and poked.  I’m sure there’s a reason

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Spancil Hill is a toddler, eye to eye with a pony.

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How do they see?

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There’s a man selling sticks.  I bought one.

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Spancil Hill is ice creams

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Or cantering imperiously I

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Or cantering imperiously II

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Spancil Hill is John Dooley.

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Since 1946 he’s been there.  The stories he could tell.

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Spancil Hill is a runaway pony

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Until held safely and lovingly in a boy’s arms

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Spancil Hill is a beige suit

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But will they meet his price

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Spancil Hill is Sean O’Leary.  Is it the smallest in Ireland?

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Spancil Hill is Albert and his family selling buggy wheels

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Spancil Hill is John Sheridan. Slapping hands….

Aisling and Paddy and the pony they bought

Spancil Hill is Aisling and Paddy.

 

 

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Frank Custy. A Legend. “The best day of my trip”.

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Frank Custy is a legend in Clare music.

Never moving far from his birthplace at Dysart the man has nurtured and inspired hundreds to play and participate in Irish traditional music. A visionary who, as a schoolmaster at nearby Toonagh, integrated music into the teaching day and beyond.  Many came under his spell.  Sharon Shannon, Gary Shannon, Siobhan Peoples, Sean Conway, Yvonne Casey, Tola Custy and Mary Custy and hundreds who are not household names – all going on to make their own mark on Clare music. His work was recognised with the Mór glor award for his contributions in 2016.

But the thing is he is still doing it.

At Fleadh Nua held in Ennis in May Frank runs the Foinn Seisiún, held every afternoon during the Festival.

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Frank on the banjo and friends

This is a slow session aimed at developing musicians where they can get confidence in playing or singing in front of others in a supportive environment. It is always well attended. Anything could happen. Everyone gets a go to try out a new tune or a song.  No matter the age.  There are no barriers. You might even get an Australian singing the Clogher Road.

Or you could get a Connemara Set or a Seige of Ennis, with unsuspecting visitors being cajoled into it.

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The joy on the faces of Jo from Birmingham or Megan from Texas, new to Irish dancing,  as they are swept up onto the floor,  says it all.

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Jo from Birmingham in good hands

 

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Megan from Texas and Jo from Birmingham, learning the steps for the Siege of Ennis.

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All ages enjoy it.  

I met TJ,  travelling here with Megan from Texas.  They dropped into Ennis for a day.    As TJ said. “the best day of our trip”.

Who knows how many have gone on to play Irish music or learn to dance after having heard Frank and having the “best day of their trip”.

A big thank you to Frank Custy.

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

Oysters and Trad Music. And sunshine. Sound like Ireland?

May Day weekend in Ireland is one of the busiest music weekends of the year. There is too much choice and if you live in the west you probably think of going to the Cuckoo Fleadh at Kinvara or the festival at Louisburgh. I am sure the Carrigaholt Oyster and Traditional Weekend does not come into your consideration. Well it should.

To be honest I didn’t even know it existed until I prepared the listing of Festivals, which you can find elsewhere on this blog (A Feast of Festivals) but I decided to eschew the larger festivals and the jam packed sessions and head south to this tiny village.

Carrigaholt is not a name that immediately springs to mind and, in fact, I suspect that many, even Clare, people only have a vague notion of where it is, tucked away in the very south west of the county.  Many visitors come to nearby Loop Head but most, indeed including myself, seem to miss Carrigaholt.

I was attracted by the mention of oysters among other things.  Just love fresh oysters.  Sunday arrived with a clear blue sky and a positively balmy 15 degrees so guess where I went.

Carrigaholt is located on the shores of the Shannon Estuary but is a struggling village, like many in the west of Ireland. Population of the village itself is down to 40 and I am told that of that there are only two children. There are four pubs, a small shop inside one of them, a restaurant with brilliant food and a gift shop. But not much else. Oh, and there is Carrigaholt Castle, one of the most elegant tower houses in Clare, which sits on the water’s edge, and a stunning coastal drive towards Kilbaha with some beautifully exposed geology as well.

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The imposing entrance gate to the Carrigaholt Castle

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Another view of Carrigaholt Castle ruin.  One of the most beautiful in Clare.

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West of Carrigaholt on the Coast Road.  Pink Thrift in the foreground and Loop Head in the distance.

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Gently folded strata.  Looking across to Loop Head

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Stunning scenery on the Coast Road from Carrigaholt

Yet for this weekend the streets were jammed and the pubs crowded. Little local festivals like this are the heartbeat of the traditional scene and mean so much to these isolated villages and I love them. I found myself as possibly the only person in town who had traveled there specifically and who didn’t have some connection to the village. Most were either locals, former residents or family visitors. But I was welcomed fulsomely; like joining a family party as the long lost cousin from Australia.

The weather helped of course. Everything was out on the street. An early so-called Junior Session was the first event of the day. ‘Junior’ is the wrong word. The session was led by members of the Maguire family from Wicklow and the music was anything but kid’s stuff. I was stopped in my tracks by Aiofe Maguire doing a concertina solo that showed a truly phenomenal mastery of the instrument. Playing with her were sister Emma on fiddle and Sean, still only 11, wowing all with his fiery bodhran playing. I had another chance to see them later in the day at the Long Dock.

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The ‘Junior Session’.  Some were more interested in other things

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Aoife and Sean Maguire on the street at  Carrigaholt

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The Maguires perform in front of the Long Dock

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The Maguires

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Robbie Walsh with Emma Maguire

The afternoon and evening was filled with sessions at all four pubs. Mainly local musicians from the district, including members of another talented family from west Clare, the Brownes, with some sensational sean nos dancing in the street from Colm Browne.

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In my element.  Thanks Pat Keating for the photo.

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Sean nos dancing on the street from Colm Browne

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Colm Browne with grandfather Tommy Browne.  A musical dynasty continues

I watched a bodhran workshop on the street led by the renowned Robbie Walsh and his Bodhran Buzz. I had to fight mightily the temptation to grab one and have a go but I resisted.

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Joining in the Bodhran Buzz

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Wherever you can find a seat

And later I joined Clare musicians Geraldine and Eamonn Cotter and their extended family for a marvelous couple of hours of tunes and songs.

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The Cotter family plus

Everyone was clearly enjoying themselves in their own way but for some ice cream was the order of the day.

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Totally absorbed.  A family day out.

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I scream and you scream.

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Let out of the Convent for the day or a very Irish Hen’s Party?  Your call.

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Paparazzi.  Can’t escape.

 The party continued at Keane’s Pub well into the night but after 9 hours of playing I made a quiet exit and left them to it.

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Oh and by the way I got my free plate of delicious local oysters!

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Fiddling with oysters

Categories: Festivals, My Journey, Real Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Big Freeze. March 2018. My Story.

What an extraordinary event.

Gotta say I’m not used to snow.  Not used to the feeling of flakes on your face or the biting wind or the stunning beauty when the sun comes out.  Or the slushy wetness that soaks through your boots and trousers and gets tramped through the house.  Or digging the snow from your front door. Or being stuck in your house. Or the vicissitudes of stupidly taking a remote boreen just as a snow shower starts.  I’ll come back to that last one later.

The snow came from that annoyingly named freak weather condition known as ‘The Beast from the East’ which blasted frigid air across continental Europe and over Ireland. It arrived in West Clare on a Wednesday, the last day of February 2018. But it turned out that that was just an entree to a full three course meal which came Thursday and Friday and continued to Sunday.

But first this ‘Beast’. Where did it come from? And why was it so devastating? As a geologist I make a pretty poor meteorologist but those that do know about these things said the whole thing was triggered by a periodic event called “sudden stratospheric warming”. This involved a huge rise in air temperature of around 50ºC in an area about 30 km above the Arctic (the stratosphere).  The origin of this actually goes back to severe cyclones in January in the Pacific disturbing global weather patterns. A true ripple effect. Anyway, this warming weakened the jet stream and forced cold air from western Russia towards Ireland.  Temperatures on the ground in the Arctic were 20ºC above normal, while Europe experienced lows of -15ºC in many places.  And then to complicate it there was Storm Emma which headed north from Portugal.  When it hit the cold air, blizzards, gales and snow were the result.

Where I could, I tried to record the event with my camera and words. Here is a personal account of how it all unfolded around my little part of West Clare.

Wednesday 28th February 2018

We knew it was coming. Temperatures had been way below normal for days and the web was alive with warnings.  Yet I had no idea exactly what was in store. Just two weeks earlier I was chasing all over Ireland to Louth and Armagh and Kerry and Wicklow and Connemara because of snowfalls there. Now it was here in my front yard.  It was snowing when I awoke and it continued to snow.  I was excited enough to venture out around 9am.  The snow wasn’t heavy; just a few centimetres so I figured there would be no real problems except that is that the weather accompanying this snow was truly living up to the appellation that is the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’.  I headed to Spanish Point Beach, braving snow showers and bitter wind.  I’ve seen this beach battered with giant waves, covered in froth and foam and perfectly still with nary a ripple. Never though with white snow meeting the yellow sand. It was not comfortable as mini blizzards would sweep in between the sunshine. Nevertheless I was totally entranced and happy.  The showers faded during the day and though the temperature hardly went above zero, the snow melted by the late afternoon and the streets of Miltown Malbay returned to relative normality. This turned out to be a temporary reprieve.

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Snowstorm on Spanish Point Beach. Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Spanish Point Beach, Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Bell Bridge House Hotel.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Mouth of the Anagh River.  Looking across to Caherush.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Bridge over the Anagh River.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Spanish Point Beach. The sun shone briefly.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Spanish Point Beach.  Looking from the Armada Hotel.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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The Clogher Road.  Looking towards my cottage.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Caherush.  Low tide. Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Mutton Island.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Caherush looking towards Quilty.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Miltown Malbay  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Miltown Malbay.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

Thursday 1st March 2018

I woke up reluctantly poking my head above the sheets with the temperature hovering at -4ºC.  A quick look out the window showed a complete white-out. It was a stunning sight. I love how you don’t know it’s happened during the night. So quiet unlike a rain storm pelting on the slate roof and rattling the windows.

The rocks and cliffs of the bay at Caherush were covered with a thick white carpet and it was still snowing with some vigour.  Around 9am it brightened and it stopped snowing.  I rugged up and took a walk up the Clogher Road.  I was joined by the neighbour’s dog, Valdo.  Briefly. This was much too exciting;  he had better things to do and left me to my meandering. The sun broke through the clouds and its rays made the hills gleam.  My neighbour Michael Talty, stopped his car for a chat. He was heading to Kilrush for some tractor parts. A farmer doesn’t stop for a bit of snow.  So of course I didn’t refuse the invitation to join him. I think he quickly regretted it as I had him stop at Quilty where the snow, the water and the sand united to create a magic world. Mutton Island sat like an iceberg off the coast. I had to photograph them.

As we left Quilty and headed south, there was only a light dusting over the fields. This part of West Clare had escaped the heavy falls that we had experienced. Business done, followed by an hearty breakfast in Kilrush we headed back north to Caherush.

We were passing O’Looney’s lovely pub just a few kilometres from Quilty at Molosky. Stop! I exclaimed as I caught a sight, out of the corner of my eye, of the falls at the Annageerah River. They were frozen! Michael waited patiently as I clambered over a gate and headed across a slushy snowy field to photograph the incredible sight of ice sheets draping the rocks and icicles clinging to wherever they could; where normally water flows. So lucky to see it.

Back home to the Clogher Road which by now was starting to thaw.  It was 2 pm and still -1ºC. The temperature never got to zero during the whole day

Encouraged by the condition of the roads on our journey, I cleared the snow from the car and headed north through Spanish Point along the coast towards Lahinch. The air was clean and crisp and the sun was making a good fist of doing its daily job but the thick cloud resisted. Nevertheless the bucolic landscape had become a patchwork of white fields and the coastline was now the White Cliffs of Clare. The views coming into Lahinch were unfamiliar but truly jaw-droppng. Though thick here across Liscannor Bay the fields were green. The snowfalls were obviously quite patchy.

I continued to Ennistymon. I wanted to see the Falls here.  Would they be frozen?  Well no they weren’t and they were quite subdued, as we hadn’t had a lot of rain for a week or so but they were framed with snow on every exposed rock with icicles hanging from branches and protected crags. The Falls Hotel looked like an alpine resort

A few flurries of snow were appearing now. I love that word ‘flurries’. Not one you get to use very often. Time to head home. Why didn’t I just stick to the main road? It had been treated with salt and grit and was perfectly clear. I was lulled I think into a false sense of safety. So with the help of Google, I took a back route to Miltown Malbay, it wasn’t long before I got into serious trouble. It was only a small hill. A narrow single lane boreen. With a hedge on the left and a ditch on the right. I knew I had to use a high gear and travel at a decent clip but I lost traction very quickly and found myself half way up the hill and going nowhere. Under the snow was a layer of ice. With wheels spinning I couldn’t go forward. With no brakes, reversing was pretty scary. I honestly don’t know how I got out of that. Reversing back down the hill and using the gears to slow down, the wheels went wherever they wanted.  One minute I slid into the hedge. Straightening up then I would head towards the ditch. It was probably only 200m of reversing first down the hill then back up another but it took forever until I came to a farm gate. The drama still wasn’t over as it took many goes slipping and sliding all over before I edged the nose of the car into that refuge and was able to turn around and drive home. To my warm fire and a few relieving tunes and a glass of the small.

That was some day but the wires (as we used to call it before the wireless world took over) were full of dire warnings of another storm. Emma was arriving and would collide with the Beast and batter us with wind and massive snowfalls. Code Red all over the country.  Bread and milk had disappeared from the shops. This really was serious.

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Panoramic view of Caherush bay.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Caherush Bay at low tide in the snow.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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My cottage on the shore. Thursday 1 March 2018

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More snow.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Caherush Bay Thursday 1 March 2018

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Mutton Island.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Sugar Island and Quilty. Thursday 1 March 2018

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The sun breaks through. Thursday 1 March 2018

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Joined on my walk by Valdo.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Joy.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Looking down the Clogher Road.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Driving into Quilty.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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The Quilty Shore I.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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The Quilty Shore II.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Quilty Shore III.  With Mutton Island in the distance.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Breakfast at Kilrush.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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The snow falls again at Annagreenagh Falls, near Quilty.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Annageeragh Falls.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Annageerah Falls.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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View towards Cliffs of Moher from Spanish Point.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Near Spanish Point.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Near Lahinch.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018

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Moy House.  Lahinch, Thursday 1 March 2018

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Cliffs south of Lahinch.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Fenceline and cliffs.  Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018

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Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018

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The Falls at Ennistymon. Thursday 1 March 2018

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Falls at Ennistymon.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Looking towards the Falls Hotel on the Inagh River at Ennstymon.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles I .  Ennistymon.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles II.  Ennistymon.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles III.  Ennistymon.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles IV.  Ennistymon.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles V.  Ready to drop.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Frozen grass on the menu today. Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018

Friday.  2nd March 2018

It would reek havoc they said.  And they were right about that! Friday morning saw a thick cover of snow over everything with drifts up to a metre. We, in Clare though,  seemed to get off rather lightly. The east and the south of the country were lashed with ferocious snowstorms. Back here in Clare, snow piled up against my door, just like in those movies set in countries where they have real winters.  It was obvious I was going nowhere today, so I settled in with a warm fire to wait it out. Even if I wanted drive anywhere the Clogher Road was not going to cooperate. It continued to snow all day. I ventured out in the late afternoon as the snow eased. The tide had come in and the ocean was tranquil with the bay in front of my house looking surreal with its brilliant white ‘beach’ all the way down to the high tide mark. The car remained in a drift and I went nowhere. No thoughts of a session and in any case most pubs were shut. Marooned. Like millions of others across the Once Green Isle.  Who knows how much fell? I heard a figure of 40cm but I would say much more in some places.  At least it had stopped.

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My cottage.  Marooned.  Friday 2 March 2018

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Going nowhere.  Friday 2 March 2018

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The Clogher Road.  Friday 2 March 2018

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Caherush Bay at high tide.  A surreal calmness.  Friday 2 March 2018

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My front patio.  Friday 2 March 2018

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The ‘beach’ at Caherush.  At my front door.  Low Tide.Friday 2 March 2018

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Caherush. Friday 2 March 2018

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The ‘beach’ at Caherush.  At my front door.  High Tide. Friday 2 March 2018

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The Clogher Road.  Friday 2 March 2018

Saturday. 3rd March 2018

More snow overnight but by the morning all was quiet. Temperatures were up now with a maximum of 2ºC for the day. A veritable heat wave. I was still going nowhere. The predicted rain didn’t arrive but by the afternoon I decided the snow on the roads had started to melt sufficiently to venture out again. Roads had a lot of snow in massive drifts, sometimes two metres high, and in many places were down to one lane. Those roads that were treated were passable but venture off the main roads at your peril. I’d learnt my lesson.  Most residents who live up narrow lanes were were still stuck.  My route again took me to Lahinch and Ennistymon.  The snow was still thick and extensive but the melt had started.  Lahinch golf course was more whites than greens and it was easy to become blaze about the stunning beauty all around.  Snow was still everywhere in Ennistymon, Lahinch and Miltown but the ploughs had been through and it was now more of a hazard to pedestrians.  Businesses were starting to reopen.  Life goes on.

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The Clogher Road is now passable. Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Welcome to Quilty Holiday Cottages.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The Bell Bridge Hotel and beyond.  Spanish Point.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Caherush.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Behind the Strand.  Clogher Road.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Panoramic view of Surf City Lahinch.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Ennistymon. Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Blake’s Corner. Ennistymon.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The Inagh River and Ennistymon.   Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The old Railway Bridge over the Inagh River,  Ennistymon.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Lahinch. Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Snow dunes, Lahinch.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Lahinch Castle.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The Golf Course at Lahinch..  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Lahinch  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Another view of the Castle.  Lahinch.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The estuary at Lahinch. Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Snowy hills above Lahinch Golf Course.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Miltown Malbay.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

Sunday.  4th March 2018

No snow last night and finally the real thaw started. It still only got to 2ºC maximum all day but the lure of a music session at lunch time in Ennis was too much for me to resist. The Clogher Road was mostly clear now. Mikey Talty was, like many, shoveling snow off the road in front of his house. I stopped for a chat.  Mikey had been living here for over 80 years. “Have you ever seen anything like this before?” I asked. “Aah yes” he said. “When I lived in the States”. 

Grinning I went on my way. Ireland does get heavy snow every few years. But not so often in these low lying coastal areas such as West Clare. The road to Ennis goes over Slieve Callan and the snow was thick in the hills and again there were drifts, metres high, meaning it was a slow trip. The music at Cruises Pub in Ennis was fantastic, with a huge crowd, desperate for a circuit breaker from the travails of the last few days. I returned about 5pm and it was still felt more like a journey through the alps rather than rural Ireland. I wasn’t ready to go home and called in at Hillery’s, for the regular Sunday evening session.  Life goes on.

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Mikey Talty, resident on the Clogher Road for 82 years clears away snow.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Snow drifts on the road to Inagh.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Heavy cover of snow remains.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Even the windmills stopped turning.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Lonely cottage at the food to Slieve Callan.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Switzerland? or Ireland?  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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The boreens were starting to clear.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Looking forward, looking back.  Mt Callan.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Enjoying the craic at Cruises Pub in Ennis.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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The snow melts in the fields on the Clogher Road.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Caherush.  The rocky bay is returning to normal  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Almost gone.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

Monday, 5th March 2018.  

It wasn’t quite over yet. Still the predicted rain never arrived and most of the snow on the lower ground had retreated but I knew it was still lying in the uplands.  Maybe the Burren would be worth a visit.  I wanted to see it.   Temperature was still around 2ºC in the morning as I set out but by the end of the day it had risen to 5ºC.  So I drove to Poulnabroun and then to Ballyvaughan and back through Carran.   It took all day.  It was cloudy and misty so not ideal but walking in the stillness of a snowy Burren was something truly special.  So quiet with hardly a soul on the road and those that were seemed to be heading somewhere else. A privilege to see it like this. I encountered a few busloads of tourists and they like me were the lucky ones.   The dolmen at Poulnabourn was looking resplendent and I viewed the wonderful stone walls literally in a different light as they stood out framed by the whiteness of the snow and the sky.  See if you agree with me.  The hills actually had a lot more snow than was apparent from a distance with the clints and grykes retaining the snow where it had melted elsewhere.  The Turlough at Carran, a wondrous geological feature  had plenty of water, though much of it appeared to be covered with ice. I imagine a couple of day earlier you might have been able to walk across it. By the way turlough, along with drumlin and esker are the only three words of Irish origin that I know that are  used worldwide as geological terms.  Thick snow was still on some of the Lanes but the snow ploughs were out and about so I imagined most would be passable.

The event that had dominated Irish lives, closed schools, airports highways and even pubs, isolated people for days and created timeless memories was over.

And that seems a good place to end this story.

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Plenty of snow on the way to the Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.  

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Poulnabroun Dolmen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Poulnabroun Dolmen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Near Poulnabroun Dolmen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren scene.     Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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The tourists still come.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren. Monday, 5th March 2018.

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On the way to Carron. Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Still heavy snowdrifts.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Carran Turlough.Monday, 5th March 2018.

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The Turlough. Much of it is still frozen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

Here are some pictures of those wonderful stone walls:

Tuesday 6th March 2018

I thought I had finished this blog but it was much brighter this morning and by the afternoon the sun was returning.  The temperature soared up to 7ºC.  Out my kitchen window the paddocks were pretty much free of snow.  Not Mt Callan.  It looked glorious (despite those windmills) with patches of sun glistening off it.  I had to go up and take a closer look.  There was plenty of snow so, sorry, a few more pictures.

Almost a week.  A week I won’t forget.

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Mt Callan.  The view from my kitchen window. Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Ruined cottage.  Road to Mt Callan.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Behind Miltown Malbay.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Mt Callan. Tuesday 6th March 2018

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The Summit.  As close as I could get.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Abandoned barn.  Mt Callan. Tuesday 6th March 2018

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The roof of the world.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Situation normal.  The gulls have returned to Caherush.

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A bird’s eye view.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

Categories: Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Clare Kitchen Sessions. Radio with pictures.

There is a widespread view that the Pub is the natural home of Irish Music.  And don’t get me wrong, many a wonderful musical moment can be had there. But indeed Irish music can be comfortably at home in the Home.  There’s a long tradition of the ‘kitchen session’ where the dining table is pushed to one side, local musicians gather and the flagstones clatter to the insistent battering of hard shoes.  A story might be told.  There will certainly be some songs, generally of a local flavour and there will be endless cups of tea and sandwiches.  There will be folk of all ages jammed in or listening from outside the door. This is how the tunes were handed down after all.  And if instruments were in short supply a lilter might be called on.  Nothing will stop the dancers.

Now, Irish cottages are not large so one can well imagine that not that many could be crammed in to experience this.

My how times change. As the chill of winter strengthened its grip, late November saw me at a kitchen session in my good friend Oliver O’Connell’s house in the heart of the Burren in County Clare. There were about 60 people there for the evening along with the virtual presence of many thousands of others.  It was broadcast live into homes all over the world through the organisers, ClareFM, and it was streamed live via Facebook.  So everyone could truly be part of this monumental night.  You could make comments in real time from Boston, Berlin or Belfast and hundreds did. Some were even read out on air during the show. Everything that makes this aspect of Irish Culture so unique was there, in a brilliant programme of music, song and dance provided by a gathering of Oliver’s friends from the Tubber-Gort-Crusheen-Kilfenora-Corofin areas of East and North Clare. There were so many wonderful surprises. Three pipers, Blackie (Oliver’s son), Tara Howley, taking time from her commitments with Riverdance and Eugene Lamb, a piping legend. There were recitations from Oliver and an emotional moment as father and son combined for a tune. There were spirited half sets with Oliver in the thick of it as you would expect and cameos from a host of Clare greats – old and young. Names like Richie Dwyer, Des Mulkere, Tony O’Loughlin and up-and-comers like the Clancy family from Tubber. Especially inspiring were two lilters maybe sixty years apart in age showing that core traditions, that are hardly known about outside rural Ireland, are being maintained.

This is radio with Heart from the heartland of Irish music. So well co-ordinated by Paula Carroll on air and Joan Hanrahan marshalling everyone behind the scenes. But it was live radio and yes there were glitches and it was so much better for that. This wasn’t a concert, and it wasn’t in the studio, so the music was energetic, spontaneous, entirely natural and completely in context.

After it was all over some didn’t want to leave. And those who remained watched in awe as four accordions,  Oliver, Clive Earley, Martin Ford, and Tony O’Loughlin joined Des Mulkere on banjo for a rare opportunity to play together.

I will be posting some video, so keep an eye on my You Tube channel. But here are a few photos I managed to sneak in which will give you some flavour of the night.

There will be more of these I am told. In fact ClareFM is promising one every week right through the Winter. I am hopeful of being able to be there for a few to document the occasion.  These will be special events. A different kitchen each week with each person opening their home and sharing their music with world.  Each will be in a different musical context and each will have the personality of the host stamped on it. They will be chalk and cheese but I expect the full depth of musical expression and the soul of Clare will be on display. You can’t apply a formula to Irish Music especially in this county and I am sure these Kitchen Sessions will demonstrate this over the coming weeks. Where ever you are on Sundays – 6pm Irish time, you should be listening to Clare FM.

 

 

 

 

 

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

The Hunt comes to Cree in County Clare

Cree (or sometimes spelt Creegh) is a small village in West Clare. Not much normally happens in Cree but this sunny Sunday afternoon in late October the place was abuzz. Every parking spot was taken up with horse floats and four wheel drives. Walsh’s Bar filled up quickly and jodhpurs, jackets and boots were de rigeur. It was the first event of the season for the County Clare Hunt and Cree was the proud host.

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Horse transports wherever you look

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The main street of Cree and Walsh’s Bar

Hunting (or Fox Hunting as it is probably more widely known) was banned in Scotland in 2002 and England and Wales in 2005 but remains legal and very popular in Ireland (including Northern Ireland) and many other countries such as Australia, Canada, France and Italy. The fox was in fact introduced into Australia for fox hunting and has become one of the country’s worst pests having quite a preference for native marsupials.

The Clare Hunt is one of close to 50 registered clubs in Ireland, each with their own pack of Foxhounds.

Records of hunting with hounds go back to ancient times and is recorded in myths and legends of Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Fianna.  The pursuit was continued by the Norman conquerors and then the Anglo-Irish Protestant gentry. During the Famine in the 19th Century there was bitter resentment and agitation against the landlord elite and the fox hunting became a symbol of British oppression in the eyes of many Irish nationalists. Times change. It is no longer an elite pursuit. Today as many as 300,000 people from all walks of life participate in the activity every year, in some way, in Ireland.

The Hunt at Cree has been the opening event of the season in Clare for the last 20 years. This year 60 horses took part with riders ranging in age from early teens to 70 years. In some recent years as many as 120 have joined.  At least half a dozen have participated in every Cree hunt.  Many riders are well seasoned in all forms of equestrianism and see the hunt as a social activity, a run for the horses and a break away from the stress and discipline of the more formal events such as dressage or three day events. There is no winner and no competitive aspect to it.

I had been told of the event by Grainne, a musician friend with strong connections to this part of Clare. She thought I might like to chronicle and photograph it. I surely would.  And Grainne’s kind invitation set the tone for the day as people could not have been more welcoming.

So from around midday horses and floats began arriving, with their owners and onlookers milling around or grooming their horses in anticipation, until the arrival of the hounds.

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Ready and waiting

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All set

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Quite a handful

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Not long to go

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Anticipation

The hounds are kennelled, managed and trained by the Hunt Master on behalf of the club.  At the appointed time the alert and eager dogs are released from their purpose- built transportation. There is excited pandemonium until the Hunt Master’s horn brings them to heel.  Master and hounds now lead the pack away. The riders fall in behind heading off at a trot not to return to Cree until sunset.

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The horn is sounded

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The dogs set off

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And the riders follow

 

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At quite a trot

 

That could have been it and the end of my day but the unexpected often happens in Ireland and I was lucky enough to bump into Dympna.  She told me that she and husband Paul had a young horse, Masie, running in the event for the first time. As they had passed their riding days she would be ridden by young equestrian enthusiast, Aoife.  You could feel the sense of anticipation as to how she would go.

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Dympna with a friend wait for the Hunt to start.

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Masie, ridden by Aoife. Warming up.

I got talking to Dympna. They had been coming to the Hunt since the beginning and she offered to take me to some vantage points where I could get some photographs. This surprised me as I had the naïve impression that the riders would follow the hounds on some wild chase zigging and zagging across the countryside.  How could you ever predict where they would be at any given time? On the contrary, the hunt is run over a predetermined course with markers showing where fences should be jumped or streams crossed. It has been the same course for many years.  I asked how the dogs know where to go and how they are controlled. As Dympna explained, the hunt is in the total control of a very experienced Hunt Master, Declan Moran, who has particular charge of the hounds. Indeed he knows each by name. He has a hunting horn and they respond to the different sounds of the horn so in this way he can lead them through the course. If they pick up a scent and run off, he can bring them back.  Skill and training.

So Dympna became my companion for the day and sure enough the first place she directed me to was a perfect vantage point to watch the riders traverse the country, sometimes sticking to roads other times riding along fence lines, and then watch them clear a typical Clare stone wall, metres from a crowd of followers.  All the time led by the hounds and the green jacketed Hunt Master.

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Gathering at the jump

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The hounds go first

 

Not being a horsey person, it is nevertheless something to behold to see these elegant animals clear effortlessly and confidently these stone barriers. The Irish horse has a reputation for being sure footed and agile and this was certainly on display.

I wondered whether it was difficult to get approval to gallop across the many farms that are encountered. “Not at all” says Dympna. “Farmers are asked for permission a few weeks in advance. There is no problem getting permission. Actually the farmers seem to have pride in the hunt going through their farm”. Dympna says relations are good and “the Hunt will always thank the farmer when passing through”.  The course is walked the following morning with volunteers fixing any fences that need repairs. Given the controversy in some quarters surrounding fox hunting,  Dympna says there has never been any opposition since it started.

The next stop was actually Dympna and Paul’s own farm where with a cup of tea and biscuits we were joined by other members of the family to watch  the Hunt canter past at close range, clearing another fence,  traversing hillsides, riding across open country and crossing streams. Covered in mud now, the soft ground must in places  be heavy going for the horses. Indeed I was regretting my decision not to wear Wellingtons. IG3C0534 IG3C0555

 

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There was to be a lunch break at Grainne’s family farm, so we drove there to meet up with her and wait for the riders. Food and water was there for the dogs and horses and sandwiches, nibbles and a very welcome hot punch for the participants. All was prepared by members of Grainne’s family; her mum, Marie and Bernie, Claire and Therese were overwhelming with their hospitality.

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I was revived by a hot bowl of soup before we headed off for one more stop where the hunt re-joined the road not far from the finish. By now it was getting late and the dogs had been packed up and driven back to Cree (except for one who seemed to be a bit lost)  and, as colour came into the night sky, the remaining riders were happy just to ride two or three abreast walking home at a very leisurely pace.

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Separated from the pack?

 

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The end of a long day

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Nearly home Masie

 

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Towards Cree

It was then I took my leave, dropping Dympna back to Cree and heading off to play some music at nearby Doonbeg.  I later found out that there was more food waiting for them at Cree before the riders washed down their horses, took them home and then headed back to Walsh’s Bar to party the night away.

Many thanks to Dympna, Paul and Grainne and family for their hospitality and for giving me some insight into this perhaps, lesser known part of rural Irish life.  And for somehow organising sunshine for the whole day.

 

 

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Giant Steps

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The Giant’s Causeway is on every visitor’s must see list on the island of Ireland. For lots of different reasons. It’s a beautiful place on a beautiful coast, It has mystery and mystique. It is intriguing and enigmatic. That’s why over a million people a year visit.

It is located in Northern Ireland in a part of Antrim known as The Causeway Coast.  I have been there twice in the past year – in January 2017 in the depth of winter and in September. Both times I was gifted with marvellous weather.

For me as a geologist it was like worshipping at a holy shrine. So I thought I would put together a few of my observations from the two trips.  Apologies if this is too dry for you but you can skip the words and just look at the pictures.

So what are we talking about here?

The Causeway is part of an extensive coastline exposing thick basalt flows.  The scenery is nothing short of spectacular with sweeping bays and jagged cliffs stretching as far as the eye can see.

 

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The Causeway Coast looking west with Giant’s Causeway in the foreground.  

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The coastal path from the Causeway to the Chimney Tops past the Organ Pipes

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View west showing Causeway and Chimney Tops in the distance.

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Giant’s Causeway is on the right and the Camel Rock on the left.

 

The Giant’s Causeway is most famous for the spectacular columns, or more correctly ‘columnar jointing’ in the basalt. The origin of the columns has historically caused all sorts of consternation. Our forebears did not believe such regular shapes could be created naturally. So if it wasn’t the work of the Almighty then it must have been Finn McCool. Hence the legend of the Irish Giant constructing the causeway to engage with his counterpart in Scotland, Fin Gall.

 

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View from the clifftop down onto the Causeway.

 

 

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And he left evidence didn’t he? In his haste to get back to Ireland and escape from his giant nemesis, Finn McCool lost a boot which remains to this day adjacent to the Causeway. There is a more prosaic explanation and I’ll return to this later.

 

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The Giant’s Boot

 

The Causeway came to the attention of Science however in the late 17th century and right through the 18th century it was the focus of intense debate as to its origin. Geological science was then in its infancy. Two intensely opposed schools of thought developed. The Vulcanists, who believed the columns were basalt solidified from lava and the Neptunists who said that all rocks including basalt were sedimentary and formed in a great ocean. The Giants Causeway was at the centre of this debate. So it is one of the most significant places in the history of the geological sciences. That debate has long since been resolved in favour of the Vulcanists

We now know, however, that the columns are caused by cooling cracks that developed at the bottom of a lava flow where it was in contact with the cooler rock beneath. As the lava continued to cool these cracks slowly propagated up creating regular, generally six-sided (though they can have from three to seven sides), columns. These regular columns are called colonnades. The hexagonal shapes are caused by the joints tending to be at 120º to each other. At the exposed tops of the flows cooling was more rapid where there was contact with air and water, so the jointing was irregular and blocky. This type of jointing is called entablature. You can see this very clearly in many places especially at the, so called, Organ Pipes

 

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Regular hexagonal columns

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Columns with 4, 5, 6 or 7 sides.

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Columnar jointing

 

 

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Spectacular columns at the Organ Pipes

If you look closer at the columns you will see that in addition to the regular vertical joints that create the columns there is also another set of sub horizontal joints which slices each column into regular segments. These were created by the release of stress during contraction within the columns.

 

 

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Horizontal jointing

 

The really intriguing thing is that when these columns break along thee horizontal joints to form the rock platforms they are in fact ont horizontal.  Usually they are either  beautifully concave or convex and the segments fit perfectly together in a ball and socket arrangement. The concave joints are easily spotted on the rock platform as they retain pools of water.

 

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Detail of column surfaces.  water collects on convex surfaces

 

The columns make an impressive display whether on the rock platforms or in the cliffs.  There is a formation at the eastern end known as the Chimney Tops. If the illustration attached from an 1888 book is accurate, then the chimneys are considerably smaller than they were in the 19th century.   I suggest you go and see them before they disappear.

 

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Chimney Tops 2017

 

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Chimney Tops 1888

 

 

 

 

 

It is easy to see how the Neptunists thought the basalts were of sedimentary origin.  There is a distinct layering which could be mistaken for sedimentary banding. Of course it represents different lava flows.  particularly confusing is a distinctive orange red layer in the middle of the cliff.  It is known as an Interbasaltic Formation; a laterite horizon, and is caused by the basalts below it being exposed to weathering for a considerable time before the upper series of basalt flows were deposited. It also suggest a warmer climate at the time as laterites require tropical conditions to develop. It is composed mainly of clays and is rich in iron and aluminium (most other elements were leached out) and has been mined for these ores elsewhere in Antrim.

 

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Layering in basalt flows

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Interbasaltic laterite

 

 

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Laterite in detail

 

Within this laterite hori\on you can see relicts of the original basalt as paler partially weathered rock. There are also some excellent examples of preserved circular structures representing earlier spheroidal weathering within the normal basalt. This is caused by water percolating down vertical and horizontal cracks eventually creating rounded blocks. It is also known as ‘onion skin’ weathering.

Oh I forgot.  Finn’s boot.  It’s actually a glacial erratic, deposited by a retreating glacier at the end of the last Ice Age (about 10,000 years ago). Much more boring explanation.

 

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Giant’s boot.  Glacial erratic

 

I know I’ve gone on about the rocks but the spirit of the place is palpable.  The only word I can think of is Romance,.

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Romance and Rocks.  What a combination.

 

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