Posts Tagged With: session

Music Today 3pm.

This is a little story of a hidden Ireland. It’s not really hidden you just have to take the blinkers off every now and then and follow your nose. Sorry about the mixed metaphor.
I spend quite a bit of my time in County Clare just driving around some of my favourite places, the Burren, the coast around Spanish Point, the hills behind Doolin. Just looking. I love to head down a boreen I’ve never been or follow a hunch in the hope of finding something new.
As I was doing just this on a wet and not terribly inviting midweek day in July, I drove past the beautiful Kilshanny House just outside Ennistymon. A sign caught my eye. Music Today 3pm.   How could I drive past that. I always have the fiddle with me. I live in hope.

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I have been here many times. I know host Mary Butler and it is a great venue for a session though these day they happen rarely.   But this was really unusual.  Of course I went in. Mary explained that she was having a busload of visitors, from New York as it happened, and she was putting on a meal and entertainment, She was happy for me to stay and even to put up with me taking a few photos.

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The coach arrives

What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, As the bus pulled up driven by the irascible Gerry, the visitors entered Mary’s wonderful stone-walled and comfortable space, lined with books, ephemera and priceless reminders of Irish culture, heritage and especially music. And speaking of music They were greeted by fiddles and piano and songs provided by two Clare musicians of the highest quality, Sharon Howley who plays with the Kilfenora Ceili Band, probably the most famous Ceili Band in the world, and Therese McInerney, who has just released a cd.

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Clare musicians, Therese McInerney and Sharon Howley

 

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I watched as the guests took their seats and feasted on Mary’s wonderful food, home made Irish bread and a choice this day of fillet of salmon or loin of pork, fuelled by liberal supplies of Guinness and wine.

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Host Mary Butler serves home made bread.  

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Your salmon sir.

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Or the pork

 

 

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Dinner in the library

 

Gerry, ever the perfect host turned out to be a great singer and he cajoled other singers from the floor including yours truly.  I well and truly gate crashed the party and joined the musicians for a few tunes with my fiddle. Now that was fun.

 

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The multi talented Gerry.  Bus driver, singer and raconteur

 

 

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Bliss

 


This is Ireland. An afternoon of pure music, food and good company that came out of nowhere. These tourists, who lingered over the meal for three hours, went away very happy and I am sure many will be back.

Music Today 3pm.

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Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Tour through Sliabh Luachra. Russian Collusion?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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Scully’s Bar Newmarket.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Padraig O’Keeffe’s house.  Another view.

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Commemorative plaque at Padraig O’Keeffe’s house

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Padraig O’Keeffe’s house.  Beyond repair?

 

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

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National School at Glountane. 

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Interior of National School, Glountane

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Anton Zille at National School Glountane

 

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

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General view Sliabh Luachra

 

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Padraig O’Keeffe walked these roads for forty years

 

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

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

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Another page from the same manuscript.  Courtesy ITMA

 

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

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Lyon’s Bar Scartaglen.

 

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

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

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The Cork and Kerry Mountains

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The Paps of Anu

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Walking in the Paps

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Lake Shrona

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Ennis Trad Fest 2015 – The Last Three Days

I have been remiss. Immersed as I have been in the Ennis Trad Festival I have just not found the time to sort photos and write my thoughts. Now it’s over and I have repaid some of my sleep debt I can give it some attention.  Where do I start?

Facebook has been flooded with praise for the Ennis Trad Fest so there is probably little that I can add but as many of my blog followers are not on Facebook I will record my impressions here in my blog.   And if you’re bored hearing how good the Festival was then just adopt the Playboy philosophy and skip these words and just look at the pictures.  I think you will agree they tell a story just on their own.

As someone who has been to all the major schools and festivals over the last 18 months (and a lot of the minor ones) I am often asked what is my favourite Festival.  I have avoided an answer.  Really because I have found it almost impossible to answer.  I have discussed this before in other blogs.  but every Festival gives me something to take away.  Indeed I have a love-hate relationship with many Festivals.  I can’t stay away yet the session experience is often unsatisfying.

I am reminded of Sydney in 2000 when we staged the Olympic Games .  The now disgraced Juan Samaranch proclaimed during the Closing Ceremony  “I am proud and happy, to proclaim that you have presented to the world the best Olympic Games ever.”  Well for what it’s worth, “Ennis – You have presented the Best Festival I have been to in Ireland”

There I have done it.  I’ve said it.  The Best Festival in Ireland!

I suppose I should give my reasons.  Firstly it is the best location.  Ennis in the heart of Clare is the spiritual capital of Irish Traditional music.  Ah sure, there’s Donegal and Sligo and Galway and Kerry and I know not everyone will agree but nowhere have I seen music, song and dance so deeply ingrained as part of the culture.  It bursts out everywhere, in young and old, in pubs and cafes, among visitors and locals and in players and listeners.  So if ever a festival was going to work it was in Ennis.  There are heaps of venues.  Many of the pubs are widely recognised ‘music pubs’ outside festivals such as Faffa’s, Kelly’s, Brogan’s, Cruises etc and many are large enough to accommodate the inevitable giant festival session.  There are hundreds of musicians resident in Ennis and the surrounding villages.  While tourists go to Doolin, ‘real’ musicians come to Ennis.  It is a mecca for many from overseas,  some making it their home.

You can hear all kinds of music in this town.  The classic ‘Clare-style’, whatever that is, to the fast, furious and wild.  So much choice. In fact why not hold the Fleadh Cheoil here?

Ok so it has everything going for it but of course that’s not enough.. ..

This Festival is a special experience.  It delivers on so many levels where the larger Summer Schools and Festivals and the small local ones can’t –  It is a musicians festival!  Whereas if you go to a Fleadh Cheoil the streets are packed with massive throngs of people.  Many families and tourists.  And that’s great but walk the streets of Ennis during Trad Fest and you will see crowds, but the great majority of people carry an instrument on their back.

The sessions here are at a different level.  The core of each session is usually four musicians but up to 30 may join in.  Virtually without exception the music is of the highest quality.  Something that cannot be said of Willie week or the Fleadh or Drumshanbo.  Yes there are ‘session wreckers’ of course  but somehow they don’t seem to destroy the ambience.  And you can always move on as there are so many sessions at the same time; scheduled and unscheduled.  Just have a look at the pictures and you will see the quality of musicians you can hear.

And my pet hate… pubs so noisy you can’t hear yourself or the fiddler sitting next to you and patrons so disrespectful it becomes unpleasant.  Just not a problem here.  I love to watch people while I play and there are so often smiles; or listeners with their eyes closed and those chatting do so without disturbing.  Yes there is sometimes tension as many don’t understand the unwritten rules around sessions but somehow it works itself out.

I reread my blog from last year and I’m going to repeat what I said then,  Not because I am lazy but because what I observed then is confirmed this year and I can’t really add to it.

For me the fact that this was a ‘special’ festival was apparent from the very first session on Thursday to the last note played on Monday night. In my short time here in Ireland I have made many musical friends and this Festival made me realise how important that is to enjoying the musical experience to the fullest. A music festival is not just about the music you hear or make but how you fill the spaces between the music. There was such a sense of goodwill and around the place that it was so easy to make new friends and there was not the negative influence of the, shall we say, over-excited crowds of visitors seeking a different kind of craic, that was a feature of Miltown.

I made heaps of new friends again ,  John and Maureen from the States, Isabelle from Quebec, a contingent of 25 young musicians from Sweden, Etha from Bali, probably the only fiddle player in Indonesia, Ben from UK, Angela from Germany.  And of course renewed contact with many in the real, rather than virtual, world such as Veronika, Steve, Sarah, Clare, John, Jim and Barbara, Tony and the rest of the Festival Family.

I didn’t get to many concerts this time because I wanted to play but I did see Beoga which inspired some of the most creative dancing I have ever seen, and I saw Dermot Byrne and Flo Blancke; beyone sweet! And there were some great music in CD launches – including the wonderful Claire Egan’s first CD.

But for me it was about the sessions.  Of course I can only talk about the ones I was at.  And you can’t be everywhere.  But I have to mention the first with the Lahawns (Andrew MacNamara and Friends) in Ciarans and the last in the front bar of Queens with those still on their feet at 3am on Tuesday morning.  In between my musical buttons were pushed by Yvonne Casey and Brid O’Gorman in Cruises,  Yvonne and Eoin O’Neill and Damien Werner  in Suas.  Martin Connolly, Eileen O’Brien and Geraldine Cotter in The Old Ground.  Blackie etc in the Diamond, the Clancy sisters in Copper Jug,  and some sessions not in the programme such as Monday morning at Queens with a host of international visitors and in the Rowan Tree at 4am on the Saturday morning.  And then there was time to let the hair down literally with the legendary Trad Disco and Paddy de los Pamas in Cruises.

It was the right move to get accommodation in Ennis and I really want to thank all those who made this possible for me with my current travelling limitations.  Particularly Yvonne and Steve for the lifts in and out, Lorraine for her couch, when all the hotels were full, and the organisers for delivering the Best Festival in Ireland.  You have something special here.

I particularly enjoyed photographing this event and I am very happy with some of my images despite my camera playing up and the really high ISO I needed for flashless photography.  So here goes…

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Farewell and Thanks to Ennis TradFest 2015

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The final session at Queens

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All too much for some

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It starts here.

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The Ennis Bard

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Part of the International Brigade

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Relaxing at Suas Cafe

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Kieron, do you really think you can show the master?

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Sweet

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I love this photo

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Part of the Swedish invasion

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Tara Howley CD launch

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Some running repairs

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Bliss

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When Quebec meets Ireland

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Interpretive Dance 1

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Interpretive dance 2

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Beyond sweet

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there you are Alistair. A serious shot

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Categories: Concerts, Festivals, Sessions, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Baltimore Fiddle Fair

Baltimore lies in the very southwest corner of Ireland in one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland – West Cork. It is a very pretty town nestled on a protected harbour with a strong maritime heritage. Very popular with the yachty set but for one weekend a year the sound of clinking gins-and-tonic is replaced by fiddles and pipes. That is the Baltimore Fiddle Fair and that’s where I headed for the last Festival of my first year in Ireland, which is rapidly coming to a close. And a fitting way to end the year it was.

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Four days of music centred on the fiddle and covering many genres. We heard Old Timey, Cape Breton, Bluegrass, Swedish, Gypsy Swing, Scots and a variety of traditional Irish. There were fiddlers of the class of Gerry O’Connor, Zoe Conway, Liam O’Connor, Danny Diamond, Dermot McLaughlin and Shane Cook. The core of the festival was the concerts though I have to admit I only attended one, so I can’t really comment on them but the one I did attend was a show stopper. Warmed up by the fiddle and pipes of Liam O’Connor and Sean McKeown the crowd was blown away by Swedish superband Väsen.  I had never heard of them (shame on me) but I know them now.  Slick and professional and as tight a sound as you will ever hear, with five string viola, nyckelharpa and guitar combining effortlessly. This music was a revelation with its dynamic range and variations in tempo and rhythm. I was truly ‘polskafied’.

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I attended five workshops. A big stretch but I was able to get exposure to Donegal style, Old Timey and Cape Breton as well as picking the brains of Gerry O’Connor and Zoe Conway. I never tire of these workshops. Every time I learn something.

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But of course as always it was the sessions that kept me occupied. Every day from around 1 pm there was continuous music in the venues around the Square and in the evenings, after the concerts, Casey’s Hotel raged with as many as four sessions until at least 4am every night. There were visitors from all over the world and I met some wonderful new people including John from Wales, Patrizia and Angelica from Austria, Julie from Denmark, who is cycling around Ireland (https://www.facebook.com/TourdeFolk), Liam from Queensland, Kathleen from Boston, Larry from Tipp, the delightful, Joleen, Karen and Lorna who make up the Henry Girls from Donegal and caught up with old friends again such as Trish from Dublin, Clare from Cork and Aina from France.

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You meet all kinds at a festival such as this and for me that is what makes travelling to them worthwhile. Every evening, we were joined at Casey’s by Jeremy Irons. Self-effacing and just happy to sit in on the edges of the session and find his way in and out of tunes. Clearly revelling in the craic and a world that is a long way from Hollywood.

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And I had the great pleasure to meet renowned Danish artist Claus Havemann. I chatted to him outside Bushes Bar as he stood there having a cigarette and staring across to Sherkin Island where he has had a home for thirty years and spends his time when not in Denmark. He told me of his journey in art over the last forty years which took him from Surrealism to Realism to Modernism to Minimalism to his current works which reinterpret the masters. He told me that he once painted a picture during his Minimalist period called ‘Yellow’ which was essentially dozens of layers of blue paint. The title made perfect sense to me when he explained that yellow is opposite blue on the colour wheel. I have included a couple of his paintings. I especially like the Velazquez ‘copy’, one of a series in which he paints in the style of the master but puts in modern references such as a Picasso and Miro on the wall and his interpretiaon of the Vermeer as a portrait of his daughter.  See more at  http://www.claushavemann.com/

Click for a closer look and zoom

Click for a closer look and zoom

Speaking of Sherkin Island, one of the highlights of the Festival was a session at the Island Rest Hotel. Sherkin is only a few minutes by boat and has about 90 residents. I met many of them that night as they lapped up the seriously good music from the visiting musicians shipped over (literally) for the event. There were some great contributions from locals also including songs and some impromptu dancing from Mary and her artist friends. I have never been to a session where I was picked up and delivered back by boat and the memory of this one will stay a long time.

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I was intrigued by the Algiers Bar where I also played, having spent quite a bit of time in Algeria during my geology days. Turns out this pays homage to the notorious event in 1631 known as the Sack of Baltimore when Barbary pirates (comprising Dutch, Algerians and Ottomans) attacked Baltimore and captured 108 English settlers who were transported back to North Africa as slaves. Funny how we think of slavery in terms of Africans being sent to the new world, but in the century from 1580 to 1680 there were up to a million Europeans taken as part of the Barbary slave trade. Baltimore was abandoned and the village deserted for generations.

The face of the festival is Declan McCarthy.  It was his brainwave back in 1992 and he is still running it. And what a trooper he is. Everything  (well nearly everything) ran smoothly. The venues, the workshops and the support of the town. Hat’s off to him! Speaking of the venues some of the workshops were held at the magnificent stately home Inish Beg and at the famous Glebe Gardens. Along with the church, sailing club and a specially erected marque they really got it right with, of course, the fabulous location.  And unlike many other festivals where you’re lucky if you can buy a bucket of chips there were great food options with the Glebe Café a standout.IMG_9923

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I was absolutely shattered at the end of this week. Workshops every morning and some afternoons, sessions all day and surviving on just a few hours sleep. To fiddle a bit with the words of Richard Thompson in Beeswing “you wouldn’t want it any other way”.

 

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

Jim O’ the Mills, Upperchurch, 1916 and Other Things.

I first heard of this pub during the Russell weekend in Doolin last month. ‘Jim O’ the Mills’.  Well that’s not strictly true. In fact I recall being told during my first week in Ennis back in May 2014 about a pub that only opens sometimes in a remote village in North Tipperary. It had slipped my mind until Cáit Ryan, whose father happens to be Jim of ‘Jim of the Mills’ told me about it. I determined to visit it at the next opportunity.

So on the Thursday before Easter I headed out there. As it happens the pub only opens on Thursdays so given that the next day was a holiday a big night was expected. Although only less than two hours’ drive from home I figured I would stay in a B&B as I didn’t fancy a long drive back in the small hours, but the nearest with spare rooms was at Nenagh about 45 minutes away. This turned out to be the best B&B I have come across in Ireland but more on that another time.

I really had no idea where the pub was so I got to the village of Upperchurch before dark to give myself a better chance of finding it. The regulation three pubs were all closed but I eventually found a man wandering the deserted streets (or should I say ‘street’) who gave the very clear directions of “turn left and left again and you can’t miss it”. He was right. But I needn’t have worried because when I returned an hour and a half later the parked cars on the main road well and truly gave it away.

Jim O' the Mills,  Upperchurch, Tipperary

Jim O’ the Mills, Upperchurch, Tipperary

With some time to kill I went back to Upperchurch and by this time Paddy Kinnane’s pub was open. I stepped into a dimly lit empty room and a request for food was met with “I don’t think so you have to order ahead“ from the young lass behind the bar. A little nonplussed (who plans the day before to go to Upperchurch?) but I was rescued by the manager, Jim Butler, who after checking with the kitchen told me “You can have steak or salmon.” Salmon it was, washed down with a Guinness, and it was quite magnificent. With beautiful fresh vegetables. The pub was a genuine traditional Irish Pub.  Nothing ‘Plastic Paddy’ here – this was ‘Stone and Wood Paddy’. By the time I had finished my meal there were four punters at the bar.  I was amused, this being Easter Thursday, that they managed to keep up a conversation for about fifteen minutes about the Mass which had just finished.  Only Ireland!  The walls were adorned with photographs and memorabilia with more than a Republican slant. Jim who was married to Paddy Kinnane’s sister, proceeded to fill me in on Upperchurch’s role in the 1916 Rebellion and the subsequent Civil War, and Paddy in particular. This prompted me to do a bit of research of my own so if you’ll bear with me I’ll divert for a while.

Paddy Kinnane's Pub, Upperchurch

Paddy Kinnane’s Pub, Upperchurch

Paddy Kinnane's.

Paddy Kinnane’s.

Dinner, Paddy Kinnane's

Dinner, Paddy Kinnane’s

Paddy Kinnane's

Paddy Kinnane’s

The eponymous Paddy O’Cuinneain (Paddy Kinnane) who opened the Pub in 1927 had joined the Irish Volunteers at the age of 22 in 1914 but this had disbanded soon after. Following the Rising in Easter 1916 he was involved on the fringes eventually joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He saw little action though but spent seven days in jail for refusing on principle to pay a fine of 2/6 for not having a light on his bicycle at night. He saw this as a political statement. Love it! In 1917, branches of the Gaelic League and Sinn Fein were formed in Upperchurch (the Upperchurch Volunteers).   Paddy was involved in August 1917 in a raid on a hardware shop in Thurles where a hundredweight of explosives was captured. The company at this time had one rifle which Paddy had stolen from a British officer.

The Upperchurch Volunteers joined with some of the other local units to become the 3rd Tipperary Brigade and Paddy became the Commandant in 1918. From 1919 he was a wanted man and went on the run and never slept at home until 1924. In 1919 he was involved in a plot to assassinate an Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). In the 1920s he was involved in a number of failed attempts to destroy RIC barracks in particular at Drombane and Doon.

Jim Butler told me had been a hunger striker but I am not clear whether this was in the 1920s or later. People think Bobby Sands and 1981 when ‘Hunger Strike’ is mentioned, but it has been used a lot in Ireland historically to push a political point and in particular by the Republicans – for example 8,000 internees went on a hunger strike protesting their detention in 1923. He remained active after the war and he was a colleague of fellow republican Sean MacBride (who later won the Nobel Peace Prize) and they were both elected to the Dáil Éireann in 1947, Paddy representing Tipperary.

Quite a history. Here is a photo of Paddy with Sean which is hanging on the pub wall.

Paddy Kinnane and Sean MacBride

Paddy Kinnane and Sean MacBride

But it was time to visit Jim of the Mills. First the name – an obvious homage to Ned of the Hills. This is a famous Irish song celebrating Tipperary man Edmund O’Ryan who led a gang of bandits in the 17th Century in the style of Robin Hood. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89amonn_an_Chnoic

It was explained to me by Jim Butler that because there are so many Ryans in this part of Tipperary they are all distinguished by nicknames. Ryan the Giant, Ryan Sean Og and of course Jim of the Mills.

I thought I had plenty of time. Irish sessions always start late don’t they? So I arrived at 9:30 and the place was already packed. Not what I expected at all. Outwardly there was no hint of activity (except for the cars). No sign saying Heineken or Guinness. No blackboard saying “Trad Music tonight”. It just looked like a family home.  The Ryans have been living here since 1990 but the house dates back to 1800.  From1815 it was used as a mill (Jim of the Mills!)  But since 1982 there have been regular sessions here.  Cáit Ryan told me it started with 5 or 6 people only.

On going through the red half door I walked into an Ireland that was of another time.  Like Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. But here it was for real. I turned left and into the room which is called the ‘kitchen’ because that’s what it once was, packed with musicians all lined up in chairs facing the enormous fire place. I was taken through to the new ’kitchen’ and immediately pounced upon and introduced to Kae Ryan, Jim’s wife and a host of others. I was offered a cup of tea, the first of about half a dozen during the night. There were only a few seats left back in the session room so I got my fiddle out, found a spot and was immediately swept up by the non-stop music. As if by way of welcome for me the first tunes were a set known as the “Upperchurch Polkas”. I’ll definitely have them learnt for next time. There were no stars here and no egos it was music from the heart. We heard a beautiful song from Ella Stapleton, who had just won a prestigious singing competition and from Bridie Ryan (yes another Ryan but not related), who seemed to be MC’ing and a host of others whose names I didn’t know or don’t remember. There were all ages playing and singing and I love that there were plenty of local songs as well as the old standards. I even got to sing an old favourite of mine ‘Jim Jones’.

A lovely touch was the plates of bread and black and white pudding which came out during the night and disappeared with alarming speed. Did some come just for the pudding?

I caught up during the night with Jim, the host who sings and plays fiddle, and met three of Cáit’s sisters, Greta, Roisin and Erin, all steeped in the music.  There is another sister Aine who is an actor and playwright. I have been to hundreds of sessions in Ireland now. Perhaps 700, but this was truly a unique experience. It had the feel of a giant house party. We were in the Ryan family home, but for one night a week it becomes the centre of the world. Four rooms are taken over by music lovers and lovers of the craic. It was absolutely ‘chockers’ as we say back home. There were little sessions going on all over the place. In the new ‘kitchen’ I was treated to unaccompanied songs from a number of home grown talents including Jim himself and then there was another small room where I joined Cáit and her sister Greta and their friends in belting out songs and tunes. Some decidedly untraditional!  The noise was deafening, but somehow it seemed right.  Then there was the bar which was jammed. A trip to the toilet took ten minutes and you made lots of friends on the way!

I was told there would be heaps of tourists but the people I spoke to were all regulars and from neighbouring villages. Maybe the tourists haven’t reached the Midlands yet.

I left around 4am but Cáit told me that she finished up at 5:30 and the music was still going.

This is certainly not the place to go to if you want to play quiet tunes in the corner and maybe for many of the tradheads there would be too much singing but wow, for a taste of the real Irish craic and an unforgettable experience and to meet a genuine, warm, Irish family steeped in the local history and tradition and with music coming out of the walls you really must find your way to Upperchurch in North Tipperary on a Thursday.

Thanks Cáit for inviting me and to Jim and Kae and everyone else for making me feel so welcome. Special thanks to Greta for grabbing my camera and taking some amazing shots. See you all again for sure…….

Session at Jim O' the Mills

Session at Jim O’ the Mills

Session at Jim O' the Mills

Session at Jim O’ the Mills

Session at Jim O' the Mills.  Songs from all ages

Session at Jim O’ the Mills. Songs from all ages

Session at Jim O' the Mills.  Bridie.

Session at Jim O’ the Mills. Bridie Ryan.

Session at Jim O' the Mills.  Time for black pudding

Session at Jim O’ the Mills. Time for black pudding

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Jim O’ the Mills. Ella Stapleton

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Jim Ryan

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In the kitchen at Jim O’ the Mills.

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Me at Jim O’ the Mills getting into a song. Photo Greta Ryan

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Jim O’ the Mills. Enjoying the craic.

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Jim O’ the Mills. Cáit Ryan

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Jim O’ the Mills. Me and Cáit Ryan. Photo Greta Ryan

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Jim O’ the Mills. Photo Greta Ryan

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Jim O’ the Mills. Jim Ryan

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Jim O’ the Mills.

Categories: Real Ireland, Sessions, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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

Brogan’s Bar Ennis

On Saturday 14th February Brogan’s Bar in Ennis will change management.  Over the last five decades it has been a go-to traditional music venue in this town and has achieved legendary status with Irish musicians all around the world.  Two of it’s regular stalwarts, Eoin O’Neill and Quentin Cooper,  had their last session there on Thursday.  It was a wonderful celebration and a fitting farewell.  I will have more to say on Brogan’s and what it meant to Ennis and traditional music in Clare and beyond in an upcoming blog and I will include a selection of my best photos from the last nine months, but in the meanwhile here are some images from that last magic night.

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

Traid Phicnic – An Spidéal

I know it’s a while ago now but early in July I headed to Spiddal in Galway for the Traid Phicnic. This is only in its third year and it is a great concept where a terrific assemblage of artists performed in an outdoor stage in the heart of the town. The programme included a swag of luminaries appearing over two days and was faultlessly organised by Bridge Barker and her colleagues. Unfortunately she couldn’t organise the weather and the showers may have kept some away but it didn’t dampen the spirits of those who did make the trek to Connemara.

Headlining were Dezi Donnelly and Mike McGlodrick but we were treated to some special music from among others, Charlie Lennon, Tola Custy and Laoise Kelly, Siobhan Peoples and Murty Ryan and Dermot Byrne and Steve Cooney. There were workshops for fiddle, concertina, flute, accordion, harp, lots of craft workshops and stuff for the kids. And there was a session on the Saturday night that was worth the trip on its own. Where else could you play with Dermot Byrne, Mike McGlodrick, Laoise Kelly and Tola Custy? Brilliant.

maith thú, Bridge and I’ll be there next year.

Here are some photos of the weekend.IMG_7950 IMG_7969 IMG_7974 IMG_7990 IMG_8119 IMG_8478 IMG_8621 IMG_8644

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Categories: Festivals, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

McArthur’s Bar Tulla

I mentioned McArthur’s Bar in my recent blog on Tulla. I want to say a few more words on it. This place deserved to be in the late Peter McCarthy’s wonderful book McCarthy’s Bar even though he would have had to stretch the qualifications a bit (If you haven’t read this book it is a must; it is one of the best travel books written on Ireland). I saw the pub during the day and it looked to be just another abandoned building. A peek through the window failed to see any sign of life or even recent use and the weeds growing behind the front window did not look promising. But walking past it at midnight there was a glow of lights through the drawn shades and blurry shadows through the frosted window pane.  And the door was just slightly ajar. A familiar murmur came from behind the door.  The quiet hum you get from a pub pretending to be shut. I went through the door into the narrowest of rooms and it was jam-packed. With my fiddle on my back I could hardly squeeze through the door and then past the throng. I could hear music and I stood there momentarily until someone seeing my fiddle nodded his head towards the back saying “it’s in there”. I made my way through another narrow door into another crowded room. I couldn’t help but notice the floor as I walked up a distinct concrete slope. One can only imagine this being a huge advantage when they hose it out at the end of the day.

The music was getting louder as I reached the back room. It was coming from a bunch of kids most of whom looked under 15. By now it was midnight.  Their parents were watching and lemonades in hand they were producing magic music. I felt like an intruder but was invited to sit in. It was as good a session as any I had been to in Ireland.

This experience showed to me a window into the ‘real’ Ireland. A country that has gone through centuries of struggle and subjugation, indeed attempts to eliminate the Irish music and language, was here thumbing its collective nose at petty authority that says children can’t be in a pub after 9pm. Wonderful.

I said in an earlier post that one needs to “go with the flow” in Ireland. After this experience I should add “if you see an open door go through it”.

 

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McArthur’s Bar in Tulla

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McArthur’s Bar in Tulla at Midnight.

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

House Session at Kilmaley

I was invited to a House Session last night at Patsy O’Grady’s house near Kilmaley on the night of the 23rd June, After some difficulty finding the place we arrived to a roaring bonfire celebrating the Summer solstice and St Johns day. A few of my new friends were there (Thierry, Fu, Geraldine, Liam Lewis) and I was warmly welcomed by the host and his family. We soon moved inside into a renovated cow shed and played some tunes. It was the most luxurious cow shed I have ever played in! The sound was fantastic. Pipes, bouzouki, box, concertina, banjo and six fiddles. Who could ask for more?

There was some lovely sean nos dancing from Suzanne Leahy and some sets as well. It was a brilliant night and it seemed to me to be a bit of an insight into what being Irish means in this part of the world, harking back to a tradition of music in the house that seems to be nearly gone. It was so nice to play outside a pub with an attentive audience, lovely food, dancing and time for conversation.

Thanks Patsy. And thanks Trish for inviting me.

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