Well, what can I say? Ireland has come through for us once again with its good humor, friendly hospitality, fantastic scenery, ever-flowing perfect pints of Guinness, tiny roads, charming pubs, and most of all, the craic. I could never grow tired of Ireland. Don’t ever change.
Our Ireland tour was two weeks in all. We started out in Southwest Cork, one of our favorite regions of Ireland. Caleb and I flew into Shannon Airport, and were greeted by customs agents who were not only humorous and friendly, but also persisted in claiming, due to the instruments on our backs, that we’d be going on up to Ennis for the Fleadh, a national festival of traditional music. We kept mentioning we were actually headed south to Skibbereen to play at our friends’ wedding, yet, they couldn’t be persuaded, saying again, “I’d say you’ll be going up to Ennis”. Sure enough, we found ourselves driving the wrong direction, curiosity got the best of us, and we drove up to Ennis for lunch, and to experience a bit of the festival. We missed the nighttime performances, but what we did get to see before our drive to Skibbereen, was all the busking on the streets. Everywhere we turned there were people busking, and the bulk of them were young people, playing fiddles, bodhran, flutes, dancing, etc. It was striking how much a part of growing up traditional music must be for people here. It’s lovely, and made me wish that it was the same back home. People in Ireland take such joy in music, and I think it must be because of their connection to their traditional music.
We made it to SW Cork by dinnertime, and Sammy and Nadine were there. Nadine cooked up a delicious dinner. They had flown into Cork the day before. We were at the home of some friends who we’d met over the years at the Baltimore Fiddle Fair. We would play their wedding a couple days later. Their beautiful home had a view to die for of the islands and shoreline looking out to the sea. And the weather forecast looked good for the wedding that was to be in their garden.
Our first show was in the Riverside Cafe, owned by our friends Sandrine and Cliodhna McCarthy, two sisters in-law. If you are ever in Skibbereen, make sure you stop in for their delicious homemade and locally sourced food. We had a sold out night there, and played acoustically in the restaurant. The McCarthy family are dear friends, from years of going to the Baltimore Fiddle Fair, and it was a pleasure to get to spend a few days with them. They are a hilarious bunch. Declan, the oldest brother, curates the Baltimore Fiddle Fair, and all the family seems to take part, the sisters manning the door, their mother fluffing our larder with
homemade breads and jam, fresh eggs, and the like. And of course, Skibbereen was afire with pride for their hometown boys Gary and Paul O’Donavan who had just taken a silver medal in the Olympics for rowing! Good work lads!
The next day, the weather was fine, and the wedding was beautiful out in the garden. We played the reception in the community hall that evening, and a fine party it was. The following day we were hired to play at Levis’ Pub in Ballydehob for the after party, and it was a great session in that cozy little pub. The groom’s father cooked his famous lamb curry for the party, and there was even a square dance in the pub later on, called by legendary Irish caller, Declan McCarthy! That evening the weather changed, and we awoke the next morning to gail force winds sweeping up from the coast, and pelting rains.
It was time to leave SW Cork, and we’re always reluctant to do so, though there are always good things waiting. We drove to Dublin that day to play at the Cobblestone. Our friends, the talented and magnificent Dermie and Tara Diamond opened the show for us with traditional music on flute and fiddle. We were joined that evening by Caleb’s son Elijah, and his friend McKayla, who would travel with us for a week. It was their first time in Ireland, and I reckon they were in for some good times.
We drove off to Bangor, Northern Ireland next morning to play at the Open House Festival, a month long festival in Bangor that puts on comedy, film, food, music, literature, and all sorts of arts. Our show was held in the Ballyholme Yacht Club in a cozy upstairs bar with big windows looking out to sea. The crowd was packed in there, and what a good rowdy audience they were. It was our first time playing the Open House Festival in about 10 years.
Cookstown. Always a pleasure. Our friends are wonderful hosts and put on beautiful concerts. It was a sold out show there and we had a lovely night. The weather held out and the big doors to the building were kept open, and chairs spilled out into the courtyard. Our good friends from Liverpool came all the way to see the show. After the show, there was a bit of a sing-song after the concert goers had mainly departed. It was a passing of the guitar, always a special experience to hear the solo voice sparingly accompanied. Even my bandmates sang songs I don’t usually hear them sing, and it was a treat to hear them.
We had a drive out to Westport the next day. Our friend Uri Kohen, who puts on the Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival each June, (we played there this past June) put on a show for us at Matt Molloy’s pub in the back Yard Bar, a lovely glass-ceilinged room with a fireplace. The acoustics in there are somehow just perfect. We stayed that night with friends out in the country, and the quiet and stars were just right.
Next day we had a short drive and therefore got to do a rare bit of exploring. Someone at the show had invited us for a swim, so we met her out by the sea at her friend’s house. To live there would be a dream. The old house sat just above the shore with lovely gardens and lawns around, and just out front was an old stone pier. The tide was out a fair bit for jumping off of the pier, so after tea and biscuits, we walked round the shoreline to the point and went in for a swim. The shore was rocky and full of seaweed, but once in the water, the bottom was perfectly sandy, and it all just brought us back to life! Nothing like a swim in the sea to revive the vital spark! We had a view of Croagh Patrick across the inlet, the mountaintop site of an ancient pagan pilgrimage, and where St. Patrick fasted for 40 days. Then we were off to Roscommon to play a private birthday party, some good pals. It was an epic time of course, as the Irish know how to throw a good party. Lots of music, a pig roast, and a blazing fire. We got in a good visit with the legendary Cathy Jordan, such a ham!
Next day we were off to County Donegal for a rare day off. Though it really wasn’t a different endeavor than a work day… we drove to a pub and played a session for a few hours! It was a lovely time trading tunes with Dermie, Tara, and Helen Diamond as well as a slew of other fine musicians including the pub owner John. Even Elijah joined in for a tune! John the Miner’s is the pub in the village of Carrick. John himself was a fine host, and had a perfect beef stew waiting for us after the session. We nicknamed him John the Quencher, as we were served fresh pints each time our previous pint was a third from gone without fail! It was great to have a night off of performing, and just sit and visit and trade tunes.
The following morning we got up and made our way to do a bit of sightseeing. We made it out to Slieve League, breathtakingly severe sea cliffs on the south coast of Donegal. Stunning. We drove to Manorhamilton that afternoon where we were to play at the Sculpture Center. Anna Legge put us on there in a nice informal setting with a cookout, in a cool industrial space that spilled to the outdoors. It was a nice evening for it, and the first annual Stoneyard Barbecue was a success I’d say! The night was capped by a stop off in Connolly’s. Joe and Ita were in, and this would be the third time we’ve been to their pub I’d say. There is something very special about them and their pub. It is an unassuming place, simple, and just right. Joe is a brilliant ballad singer, and we had a good few songs that night.
We bit adieu to the young ones after a week with them, and dropped them at the train station bound for Dublin. Hopefully tagging along with us was just right for them. I like to think we gave them a bit of a special experience traveling around as musicians, different than the typical tourist. With so many friends made over the years, there is always lots of fun to be had. We played a private house concert that evening in Kilkenny, and it was quite a party. The hosts have a beautiful cottage and gardens located right adjacent to an old mill on the river, and to the ruins of a priory. It was magical there. I must say, we’ve had great audiences all across Ireland. They really listen, and truly love and appreciate music. But this audience stood out even more. They were the perfect mix of listening attentively, yet totally rowdy at the same time. The set ended with a dance party in front of the stage, folks of all ages cutting up.
The tour ended at Dunmore East. The afternoon set was a blast. We played for a couple of hours out in the brilliant sunshine. It was the best summer weather of the whole trip. The gig was at the Strand Inn, right above the seashore, and a sandy beach. We had a good listening crowd, happily drinking pints in the sun. Had a swim in the sea after, and then played again late night in the back bar of a pub. There were folks there to see us, and it was them that cheered us on that night. The bass broke a string, that almost never happens! And a kind fan offered up his “silent bass” an electric stick bass, so after Nadine had played on with a mere three strings, he fetched it in, and we carried on.
Late to bed and an early morning the next day to get to the airport. Nadine and Sammy were off to Quebec to visit her family. I imagine they’re about eating lobster right now near the sea, lucky dogs! Caleb and myself are off to Portland and a few days rest before we head out to Boise, ID for the Hermit Festival. Foghorn will reconvene in no time on September 8-11 for the Old Tones Festival in upstate NY, a concert at the Nelson Odeon, and a show at the Burren in Boston. A little more summertime before we turn into autumn.