” I sat down on the bank above the beach where I had a splendid view all around me. Dead indeed is the heart from which the balmy air of the sea cannot banish sorrow and grief.”
We are more than a week home to Ohio now. In this time we have run the gamut of human emotions. Grief over the loss of and funeral for Tony’s mom, love and glee at reconnecting with far flung family at said funeral, relief at being in one’s own bed and living space, awe at the turning of the season, as autumn in Ohio carries its own special splendor. Overwhelm at the return to the reality of regular responsibility.
So often the case, I find my soul lagging behind my body after a trip of such magnitude and so part of my mind’s eye is still fixed on the magical hills and cliffs and windswept beaches of western Ireland. But I am more fortunate than most who return to the US from a trip to the Emerald Isle. I have music.
I shall start with that.
Irish music has been in my life for a good while now. Beginning with my son taking on the challenges of the fiddle, which led not only to his life’s work as a musician but also to me forging my own brambled path via whistle, flute and eventually (gods willing and the creek don’t rise) the Uillean pipes. To say this music is a gift in my life would be a vast understatement. Everywhere we laid our weary heads whilst in Ireland had something to do with the music.
Our friends in Blackrock, Co. Louth are both musicians. Through their work over the years, they have come to know many influential people in the relatively small world of traditional Irish music. And this is how I came to find myself treated to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of a private lesson with a legend.
Seamus Tansey is a force to be reckoned with. His playing carries the wild, untamed side of Irish flute music and his mercurial personality matches this fierceness. He’s a character not to be crossed, from everything I have ever heard about him. And yet, because I came connected to someone he holds in high regard, I think he took a shine to me. Our lesson was mostly me being stunned at the musical gymnastics he was asking for and him being patient with my inabilities. There is nothing more humbling than this music and I have so much to learn, it’s true. Perhaps this lesson with a legend would have been better spent on one besides myself, one with more knowing of the intricacies of this tradition. But when one gets this opportunity laid in front of them, one must say, “I accept.” I am grateful to Seamus and his lovely wife Joan for their gracious hospitality, to Simone and Sean for shuttling me to Northern Ireland for this opportunity and to Lillie whom I took to the airport hotel in Dublin far earlier than maybe suited her so that I could get to Belfast in time for all this. Life is rich indeed, and we all do things to build each other up, do we not?
One of my favorite evenings of this trip was of a night in a Kerry kitchen, trading very local tunes with my friend Michael, a lovely box player who is a bit too shy to play at the sessions but who has loads to share. Another favorite memory is that of an open session in a little pub in Dingle called Neligan’s. Another box player called Michael, along with a few other lovely players and another lovely night of tunes indeed. A shout out to publican Dara who makes all feel welcome and at home in his pub. Thanks for the encouragement to come along and play! (We shall catch up to ourselves in Dingle shortly here in this writing…..)
Dingle is quite the touristy place really. I can only imagine the throngs during the season. But I think of this music as a bit of a back stage pass. Knowing a few tunes and humbly sitting in (only when invited, of course) at a local session can mean that the local musicians might stick around for a chat after the tunes. And just like that, one makes a new friend or two.
Thankfully for Tony, all was not incessantly musical. There was much touring to be done in our short time in Ireland. I was keen to hook him on this country I hold so dear with the hopes of luring him back once again. I will be there next year for a whole month of course and I hope for him to tag along for a bit of November perhaps….. we shall see.
We took in the windswept Cliffs of Moher where there was not only natural splendor…..
But the splendor of quirky humanity as well which made my heart swell. There was an intrepid couple from away, maybe Portugal or Italy (difficult to hear with the wind blowing) who were keen to get some iconic wedding photos made….
Her veil blew in the wind and the rains did fall. Everyone seemed to be good sports about it all.
Others got in on the fun and had their own impromptu wedding shoots….
It was one of those rare, feel good moments when one feels a part of things and good to be a human. These kids might have been from Germany (again, so hard to hear with the wind as it was). But strangely, all seemed right with the world for the moment.
Eventually, the next day, as you know, saw us headed further south, further west to the Dingle Peninsula, “Corca Dhuibhne”. We soldiered on through rain and fog and down impossibly small roads which found us over impossibly foggy mountains. The skies did clear and Dingle did cast her spell eventually and we found the music there that night at Neligan’s. Sadly we barely had 24 hours to explore this amazing peninsula, but we took in what we could.
All around there was a feeling of being in an “other” world, of being blessed by those who exist in a greater beyond. Things seem chancey and strange here.
“Then I went to Ireland. The conversation of those ragged peasants, as soon as I learnt to follow it, electrified me. It was as though Homer had come alive. Its vitality was inexhaustible, yet it was rhythmical, alliterative, formal, artificial, always on the point of bursting into poetry.”
~George Thomson, The Prehistoric Aegean
Language, in English as well as Irish piles up like stones. Every nook and cranny, every stream and small strand has a name.
The sheer breadth and depth of such a small place is difficult to capture and express. It is said that Ireland is the size of our Indiana. And yet, it carries aeons of legends and myths, tales of wonder and woe. It would take a life time to learn and unpack it all.
We start with small words, easy to learn. Familiar concepts.
Creatures we know we love already.
Perhaps through painting the sights we see, learning the tunes which waft through the air, and engaging in a word or two of Irish here and there, we might find our way to being accepted by this land I feel so drawn to. I am keen to spend more time in Ireland.
I like the idea of being able to walk to the sea, and to the local bookstore, and the local pub, which might not only feature a warming bevvie, but also a nice cup of soup on an evening I don’t feel the urge to cook.
I actually don’t even mind the backward driving….
But alas, here I am, now, in Ohio. And I do not grieve this. I have an amazing inlet and outlet for music via the Riley School, I have a wonderful community of fellow artists. We have a patch of land where I am about to go set some garlic in for the winter and batten down the hatches against the squirrels. Life is good wherever we are.
But I am glad to know of a few places, one especially, which make my heart sing. Most folks might go a whole lifetime and not find this. For this I am grateful.