The blurred, beautifully surreal opening of the Christmas season finds me away off my local turf in the soaring surrounds of Lismore Castle in the County Waterford, and thrilled to the marrow of my bones as the majestic Cork soprano Cara O'Sullivan joins the local choir for their Christmas concert.
Her truly amazing power and purity blends with the choir for a version of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” which creates that special awed silence before the hugely deserved applause. A marvelous concert evening.
So the Christmas season begins again in Ireland. Annet and I are the guests for the weekend of daughter Ciara and her partner Jason in the picture-postcard seaside village of Ardmore a few miles away from Lismore Castle, and that is how we come to be guests of Lord and Lady Burlington for the evening.
It’s different and special. The concert begins with mulled wine, mince pies and Waterford warmth. It is more than 40 years since I was last in Ardmore but they all melt away.
Last time I visited I was reporting on some hard-edged political story of the day for the local newspaper for which I then worked for a year. I forget what the story was, but not the elemental beauty of Ardmore. It is one of the quiet wave-lapped resorts that does not get nearly as much praise and recognition as it deserves.
Is that not one of the modern realities in relation to Ireland and its many attractions for all comers? Killarney and the Guinness Storehouse and the Cliffs of Moher will get saturation coverage all of the coming year, but Ardmore and Lismore and scores of other special places will scarcely get a mention.
I regret that reality and constantly do all in my power here and elsewhere to inform ye of our almost hidden treasures for all visitors. It would be wrong of any of you to think that I am "plugging" any of the places I mention here. I am not any kind of paid PRO for any of them. I am simply telling ye of places where Irish craic and good value for money are available at Christmas or any other time of year.
For instance, before I came down to Waterford for the weekend, I had two great nights of entertainment and friendship in Teach Ui Riain in Ballina in Tipperary, on the edge of the Shannon near home in Killaloe (good trad music every Tuesday night there) and, on the other side of the river, on the Tuamgraney road past Lough Derg, in the Piper's Inn where my friend Leon Agnew and his musical company provided us all with the kind of night which you cannot buy at all.
And today, after the Lismore Castle concert, I wandered down through little Ardmore and, of course, was attracted into a pub called An Tobar – that means the spring well – and there met genial Ken Palliser, the Corkonian host who made me a mighty hot toddy against the December chill against a background of two flaming hearth fires and conviviality.
We talked about life and living and the impacts of the recession from which we are slowly recovering, and we warmly agreed that pubs in rural Ireland are infinitely more community centers than drinking spots. Alcohol is only a part of the package, the lesser part.
Tonight, skirting that special Waterford Gaeltacht area of the Ring, Ciara and Jason brought us for dinner to the Seanachai restaurant and bar on the outskirts of Dungarvan. Again, any drinks we shared were secondary to the craic and indeed the excellent food on offer at a very reasonable tariff.
I had mighty jollity talking to men along the bar, one of whom had lived and worked for years in Boston and, when going outside for a smoke, I saw a silvered gentleman sitting alone at a table, eating his dinner, and remarked to him there was no more depressing sight in Ireland than a silver-bearded man at Christmas time.
One word, of course, led to another, and it transpired I had met up with Kevin O'Brien over in Ireland putting the finishing touches to the launch of an Irish magazine called Eirways which ye will be able to pick up from your newsagents very shortly.
His colleague publisher is Kieran O'Hare, a noted musician who knows my brother Cathal and, just from the initial copy I perused briefly, I think many of ye will enjoy its agenda of, and I quote, "exploring Irishness.”
I have been walking down that road for many years now and I still discover boreens I'd never thought existed. I promised Kevin I would write a piece for him for gratis to boost the project and was delighted to do so.
Watch out for Eirways in the New Year but, of course, renew your subscription to the Irish Voice first!
I am heading back to Clare in the morning past all the rapidly emerging fairy lights in the Munster windows and, God willing, will wish you all season's greetings from Shannonside next week.