There is a hawk of a moon hanging high in the clear sky, dwarfing the stars, sniping away at fleeting shadows over the lough, when I come home many hours ago now to begin writing this piece for you.
I sit down by the flaring stove. Our adorable new golden Bison Frise pup named Pepper begins attacking my left shoelace as usual, and all is normal and warm until suddenly Pepper darts to the front door and begins barking yippily, and that means there is a visitor coming to Maisie’s front door.
The Dutch Nation is at work and Pepper’s bark is not the special bark she reserves for her, so I know it is somebody else.
And then the latch is lifted and through the door comes a bottle of Jameson in a brown fist, and after it comes the welcome sight of my old friend from the Burren’s crown, none other than the special entertainer and seanachie (storyteller) Paddy Hynes from Carron, and sure the writing is postponed until now and Pepper attacks Paddy’s right shoelace instead of mine, and the bottle is broached in honor of the occasion and the craic is mighty. Sometimes evenings happen like that, and they are always to be savored.
It is a strange enough Irish reality that our thousands of musicians and dancers and singers are now famed right across the world, and not just by those of us with Irish blood in us.
Yet there is a small corps of even more special entertainers in rural Ireland, neither musicians nor singers who, when they perform in any company (and the musicians are not fond of them!) can instantly command a total rapt hush which cannot be achieved in any pub or hall by even three fiddlers, two box players, a bodhran player and a top class balladeer.
They are not mere storytellers and they are not standup comedians at all but, in some magical way, their oral offerings touch some special niche in the Celtic psyche and you can hear a pin drop whilst they are in effortless command of the company.
And, for my well-traveled money, my friend Paddy Hynes, who is probably more of a monologuist than anything else, is the best I have ever enjoyed.
And, sadly, they are a rapidly dying breed. So to have him in the corner by the hob garnished my January evening.
Paddy is an octogenarian now but as brisk as a Burren bee and as hale and active as ever. A farmer by profession all his life, he now spends many of his evenings performing charity gigs in hospitals and nursing homes, and he is the regular MC at Irish evenings in the Corofin music center during the tourist season.
And do ye know how I came to know him?
When I was presenting a night show called Cormacology on Clare FM seven or eight years ago now, with the best of Irish and world music at my fingertips, and callers phoning in on all manner of topics, I would still get the occasional slackly dead night when the phones were silent and, somehow, I knew the show was dying on air.
And then, without any previous plan or warning, I would say “Paddy Hynes above in Carron, are you listening? I’m badly in need of a while of your craic. Give us a call.”
And dammit he would be on the line inside the next five minutes, and would effortlessly charm the county and region with his monologues and quips and yarns for the next half-hour or more. And his presence would trigger more calls and lively interaction and a good show.
The man saved my radio life, just like that, at least a dozen times.
And when we met physically later in Cassidy’s great pub in his native Carron we built a lasting friendship before the first glasses were empty.
The listeners always especially like his Robert Service monologues. He knows them all and delivers them mightily with his North Clare accent and great style.
The likes of Dangerous Dan McGrew and the Lady That’s Known as Lou and Service’s Other Songs of a Sourdough have always been immensely popular with rural Irish listeners. Those that know and deliver them well are fewer by the day, and that is one of the reasons why the man sitting across the hearth from me a few hours ago is so special in 2014.
After 15 minutes I made bold to ask him for my very favorite The Cremation of Sam McGee, and it was so good that even Pepper stopped chewing the shoelace and listened intently with bright eyes.
“There are strange things done ‘neath the midnight sun by the men that moil for gold. The Northern Lights have seen strange sights that would make your blood run cold........” but a stranger sight they never saw, of course, was “the night on the marge of Lake Lebarge I cremated Sam McGee!”
Paddy composes his own monologues too for special occasions and, before he departed to pick up an incoming friend from Shannon Airport down the road with his wife Catherine, he told me that the previous evening he had the pleasure of enjoying a special party for identical twins, one of them 50 years married, from Corofin.
His wicked ditty poking fun at them had, as always, gone down so well that he was besieged with a tide of demands for copies of it. But sure there were only a few notes on a bit of paper on the night and the rest was lodged in his amazing old head.
Both Pepper and I badly missed his company after they left for Shannon, but the evening had been lifted nearly as high as that hawk moon above Cleenagh Lough. And it is much more enjoyable to write the column now too!
Little known tale of generous Turkish aid to the Irish during the Great Hunger