|Illustration by Caty Bartholomew|
As one ages the years seem to speed up alarmingly. I will be a hundred before I know it!
In the meantime there is a lot of living to do. That is very necessary altogether.
As is our clan's practice, we had a mighty gathering in the town of Belleek on the border for the Fermanagh Fleadh a fortnight ago. That for us is the start of the season.
Sandy and Mary were among the founding group of the fleadh and Comhaltas in the county a half-century ago. The current committee invited the four grizzled brothers to perform together at a concert to honor the parents.
We've sung and played together maybe four times in public in the past 30 years. Jobs and babies got in the way!
But we were delighted to get together again in Belleek. And all the next generation were there in force.
We would be a strange sight on any stage nowadays. As Sandy once remarked from his sick bed, "The four of you would not make one good man. Ye will never be able to carry my coffin!" (We did, with difficulty!)
There is a lot of grey hair and beard now along with the music and songs. These speedy years are taking their toll.
But dammit we are all in our sixties and still healthy, and all of us still here except for dear sister Maura, and we had a great night.
Sean sang a ballad that Sandy wrote called "The Secondhand Trousers I Bought in Belcoo," and Cathal played two whistles at the same time, and I wore a pair of red trousers which attracted strong slagging as I sang my Christmas song in June, and Mickey, the youngest, totally silenced the house with his famous “Only Our Rivers Run Free.”
It was great craic, and the following generation contributed hugely to the standing ovation we received at the end.
And, naturally, the night did not end until the following afternoon when we had to hit the road home again.
It was splendid to be in the pottery border town again in a time of peace.
For years, when the children were babies, none of us could go home except for emergencies because it simply was not safe. You could so easily be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This fleadh, with the town sun-drenched and easy, was special. The people have an extra warmth and musicality about them, the pubs were lively, the streets were crowded with smiles and music.
Being a border town every shop and pub has two tills, one for sterling and one for euros, both equally acceptable.
The event was splendidly organized and the lighthouse Carlton Hotel a warm home from home.
Way back, in The Troubles, I recall reading a newspaper piece where some hack from Fleet Street, noting that Belleek had a police force of 50 or more men, asked the sergeant, "Surely there is not enough policing work in this small town for that many men?"
And the sergeant drily replied, "If they were not here there would be!"
In the bad times there was the sound of gunfire around here almost every night of most weeks.
The change is good. It's the sound of music now.
When we were breaking up on the Sunday our beautiful zany Cathal was still playing away in the hotel lobby. After that, because he walks his own road, he was meeting a friend, and together they were doing the pilgrimage of Lough Derg down the road.
That's a tough one. Barefoot for three days walking around the great domed island basilica, no sleep at all for one night, fasting and praying and suffering. They do not call it St. Patrick's Purgatory for nothing.
Later in the week he reported that he had easily survived and was now playing away at a folk festival in the north of England. We'll meet again shortly for the Willie Clancy Summer School here in Clare.
Meanwhile, I'm not long back from the fair of Spancilhill, and that is another landmark of the high summertime in the west.
The leaving state examination is over for the teenagers. I have to go to Feakle tonight for an organized singsong in a good pub.
Mayo have beaten Galway in the football championship, and my Galwegian children are not in great form today. Clare's footballers almost caused a major shock by pushing Down to the limit in a great clash in Ennis, so local heads are high with pride at their showing.
I've been invited to speak at the opening of the Trevor/Bowen summer school in Mitchelstown later this month. That should be another good night. Maybe even two.
Recession be damned........