Let me tell ye about Caroline from Clare and Seth from San Francisco, and about Caroline's young fiddle and Seth's slightly older guitar and their music on a frosted night last week in Clare, and also about the craic of a rural community at a party in the cottage and the way that sometimes, for a few hours at least, the recession that is in it nowadays slips away like a dejected ghost. Mostly banished by music.
Caroline is the daughter of our friends and neighbors Tommy and Teresa next door. She is an only child, about 12 years old now I'd say, dark-haired and outgoing and pretty and not spoiled at all in the way many lone children are spoiled.
We know her since she was very young when Tommy and Teresa built a fine new house next door. There was a previous connection in that Teresa was Maisie's niece, and it was from her we bought Maisie's Cottage.
She knows the old house and its spirit better than we do. It is in her bones.
Caroline was always musical in a musical county. She would come to our door on Halloween night for the ritual trick or treat custom. Unlike many others Caroline would always sing a song at the doorstep, fully prepared, and would be delighted with any small gift.
This year she and her friend often walked our dogs for us. Often, through the hedge, I would hear her practicing on her fiddle in the evenings.
This year she did not call for the trick or treat. She is growing up, a child no more. We missed her at the doorstep.
We had a surprise party for the Dutch Nation last weekend. I made a point of inviting Caroline as well as her parents to come and play her fiddle when the music began.
And, gleaming and glossy, all dressed up, she did come for what I guess was maybe her first grown-up party. And she brought her own gift of a lovely congratulations wine glass for the Dutch Nation. And later her father went out and brought over Caroline's fiddle.
Meanwhile, our old friends (made through this space) the Altshulers from San Francisco had been staying a night or two with us. Ken and Joyce were celebrating their recent retirement and 40th wedding anniversary by taking a trip to Ireland and Holland and bringing their thirty-something sons Ryan and Seth with them.
Joyce has a strong infusion of Kerry blood in her, and photographer Ken is of Jewish Ukrainian stock. You'd like all four of them.
Ryan is in the hotel business and Seth is a youth therapist nowadays after a wanderlusting earlier life which began, I think, with the Peace Corps in South America and at one stage included a soccer year in Holland. Lovely lads in the Irish sense of the word.
The Dutch Nation was conferred with her master’s degree in art therapy in Cork a fortnight ago, and that was the excuse for a surprise party for her. Her friends took her away earlier in the day for a day's pampering at a Limerick spa center.
The Altshulers and Caroline and all the neighbors knew about the party long before she came dumbfounded in through the front door into the revelry.
My musical brothers Sean and Mickie and their families were there for the music, my musical sons Dara and Cuan and Scobie (who sang in unison before the night was out) and daughter Ciara and all their late mother's family, and grandchildren Orla and Lucy, and all the neighbors and the Dutch Nation's friends. And all our neighbors. It was mighty craic altogether.
And, at just the right time, Tommy brought over Caroline's fiddle. And she tuned up and she played beautiful Irish music from the corner for all.
And I think that during those tunes, in that musical interlude, our Caroline grew up somehow. Reached a watershed.
A year ago she would have been in bed watched over by a babysitter. Not no more. It was a very special interlude, her music touching the rafters of an old family home of her blood, and total respectful silence. Special.
Most of the music of the night, of course, was Irish or folk. Ballads came thick and fast from such as Auntie Brid and Uncle Willie and our friend Sean O'Ceallacain from up the road.
And then, out of the blue, it emerges that Seth from San Francisco is a superb singer-songwriter, a superb guitarist, and he adds a lovely different dimension to the night -- a Neil Young-ish new American frequency.
And the wine flowed and the food was abundant and the Dutch Nation did not stop smiling all night and morning. We sat on the neighbor’s chairs, and some of us slept that morning in free beds offered by neighbors and friends up and down the road.
We partied the next day too, and maybe it only truly ended on Monday morning. And there is a possibility it could start up again tonight!
In harder times like these there are not as many parties in Ireland as there used to be. In fact we need more.
And neighbors with hearts of gold, like our neighbors, do not gather together often enough, like in the old days, to enhance that golden communality which makes life so much richer for all and refreshingly energized.
I wrote about the darker side of our realities last week. This piece is from the other side -- young Caroline's grown-up fiddle soaring, Seth's twanginess reflecting the American diaspora, Mickie's songs capturing the modern kinks and twists of Irish living.
His wife Maura broke her foot in the days before the party. She came along anyway with her daughters Kerry and Clare, and somewhere through the night she forgot about her crutches and smiled and forgot about any pain.
So did we all!