|The joy of Irish music|
The lakes atop the limestone chest of the mighty Burren of Clare are often called turloughs because they have a mind of their own.
Sometimes they get the notion they would like to go wandering through the caverns and caves and passages of the rocky wonder world beneath their normal beds.
So they do exactly that. They can disappear overnight and maybe not return home for weeks or months.
I'm standing on a late April evening at the rear of Cassidy's fabled pub in the village of Carron and the turlough far below at the bottom of the valley has gone a-wandering.
In the evening sun there are only a few silvery strands and rivulets left behind of what is a significantly large lake when it decides to come back home again.
Nobody knows when that will be. It is part of the magic of the unique Burren. A wise English poet said this is the land that bred the last of Europe's real Stone Age race.
I can hear their voices in the crowded pub behind me as I stand alone savoring the beauty all around, the last rays of the sun walking over the rocks in golden slippers. If you have never been here then come and see it even before you visit Naples.
The reason I'm here is for the launch of the first of the traveling bard sessions in Carron and, for sure, this event is nearly as unique as the region itself.
Quite apart from the craic and entertainment of the day and night a great truth smote me during the weekend about the nature of Irish pub entertainment.
For starters, would you believe that the genesis of the night was the honoring of the memory of a man known throughout Ireland until a few decades ago as the Last of the Knights of the Road.
His name was Francis Kendal Husband, an articulate and learned wanderer by choice, and he called to Carron and to the Cassidy family many times down the years. And was always welcomed by all.
But the great truth that struck me over the merry evening of bards and seanachies and poets and songsmiths was the fact that, for the first time in my memory, there was not a single musical instrument in sight or hearing!
It was an occasion when the many musicians present left their fiddles and accordions and pipes and flutes and guitars behind. It was an occasion when the yarns and poems and songs had the floor to themselves, and that made for a very entertaining session indeed.
Men and women ranging from the veteran local storyteller Paddy Hynes to the giant Declan O'Brien, known nationally via RTE for his humorous verse, more than adequately filled the acoustic spaces normally occupied by hundreds of reels and jigs and hornpipes and evocative haunting slow airs. They created a night to remember.
And the thought came to me -- I'm sure it is the same reality in Irish American circles --that, deep down in their hidden guts, the majority of our Irish musicians on both sides of the Atlantic just have to be jealous of the hordes of balladeers and storytellers who usually would not know one end of a fiddle or accordion from another, but who so commonly and easily steal the musicians' thunder at about every session between here and hell.
Think about it for a second. Our musicians are among the most accomplished folk musicians in the world and have a huge treasure trove of dances and tunes and airs to hone their skills on. They are universally in love with that music and with what they can do with it.
They are practicing and developing all throughout their youth and afterwards too. They all know thousands of tunes and are skilled at harmonizing together and building up those almost mesmerizing and hypnotic sessions.
Many of them are true maestros, even real professionals, but freely passing on their treasures to the rising generations of young musicians. They are all special people as well.
So it has to be very galling what happens to them night after night almost everywhere.
They work hard musically to build and energize the atmosphere in the session. They eventually get the toes tapping and the craic flowing.
But it is also very true, especially at weekends, that they are often competing against the crowd noise; that many are not properly listening to them at all, that they are not being anywhere nearly fully appreciated for their arts.
And what happens next?
What so often happens next is that somebody calls loudly for Paddy or Jack or Seamus to sing a song. And then three or four more join in the call.
And about all in the bar know well that Seamus sings like a crow, has only two songs, is likely to forget the words, and anyway has probably had one pint too many on the night. You know him and I know him and the poor musicians know him too.
But by heavens you can be certain Seamus will tear into “The Fields of Athenry” or “The Wild Rover” (or even “Danny Boy”) like a young bull. And it will sound dreadful.
But from the word go Seamus will get the total respectful hush which the musicians, for whatever reason, are never given all evening. They have to sit there, silenced, hearing “Danny Boy” being murdered again against a silence in which dropping pins are clearly audible.
It is not fair to the musicians. As a bad balladeer I've been responsible for the crime myself more than once. I want to apologize fully here and now and promise to never offend again.
We will not miss these gifted ones to whom we owe so much until they are gone. And that's a fact.
Meanwhile, I warmly commend hostings of bards and singers and poets and storytellers. The event in Carron is likely to be the start of something universal.