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Some wonderful discoveries - relishing Irish trad session, The Gathering visitors and more

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Illustration by Caty Bartholomew
Illustration by Caty Bartholomew
Cherry blossoms explode gorgeously right across the West, the sun shines, a fat full moon garnishes stilly nights to die for, the small birds begin their courting dances in greening hedges, there is recovery and hope in every breeze that dimples the cheeks of the small loughs in my end of Clare, and my friend Eoin O'Neill calls to bring me into Ennis for a night on a good lively town of music and song and craic.

The Winter is banished at last. Even the news bulletins are brighter. More jobs are being created, it seems, than are being lost. Could the boats be on a rising tide?

Anyway, I have great news to report on several fronts, not least for those of you who are currently contemplating a trip to Ireland in the upcoming weeks and months. But more on that later.

Big, long, lanky Eoin is nearly akin to a fourth son even though he is as big and bulky as the other three put together. Maestro musician, journalist, record producer and broadcaster, we worked together for years in Clare FM when I was there and regularly fought on air over the differences between us on the music he played on a weekly slot on a program of mine.

He had, I felt, a strong weakness for all the harps that I actively dislike all the time. There's an inherent strain in harp music, I've always felt, and the audience must have thought we were bitter enemies.

The opposite has always been the truth, and it was a great joy to hit the merry town with him again. He and Quentin Cooper and a corps of fellow musicians play sessions in Brogan’s Pub in the heart of the town most nights of the week, and it is always a different session to many you encounter in the fact that the music and song are focused strongly outwards to entertain the audience rather than being internalized -- as happens still far too often -- with the musicians appearing to be primarily playing for (and against!) each other.

A complex area that, but you know the difference when you hear it.  Take my word for that.

But when Eoin and Quentin were setting up the session I wandered along O'Connell Street down to Ciaran's pub in Francis Street which was a favored haunt of mine when I worked in Ennis. Ciaran was there and many old friends, the place buzzing with music fun even that early in the evening.

My only problem was I was not allowed put my hand in my pocket for the duration and had difficulty in getting away after an hour to meet up with Eoin's session again.

A great pub, Ciaran's, with a warm countryman's atmosphere in it, and well worth a visit if you are in the town.

But back in Brogan's, and here is a slice of good news for intending visitors for The Gathering's many events and festivals, and also for Irish Americans generally, in terms of what the old country has to offer to first time visitors.

You see, I sat at a table near the session when I came in and soon fell into conversation with a lovely and elegant lady from Connecticut and her twenty-something musician son. Conversations on the edge of sessions are usually interesting, and folk tell me good stories anyway -- I'm lucky that way -- but this chat was special.

The mother's grandparents were born and bred in Ireland and emigrated to the States.  She grew up and married and raised her family without ever getting the opportunity to visit the Emerald Isle.

For years, she told me, she had wished to visit because there were elements of exactly who she was which she could not understand fully. It was a bit of a personal problem.

Recently, when her grandmother passed away, she inherited the old lady's silver collection. She could have done many things with that, but what she did was sell the silver to fund her first trip to Ireland for herself and her son!

It was a resoundingly successful and joyous trip at every level. They largely stayed in the west of their ancestors and, along the way, for the first time in her life, she discovered exactly who and what she was deep inside. She was educated about her innermost feelings.

Herself and her son had a mighty time and, incidentally, discovered that  the cost of food and drink and lodgings were significantly cheaper this season than back at home. (I did not expect to hear that even though I know the recession has trimmed tourism costs here).

She was happily flying home the next morning, but her son was enjoying the family silver for another week. Where would he go?

“Go to Doolin,” I answered immediately. “You cannot go astray in Doolin.”

It was a lovely and informative conversation before we hugged goodnight.

And if the music session was magnificent afterwards, the segments of it which I enjoyed most amidst all the jigs and reels and polkas came from a young woman I'd never even heard of before called Noirin Lynch.

She is something very special indeed with that peculiarly Clare quality in her voice, a kind of pagan thing I cannot put words on. Maura O'Connell had it too in her earlier years.

I was stuck to my stool with sheer awe when young Noirin sang “Lady Franklin's Lament” better than I've ever heard it rendered before, and then did a rollicking version of something called “Hedger and Ditcher,” a mixum-gatherum of lilting and singing that lifted the roof of the house.

Eoin told me later that Quentin and he have produced Noirin's maiden CD called Echotones. I'm no record plugger, but I hereby order all of you to get a copy and hear this sensational new Clare talent. She has an email address which is noirinlynchechotones@gmail.com and if there is any music promoter over there reading this you should get in touch with the young Clarecastle woman soonest and get her over to your side of the Atlantic first. I'm doing ye all a favor by telling about her.

When Eoin brought me home at some hour of the morning past all the cherry blossoms that vibrant voice of the new spring was still echoing in my head.

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