The summer of my life in Cavan

I meander into Cavan town again near my home county, and it is the height of the Fleadh Cheoil with the weather good, the organization even better, the whole town ringing with music and craic.


We are truly a resilient and "cracked" nation, thanks be to God for that. The news bulletins are ringing with the stories of recession and woe and misery and here, for the unique folk music festival, something like 100,000 people are letting their hair down, singing and laughing, playing music on every instrument under the sun, following the ancient advice of eat, drink and be merry. And to hell with tomorrow.

And I meet my lovely brother Cathal and his musical friends, and 'tis totally special. This, I think, as the autumnal leaves begin to fall, has probably been the best summer of all my life. The Cavan atmosphere is electricated in the nicest possible way.

Cavan folk are canny. I hear they have been told that if they do a good job in hosting the fleadh this year that they will be given the money-spinning event again next year. They are pulling out all the stops.

You can guarantee already that the fleadh will return to Cavan next year. Traffic flows smoothly, competitions are on time, there is an army of community volunteers in high-vis yellow waistcoats to assist the police.

There is even a system of telescopic awnings in the town center to cope with rainfall. The awnings are scarcely needed at all because the weather holds good.

Surrounded by the clipped and twangy accents I grew up among, I am at peace.

I am due to launch a very special CD and workbook collection in the Cavan Crystal Hotel on behalf of the committed compiler and project leader Peter Smith. The CDs feature "Songs From the Sperrins" in the County Tyrone, and represent a selection of field recordings of traditional singing from Tyrone by Peter and his colleagues.
The package, fundamentally, creates a unique cultural document, musically and through the interviews and notes, of the Tyrone of the past. Men and women talk of the time when there was a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area) in the lofty Sperrins.

And they sing songs they learned from their Irish-speaking ancestors. Many of them were locally composed as well and sharply reflect the good times and the bad times down the centuries.
One remarkable ballad, for example, comes from the troubled times surrounding the 1798 Rising and wryly is entitled "The Cow That Ate the Piper.”

Sung by a humorous Jimmy Devlin, the first verse catches the flavor of the time that was in it, the enduring resilience of the race celebrating the fleadh on the streets outside:

"In the year 92 when all troubles was great,
It was treacon to be a Milesian,
O, I'll never forget that big whiskered set,
In history they call them the Hessians,
Well in these quare times of murder and crime,
And trouble that never was rifer,
On the hills of Achadh Bidh not very far from me,
Lived a one Danny Burns, a piper."

The song goes on to relate how the piper, wanding around in leaky shoes, found a Hessian that had been hung by the insurgents and who was wearing a mighty pair of leather boots. When he went to pull them off the legs came away too. The Hessian mercenary had obviously been hanging in the tree for long enough for that to happen.

Danny runs away with both boots and legs attached and, having been given permission by a neighbor, slept in a cow cabin for the rest of the night. In the morning he donned his new boots, left the poor legs behind and went about his piping business.

The farmer's son, sent out to waken him, went running back to his father shouting, "The cow ate the piper!"

And the witty ballad ends with all dancing in the inn around a well-shod Danny Burns the piper. Surely the very spirit of the merriment outside.

Poignantly, all the balladeers that Peter Smith and his friends recorded in their homes in the eighties and nineties are now deceased. But, thanks to this unique project, as I said at the launching, they will now never be truly dead and gone from us.

They will be heard forever, their voices mellowed by their years, their ballads recreating the ancient history of the Sperrins. I warmly commend this special package to all, but especially to those with good red Sperrin blood in them.

The contact for more information is beaghmore@gmail.com. I am not operating on a commission basis, but truly this package is worth laying hands and ears on.

Neither am I on a commission basis in relation to the Lakeland House guest house in Belturbet a few miles outside Cavan in which Peter Smith found me a room despite the shortage of accommodation because of the fleadh hordes.

But let's face it and agree that it is far from hotels that almost all of us were raised. But maybe we lost the run of ourselves here (and over there?) during the boom years.
Lakeland House is operated by the wholeheartedly welcoming Maureen and Iggy Fitzpatrick and son Hugh. I join a family for the night in a way you can never do in an hotel. Better still, they have a pub and splendid restaurant called the Harbour Bar in the center of the village.

I am under the same guest house roof as the lively dancers from the Miriam McCarthy Dancing School who are celebrating winning no less than 16 medals at the fleadh! Their mood is merry.
Maureen ferries me in to the captain's table for an excellent and reasonably priced dinner. I can take a few drinks because she is also ferrying me home.

There is a mighty band playing at the end of the bar, even with a saxophone for the genuine jazzy showband sound. People are dancing, drinking, singing.

In a way that does not really happen in the different atmosphere of hotels, I meet the members of the band-John McIntyre and Brassroots -- John and Declan and Pat -- and the mighty Maureen even arranges later that I can have the best jive I've had in 20 years with her friend Philomena, a lady as light on her feet as a fairy.

And I have great chats and a singsong with new friends like Walter and Eileen and David. And the band plays on.

Recession? What recession?

Maureen and Iggy ferry me home happy, Jimmy gives me my breakfast next (late) morning, and Iggy ferries me back to Belturbet again. I depart reluctantly and, for what it is worth -- and it is worth a lot as a travel tip -- tell ye that you can reach these great people at lakelandinfo@eircom.net.

Again I'm not on commission, just passing on the facts of a memorable Cavan day and night.
Maybe this summer is gone but its spirit surely is not.

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