All kinds of summer madness at the annual Fair of Spancilhill and Galway City
- Looking forward to cutting ties to the ties that bind my throttle
- Bishop Eamon Casey served us well, and deserves our prayers
- A lovely tale of island life in the paradise of West Clare
- The Boarding Out orphan was a wonderful pick
- How do the Irish regard their American visitors? With pride
I’m just back home from the watershed midsummer event that is the fabled Fair of Spancilhill just outside Ennis and, yes, the lazy, hazy, crazily cracked days of madness are here again, everything changed, nothing changed down the centuries of the old fair, the haggling and taggling and the dealing and wheeling.
It's spiritually refreshing. I watched entranced, for example, as a lively she- donkey from North Mayo changed hands for about $1,000 of your money.
The first time I was at the fair maybe 30 years ago donkeys were being sold for about $5 or $6 in real terms, and the men selling them were delighted to make the sale! Incredible!
The one thing I missed hugely on the day was the absence of the lovely old balladeer Robbie McMahon who sadly went to heaven since the last fair. He was the man who made the ballad world famous and who sang it better then anyone else right to the end.
It's good to report that the First Friday singing sessions which he hosted for years in Duggan's Pub on the edge of the fairgreen continue to be held in his memory and honor on the first Friday of every month. He has not really gone away.
I got a couple of great yarns for ye at the fair (that she-male donkey, incidentally, is bound for Germany) but I will hold them in reserve for quieter times because, truly, these hazy days of
summer in the west teem with holiday encounters in sunlit nooks and crannies, and you meet old friends in these times in numbers.
It's a bit of a blur, but one old friend I met for the first time in years, the sportswriter Diarmuid O'Flynn from Cork -- who used to write for the Irish Voice too way back when -- related a story to me in lively Doolin which adhered to the front of my mind for several reasons.
It was about his talented and indomitable sister Reidin O'Flynn who is the artistic director of the upcoming Catskills Irish Arts Week in upstate New York which ye all know more about than I
do but please, if you meet Reidin during the merrymaking, give her a hug from Cormac because the woman is something else altogether. The week is set for East Durham starting on July 15.
As Diarmuid told me, she has survived several major battles with cancer in recent years but, even after heavy surgery, is always back at work in a couple of weeks, making little of any setbacks.
She is also a mighty singer. I have her first CD, and there is one element of her current CD entitled Who Am I? which intrigues me.
The title track, said her brother, is "Dust in the Sky" and uniquely the song deals with emigrants returning home to Ireland in a final heartbreaking journey. You see, they come back as ashes in urns from crematoria.
And Diarmuid said their own brother Jack, an engineer over there with ye, made his own final journey home in that fashion only a few months ago. For six or seven trans-Atlantic hours we are talking about mortal dust in the sky. Enough of that for the moment. It seems that the aim of Reidin at the Arts Week is to ensure that, in addition to the educational and stimulating side of the program, that there is lots of genuine rip-roaring craic and music and song in the evenings.
And in memory of her brother and many others, I am certain there will be a special hush when she delivers "Dust in the Sky.”
Sometime later I'm in Shop Street in the heart of old Galway City, throbbing with life again, and I share a coffee and a chat with another old friend, the poet, musician and writer Fred Johnston.
In the background a young busker with his own portable amplifier was doing a great job on "New York, New York" and, among the other buskers further up the packed street, a strong young man was knocking spots off his didgeridoo.
Cosmopolitanism at its best and brightest, people from all over the world strolling by as Fred and I discussed the impact upon our great treasure trove of Irish music of extremely talented and often classically trained musicians from other European cultures, always equipped with the most expensive instruments, always note-perfect to the last quaver.
Somehow, we agreed, something subtle was often lost in the transition. In the old days the music they call "folk" was often coaxed out of cheap fiddles by the big stiff fingers of fishermen and farmers, for example.
The reel or the jig escaped merrily despite all the limitations. And there was something special about that.
Finally for now, and in the wake of the G8 summit in my native Fermanagh, is there anyone over there reading this who was born and bred in my native Ballanaleck on the shores of Lough Erne outside Enniskillen?
The reason for asking is that the magnificent folklorist Marion Maxwell, my former neighbor, is currently building a folklore collection from the yesterdays of Bellanaleck , sometimes spelt
Marion has a lot of material already but she would welcome more. Stories. Family histories. Photographs. Artifacts of all kinds.
If you can help this lovely lady in anyway she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell her that I sent you.
I'm off to Kinsale now for more craic of the Cork variety.