The world famed Irish musician Micho Russell, from the equally famed village of Doolin on the Clare section of the Wild Atlantic Way we’ve been dandering along lately, possessed such big broken hands one would not believe he could cajole such wondrous music from the instruments they held.
Micho had worked in the stone quarries of Moher as a young man, and the quarrying work left its tracks on those big hands. But, thank God, it did not rob his fingers of their magic and their power.
It is because the Russell Memorial Fleadh in honor of the maestro is causing ripples of excitement already that our haphazard jaunt along the Way brings us back beneath the towering majesty of the Cliffs Of Moher to the special little seaside village just down the road.
It is not just Micho who is being celebrated on the last weekend of February in Doolin. His equally musical brothers Pakie and Gussie are also being musically honored during a full weekend of music and song and dance and concerts in a unique village where, truly, the music and that umbrella of craic over it never really ceases from one end of the year to the other.
During nights in Doolin over the years, usually with my lovely flute and tin whistle maestro brother Cathal of the Boys of the Lough, I had the pleasure of hearing all of them performing at one session or another. An unforgettable experience which, incredibly, can be enjoyed about every night of any year, winter or summer, by all comers.
As always there will be a gathering of the very cream of the crop in just a little while now to banish the winter with jigs, reels, polkas, songs, sets and the best of what we can be when the working day is over. And the spirits of those Russells will not be far away when the pipes and fifes and whistles play in another spring of hope and joy.
The lively pubs in Doolin I know best are O’Connor’s on Fisher Street, the mazy road to the sea, and McGann’s nearby. There are others too and the relatively new hotel, which enhances the accommodation situation in Doolin, is also now always crammed with good sessions and the best of craic.
The village may be physically small but it is as towering as the nearby Cliffs of Moher in terms of its influence across all the folk arts for which most of the counties along the Way are noted. At any session along any of the bars it is intriguing for the local to observe the sheer awe and wonder indeed being clearly inscribed on the faces of first-time visitors, especially from overseas, initially attracted to the area by the reputation of the Cliffs of Moher, then captured by the rip tides of spontaneous music and song.
It is an amazing reality that those Cliffs of Moher are now the leading Irish tourist attraction, attracting millions of visitors annually and seeing numbers on a constantly rising graph too. They surely are one of the unofficial wonders of the whole world.
Ye know that they have such a uniquely compelling impact on the human eye and mind because, several times here, I have warned all visitors to make sure there is nobody in their tour or group who is in a low or depressed mood when they go to the Cliffs. There are a percentage of visitors who have contributed to a significant suicide rate here. Leave it at that for now because it is but one element of what is a thrilling experience for the overwhelming majority.
It is also a fact, on the other side of the spinning coin of life and living, that many folk who come to this region, initially for a day or two, discover quickly that they cannot easily leave!
The village of Doolin and the district generally is highly cosmopolitan in consequence of that impact. Folk from all over the world, not just musicians either, are now residing happily amidst the local community. They add color and width and depth to the traditional warp and woof of rural living.
Many are from the artistic community, writers and painters and sculptors, generally stimulating spirits whose presence adds much to the annual February explosion of joy and remembrance which is the Russell Memorial weekend.
It happens on the last full weekend of February. You still have time to book a flight and become a part of something you will never forget.
And probably, like so many, you will have great difficulty in leaving Doolin too. Ye have been warned!