It is crazy. It is magnificently mad.
These are the high and mighty days of summer in the west, and it is emblematic of them that there are fireworks exploding away up in the airy spaces over the silvered Shannon as I reluctantly extract myself from the hundreds celebrating the Brian Boru festival in Killaloe and Ballina across the bridge to do my duty here. Guess where I will be going as soon as I write the last word of this.
The wider world might be shuddering with political and economic issues which have shaken Europe and the now Disunited Kingdom across the Irish Sea to their tangled foundations, and the wider world is in a dreadful state too, but all that seems so far away from the merry west when the lazy crazy hazy days of summer come along in the fashion in which they have arrived this year.
It has been a bit of a blur for me since I came back from Portugal, so much has been happening, but the only regret I have is that I am no longer physically capable of doing two or three days and nights at full tilt the way I used to. I have still been doing my level best to sample the menu of high season offerings and will continue to do so for as long as the system holds out. That's a promise.
It began with a mighty evening at the fabled fair of Spancilhill which, I am glad to say, is as lively and vivid and earthy as it was in the days when the ballad which the late great Robbie McMahon made world famous was written.
There were as many horses and dealers and flamboyant dealers and travelers present as I've ever seen, and I've been there many times over the past 30 years. The craic along the myriad stalls selling everything from needles to anchors to huge hamburgers was as colorful as ever.
I raised a glass in a silent toast to the late Robbie in Duggan's Pub, where we shared many's the singsong in days gone by, and had a great chat with Dinny Considine from Lisdoonvarna who was happy he had sold his colt at down for a good price and who passed on the remarkable story that the colorful matchmaker from his town, Willie Daly, who normally hits the headlines in Lisdoonvarna each September, is currently packing his bags to participate in a matchmaking festival in a village called Leeuwarden in the north of Holland!
And I shared a song later with my old friend Sean O'Callaghan, freshly back from a flying visit to New York where his sister Madge won a prestigious gold medal at the radio Grand Prix for a documentary she had crafted about their uncle Jack, a noted walker and raconteur.
It was hard to drag myself away from Spancilhill the same as always and, two days later, driving through it, you would not believe that it had been the center of the equine Irish world just hours earlier.
Fast forward to the equally fabled Willie Clancy Summer School in Miltown Malbay, just as famed nowadays after four decades as is Spancilhill. I walked the streets for the stretch of a magical musical evening two or three days ago.
There was music spelling out of every door and window, sessions on the street corners, music and song and dance everywhere. There are over a thousand students of Irish music and the wider culture taking part this year with their tutors being the cream of Ireland's traditional musicians.
Speaking of that, I dropped in quietly to a session, I think in the Central Hotel in the town center and there, quietly in the corner, all alone but with a teeming head, relished the maestroful music of the man who, for me, is the best folk fiddler in the world, Martin Hayes, native of Feakle but now based in the U.S. and, with Denis Cahill by his side, and latterly the group called The Gloaming, the cream of the cream. His music the other evening, garnished with "figaries" all of his own genius, was breathtaking.
I could only take one drink in Miltown Malbay but, after also hearing a ballad from Tim Dennehy in another session down the street, I am certain that I was quite drunk with pleasure on my way home and would not have passed a police check for alcohol had I been stopped. Thank God I was not.
Somewhere in the surreality, there has also been an hour listening to the yarns and monologues of the mighty octogenarian Paddy Hynes in Cassidy's pub on the crown of the Burren, a stint in Shannon Town with the equally mighty former colleague Pat Costelloe, and, back around home again, great nightly sessions during the Brian Boru Festival in Walsh's pub in the center of Killaloe, the warm house of craic and chat which is now my local.
As I said up above there are fireworks over the Shannon now, arching and arcing over both Clare and Tipperary and the festival is still in full swing because the night is but a pup. Can I please go away now?