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Archive for the tag “feakle”

When Angels go Home for Christmas (part II)

here’s part II, read first part here Enjoy + share…


When Angels go Home for Christmas

mummersThe mummers next stop was Dawltawl, a lonesome village that was cold as a mortuary slab even in the finest day of summer. There were few houses here and no children to welcome them. But their antics and music cheered the people to recklessness and they pressed mugs of whiskey on them, in the hope that they might stay longer. Drink went to the Healer’s head and he sang a rousing ballad called The Wild Rover, to the beat of the kettle drum. The Missing Postman had no letters to deliver, but loosened by whiskey he related all the news and lies he could think of. When he got stuck for words, the white haired lady sang an emigration dirge that brought the villagers to tears. Weeping faces bade them farewell and blessings and prayers echoed after them for miles.

Several of the batch were merry from drink, including young Hawkins, who broke into song when he saw the sea in the distance. He gave a fine rendition of The Boys of Barr na Sráide, a classic song about mummers and his compatriots joined in the last line ‘when the Boys of Barr na Sráide went hunting for the wran.’ After that Bachus sang ‘The Black Velvet Band’ and everyone sang the chorus:

‘Her eyes they shone like diamonds,
You’d think she was queen of the land,
With her hair flung over her shoulder,
Tied up with a black velvet band.’

The mummers called at a few more house on their way to the coast and they were well treated with drink and coin. The collection box was heavy and several of them were drunk by the time they reached the sea. It was snowing now and the sky darkened. Two of the Softwood brothers were bickering and Uaigneas Gallagher had a fit of swearing.

“Will ye all shut up to Hell’s blue blazes!” cried the white haired lady, “We have miles to go before we’re finished. Miles to go!”

She stared at the troublemakers and then snuggled against G’way Bawn on the pony. He turned right on the sea road and led the troupe along The Flaggy Shore.

rosslare

The snow was falling fast and heavy when they came to the Neither Lands, a large apron of coast broken into twenty or more small islands by centuries of floods and tides. Steppingstones and humpbacked bridges connected islands to each other. Some were inhabited, others were deserted and more were said to be haunted. The mummers crossed the causeway to the Near Island and called to the house of Brewdor, an old man with a young wife. Apart from a huge bed, the room was empty and hushed as a seashell. A blazing fire and several Christmas candles lit the space. The Brewdor clapped his hands and shouted,

“Music! Music!”

He stood in the middle of the floor, bowed graciously and waited for the tune. Running on whiskey, the mummers played fast and reckless and the little man soon wilted. His eyes rolled, his feet tangled and he collapsed in a heap. His wife rushed to his aid and screamed,

“Open the door and let in the fresh air!”

The musicians retreated from the casualty and The Healer went outside for two handfuls of snow and laid the mush on the old man’s face. His eyelids fluttered to life for a minute or two, and he asked to be put to bed. The wife cradled his body in her arms and laid him under a quilt. She turned to the mummers and said,

“Ye nearly killed him, ye’re a proper disgrace, playin’ music like that. If anything happens to him, I’m gettin’ the magistrates after ye.”

“Don’t bother with no magistrates!” G’way Bawn cried, “The Healer will cure Mr. Brewdor. He’ll stay with ye ’till the good man is right as rain. We’ll call for him on our way back to the mainland.”

The mummers slipped outside, the woman mounted the pony behind G’way Bawn and he led the batch to the next island. Bacchus Tobin and Ocras Burke rode in the cart with Dado and progress was slow. Noses dripping, they journeyed across three deserted islands without seeing a house or any sign of life. It was like Napoleon’s retreat from Russia: slow rattle of the kettle drum against the blizzard, cart wheels and pony hooves skidding on ice glazed stones, freezing troops protecting instruments beneath their inside-out-coats. In blind faith they followed G’way Bawn until he shouted,

“Whoa!!”

The troop halted at a cul-de-sac in Illawara, an island of crumbling cottages, emptied a century earlier by a mysterious sadness.

“Back! Back! Back!” ordered G’way Bawn, tension in his voice.

The white haired lady tightened her grip around his waist and pressed her bosom against his bony shoulders.

“Christ,” muttered Dado, “I’m thinkin’ that we’re gone astray.”

On the Near Island, Brewdor thanked Hawkins for not poaching his wife.

“But you have to leave now,” he said, “because we’re goin’ to sleep.”

“And thanks for your help,” she said. “Only for you I’d be a widdaw. And don’t mind the rest of ’em, ’cause you’re the best of ’em.”

wren20With prayers and charms they sent the Healer on his way, and promised to relate his powers to whoever they met. Reeling from praise, he hurried through the snowy night in search of the mummers. He heard the shrill sound of a whistle and it drew him like a mating call. Hawkins followed the notes across three islands before finding a small child blowing a toy do-da outside a thatched cottage. When the child saw him he shrieked,

“The mummers! The mummers!”

The child’s mother appeared and asked,

“Where’s the rest o’ ye?”

“I’m lookin’ for ’em.”

“Well they didn’t call here yet,” she said, “and G’way Bawn’s mummers always call. Come in and wait for them.”

Inside she warmed a pot of fish stew over a driftwood fire and stole glances of him when he took off the Chaplin mask. She inquired who he was and shook her head and smiled when he told her.

“Well it’s a small world,” she said, “tell your grandmother that you met Rince Lynn. She brought me into this life twenty-five years ago, when my mother was a servant girl for the Downwaves in Bearnagweithe. Your grandmother was a very lucky midwife and a great healer.”

“She’s teachin’ me to be a healer.”

“’Tis in you,” she told him, serving the stew.

Rince Lynn listened to how he revived the man on the Near Island, and when she casually mentioned that her little son had eye trouble, he sat the child on his lap and tested his sight by making animal shadows on the whitewashed walls. He concluded the youngster had a lazy left eye and treated it by covering the good eye with one of his Mummer’s ribbons.

“You can change the cover every few days,” he said, “feed him plenty carrots and bathe the eyes in water from Tubbarmacdara if you can get it.”
Rince pressed two silver doubloons on him for his service.

“What are these?”

“Old money from the sailin’ ships. And isn’t this a strange thing, it was the man you cured on the Near Island that gave me a bag of ’em one time. I make brooches and rings out of ’em for the man with the traveling shop. That’s how I get by.”

“It’s time for the mummers to be calling,” the Healer said after she had put the child to bed. He opened the cottage door and stepped outside, listening for their racket. The snow had stopped and all he heard was the whirrey-whirrey of sea birds and the faint lapping of the tide on the winter shore.

“They’ll be here yet,” Rince said. “They’d never leave the Neither Lands without calling. G’way Bawn always calls here.”

hollyShe poured two jugs of brandy, lit a candle and prayed the mummers would leave them in peace. Not since the man with the traveling shop visited in November had she any company from the mainland. And this visitor was streets ahead of the man with the traveling shop.

“What other news have you,” she asked, feeding the fire, “tell me about the world abroad.”

“I was in Bearnagweithe just before the Christmas and I saw d’electric light. They have it in a lot of the shops and pubs.”

“What’s d’electric light?” Rince asked.

Without thinking too much, he gave a long explanation that brought a frown to her face and she wondered if she had given him too much drink. He rambled through the world of science, alchemy and magic and predicted advances in civilisation that made her shiver. She thought him too young to know such things and she stared at the fire, her mind wandering back to the last time she was in the company of a drunken man. That was the day herself and the man with the traveling shop got drunk on a cask of rum she’d found on the shore.

She slept with him that same night and when he called again, she was with child. A pious and honest man, he was smitten with guilt and became impotent. He lost his power, and she could never arouse him again. But he still called to see her and their son, leaving them provisions and buying homemade jewellery for his wife. The man with the traveling shop had left a puzzle in Rince’s mind: she didn’t know if she had fooled him, or if he had fooled her.

Soft snores brought her back to the night. The fire was dying and it was time to bed down. She wondered about the young man who was collapsed in a drunken sleep on the sugan chair. Should she put a blanket over him and pile up the fire to keep him warm ’till morning? Or take him to bed with her, just for the company, just for the warmth. She leaned over him and whispered,

“You’ll be more comfortable in my room.”

Rince led him by the arm to room behind the fireplace. She unlaced his boots and helped him out of the fur coat and woman’s dress. He looked at her in the cold blue night and gently touched her head.

“You can go in the inside,” she whispered, pulling back the covers.

The Healer climbed into bed and slid towards the wall. He lay on his back, listening to her clothes fall on the floor, smelling the heat from her body. She cuddled into him and whispered,

“Put your arms around me, this bed is freezing.”

Shy and innocent, he wrapped himself around her and wondered what to do next. The angels were all gone home for Christmas, so anything could happen. There was just Rince Lynn and himself, on a small island in the Neither Lands. Peace on earth and clumsy passion on a goose feathered bed. Lost lovers finding their way home on Saint Stephen’s Night.

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Read a book by Eddie Stack this Christmas

Doolin: people, place & culture — Amazon Bestseller by Eddie Stack


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Bonzo

This is the opening of Bonzo, one of the stories in my recent collection, Borderlines.


Bonzo stood out. His face looked a cross between WoodyIMG_0008 Allen and Harry Potter, but he was much plumper than Woody, and taller too. There was a reserved, almost studious air about him and no matter what the circumstances or situation, Bonzo never seemed out of place. He blended in at parish weddings and opera galas, local funerals and rugby matches. He was a man for all capers.

Nobody was sure what he did for a living, or if he did anything. He grew up in the parish, the only child of a small farmer and his wife. A gifted student, Bonzo won a scholarship to some prestigious college when he was twelve and left the village. The next time they saw him, he was a young man with a bookish look. His mother said he had a big job in Berlin, but someone else said he was working in Boston.

When his father passed away, he returned to Ireland and got a job in Dublin. Every weekend he came to visit his mother and when she died suddenly, he took to the booze for a few weeks and announced that he might become a hippy. From then on, he lived in the home thatched cottage and let twenty acres of land go wild around him. He came and went a few times a week in a yellow VW camper van with a surfboard-rack on the roof.

Some nights he walked down to Cleary’s pub in the village to listen to the music and have a few pints. Once in a while he got drunk and danced alone to jigs and reels, to the glee of the drinkers. Crumpled and cockeyed, he would shake hands with everyone and whisper that they were always welcome in his house.
“I mean it,” he’d say, squeezing their hands.

Sometimes after the pub closed, a small crowd went back to Bonzo’s cottage with packs of beer and bottles of spirits. When musicians came, there was a rollicking session. The parties took place in the old country living room, decorated with pictures of saints and a red Sacred Heart lamp. Books overflowed from shelves to the floor and people built them into seats and sat on them. There was an open fire, a couch and a few sugán armchairs, which were given over to the musicians. He was a welcoming host and cooked up plates of charred sausages and sardines on toast. On those nights, Bonzo got really spaced and was often first to hit the floor.

His land stretched down along the sea road, from the edge of the village to a ruined castle once occupied by his ancestors. It was prime development land and Bonzo let it be. Every few months a hippy named Guy came with horses and grazed the place for him, but other than that the land was idle, left to itself. When he was drunk one night in Cleary’s pub, Bonzo said he was going to ‘plant it, plant it with trees. Broadleaves, native trees.’ It was good for the planet, he said and a few drinkers cheered, “Good man Bonzo!”

Backpackers knocked on his door once and a while asking if they could camp in his fields and he gave them permission. One Dutch girl stayed for two weeks and slept with him a few times. An American woman with a lemon Citron van pitched there every May and again in late summer. She was a photographer and took the picture of Bonzo and the cat that hung in Cleary’s Bar.

The first time Kiki McFadden met Bonzo, he was backing the camper van out to the road, being directed by Guy the hippie. She stopped her silver jeep, got out and approached him.

“Hitting away for the weekend,” she smiled, noticing sleeping bags and backpacks in the van.

Bonzo nodded and Guy hopped in beside him and began rolling a smoke.

“Are you going to the Electric Picnic?” she asked, smiling broader.

“You got it,” nodded Bonzo and Guy chuckled.
“You lucky things, you,” she sighed, “God, but it’s well for ye and some of us slaving away to try and make a living.”

“You’re keeping us all going,” smiled Bonzo.

“Listen,” she said, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you. Will you give me a call when you get back, I’d really appreciate it. God, I should introduce myself, I’m Kiki McFadden from Round Tower Real Estate in Ballygale.”

They shook hands and he said,

“Hi, I’m James, James Callahan.”

She gave him her business card and said,“God that’s gas, you have the same name as a cousin of mine in Mayo. I know you to see as Bonzo.”

He put her card on the dashboard and said,“Nice meeting you, Kiwi.”

“Kiki,” she corrected.

“Of course,” he smiled, “Kiki”

The VW pulled away slowly and Bonzo scoped her out in the wing mirror as she went back to her jeep, taking a call on her mobile. She had a full figure, tight power suit and sexy swagger.

“She’s a smooth operator,” he said.

“They’re on to you, man,” warned Guy.

He didn’t call Kiki McFadden when he got back from the Electric Picnic. The outing lasted longer than he had planned. On the way home he made a detour to West Cork with two English women and stayed with them for three days. Then Kiki’s business card disappeared from the dashboard and he forgot all about her.

Autumn arrived and he was away a lot. There was no VW parked beside the cottage when Kiki passed and after a few weeks, she slid a note under his door.
“I heard the Picnic was great. Hope you enjoyed it. Give me a call for lunch sometime when you’re free — All the Best, Kiki.”

Bonzo put the note beside the phone and it got covered with piles of mail. Guy came over with horses and they went to a Christy Moore gig in Lisdoonvarna. Then Bonzo disappeared and nobody saw him for weeks.
Kiki’s head turned when she noticed the camper van tucked behind the cottage. She parked the jeep and knocked on Bonzo’s front door. It was Sunday and he was having a snooze by the fire, a weekend radio talk show chattering away unheeded. Her knock woke him. Dang! Bet they have heard the radio, I’d better see who it is, he thought.

“Hello Bonzo,” Kiki, greeted and he was startled. For a second he didn’t recognize her, she was dressed for heavy weather in an Australian outback raincoat and broad brimmed hat.

“It’s Kiki, remember?”

“Of course, of course, Kiki.”

“Is this a good time to call on you? I know it’s the weekend, but I can never seem to get you at home during the week. How’re things anyway?”

“Fine, fine, great. Yeah, come in. Please, you’re welcome. The place is a bit of a mess.”

“Arrah it’s fine, what are you talking about. You should see my place! God this is grand, Bonzo, lovely and cosy.”

“Thanks. Would you like coffee.”

“God I’d love a cup, d’you know that? This is a lovely spot, and you have the open fire and all. God but I’d love a place like this…”

“Milk and sugar?”

“No sugar thanks. I s’pose you don’t have soy milk?”

“I’m afraid not. Sorry.”

“Arrah, it’s grand…just black is fine.”

They made small talk about the weather and she asked about the Electric Picnic.

“I’d love to go there next year. You’ll have to remind me when tickets come on sale. God but you have a very interesting life Bonzo. And d’you mind me asking, what do you do for a living?”

“Nothing very exciting, pen and paper work,” he said vaguely.

“I bet you’re a writer,” she smiled, “you have that look. Do you write poetry?”

“On occasion,” he replied, “but I wouldn’t consider myself a poet.”

“I would,” she said, “and I bet you’re very good. A lot of great artists didn’t consider themselves as good as they were. D’you know what I mean? Like Van Gogh, like.”

“Poor Vincent,” sighed Bonzo.
“Yeah, he cut off his ear, didn’t he? But listen,” she said, slowing her voice a gear, “we have a client who is very interested in buying some land from you.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I can’t say who it is at the moment, but it’s a serious player. They’d be interested in buying as much as you’d sell them along the road.”

“For development, I presume. It’s not somebody who wants it to farm.”

“Yes, for development. As I said, they’re serious. And they would make a sizable offer.”

Bonzo looked into the fire and Kiki bantered on about the holy pictures, chipped statues of Jesus and family photos that stared at her from every wall. She said she envied his lifestyle and longed to give up the rat race and retreat to an island and write poetry. Or just meditate. Kiki sipped her coffee and silence seeped around them.

“Well,” she said, “will you think about it anyway. The offer would be in the region of 300K an acre. Say, 5 to 6 million for the whole place.”

“Jesus, that’s a lot.”

“Of course it would be conditional on planning but the client is well connected and thinks that wouldn’t be a problem…”

Bonzo’s head swirled and he felt dizzy….


Borderlines is 3 long stories by Eddie Stack — Carnival Cop; Bonzo; One for the Rover. The stories are set in the West of Ireland. Kindle edition costs $0.99. Download here


Books by Eddie Stack on Amazon

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Carnival Cop

This is an extract from Carnival Cop, the opening story of Borderlines…new book I’ve just published on Kindle


Convoy

The carnival came to town in mid-August, just as the days began to shorten and school was set to reopen. They pitched in Arthur’s Field at the top of Church Street and in two days, they had merry-go rounds ready to spin. And dodgems, swinging boats and chair-o-planes too, all set to rock in a splash of gay colors. Over the entrance to the field, a big arched sign read ‘O’Driscoll’s Fantastic Carnival.’ At night it would light in red, white and blue neon.

On opening day Todd O’Driscoll fixed a loudspeaker to the roof of his jeep with bungee cords and rigged an amplifier to the onboard cassette player. He pushed a tape in the player and crept up the volume as the jeep crawled down the town. Helter-skelter céili music woke the streets and people came outside. The recorded voice of Todd announced,

Céad Míle Fáilte, fair people of this beautiful land. It is with joy and pleasure that O’Driscoll’s Fantastic Carnival has come to town again. We have thrills and rides to tickle your fancy and swing seats that go so high you can catch a glimpse of heaven. And dear friends, our bumper and dodgem cars are the latest in Chicago gangasta style, and this year we have the spectacular Jules Verne chair-o-planes, direct from Peking’s Tong Hing Park. And if that is not enough, we have a shooting gallery with nightly prizes of great value and The Gold Coast Pongo Tent where you can win jackpots of enormous size. For your entertainment we have sword swallowers and knife throwers, fortunetellers and board players. And while you’re at the carnival, enjoy Todd’s delicious popcorn and organic ice cream. So come early and avoid disappointment. The Carnival opens at 6.30 this evening and the fun just goes on and on till late.”

The music played again and Todd tweaked the volume. Children began to follow the slow jeep, echoing his announcement in gibberish. He watched them in the rearview mirror and notched up the volume again. An urchin stood on the tow bar and Todd speeded up, then braked. The urchin thumped the back window and hopped off. A few kids ran beside the vehicle, but scattered when he did a mean ‘S’ swerve.

To his surprise, a police constable stood at the bottom of Church Street, hand raised, indicating that he stop. “Shit,” he muttered, coming to a halt. He rolled down the window and was taken aback: he had never seen a policewoman here before. She was short, skinny and officious and he read her badge as she approached: Constable Stella Blute.

“Beautiful day, how can I help you?” Todd smiled.

“Turn off that sound. Did you ever hear of noise pollution?”

“I beg your pardon?”

She didn’t respond, and he stopped the racket, watching her examine the tax, insurance and other official certificates on the jeep windscreen.

“I don’t see a Public Announcement certificate displayed,” she said, “and your tax is out of date.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

The jeep was heating up and he began to sweat. An urchin urged the cop to arrest him and she ordered the kid to leave the road and go home.

“I thought everything was in order,” Todd told her, “I mean…I don’t understand it.”

“Your tax expired last December. May I have your name please?”

“Well…Thaddeus O’Driscoll. Better known as Todd.”

He smiled but she was writing and made no eye contact. She said, “Your driver’s license please.”

“Certainly.”

He took a wallet from his trousers pocket and flicked through the contents, humming as he scanned business cards, credit cards, debit cards, prayer cards, nude cards, medical cards and memorial cards, marihuana club cards.

“Gosh, constable, I don’t seem to have it with me and I could have sworn that I saw it recently.”

“Address?”

“No fixed abode.”

“No fixed abode?”

“None. I travel from place to place. Week here, week there.”

“Where are you residing now?”

“Mr. Arthur’s field at the top of Church Street. I’m the owner of O’Driscoll’s Fantastic Carnival and I’d be delighted if you could come along…all the rides are on me…you can ride all night for free…we’re opening tonight…that’s why I’m…you know, announcing.”

“Announcing without a permit. You need to put your house in order, sir. Please produce a current driver’s license, insurance and public address permits at the barracks within the next 72 hours. Failure to do so will result in prosecution and court appearance.”

Todd winced and looked at her with hurt eyes. “Thank you officer,” he groveled, “and please do come to the carnival…the fun is on me.”

He turned the jeep in the Square and drove back up Church Street in silence. Outside doors, people gathered in knots, speculating on what had gone down between Todd and Constable Stella Blute. She was still writing in her black notebook, standing in the middle of the road.

images

The carnival people lived in caravans at the back of the field, near a happy stream of fresh water. Some of the caravans were modest, others looked run-down, and a few were big and old fashioned. Todd’s was sleek: powder blue with a red lightening bolt screaming from back to front. What a fuckin’ disaster, he muttered, opening the door. His sleeping partner Izzy Swartz was making coffee. She wore a black robe with a golden dragon printed on the back.

“Hi sweetie,” she greeted, “wanna cuppa?”

“I want a drink,” he said striding to the cupboard beside the fridge.

“What’s up honey? You look upset.”

“I am upset. A cop pulled me for tax, insurance, certs, the works…”

“Oh honey! That’s horrible.”

“A lady cop if you don’t mind…a tiny little midge.”

“What’re you gonna do honey?”

Todd shook his head, poured a tumbler of cheap whiskey and drank it neat.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. Yet. She wants me to produce everything at the barracks within 3 days. She really glammed on to me, like a fucking terrier. Stopped me from announcing. A cop like her could fuck up my whole life.”

“She didn’t ask about the Hagerstown affair? Did she?”

“Don’t mention the Hagerstown business. Please. And don’t mention the shit in Dundalk either. I’ve enough on my plate.”

“What can I do to make it better for you? A little massage?”

Todd drained his glass and filled it again.


Borderlines is 3 long stories by Eddie Stack — Carnival Cop; Bonzo; One for the Rover. The stories are set in the West of Ireland. Kindle edition costs $0.99. Download here


Books by Eddie Stack on Amazon

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Biddy Early’s Magical Blue Bottle found on eBay

Regular readers of this blog will recall that Patrick Saint twittered the universe a few weeks ago, asking where was Biddy Early’s magical Blue Bottle. Glass_Bottles_BlueSadly, he received no response and we were beginning to think that all was lost as time went by. Our mind was on other things — hay, visitors, gigs, slugs in the garden. Then, out of the blue, as is the way with cosmic events, we received an email from America that perked us up. A fan of the blog relayed vital information to us: Biddy’s bottle was in the US! This fan — we’ll call her Ms. M — sent us the url of an eBay page which has the following heading:

IMPORTANT! PLEASE READ! *ONE OF A KIND GODDESS SPELL$$$ BIDDY’S BLUE BOTTLE! FAST WORKING GREY MAGICK!! HAUNTED

Naturally we were intrigued and read that the eBay vendor was selling a magic ring for $500 which was described as:

~~~COVEN CAST USING BIDDY EARLY’S BLUE BOTTLE~~~
VERY OLD AND MAGICKAL BEYOND WORDS!
***THE ONLY ONE OF ITS KIND IN EXISTENCE***

Glistening Garnets and Citrines. Sterling Silver, size 8.

Fascinating! So we read further and learned:

The use of the Blue Bottle and Biddy Early’s participation in the procedure is thought to be a main ingredient in the spells! INCREDIBLE and obvious potency and is most likely the reason for the manifestations of Goddess’ Energy in visible form. If the winner of this auction is psychically sensitive, they too may experience such visual manifestations.

Wow! Then we discovered that Biddy’s one and only last descendant, a Ms. Irél Flannery has recently passed to ‘the otherside’. Apparently Irél was a great Irish Druidess, something we were not remotely aware of. Irél had the Blue Bottle and used it to cast numerous documented miracles, including the magic ring for sale on eBay. Then she died, and Biddy’s Blue Bottle came into the vendor’s possession.

Remains of Biddy Early's home, Feakle, Co. Clare

Remains of Biddy Early's home, Feakle, Co. Clare

We were flabbergasted. After all these years, after all the stories we’d heard as young lads, and all the theories about Biddy’s Bottle, all the chatter from folklorists, eccentrics and self-promoters, we’d located someone in California who has possession of the magical vessel: a lady named Anna Kikiandpops. She even had an extract from Meda Ryan’s Biddy Early book on her eBay page to show she was tuned in to the real deal. Another wow!

For Clare people, this knowledge is like learning the Fatima Secrets…Biddy’s Blue Bottle could unjinx many hexes. Just being aware of its existence alone would be a tremendous boost to the county’s hurlers…And of course any politician who had access to it could fix everything. Can’t you picture Taoiseach Brian Cowen and a few Clare stalwarts huddled around it in some dark back room…spells being cast, brandy lashed back? The recession would be over in a flash and we’d all be in clover. Again we’d have white vans zipping around on the wrong side of the road while drivers talked on cell phones. Auctioneers back on the hair gel and driving like Eddie Jordan, while builders would tear up our remaining green fields, making huge messes…speeding construction trucks driven by men with shaved heads and tattooed arms would haunt us…

We had nightmarish flashbacks of the Boom and decided no, Brian Cowen could not be privy to this info. We knew it had to be handled with the utmost care and so we passed it on the Patrick Saint via Twitter. Our allegience was to Gertie Gorm. In her capable hands, Biddy’s Blue Bottle could change the world for the better, or at the very least, Clare hurlers would win an All Ireland.

Biddy Early Country

Biddy Early Country

Patrick was upset when he called us. He was with Gertie at her cottage in Scroppal, East Clare and she was moaning in the background. He’d sent Ms. Kikiandpops an email on his yPhone asking if she had Biddy’s bottle. He got an instant responce:

Hello Paddy. Yes, we do have the Bottle. Eventually it will seek out a new owner, but not right now. If the Bottle is up for sale, it will be under very close scrutiny, and may not be public–I’m not sure how it will work, but it will be quite an event. Many Blessings Have a wonderful day. Anna Kikiandpops

“I’m afraid that Gertie is loosing it,” Patrick told us, “how are we going to get Anna Kikiandpops to sell us the bottle? And if she does decide to sell, how are we going to raise the money?”

We said that raising the money would be no hassle. A few concerts would bring in a good boodle of dosh…we could ask the Kilfenora and the Tulla Ceili bands to do a benefit in Cusack Park. Plus we’d have a few surprise guests…pull in a few favours…The Pogues would be ideal if they were around. Also, we might get Shannon Development involved, although that might be stretching it…the Clare Champion might sponsor the deal…And not to be outdone, the Clare People would come up with some scheme for us…like a treasure hunt or spot the ball. Maybe some Banner entrepreneur could set up a tour of the bottle around the county like the bishops did with St Theresa’s relics…Clare FM would want to be involved. Clare Heritage might be wary of us after the leprechaun story… An Arts Council grant could be applied for…like, they’ve funded a lot more cockeyed ideas. Really, the money was no problem.

“The main thing is,” we consoled, “Biddy’s Bottle has been located. It’s in Los Angeles. And surely Ms. Kikiandpops will sell if the price is right.”
We could hear Gertie sobbing ‘I want my bottle…I want my bottle.’ It was heart wrenching. So near and yet so far. But we were out of steam…we’d been to the Clancy Week in Miltown Malbay and before that, we’d had all the leprechaun stuff to deal with. We suggested Patrick sit tight.
“Maybe your reader’s could help,” he said desperately, “maybe Ms. Kikiandpops would be more inclined to deal with a third party…”
“Maybe,” we sighed, “we’ll mention it in the blog.”

We’re not sure if a great mystery has been solved or another one created. But woe to poor Kikiandpops if it’s a hoax, because Biddy would not like that sort of carry on done in her name. We note the following at the bottom of her web page:

Legal Stuff: Per the regulations: Paranormal objects are for entertainment purposes only. We cannot take responsibility for activity that may or may not occur in association with this item. Paranormal items are not dangerous but please handle with care and respect.

At last, here’s the link to Biddy Early’s long lost Blue Bottle: http://is.gd/1wiFU
(scroll half way down the page and mind your eyes…Ms. Kikiandpops has a spacey web designer ) And of course, Let the Bidder be aware.



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photos: Mary Gaynor

Biddy Early, St. Patrick & County Clare

Clare is the only county in Ireland that St. Patrick never set a foot in. He made several attempts to enter the territory but was repelled each time by the Clare druids. In 450AD, Patrick and eighty five monks marched through Kinvara and down towards the Burren. It was in late spring and the saint was buoyed by the conversion of Galway and the establishment of a monastery at Killnalicka. There was lots of hymns and chanting but when they approached the inlet of Kylesaile, (which marks the border between Galway and Clare) the procession was struck dumb. Not a tweet. Then they couldn’t move their legs, it was like they were rooted to the ground. The tide was filling and the muted monks started to panic, Patrick waved his crozier at the heavens, but God just told him to go back north when the tide turned.

Burren Bizzare

Burren Bizzare

The following year, Patrick tried to sneak into Clare through Tubber, but again he was outdone by a barrage of huge boulders which tumbled down from the Burren. Another time he thought to cross the Shannon from Tipperary, but twelve harpers on the far bank addled his head and his flotilla was swept downstream and ended up in Fenit, Co. Kerry.

In 468, Patrick was converting souls around Gort when he heard that Oisín had returned from Tír na n-Óg. He immediately sought out the old warrior and they met near Kilbeacanty where Oisín once had a lover. Forgetting what he was told in Tír na n-Óg — that it only takes one prick to burst a bubble, Oisín fell for the Saint’s plámás and got down off his horse. Once he touched the soil of Eire, he withered into a three hundred year old briar and babbled like a river. Saint P baptised him and the poor man immediately croaked and died.

What happened next is only known to the cognoscenti of Clare folklore: Patrick commandeered the horse that Oisín had rode from Tír na n-Óg on and headed for Clare. He figured it was a magical mount and he was right. He figured the Clare druids would be no match for the animal and that in a few days he’d convert the county. He was wrong. The horse had a mind of its own, took to the sky like a bucking bronco and kept going. That was the last anyone saw of St. Patrick and the date was March 17, 468 AD. Biddy Early used say that when Pat had 1500 years or more done orbiting the earth, that he’d return to Ireland a different man. She said he’d ride back on a white mare and carry gadgerty from the stars.

Haddock's Bar & Grocery

Haddock's Bar & Grocery

These prophesies danced around the head of Gertie Gorm as she approached the stranger in Haddocks Bar and Grocery one fine Saturday evening last May (see here for story background). A half glass of whiskey in her right hand, a shopping bag in the left. She said,
“Excuse me sir, but I know the face…”
“Hello,” he greeted, “I’m Patrick.”
“Well I’m happy to meet you, and tell me by any chance, did you come to town on a white mare?”
“Bloody Hell!” he laughed, “you got me in one! Are you clairvoyant?”
“I’m Clare through and through,” Gertie said, “born and bred for ten generations and more if anyone can count back that far.”
They shook hands, Gertie’s eyes brimming with tears,
“You’re the perfect man for the job,” she whispered, “perfect.”
Mr. Haddock set up another round of whiskey and went into the kitchen, where his wife and himself and tried to eavesdrop on the conversation in the bar.

“I can’t let Biddy down,” Gertie said, “you’ll have to help me.”
“Biddy who?”
“There’s only wan Biddy — Biddy Early of course.”
“Okay, well…if there’s anything I can do, I will…I mean within the bounds of reason, time, energy and all that jazz.”
His phone flashed. A twitter from Uggi39: Ballytutu beat Castlegreen 2 – Nil.
“What d’you call that machine?” Gertie asked.
“That’s a Yphone…great workhorse, Jap job.”
“Japjob,” muttered Gertie, “Japjob. You have the right equipment.”
“Well that’s half the battle…so can you tell me what’s the job?”
Gertie looked around the empty pub and whispered in his ear. Mr. Saint looked stone faced for a few seconds and muttered “Jesus! I wouldn’t know where to start…I mean I could send out a few twitters and see what would happen.”
“Twitters?”
“Yes. Look…”
He held his phone and scrolled down to a tweet from Kayleeband: #PleaseHelp! Lost my Green Poodle in Stephens Green today. Ansers 2 Danzer. Reward.
“You can ask any question and get an answer on Twitter.”
“Twitter,” muttered Gertie.
“And if I don’t get an answer in Twitter, I just go to Google.”
“Google? You have great brains,” she praised, “I get anxious even on d’aul phone…Google and Twitter would give me the fits…”
yphone

Mr. Haddock politely ushered them from the premises when Patrick began playing saxophone notes on his Yphone. He linked Gertie Gorm towards the church. She was singing “Down by the Glenside…glory-oh, glory-oh to the bauld Fenian Men.”
He helped her up on the white mare, balanced her on the saddle.
“I live beyond in Scroppol,” she slurred, pointing west.

Mr. Saint led his mare from the car park as the worshipers washed out of the church after Saturday evening Mass. Some blessed them selves and sprinkled a double dose of holy water at the sight of Gertie Gorm on a white mare, Mr. Saint leading the horse by the bridle. They clip clopped slowly through the quiet street, Gertie smug as a raja on an elephant.

About a mile out the Scropal road there’s a bridge over the river and Gertie explained that Biddy said the first blow must be made over water. Patrick Saint halted the mare on the middle of the bridge and the animal snorted nervously. He fished the Yphone from his coat pocket, he had 4 bars of reception and he cautiously twittered: @patricksaint anybody know where’s Biddy Early’s magic blue bottle? #Ireland, #Irish, #Clare #BiddyEarly, #folkmedicine, #magic.



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Irish Traditional Music: thoughts after a night in East Clare

A view of Ennistymon from the Falls

A view of Ennistymon from the Falls

For those of us who grew up immersed in Clare music, we were always aware of a friendly rivalry between our two great ceili bands, The Tulla and The Kilfenora. Each had won several All Ireland Ceili Band Championships, and had huge followings, both in the county and far beyond. Every year they battled it out at the famous fleadhs of the Fifties and Sixties, packed halls and were often on the radio. We were proud of them. The Tulla were based in East Clare and the Kilfenora in North Clare, but in our county, a few miles made the world of difference in musical styles, tunes and rhythm.

The Tulla Ceili Band, 1952

The Tulla Ceili Band, 1952: Ennistymon's Martin Garrihy on drums + George Byrt on piano

Both bands had musicians from my home town of Ennstymon, and a few musicians changed bands over the years. Though we were geographically closer to Kilfenora — and were part of their ancient diocese — we also had a proud East Clare connection. Our native poet Brian Merriman, who wrote the famed Midnight Court, had moved to Feakle some 200 years earlier. Art stands the test of time in Clare, and so Feakle and Ennistymon were bonded forever by him. Merriman was also a fiddler, so we played that card as well.

Brian Merriman — poet + fiddler

Brian Merriman, poet + fiddler of Ennistymon & Feakle

Almost like political alliances, there were Tulla supporters and Kilfenora supporters in the town, there were closet supporters and suspect supporters. There were torn loyalties, blood loyalties and each year the town awaited the outcome of the All Ireland Fleadh Ceili Championship like the winning score of a hurling final. This was back in the days before television, computers and texting, and our contact with the outside world was a public phone in the Square, a green kiosk with a rickety concrete slab floor and broken windows.

our only contact with the outside world

our line to the outside world

I remember the Sunday evening of The All Ireland Fleadh one August when I was a boy. A staunch Kilfenora female supporter stood beside the kiosk smoking a cigarette and fumbling with rosary beads. She was waiting for ‘the call’. I was watching her from the door of our pub and every now and again my mother would appear and look down anxiously at the woman. My mother was smoking too, the tension was sizzling. A few men in pub were discussing drummers — Ennistymon men drummed for both bands.

The ringing phone echoed up the quiet square on that warm evening. The woman rushed into the box and you could hear her shouting “Hello?” above in Dublin. Then we heard her say, “Thanks be to Sweet Jesus and his blessed mother, I was prayin’ all day…”
My own mother announced to the bar,
“The Kilfenora won.”
The following year it was probably the Tulla. We were blessed with great music in Clare.

The Tulla, Ennistymon Hall, 1/1/1962 (Martin Vaughan drums, Francie Donnellon + PJ Hayes fiddles)

The Tulla, Ennistymon Hall, 1/1/1962 (Martin Vaughan drums, Francie Donnellon + PJ Hayes fiddles) courtesy of Clare Co Library

When bands played at the hall in Ennistymon, they drank in our bar and generally took a crate or two with them for the road home after the dance. One night The Leitrim Ceili band from Galway, anchored by accordion player Joe Burke, played in town. They had a great crowd, collected their crate of porter or beer for the road and headed home through the Burren. They were travelling in an old VW bus and somewhere near the Corkscrew Hill, they slowed down so an on coming vehicle could pass. It was the Kilfenora Ceili Band on their way home from a gig so they stopped and everyone got out. The bands had a chat, discussed the night and the crowds they played to, praised and razed dancers. Then another vehicle approached and slowed down. It was the Tulla, bringing home a few of the Ennistymon boys. So they stopped too, got out and there was great jollity. There was a full moon, and the musicians sat on the silver limestone wall, opened multiple bottles and had the crack. A most beautiful summer’s night, moon beaming down on the Burren and away in the distance, the twinkling light of Galway in another province. Then someone said,
“You know, since we all met, we might as well play a tune.”
And so it was. Music was played that would make the stones dance. A gift to the night and the moon, a gift to the land from where the tunes came.

The Tulla, 1982 (Andrew Mac + Martin Hayes on right)

The Tulla, 1982 (including Martin Hayes, Andrew + Mary McNamara and Jim Corry)

Last weekend was Kilfenora’s big do, a celebration of one hundred years on the go. This past weekend, there was a small gathering in Feakle, East Clare in memory of PJ. Hayes, a founder and leader of the Tulla Ceili Band. I rambled over there on Sunday afternoon and can say there’s many more than forty shades of green in East Clare. It was a beautiful sunny evening and nature was alive after rain. I lost count of the shades at fifty…

There was a session in full swing in Peppers Bar, fiddlers Martin Hayes and Mark Donnellon, local box player Seamus Bugler and guitarist Dennis Cahill. East Clare music, lyrical with a swing, the boys were back in town. Tunes in minor keys, tunes by Cooley, Fahey and Canny. It was like finding a well spring for the soul.

After the session finished there was the chat and the catch up. Accordion player Andrew MacNamara arrived, just back from a tour of Australia with guitarist Brendan Herrity. Stories are related, experiences parlayed. We discussed boomerangs and the size of kangeroos…Jim Corry, the Tulla piano man enters the company, he’s back from a week in Spain with the Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band. He apologised for his tan: in these stricken times, not many can afford a tan. Jim is excused and has a pint of beer before getting ready for a gig with the Tulla Ceili Band in the tent behind the pub.

The Tulla in Ennistymon, 2006

The Tulla in Ennistymon, 2006

A photographer comes to the table as Martin Hayes, Mark Donnellon and myself are finishing dinner + discussing the state of the nation. He’s from a local publication and needs a photo of the lads…Instruments are taken out of cases for the shoot and a session begins…a few more musicians join, evening sun shines through the window and there’s a golden glow in Feakle. A well known business man comes in with Rayban shades on his head and tiger trappings around neck…he does a bit of glad handling and back slapping and a wizened man with a pint and a cap mutters, “Will someone tell that shaggin’ idiot that the boom is over…”

Mark and Martin stop playing after an hour or so, take a break before going on stage with the Tulla for the ceili. Andrew Mac takes out his box in the bar, twirls a few notes and like bird call, a flock of musicians join him. His side-kick Brendan Herrity twangs the guitar and the energy amps up. Dance music rocks the bar and a group of locals hit the floor for a half-set. Mac is in his element, driving his box like a man in control of a rocket heading for the moon.

High voltage music from Andrew MacNamara in Feakle, May 2009

High voltage music from Andrew MacNamara in Feakle, May 2009

Sometime later a Cajun box player comes in from Seattle— he’s a fan of Andrew’s and he joins the session. Cajun two-steps, songs in French, we all play along. Music is music, it all comes from the heart and soul. A Japanese violinist joins and amazes everyone with her playing of East Clare reels. Mac smiles broadly when a man known as ‘The Waneling’ tries to sing a song called ‘Johnny on the Mountain’. It’s a magical night in Feakle, a fitting memorial to PJ Hayes, the quiet man who guided us all here with his music.

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