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Archive for the tag “Irish folk music”

A Doolin Christmas

here’s Paddy Pharaic Mhichil Shannon remembering Christmas time long ago in Doolin, County Clare. This is an extract from ‘The Way We Were’ chapter of Doolin: people, place & culture



paddy pharaic mhichilThe longest memories I have are of Christmas. We’d be getting ready for Christmas for weeks. There used to be great excitement. The house would be cleaned from top to bottom and decorated with holly and ivy. Thee used to be big markets in Ennistymon and my mother would go there with other women from the village. That would be their biggest shopping day of the year. We’d be down at the bridge, waitin’ for them to come home and wonderin’ what they’d bring us back. If we got jam and baker’s bread we’d be over the moon. We never got toys or do-das, but all the same we had plenty to play with. I remember gettin’ a small piece of currant cake from my mother one Christmas Eve and goin’ down to the street so the other children would see it, I was that proud of it. Even though money was scarce, Christmas was much nicer then, a lot of the old customs are gone and forgotten now.

Except for the gentry, Christmas was the only time in the year that people here got a letter or a card. A lot of money came from America and other places then. Sometimes parcels arrived too, mostly with clothes. On Christmas Eve, before we had the tea, my father would gather us in the kitchen to light the Christmas candle. It was the youngest of the family that always lit it and I remember my father holdin’ my hand to do it. He used to say a prayer in Irish, to welcome Mary and Joseph to the house if they happened to be passin’. From that candle, other ones were lit and put in the windows. Every family did the same, and it was beautiful to look across the countryside and see all the little lights in the cottages. I remember walkin’ to Mass on Christmas morning with my mother and father when I was very young. It was pitch dark and there was a candle lighting in the window of every cottage. All the people goin’ to Mass were talkin’ Irish and givin’ blessings to each other. I’ll never forget that.

It would still be dark on St. Stephen’s morn when you’d hear horns blowin’, callin’ the Wren Boys. If you looked out the window, you’d see all the candles bein’ lit in the cottages all around. The Wren Boys used gather below at the bridge in Fisherstreet, they might be thirty or forty people in the batch, between dancers and players and an amadán (male fool/clown) and an oinseach (female fool). They’d be dressed up with coats turned inside out and crossed with ribbons of green and gold. Stepheneen Hardy was their leader when I was young and he rode a black ass.

The Wren Boys would travel the country that day and come back here at night. We’d hear the noise of them comin’ and everyone would go down to the bridge to meet them. Stepheneen would lead them through Fisherstreet and stop below outside O’Connor’s pub. That was their last stop. There used to be great excitement and of course ’twould go on for hours, music, set dancin’ and a bit of singin’.

What money the Wren Boys collected was always put towards a Swarie. In this village, I remember great Swaries down at Anthony Moloney’s house near the bridge. Dancin’ an’ singin’ went on all night, they were great times, so they were. And what ever drink and cake and the likes was left over was the makin’ of another great night. Them nights were called Scrap Parties and were often even better than the Swarie. ’Tis a pity all that died out.

paddy Pharaic house


photos @ folklore dept UCD


Read a book by Eddie Stack this Christmas

doolin cover

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

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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.

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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


When Angels go Home for Christmas

long time no blog…here’s a Christmas story in 2 parts…enjoy!!


When Angels go Home for Christmas

The blizzard stopped late on Christmas night and St. Stephen’s Day woke under two feet of snow. There was peace on earth: Hawkins felt it from the gentle white rolling hills and the black skeletal bushes, he smelled it in the cold thin air coming through the crack in his bedroom window. In all his seventeen years this was his first white Christmas.

Up stairs in the same cottage, the Missing Postman stared at the same scenery but it made no impression on him. He had a savage hangover, his stomach was cramping and his head hurt. On top of everything, his brain was addled and he wasn’t sure what day it was.  But knew he had been here since the day before Christmas Eve, when he came to deliver a parcel from America. Snowed in and drunk ever since, he was miles away from base with a sack of undelivered mail.  The snow hurt his eyes and he moved from the window and sat on the bed. Voices sounded below and he put on his cap, straightened his tie and descended the ladder from the loft to the kitchen.

”God Bless ye!” he announced.

“And God bless you, M.P.” Nan and Dado said in unison.

They appeared busy and he wasn’t sure if they were ignoring him or not. He didn’t give it any more thought, and stood in front of the fire. Dado was getting dressed for the Mummers and wore an overcoat turned inside out, polka dot lining exposed. He was the postman’s age, sixty-two or three, but twice his size. Nan was as big as her husband and fussed around him, crisscrossing ribbons of green and gold over his shoulders and around his waist.

Hawkins came from the room behind the fireplace. He was responsible for dragging the postman eight miles or more into the back of beyond with a Christmas parcel from America. An innocent-eyed lanky fellow with wild dark hair, he was the couple’s grandson. Known as The Healer, he could cure certain disorders and took after Nan in that way. He was wearing a woman’s dress and a tattered black coat.

”Good morning M.P.” he mumbled.

“God bless you,” hailed the postman.

Hawkins blew notes on a penny whistle while Nan wrapped green and gold ribbons around him. Dado took up a two-row melodeon and vamped a couple of chords that segued into a reel. When the music built up steam, the Missing Postman’s feet tapped and he swirled like a clockwork ballerina and danced sparks from the flagstones. The little man with the snipe legs, bloodshot face and elfin ears, hopped high as popcorn, and stopped in mid-air when the music ended. The old couple and their grandson clapped.

“Come with us,” encouraged Dado, “you’ve great steps.”

”And you might be able to get rid of a few letters on the way,” said The Healer,

“And the fresh air will do you good,” Nan added.

He felt they were psyching him out of the house. Tiny silver stars danced and zinged around his head. He sighed and turned his coat inside out like Dado, an assurance against going astray.

“And maybe I could wear your cap,” suggested the Healer.

“God knows but I don’t know.” he muttered, staring at the head gear Dado offered him: a soldier’s helmet from the revolution.

The Healer pulled a Charlie Chaplin mask over his head and gave an Al Capone one to his grandfather. These were in the parcel that came from America, the youth told the postman. Nan fixed a goose quill to the Missing Postman’s helmet and stepped back to look at them.

“No wan will know ye!” she declared.

Muttering a prayer in Irish, she sprinkled blessed water on them, and sent them on their way to rhyme and roam.

IMG the handThey set off by pony and cart for the Hand, a flat slab of rock where the five roads of the parish met. It was a brisk ride, the pony trotting through the snow to keep warm and the three charioteers sharing a bottle of poitín to shorten the journey. Barren bog land was white and snow capped stonewalls looked like iced scones. The sky was a happy blue and The Healer declared that the world was different today. Dado said you’d know well that all the angels were gone home to heaven for Christmas because the fairies were everywhere.

When they reached The Hand, several musicians were already there. A kettle drummer and a cymbal player beat the daylights from their percussion to welcome them. Bacchus Tobin, robed as a woman with red petticoat and black shawl, waved a holly bush and a money-box.  Nylon stockings pulled over their faces, like terrorists with fiddles, the Softwood brothers and Úaigneas Gallagher tuned their instruments and sounded like a swarm of bees.  Under rouged faces and British bowler hats, Ocras Burke and a hunchback called Awful Sound, danced sean nós on the road. The Hand hummed like a Tibetan temple and young Hawkins’s mind took flight and he burst into an uncontrollable fit of yelling and yahooing.   

The racket stopped when G’way Bawn arrived. Tiny and wizened, he was a piper and rode a small grey pony. Dark and dour as Napoleon, he wore no disguise and looked like a bird crow, with his beaked nose and backcombed hair. G’way Bawn circled them without a word. For a few minutes there was silence and the winter sounds were heard again—cold crow caws, the curlew’s cry and the lonesome lowing of faraway cattle. G’way Bawn raised his right arm and led the troupe west towards the sea.

After a mile or so the mummers came to their first stop—a cluster of thatched cottages at the butt of the Knocknashee hills. To the sound of the kettledrum, G’way Bawn called out:

“They killed the Wran to carry the can,

Up with the kettle and down with the pan,

Give us a penny to bury the Wran.”

Before he had finished, children rushed from houses shouting,

“Mummers! Mummers! The mummers are here!”

The batch trooped through the street in single file— fiddles, flutes, pipes, whistles and melodeons pumping notes, drums and cymbals lashing, holly bush dancing. It was a kaleidoscope of colour, music and mayhem. Children marched behind them and adults clapped and shouted encouragement.  Ocras Burke and Awful Sound danced with wives and daughters, sometimes wheeling them from one house to another. The postman trailed behind, delivering letters and Christmas blessings, consuming whatever he was offered.

The mummers were hailed with drink and thanked with copper and silver coins.  Before they departed, G’way Bawn enticed a tall white haired woman with singing eyes to accompany them. She bundled together a few possessions, shut the door of her cottage and mounted his pony to a rowdy cheer.

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to be continued….


Read a book by Eddie Stack this Christmas


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.

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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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Arthur’s Day: Letter to Arthur Diageo

reen_Shir

Hey Arthur, can I have a word with you? There a few things I’d like to get outta my mind, things that have been troubling me for a while.

You’re a grabber Arthur, you never have enough, and now you want us to celebrate a special day in your honour. You’d like us all to get pissed, puke, fight, crash, hurt our loved ones and abuse those who care for us — just so you can fill your till. It’s bad enough that St. Patrick’s Day is a global piss-up. Fuck you Arthur, we’re not gonna do that shit any more, you’re king of the gombeens and you’ve taken us on a drunken ride for way too long.

flagAnd while I have your ear, Arthur, I’d like to say a few words about the Harp. That was your first grab, you took our national symbol…people marched behind that harp, people died for that harp. And you put it on your brew, giving the impression that porter was our national drink and that it was part and parcel of our make up, our psyche. We fell for that one, fell on the floor, down the stairs to the gates of hell.

You got a lot of nerve, Arthur and you gotta lot to answer for. Like, you’ve made fools of us for centuries, made advertising goons of us in the process. And fuck you Arthur, you hijacked our culture and took our brightest and our best. You made a show of Behan, Kavanagh and Myles. Put your pint in the middle of our music, with The Dubliners and The Chieftains too. ‘Fine girl you are!’ and all that carry-on. You said Guinness was good for us, but that wasn’t true, Arthur, though you didn’t care.

You’re a savvy one, you were way ahead of Don Draper, I’ll give you that. After using the music, you moved on to the GAA. Choice of champions? Have you any shame, Arthur? Didn’t think so. And I hear you’re sponsoring an Arts show on the radio. Time to change the station on that one…

So Arthur, before I go, let me tell you the Irish have moved on. Many of us won’t be celebrating your Arthur’s Day this year. It’s a scam to fill your coffers, and you don’t care about the damage done. We’re sick and tired of you hi-jacking our culture, making slaves and fools of us. Sorry Arthur, we don’t love you anymore. We’ve discovered that a pint of rain is your only man.

Eddie Stack



Click title for Kindle Edition Download: Quare Hawks. This Kindle edition can be read on Mac, PC, iPad etc using free Kindle app

Books by Eddie Stack on Amazon

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Irish Diaspora: The Scattering & The Gathering

51skBtRrXBL._SS500_Back in the late 1990s, Dermot McMahon, a Clare businessman had an idea to put together a book about the county’s emigrants. Called The Scattering, the book tracked 78 emigrants and sent a team of photographers around the globe to snap them in their adopted environment. In 2000, the late President Hillary launched The Scattering at Shannon Airport. It was a fitting and poignant venue, as most had left home from there.
A few of those featured in the book were back for the launch, including Martin Hayes and myself. There was much hand shaking and curious looks from well wishers. There was music, tea and sandwiches and the proceedings were broadcast live on ClareFM. I remember having quiet chat with Martin and we recalled the first time we left SNN and wondered how many more times we would walk under the departures sign. I figured we were the last generation that would leave, emigration was at a standstill and Ireland was doing well…

I was wrong, very wrong. Fast-forward a decade and Ireland had boomed, burst, was on the ropes, reeling from shocking changes. The country was in crisis — financially, politically, spiritually and culturally. The Irish were emigrating again and everyone was broke.

To help the country out of the fix, in July 2009 the government convened The Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh House in Dublin and invited the brightest Irish minds and others who had a Midas touch. It was the brainchild of David McWilliams, enfant terrible of economists and author of a few books on Ireland’s rise to fall. One of the elements that came to the fore most strongly in Farmleigh was the ‘potential for leveraging our cultural identity in support of economic regeneration‘. With this in mind, on March 2, 2010, Taoiseach Brian Cowan appointed Gabriel Byrne as the first Cultural Ambassador for Ireland. Probably Cowan’s most enlightened decision, this was a pro bono job, with expenses and would be for three years.

gabeByrne was a popular choice at home and abroad, and he set to work immediately. He played a central role in Imagine Ireland, a year of Irish arts in America sponsored by Culture Ireland. He organised several events that explored Irish identity, including a retrospective of Irish films at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and a series of documentaries about Ireland at the Lincoln Center. The Irish government invested €4 million in Imagine Ireland. Byrne did background work as well — he spoke with studios and filmmakers about making films in Ireland, and with Liam Neeson he produced ‘James X’, a play by Mannix Flynn about clerical sexual abuse in Ireland. By this time, Ireland had a change of government and when the new Taoiseach, Enda Kenny had harsh words for the Vatican, Mr. Byrne praised him for his courageous stance.

government1In June 2011, while Imagine Ireland was making waves in the US, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs announced that Certificate of Irishness would be available to applicants in the autumn. It was estimated that there were 70 million people of Irish heritage scattered all over the globe and the certificate would be a moneymaker. It would be aimed at those whose Irish ancestry went back beyond their grandparents, those Irish who are not eligible for an Irish passport. The new identification would grant them special tourist and travel deals as well as being a concrete acknowledgment of their Irish heritage. FEXCO, a Kerry-based company would provide the certs in association with the Department of Foreign Affairs.

While we were digesting this news, wondering would the idea fly or flop, a bigger announcement was made. At the Global Irish Economic Forum in July 2011, Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar unveiled The Gathering and told us that: “The Gathering will be a year-long program of events, festivals and fun designed to bring record numbers of visitors…an invitation to the world to come and join in Ireland’s renewal.” (Renewal, Leo? Remember what happened to the last New Ireland?)

The Gathering was predicted to generate an extra $399 million for the Irish economy and would cost $5 million. With an 80 to 1 payback, the government was home and dry. Every town and village in Ireland would be asked to participate in the events, aimed primarily at the Irish Diaspora, as well as people with an interest in the country. Fáilte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn said, “There are a lot of people with Irish connections or a fondness for Ireland who have a vague plan to get here some time — we want to light a fire under them and get them here in 2013.” (Right Shaun, you mean burn them…even before they arrive?)

TradFest And so the show was on the road. The Irish Diaspora was the market and Irish-America was the main target. It’s not known if the mandarins in Dublin had any contact with the Irish Cultural Ambassador, Mr. Byrne about the project. As the year wore on, we heard that: ‘The Gathering is the people’s party. It will kick off in spectacular style at the New Year’s Eve Festival in Dublin and will be celebrated through gatherings of the people and Ireland’s major festivals during 2013.’ (WTF? The people’s party? And the country up to its nose in debt? Was this some sort of ‘pack up your troubles and smile, smile, smile’ routine?)

Gabriel Byrne’s resignation as Ireland’s Cultural Ambassador was a surprise. In an interview with The Irish Times on December 11, 2011, he announced that he was stepping down at Christmas. He had been almost two years in the job and said,
“I just don’t have the time between my career and that.”

The Minister for Arts, Jimmy Deenihan said Byrne made “an outstanding contribution to the country” in his role. “His inspirational leadership of Imagine Ireland is helping to restore Ireland’s reputation at a critical time, breaking new ground for the next generation of Irish artists and helping them to find new audiences for their work in the US…The doors he has helped to open for Ireland and Irish artists in America this year offer huge opportunities for the years to come.”
That was the last we heard about Gabriel for a while.

The Gathering preparations went full steam ahead in 2012. Jim Miley, former general secretary of Fine Gael, was appointed as Program Director on a €168,000 salary. An ad agency was commissioned to spread the word and ads began to appear like spring snowdrops in newspapers and magazines that might be picked up by The Diaspora. On the ground, communities were encouraged and cajoled to create events, invite long-lost cousins home from Texas. 2013 would be The Year of The Irish. We were told that the world was coming to Ireland and urged to be a ‘part of it.’ Discover Ireland crooned: “Irish roots. Tall tales. A love of everything about the Emerald Isle, from Molly Malone to fields of green. Whatever the reason, come to our fair land for The Gathering 2013 and you’ll be part of something special.” (Something special? A heat wave?)

The first time I saw The Gathering logo I was reminded of a light show at a Mr. Floppy rave in San Francisco, late 1980’s. I thought the thing was alive and quickly looked away. But it became ubiquitous. The online edition of The Irish Times had several on its home page, same with other publications. Using this retro-techno version of our sacred triple spiral as a branding tool is distasteful at the very least…it may not bode well for The Gathering. Bad vibes from the ancients…
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The Gathering campaign was officially launched in the US on September 22, 2012. Táiniste Eamonn Gilmore and Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar came to New York to do the honours and to give out a few Certificates of Irishness. Irish-America was invited back to Ireland for a big hooley. You could come anytime of the year, it didn’t matter because the Irish were up for the craic 24/7. There was no sign of the former Cultural Ambassador at the event. And the bad news about the Certificate of Irishness was kept under wraps. In one year, just over 1,000 of the potential 70 million clients had forked out €40 to have a framed computer generated page on their wall. Did the government get it wrong about the Diaspora? Is the Diaspora smarter than the government thinks?

During the run up to the American Presidential election, TodayFM was broadcasting The Last Word with Matt Cooper live from New York. On November 5th, Gabriel Byrne was a guest on the show and dropped a few bombs. He said The Gathering was ‘a scam’, a ‘shakedown’ of the Irish Diaspora. Talking about his work as Cultural Ambassador, Byrne went on to say the he was “really disappointed the way all those contacts, all that hard work was just dropped and it really made me disillusioned and disappointed with this Government who go on about their love for culture, for arts and actually really don’t give a toss about it.”
The former Cultural Ambassador had gone rogue.

The Government and The Gathering heads and the tourist handlers went nuts. Project director Jim Miley denied the plan was a shakedown, and said while Byrne was “a man we all know and love, and he has his opinions — they are one man’s opinions”. Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar said: “the response to the Gathering has been really great in America” and then described Byrne as “popular with women of a certain age group” (WTF, Leo?) TD Michael Ring called Byrne ‘unpatriotic’. The only politician who came to Gabriel’s defense was President Michael D Higgins. He said Byrne was a “magnificent Irish person” who merely wants the Government’s flagship tourism initiative – which he branded a ‘scam’ – to have a deeper connection to the diaspora. Then somebody leaked Byrne’s expenses to The Irish Times. During his term, Gabe chalked up €15,845 for hotels, flights and chauffeurs. So what? He was doing the digging for free. I know a former county councillor who ran up twice that amount in a year and all he did was go to cattle marts and funerals. The expenses ‘leak’ overshadowed news that the government was pumping another $5 million into the The Gathering.

Byrne’s comments about The Gathering were widely reported. They struck a chord, both with the Irish at home and abroad and people began to wonder about this yearlong celebration. They frowned at the ads. The campaign seemed on the sick side of slick. The photos looked odd. We were being branded. Mad men showing the world what we were not like. This was the ‘Renewal’ that Leo mentioned. Discover Ireland horsing out crap such as “Gather ’round everyone – time to talk about The Gathering. C’mere and we’ll let you in on something. We’re planning something big. BIG big.” (oh Sweet Jesus…)

The Gathering organisers are active in social media and recently a picture of a Gathering ‘trad music session’ went viral among Irish musicians. It was a cheese-smile photo, clearly staged by models and day runners. There was not a genuine musician among them. How they held the instruments showed they were from Central Casting. Although The Gathering has given funding to the Willie Clancy School and other worthwhile events, it has already riled musicians and artists.

A recent thread on Twitter about the year-long celebration brought mostly negative comments —
“Gathering feels like a grubby moneymaking racket. We’re citizens, not commodities.”
“it seems like we’re pimping out our heritage and pimping off the emigrants.” “I don’t like how the politicians are promoting it.”
“the campaign is embarrassing and outdated. This event has no connection to either Ireland or the diaspora.”
“Anybody returning for the gathering is an idiot as it shows they support the morons running this country.”
Hmmmm…

Being still part of The Scattering, I came home to Ireland for Christmas. The Delta flight from JFK to Dublin was full and almost all were ex-pats. These were part of The Scattering, a much different tribe from those expected to attend the Gathering. Entering the arrivals hall in Dublin I felt a gush of welcome. Hundreds of smiling faces, everyone there to welcome Paddy and Biddy home. A boombox played Fairytale in New York, some sang along and a guy waved a sign that read GODOT. Screams of joy and hugs and kisses, nobody has a welcome for their own like the Irish. If only The Gathering could bottle that, the Yanks would never leave.

When I got home, junk mail about the Gathering was there before me. Every house in Ireland received the same. The photos were frightening — models with horse teeth smiles and the mind altering logo spattered everywhere like bird shit. One piece included two postcards invitations which we were encouraged to mail ‘to a friend or loved one overseas to come and visit Ireland in 2013’. All one had to do was affix a stamp and drop in the mail. The mailer said ‘It’s up to you.’ so I hung it on the wall to bulk up the Christmas cards.
Taoiseach---Tanaiste-launch-The-Gathering-Ireland-

Last night a few of the lads came to my place for a session. It was stormy and wet and I had a good fire blazing. We sat around and played tunes for a while, then drank tea and chatted about gigs and stuff like that. Sneezer frowned at The Gathering card over the hearth and said,
“Every house I’ve been to over the Christmas has these shagging cards on the wall like fugging Post-it Notes.”
“I’ve them on the wall too,” admitted Murphy, “I got no Christmas cards this year. Email has fucked all that up.”
“I can’t think of anyone to send them to,” I said.
“Me neither,” sighed Murphy, “I was half-thinkin’ of sending one to the ex, but she might take it up wrong…”
We were silent for a while and then Sneezer took flight.
“It’s a pity that poor ol’ Hunter Thompson passed away,” he said. “If he were alive, I’d arrange that hundreds of invites were sent to him. Hundreds. You know, do a lil’ fundraiser for the postage. I mean, it’s up to us…and the government want the world to come to Ireland, why not invite Hunter? He loved a good party and was always up for the craic. He’d stay for the whole year,so he would. Hunter’d light plenty fires, drink whiskey, back horses, buy drugs, make loud noises, shoot his AK47 at stop signs, lop a few grenades here and there and frighten the crap out of politicians and civil servants. They’d probably deport him, you know…but he would make The Gathering a memorable one.”
Murphy nodded and said,
“Maybe Hunter would be the only one that showed up. I’m getting worried that nobody is posting these fuckin’ cards to anyone.”
Me too.



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Return Journey

It always warms me at how easily I slip into Irish mode, a jigsaw piece slotting back into the puzzle, just like I never had left. A day or two back home and my friends begin to drop by. Some call during the day, others at all hours of the night. Some text beforehand: ‘welcome back. R u up 4 a visit?’; ‘passing Fitz’s cross. Put on the kettle’; ‘heard you home. Will drop in for quick chat’. Others just arrive at the door, bearing smiles and gifts. Artists, sound engineers, boatmen, relatives, ladies in waiting. All good friends, the fabric of my life.

Our cottage was built in 1798, The Year of the French. It has been re-roofed and revamped a few times since, and there’s a lot of history and a feeling of good vibes between its 3-foot thick walls. Antoine Ó Raifteiri the poet spent many nights here on his rambles around Kiltartan. A century later, Yeats cast his eyes on the ground as he passed the door on his daily walk from Toor Ballylee. The first ever outside broadcast of Irish traditional music was made here, when Ciarán MacMathúna recorded Joe Cooley, Joe Leary, Milo Mullins, Mike Fada Fahy, Dolly Furey (his future wife), and others. The ‘new’ flagstone floor in the living room came from Russell’s quarry in Doolin and was quarried out by my sons Aindrias and Éamon, under Gussie Russell’s tutelage. When I had very little going for me in America and other parts of the world, thoughts of my little flag-floored cottage kept me keeping on.

Inside the décor is boho San Francisco cum traditional Irish. An adventurous son painted one of the doors in Rasta colours. Another door came from an old Protestant church and has two stained glass panels. The pews in the kitchen came from the same church. The living room is cluttered with books, shelves of cds and bric-a-brac from thrift stores in San Francisco’s Mission. From the stairway hang laminates from festivals and memorable gigs, a fiddle bow and a fishing rod. We have a stove in the stone hearth and the tiled wall behind it was inspired by a cafe wall in Barcelona. On the walls there’s art by Phillip Morrison, Ted Turton, Mick O’Dea and my son Jamie. There’s a 1950’s kitsch couch and armchair that I bought from a farmer in Tulla, and an old sugán chair that came from Doolin. When there’s a half-set being danced, most of the furniture is put outside in a hurry.

Here, the light wakes me early in the morning. There are no human sounds, just birdsong. Finches, blackbirds, thrushes and more I can’t identify. There’s the cooing of wood pigeons, chattering magpies and caws from the rookery down the road. After breakfast I go for a walk. This is the land of lush meadows, verdant trees of every variety, rabbits, hares and foxes. I’m the only human about and stroll the boreens, halting now and then to look at the dew on the fields, the bees and the blackberry blossoms, the swallows and swifts dancing overhead. Nature in its element, timeless and perfect.

At a certain part of my walk, I can see the Burren in the distance. The grey sleeping mountains are worth their weight in gold. The Burren is calming, an anchor to the long ago. It gives out protection and a feeling of connection. When the weather is warm and water is scarce, the wild goats come down from there and head this way. There are little streams and small ponds around here, and the herds drink from them in the early morning. When I meet them they stare at me as if to say ‘WTF are you doing here?’

Joe Cooley

We have an old half-door— the bottom half used be closed to keep the hens out, and the top left open to let in light and fresh air. From the door we can see the hills of East Clare and Mahera Mountain: Martin Hayes country. We probably can see each other’s houses with binoculars. East Clare music flows all the way over to here. In the meadow beside the cottage, Seán Reid of the Tulla Ceili Band once asked Joe Cooley if he’d play with the team that night. Cooley was making hay with Mike Fada Fahy and had a pitchfork in his hand.
“Why wouldn’t I?” Joe said and plunged the fork into the ground. He walked away from the meadow with Reid and went home to get his accordion.
“That was the end of Joe and the farmin,” Mike Fada used say.
A turning point in a man’s journey that breathed new life and vibrancy into Irish traditional music. In this place, tunes and stories, poems and songs surround me. This is home, back to the roots, ar ais don draíocht.


Joe Cooley photo courtesy of Cooley-Keegan CCE, San Francisco


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Pure Clare — the Flanagan side of my family

My great-grandmother was Máire Ní Ríada, from Moher, in West Clare and she married Pádraig Flanagan from the hamlet of Barr Trá on the other side of Liscannor Bay. The O’Ríadas were a musical family, as were the Flanagans, and both were staunch Irish speakers. At that time, there were seven Flanagan families in Barr Trá and their ‘taoiseach’ was Murt Mór, Pádraig’s father. They were a tight knit clan, fishermen and small farmers, black haired and genteel, and partial to fun and sport. They were cynically called the ‘Barr Trá Gentry’ by their English overlords, who they refused to kowtow to.

Pádraig and Máire’s wedding took place at her house in Moher, and seven currachs of Flanagans rowed across the bay for the celebrations. They came ashore in Clahane, a mile or so from the O’Ríada house. Other guests walked the 10 miles by road to get there. The Barr Trá Flanagans were related to the Doolin Flanagans (also musicians) who were there in force and the wedding must have looked like a meeting of the clans. The celebration was said to have lasted two days and nights with much music and dance, songs and stories.

When it was time to return to Barr Trá, the sea was choppy and the Flanagans stood at the shore in Clahane and looked out at the breaking swell, near where the sunken village of Killstiofín lay. Men spoke in whispers and Murt Mór pulled a fistful of grass from the ground and tossed the blades in the air to see how the wind was blowing. North east and swirling. Not great weather for being on the sea. The sky was darkening and they decided to and make a dash across the bay. They figured it would be safer for the women and the older men to walk home along the coast road and Máire blessed her husband and watched the currachs launching. The crowd waited on the shore at Clahane until the boats had ploughed through the breakers and into the open sea. They said prayers for their safety and walked up to the road and headed for home.

By the time the group had reached the village of Liscannor, it was raining hard and they couldn’t see beyond the breakers. They proceeded to Lahinch, and took the cliff road to Barr Trá. It was a slow walk, hampered by wind and rain. Every now and then they looked out to sea, but there was no visibility. It was dark when they reached home, the men had not arrived, and the village worried.

The Barr Trá people built a bonfire on a height above the shore to guide the currachs to safety. They doused it with kerosene and the flames danced wild in the wind. The women looked to sea and said prayers for the seafarers. Old Murt Mór and his friends smoked pipes and muttered. They knew it was a terrible night to be on the sea and they feared the worst.

Four hours passed before the first currach came ashore. The shattered boatmen brought tales of mountainous seas and the dreaded reefs of Killstiofín. It was their fear that the sunken village would rise from the depths and take them down, as was known to happen back then. They said the currachs were scattered like the Spanish Armada and they had lost sight of the others. More prayers were said and more turf was fed to the bonfire.

One by one, five more currachs arrived with drenched and weary men who said they had never been on a sea so wild. Then there was a lull, and hope was fading for the safety of Pádraig and his men. By dawn the sea had calmed, and a black speck was seen way out in the ocean. At last Pádraig made the shore with his crew, after nearly 12 hours at sea. The men were hugged and blessed and Pádraig took my grandmother to her new home. She boiled the kettle while he undressed and dried himself. She was going to make tea, but Pádraig got a bottle of poitín from a cupboard, so she made hot punch instead. He said he was saving that bottle until he had something to celebrate, and today was the day.

The newly weds were still in bed that night when the Strawboys came rapping at their door. It was party time again, and Barr Trá lit up for a mardi gras. There were celebrations to welcome the new bride, and to thank the sea for not taking the 20 and more Flanagan men who had gone to bring her home.

Barr Trá by Phillip Morrison

Pádraig and Máire had eight children, of which seven survived into adulthood. My grandmother Susan was the youngest and played fiddle and concertina. True to her roots, she became an active member of Cumann na mBán during the War of Independence. After the Rineen Ambush on 22 September 1920, the Black and Tans burned the town of Lahinch, including the Flanagan house on Main Street. Susan’s boyfriend Mick Lehane, a local IRA commander who was wounded at Rineen, and her sister Bridget perished in the blaze. Susan escaped through a hail of bullets, and was declared an enemy of the Crown for her part in the aiding the IRA and more. She went on the run and months later, arrived in Philadelphia in Feburary, 1921. From there she went to New York where three of her sisters lived and became active in the Biddy Earlys, the Clare branch of Cumman na mBan in NY. She told me that for years afterwards, she woke up with nightmares of that horrific night of The Burning.

The Golf Hotel, Lahinch —where British Army officers stayed and played. It was mysteriously burned down in the 1950s.

Susan returned to Ireland with Sinéad de Valera after the Treaty. She arrived home to the Civil War and seeing old friends shoot at each other disillusioned her. She wanted to go back to New York, but her mother pleaded with her to stay. She did, and got married a few years afterwards. Thirty years or so later I was born in West Clare, her first grandchild and the fourth great-grandchild of Pádraig and Máire Flanagan.

A few years ago, my son Aindrias was playing at an Irish trad session in Sydney, Australia. The session was led by an accordion player from Moy, near Barr Trá, an older man who didn’t take to easily to strangers joining his gig. When he left down the accordion to get a drink, Aindrias played a few tunes on the fiddle that he had learned from me, tunes I got from my grandmother Susan. After he finished, the accordion player cried, “Hey! I know who you are now! You’re Flanagan from Barr Trá!”
Aindrias carries their music and their dark looks. Goes to show you can’t beat breeding, as they say in West Clare.

I heard the story of my great-grandparents wedding and the aftermath from the late Micheal Flanagan, from near Spanish Point, who was from one of the seven Flanagan families of Barr Trá. It came back to me during the week and I thought it better to write it down before it left my mind again.


images courtesy of Clare County Library and Phillip Morrison


Books by Eddie Stack

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The Reflections: doing our bit for Ireland

The Reflections were not a tourists’ band; we didn’t have a broad repertoire of waltzes, ballads, come-all-yahs and the other stuff that tourists can clap hands to. So we were a bit apprehensive when Aughty Taw announced that he had such a gig for us. It was a default gig: the original band had a double booking and a panicked hotel manager got in touch with Aughty. He said it was a lucrative job and there would be a free bar at the event. That clinched it.

It was in a venerable hotel in Ennis on a July Saturday afternoon, and we had nothing else to do that day, apart from an unplugged gig at Johnny Burke’s in Spanish Point later in the night. Johnny’s was a ‘trad and beyond gig,’ low pay, hi-jinks and free porter. We had fans down that side of the country and the plan was to camp out afterwards near the beach, have a bonfire and whoop it up until maidin geal. I was looking forward to that more than the tourist reception.

Tires the Roadie got the loan of a pick-up truck and brought drums, keyboards and other gear to Ennis; the rest of the outfit traveled with Aughty in a little green mini which was used to running on empty. On the way, I began writing out a set list. ‘Lovely Leitrim’, ‘Rambling Rose’, ‘Goodbye Johnny Dear’ and so on. I knew the melodies and would ad-lib the words as per normal. Aughty suggested instrumentals he could do on sax or clarinet — ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling’, ‘Moonlight in Mayo’, ‘Christmas in Killarney’ and the likes. If worse came to the worst, he volunteered to croon old chestnuts like ‘Gentle Mother,’ ‘The Mountains of Mourne,’ and other vintage numbers. On whistle and fiddle he would play jigs and reels to give them a bit of diddly-eye candy. We had it all sorted by the time we passed through Inagh. Though we had never played these numbers before, we would ensure the tourists were happy campers.

Aughty said, “Jaysus lads, it’ll be a piece of cake. Money for shag-all and free drink for the boys. Sheo! It’ll set us up nicely for Johnny Burke’s — where, if we play our cards right, we’ll get more drink agus go leor ladies. Sheo!”

We echoed a chorus of “Sheo! Sheo! Sheo!” and Drummer Hill rattled on an empty petrol can with two coins.

We got to the hotel on time and Aughty met the manager, who brought us upstairs to the function room. I was taken aback by the size of it. The bandstand was in the corner opposite the bar and there were dozens and dozens of tables around the room. At the back, a team of chefs were setting up a banquet and I wondered if we had bitten off more than we could chew.

As Aughty had sourced the gig, he was the de-facto bandleader for the show. He called the shots. Tires set up the gear with Killoran and Drummer, and Aughty and myself massaged the set-list at a table. A waiter appeared and asked if we’d like a drink. I ordered a pint and Aughty said he’d have a brandy and port, with a pint of Harp. I gave him a sharp glance, indicating that it was a bit early to be hitting the hard stuff. He just muttered ‘Sheo!’ and jingled coins in his pocket. Shortly, we were joined at the table by the rest of the lads and we went over the set-list.

I don’t know how much we had drunk by the time the tourists arrived into the room, but it was a lot even for a Saturday afternoon. I remember the invasion of oddly dressed people, baseball caps, cameras, perfume, blue perms and ill-fitting toupees. They were mostly middle-aged and older, American, German, Asian, British. Hundreds of them. Ten busses, a waiter said. Reality shifted. We were in a Fellini movie. Killoran, now verging on speechless, leaned towards me and muttered best he could,

“I don’t…I…I don’t think we’ll get away with this one.”

The manager had requested that we play while the visitors dined and we took to the stage when a gong rang. Sax hanging from his neck, Aughty frowned at the set list and said, “Achtung! ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling’. 3-4 time, two sharps. Over and out.”

We had a wobbly start but got it together after the first verse. I looked around and Drummer nodded, so did Killoran, we were in the groove and it was mellow. Aughty was playing fluid as a river and all that was missing was Bing Crosby. I was next up with ‘Lovely Leitrim,’ followed by ‘The Boys from the County Armagh.’ The visitors clapped cautiously and we ploughed along with ‘Katie Daly’, ‘The Butcher Boy’ and god knows what else. The clapping got louder and people came closer to have a look at us.

An American woman asked if we knew ‘Danny Boy,’ and Aughty said,

“Yes indeed, madam, and it is one of our all time favourites.”

He gave the usual commands, then blew a funky version of the song on the sax. It was a stand-out performance, totally out-there stuff, blues on the green, pure magic. Killoran took a solo on the ivories and Aughty gave a back-beat on a tambourine. He nodded to me to take a solo, and I went to the mic and spoke the words, like I imagined Van Morrison would do — “Oh Danny, Danny-Danny Boy…the pipes, the pipes, yeah man the pipes are calling…” I made up most of the rest of the words but the crowd didn’t mind, and clapped enthusiastically when I finished my piece. Then Aughty topped off the number on the clarinet and we got a huge applause.

The Asians were the first to twig that Aughty was a star and they gathered around the stage and took pictures of him. The attention sent him further out there and he took up the fiddle and blasted out a set of rocky reels. It was a Reflection’s gig like no other and we morphed into a Clare version of Horslips cum Fairport Convention. The tourists loved it and danced and pranced like Deadheads. We just couldn’t go wrong and Aughty controlled the show with commands like:

“Five-four on the two-eighty. Engines ready. Check, check. ‘Thank God We’re Surrounded by Water.’ Visibility good, prepare for takeoff.”

And away we’d go. Everything we did was a hit and so I asked Aughty if we might chance ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. I figured it would be awesome to have all the Yanks and the Germans, the Asians and everybody else sing ‘How does it feel? How does it feeeel..’ Aughty was horrified and said,

“Jesus, H Christ…is it daft you are? There will be no fucking Bob Dylan played at this engagement. I’m in the fucking cockpit!”

I was sorry for asking and drained a pint in two slugs. Then he had me sing ‘I’ll Tell My Ma,’ and as a peace-offering he funked it up a bit and that was as near as we got to Bob.

The evening flew and we hadn’t time to drink all that we got. After the show, we spent a good half-hour having our photos taken with giggling tourists. We smiled for Ireland and everyone was happy. Aughty was really spaced out and spoke to the foreigners in his own lingo. They were all enthralled, apart from the Germans. He did dodgy tricks for them with a pint glass, and tried to do somersaults and cartwheels on the dance floor. It was a comic attempt, money spilling out of his pockets before he crumbled into a laughing heap. The visitors clapped and laughed and photographed him. He could do no wrong, no matter how he tried. Up the Republic.

We dismantled the gear and packed away the instruments. Tires helped Aughty down the stairs from the function room, but he got wedged into the corner of a landing and became stuck. How we got from Ennis to Spanish Point, I don’t know.

Talty the Roadie was there before us and frowned when he saw Aughty stagger into the pub. We were late, we were banjaxed but the show had to go on: Johnny was a cousin of mine and family pride was at stake. I switched to lemonade to sober up a bit. Seeing our state, Johnny produced a huge plate of grilled sausages and said, “Ate up lads.”

Somehow or other we rose to the occasion, Aughty got a second wind and though all he could say was ‘Sheo!’ he played whistle and fiddle as good as the best. Killoran tinkled on a piano; Drummer beat bongos and bodhran, I rattled away on the mandolin and gave a few songs with the guitar. When our fans gathered, the bar revved up to ninety and we played anything that came into our heads. We were blasting out ‘Hey Jude’ — the long version — when the cops came, cleared the pub and told us to go home. Nah-nah-nah-nanan-an-nah…

Miltown Girl and a few of her mates pitched the tent for us. Fellas brought driftwood up from the shore and made a bonfire. Killoran and Talty came with crates of drink; Tires rolled joints and a few of the local heads gave him a hand. I lay on my back and looked at the stars, listened to the the surf lapping on the shore below. It was a beautiful night, surrounded by friends and happy ghosts, a salty freedom in the air. It had been a long day, but we did Ireland proud. Aughty played ‘The West Clare Reel’ on the whistle, and Miltown Girl sat beside me and rubbed my head.

“Hey you,” she said, “how did the Ennis gig go?”

“It was a bit of a detour,” I replied, “but they’re always the most interesting ones.”

“How about taking another detour?” she asked, pulling me to my feet.

We linked each other down to the beach and walked between the sea and the starry sky. From the bonfire came whoops and screams of merriment. Aughty blew a few notes on the whistle, Killoran strummed the guitar and the revelers sang Dylan’s ‘Mighty Quinn’. Then Drummer sang ‘Lay Lady, Lay’ and Miltown Girl and myself danced close and slow under the West Clare sky; danced until long after the music had stopped.


Books by Eddie Stack

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From Bob Dylan to Clare Sets

The Reflections had neither a rehearsal space or sound equipment. We just had our instruments, and we hired out gear when we gigged. I never remember us having any formal rehearsal, apart from what we did in venues when we got there early, which was rare.

We were North Clare latchicos, playing songs most people never heard of. And when we did popular stuff, we put our own twist on it and that was always different. Officially we were a four piece unit — Brendan Killoran on piano and keyboards, Johnny Rockett on bass, Jimmy ‘Drummer’ Hill on the sticks and me on electric guitar. Most nights we were joined at some point by a ‘ghost’ fifth member, Aughty Tá, an older multi-instrumentalist from Ennistymon. Aughty played sax, flute, piano, whistles, fiddle, clarinet and saw. Sometimes he just joined us for the National Anthem and the booze up after the gig. Other times he could be at the venue before us, ready to rock and roll, in a blue blazer from Micky Hogan’s band. You never knew how the night could go with with Aughty Tá.

Unwittingly, we were Clare’s poor version of the Grateful Dead. Like them, we arrived late and took a long time to set up. Sometimes band members were a bit canned or maybe well canned, when we hit the stage. Occasionally our starts were disastrous, and we had to stop and begin the number again. But it was all part of the show, and our fans forgave us. And like the Dead, we had long solos that could go anywhere, especially if Aughty was on board. He was a genius to improvise and go ‘out there’.

Ennistymon used have a Happy Family Festival back in those days. It was held in July and the pubs stayed open legally until 2am. The town used be mobbed every night. There was a huge white marquee in Blake’s Field and the showbands played there. Open air dancing was held in the town square, where ceili bands played on a stage. Fr. Easton, a hip padre, asked The Reflections to play for a teenage hop in the marquee one Wednesday night. He offered us twenty pounds, to play from 9pm to midnight, and we agreed. By Aughty’s calculations, that was at least two hundred pints.The same night, the Kilfenora would be playing in the square, and there was sure to be a huge crowd in town. We were looking forward to the gig. We’d be finished early and in good form for a bit of craic.

The Reflections had two roadies at the time: Talty the Vet and Tires O’Dwyer. Talty had a grey Ford Anglia estate, reg number DIE 999. His parents also had a grey Anglia Estate with the same reg. Anyway, he was in charge of things electrical and Tires’ job was to make sure the gig went smoothly, by opening bottles of beer and cider, and rolling spliffs for the band. Tires was a cousin of Aughty Tá’s.

On the afternoon of the gig, Talty and myself went to rent the sound gear from Mr. Tierney in Corofin, a local genius who had recently built a one-man submarine. Mr. Tierney showed us the craft and told us of his plans to launch the sub in Lake Inchequin. He already had 2 crates of Harp larger for the celebration. Talty said we played a song called ‘Yellow Submarine’ and Mr. Tierney smiled and said, “See, everything is connected.” He opened a few bottles and we drank to that. Several more bottles clinked while we listened to him expound on physics, cosmology and hydromechanics.

The rest of the lads were loitering around back-stage when we arrived with the gear. There was a bit of annoyance that we were late and a tad oiled. Aughty said,
“Let there be no panic. Sheo! Sheo and a Box. Galtee, voo!”
I knew he was half-pissed too.

The roadies set up the gear in a hurry, and plugged us in. Father Easton looked a bit nervous and had four frowns ploughed across his forehead. Drummer Hill clicked the sticks and we just hit the groove like turning a tap. We sort of surprised ourselves. Everything was spot on — the sound was just right and the band was earnest and tight. I spotted Aughty playing maracas to ‘Lovely Rita’ and thought, ‘this is going to be a great night’.

In no time at all, we had the marquee hopping, and lashed out all sorts of stuff. We knew the melody and chorus of many songs, but not a lot of the lyrics. Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ was in that zone, but we did it anyway. Killoran played a masterful introduction, swirling on the keyboards, and I invoked Bob, making up the words as I went. The rest of the lads joined in the chorus and so did the crowd. A few girls from Liscannor swayed in front of the stage, screaming “How does it feel? How does it feel?” and that drove us further. I think our version had more verses than Dylan’s one.

The gig was flying, when one of the roadies thought we needed a light show. We were in the middle of a Stones’ number — ‘No Expectations’ or ‘Sweet Lady Jane’ — a slow, check to cheek song anyway, when I noticed activity a little away from me. Tires was standing on a beer barrel with a black cable, which was strung with colored bulbs. Soon a string of flashing lights ran across the top of the stage, with a huge Christmas Star shimmering in the middle. We went into another orbit.

Whoever was ‘doing’ the lights — switching then on and off — couldn’t keep time to the music, and Drummer Hill got pissed off by the distraction. But it’s hard to tell a roadie anything. Eventually the light switch burned out and everything returned to normal on stage. Johnny Rockett sang a Doors’ number and the drummer did “Sunny Afternoon,” by the Kinks. We were back in the groove.

Just as I twanged the opening of the Beatles’ “Revolution,” the light show began again. It was horribly out of time, and I shouted at the roadie to stop. No good. When Aughty did a searing sax solo, I smelled electrical discharge and looked around. I saw a spray of sparks coming from behind the stage, like there was welding going on. Everyone else seemed oblivious, as if it was part of the show. Aughty stood on one leg like a yogi, eyes closed and he blew his heart out. Suddenly there was a boom, total darkness and a little sizzle. Then confusion.

The audience began foot stamping and shouting, “We want more! We want more!”

But there was nothing we could do. It was an emergency beyond the band’s control. A man from the Festival Committee appeared in a hurry with a long silver flash light and announced that the gig was over and told everyone to go home. Two cops arrived and shouted “Home! Home!” Then Fr. Hannon and Fr. Easton rushed into the tent with flashlights, and escorted the audience outside. The Committee man fecked us out of it, said we couldn’t play for nuts and our shit had blown the town’s electrical transformer. We had plunged Ennistymon into darkness. He was drunk, and Aughty told him to shag off before he banjaxed him. Fr. Easton passed me twenty quid and sighed ‘thanks’. Then we were left to ourselves in the dark, until Aughty produced a candle from his sax case.

While the gear was being packed away, we finished the beer and smoked a few spliffs. Aughty decreed that we, The Reflections, did NOT blow the town transformer, per se, BUT we may have conspired the circumstances for such an event to take place. He said it MAY have been written in the planets, and that strange stuff could, and DID happen when great music was being played. He reminded us that the crème de la crème were playing in the town that night: the venerable Kilfenora Ceili Band, and us, The Reflections. Timidly, one of the roadies suggested that he might have helped the situation along, because he recalled something going wrong while he tipped two naked electric wires together, to the beat of Revolution.
“Anything is possible,” Aughty conceeded, “Strange things are done in the midnight sun, by the men who mine for gold. Sheo! Sheo!”
I knew we were not far from launch time.

We left the marquee and strolled up the road to the square. The town was in beautiful blue darkness, and night was happy to see us. There were stars in the July sky and candles in every pub. The Kilfenora Ceili Band played on without amplification, warriors that they were. Dancers did sets in the dark and battered sparks from the road stone. It was magical to hear the rousing cheers from the town when the band changed tune, like someone had scored a goal. And they had. We stood listening to the jigs and reels, tapping and shuffling our feet as good as the rest of them. A few West Clare girls who had been to our gig, dragged us out for a set. From Bob Dylan to ‘The Pigeon on the Gate’, in no time at all. That was Clare in those days. Music had no boundaries. We were all tuned in, in some inexplicable way.

The Kilfenora Ceili Band


(courtesy of Clare County Library)


Books by Eddie Stack

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