Onwards…

a few words of a kind…

Archive for the tag “Yeats”

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


Books by Eddie Stack

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Leprechaun Report

Ireland has a leprechaun problem. Maybe they were always here and I didn’t see them…anyhow, I see them now, they’re everywhere and must be breeding like rabbits because they’ve made their way into our most holy of holy places.

Yeats Tower at Toor Ballylee

Yeats Tower at Toor Ballylee

They’ve invaded Yeats’ Tower at Ballyturn, near Gort, a castle keep which the poet restored and where he lived for some time. It’s a national monument now and run by Fáilte Ireland West. A few years ago it had a small tea room which was a gentle place to linger and soak up a bit of the atmosphere. Nowadays that space has been taken over by leprechauns. They’re all over the shop. Leprechaun key rings, bookmarkers, clocks, socks, tea cosys, leprechaun chocolate, Action Men, Ken and Barbie O’Leprechaun. They’ve come from China and Taiwan and set up camp at the entrance to the Tower, where Yeats forged immortal verse. Who let the leprechauns take over his old home? Have they visas? Could the Czars of Irish tourism have got it as wrong as the other suits— the builders, developers, bankers and clerics? Are the leprechauns keeping people away, sort of like Feng Shui in reverse? Is that why tourist numbers are way down this year?

There’s a nasty leprechaun situation in Clare, in above all places, the Bunratty Folk Park. Now, let it be said from the onset that The Bunratty Folk Park is an authentic experience and Shannon Heritage can take a well deserved bow for the great work they have done in the design, layout and replication of Old Ireland. It’s the prize place, has the look, feel and smell of times past. The staff are friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. It’s a place poor Yeats would be happy to visit, in the twilight, of course. You could see him huddling between the thatch cottages, clutching at snatches of folk wisdom and stories about warriors and golden deeds. Maybe see him alone in the tea room, pecking at apple pie and cream and eavesdropping on the staff. I doubt he’ll venture there ever. It’s a pity, because he’d be a great attraction to the place.

The problem is in the village print shop at the Folk Park. This would seem to be run by a private concern and not by Shannon Heritage. The space is plastered with broadsheets and copies of Cuala Press little prints — famous woodcuts which were published by the Yeats sisters. They have the great WB verses with illustrations by brother Jack.

In pride of place, hanging beside Yeats’ poem The Salley Gardens are sachets of Leprechaun Poo. Yes, it’s disgusting, but regrettably true. They’re for sale…sachets of shit…100% organic leprechaun shit, shoulder to shoulder with the work of our greatest poet. You read the lines Down by the Salley Gardens, my love and I did stray and your eyes stray to the hideous packets of leprechaun dung…

Leprechaun dung by the Salley Gardens

Leprechaun dung by the Salley Gardens

Where is the mind of the person who put Poet and Poo together? What tourist could not be impressed by such an example of the schizoid duality of the Irish mind? When my companion pointed out that there was a basket of Leprechaun Poo on the counter, I bolted from the place, feeling it was infested by them.

IMG_0069There’s colonies in Killarney of course and all sorts of leprechaun paraphernalia for sale. I was especially taken by the Talk to a Leprechaun business cards on notice boards around the town. And of course Killarney is a natural stop for the leprechaun inspired green Paddy Wagon tour busses. There something going on at Ladies View on the Kenmare road as well.

Dingle would want to watch it. This once proud Gaelteacht town has a real bad leprechaun infestation. They’ve taken over most of the joint and have brought a seediness with them and a stench that is much worse than the smell of rotting fish. Sorry, poor Dingle is jaded, commercialised and tardy. I almost had a Jesus in the Temple moment there when I came on a display of leprechauns accordion-synching Irish music, accompanied by monkeys on bicycles…Sharon Shannon bleating from the leprechaun’s speakers and a gold crock awaiting for punter’s coins. Poor Yeats would have a seizure if he knew. When I turned around, I saw a man in a massive leprechaun hat posing for a photo beside a bronze monument to Fungi the dolphin. Heaven and Hell collide in DIngle.

The Leprechaun Quarter, Dingle, Co Kerry

The Leprechaun Quarter, Dingle, Co Kerry

Out west in Dun Chaoin there are no leprechauns. The Irish speakers there are vigilant and they probably have traps set. We did meet a dreaded Paddy Wagon on the coast road though…on the narrow windy stretch by the head…he could have moved in but didn’t. It was a tight squeeze between the bus and my car and the driver rolled down his window and glared at me. Fuck you, I thought and asked,
“How’re you Paddy?”

Even lovely Annascaul has been invaded…there’s a pub there called The Randy Leprauchaun…across the road from Dan Foley’s famous pub, which is up for sale. Sign of the times.

'nuff said...

'nuff said...

Back in West Clare, my cousin Gerry listened patiently to my leprechaun report, shaking his head now and then. Eventually he said,
“Well sure it’s a sign of the times. You’d never see a leprechaun when the times are good. It’s like, now everyone is hoping for a crock of gold. Everyone is looking for leprechauns, that’s why they’re here. It’s the recession. You only see leprechauns when things are up the creek…”

Are we there yet?



photos: Kathleen Sullivan



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Bob Dylan in Dublin: in the shadows of Joyce, Yeats, Beckett, Wilde and Behan.

With Bob, a wedding could be a funeral and vice versa

With Bob, a wedding could be a funeral and vice versa

The Point Depot, or O2 as it’s now known, is not my favourite venue. It’s cold, hard, with the feeling of a huge warehouse or converted factory, which made steamships for the river Liffey that is on the other side of the road. Ok, it has been refurbished, face lifted, jazzed up and renamed, but it’s still a barn of a place with bad acoustics. It’s the biggest indoor arena in Ireland, and it’s where all the big concerts are. After attending few gaga gigs there, I said never again, I didn’t care if Jesus and the 12 Apostles were playing there, but I wouldn’t go.

But then a few weeks ago I got a call from a good friend, he had a ticket to Bob Dylan for me, plus all the trimmings. All I had to do was get to Dublin…being a decades old fan, I couldn’t let Bob down. Memories of all the times I’d seen him over the years flooded into my heart — Dylan and the Grateful Dead in Oakland, CA in 1987…his 1990 US Tour when the Pogues played support and I was invited along for the ride…Tramore, when Van the Ram danced on the side of the stage while Bob crooned Ramona…The Greek Theatre in Berkeley when Neil Young played with him…Bob and Tom Petty in Sacramento…maybe it was somewhere else, the memory is hazy on that one. When push came to shove, I put prejudices aside, and went to see Dylan in Dublin at The Point.
rs dylan

We got to the venue about 30 min before the gig and were fast-tracked inside — connections, you see. I declined the balcony seat and went down on the floor, weaved and wriggled through the throng until I got to within about 25’ of the stage. Everyone was packed close as sardines ahead of me…all ages, the retired parish priest look alike, latter day hippies, girls with the giggles, serious dudes with very serious cameras, a few drunk cork guys wondering where the jacks were. Heavy breathing, perfume and alcohol, everyone waiting for Dylan. The lights dimmed, the punters erupted as shadowy figures crossed the stage and the show began with a bang.

Under a wide brimmed hat, black suit with yellow trim, Dylan, center stage on sunburst Fender guitar rang out ‘The Wicked Messenger’…an odd opening number. The vocals were muddy but the band was tight. Bobby’s voice was unmelodic, croaking, rasping and if you didn’t catch the words you could be forgiven for thinking he was singing ‘God Save The Queen’, or worse. His three guitarists stood stage left, dark suits and hats they were like the Blues Brothers. The drummer thumped as if he was in a stadium and the pedal steel guitarist beside him looked like he was ducking sniper fire from somewhere. They were an odd lot and they packed a steady punch, swampy blues with a touch of the Chicago Chess sound. Although I doubt a vast percentage of the crowd caught five consecutive words that Bobby sang, they went wild.

Tracks: painting by Dylan

Tracks: painting by Dylan

Sidewalk by BD

Sidewalk by BD


There was no word to the audience —he could have been a dumb plumber coming into someone’s house to fix a pipe — he unstrapped his guitar and stood off center stage behind keyboards…The vocals slightly improved and I recognized ‘Girl from The North Country’ from a run of words rather than the melody which didn’t seem to follow even the chord sequence. But what can you say? Bob is an artist, not an entertainer. He rarely does covers of his own numbers, and as they are his own, he’s liable to do anything he likes with them, including deconstructing the melody completely or matching words of one song with the melody of another…something I thought only Shane McGowan could do.

At a Dylan show you have to throw expectations out the window, preconceived notions out the door. Bob doesn’t stand still. He follows a star somewhere in the sky, like the Three Wise Men did long ago, and he relates his experiences to us poor mortal souls. He doesn’t want to be boxed in, labeled, categorized, rest on his laurels. With Dylan, it’s always Onwards, he takes the road less traveled, sometimes making a new road altogether and when people begin to follow, he gives them the slip and branches off somewhere else. You never know what he’s going to do or how he’ll do it, you may not like it nor understand it, but it will nearly always be brilliant and touch a chord, stir the heart, draw a tear and answer an unasked question.

Bob really enjoyed his gig at the Point. I was close enough to the stage that I could see him smile occasionally. He was rocking, vamping those keys and arching his body like a cat that had the cream and more. His guitarists watched him like hawks…. Bob typically rehearses at least 50 numbers with the touring band and they have to be ready for the unexpected, a change of key, a change of tempo, a change of style. That was the common thread running through the Point Gig — nothing sounded like it did the last time we heard him play it. Not even his great old classics — ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, ‘Desolation Row’, ‘Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again’. But they were all brilliant.

there must be some way outa here..

there must be some way outa here..

After every number, he turned towards the audience and gave a slight nod, a hand gesture, then consulted his set list. He took his time, like a guy wondering if he’d have the soup or the salad. Then he had a word with the pedal steel guitarist and we were away on another mystery tour. Bob boogying, throwing out Georgie Fame sounds…creating chaos out of order like one of those musical quiz shows, until a string of words gave away the title of the number. Then the crowd sang along, many times singing the popular recorded version rather than the revisionist track Bob was on. The only song I recognized from the get-go was ‘Blind Willie McTell’, and that was because of signature piano solo intro.

Bob-Dylan@18
The one part of the old Dylan sound that remained unchanged was his harmonica playing. Of course the audience swooned every time he blew the mouth organ. And how he blew it…or bluesed it for ‘Blowin’ in The Wind’. The audience sang louder than the band, but Bobby was singing a different version of the old chestnut…it seemed more relevant, not stuck back in the Sixties, a song for our times, a message between the lines.

Dylan and the band took a bow, he didn’t introduce them, didn’t say one word to the audience during the show. He appreciated his response with a nod and a wry smile, gave a flick of a wave and was gone. He’s got everything he needs, he’s an artist and he don’t look back.

Thanks Mr. Dylan, hope to catch you again around San Francisco in late August.

And Joyce, Yeats, Beckett, Wilde and Behan? I’d say Wilde and Behan would probably have not seen the gig at all, they’d have hung out back stage, drinking their fill and avoiding each other…Behan might have staggered on stage for the encore —uninvited. Wilde would have tried on all Bob’s hats. Yeats would have been furious and stormed out after the first number, raged up the Quays composing a letter in his head for the Irish Times. Joyce would have been scared stiff by the noise and the crowd…Sam Beckett might have tried to persuade him that Bob was a fan and had read Dubliners…Joyce would have said ‘The hat worries me. Does he carry a gun?’
And of course Paddy Kavanagh and Flann O’Brien would have given the whole shebang a miss and hissed at each other in McDaid’s bar…

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Soft day, hard landing…

Just got back from San Francisco a few days ago. It always takes a while to settle into the flow of Ireland after the 18 hour journey, like dipping my toes in the water again…
 
First impression on driving from Shannon Airport was how quiet the road was…much fewer trucks than a couple of months ago, not that many cars and no backlog outside the town of Gort. In fact Gort seemed to have slipped back a few decades, like I remember it in the 1970’s, a quiet  town minding its own business, silently recalling the times when Yeats, Lady Gregory and other scribes did their shopping and worshipping here. In the last decade, the town experienced a huge influx of Brazilian immigrants, plus ‘plane loads of Poles, Lativians and Estonians — all eager to ride the Celtic Tiger. Brazilian stores opened and local shops posted signs in Portuguese, Father G even had a Portuguese Mass for his new flock. Gort hadn’t seen so many changes or such an influx of bodies and cash since the British garrisoned there in the 19th century.

And now the Celtic Tiger and its promise of luxury for the masses has disappeared like the Leprachaun and his crock of gold. It was just an illusion and instead of gold, people are left with sheaves of bank loans and credit card bills. Many of the Brazilians left, others have joined the dole queues, along with the remaining Poles and the disheartened Irish. Ireland is in shock and nobody has any dosh to pay the piper for all the merry tunes he played for the last few years.

Anyway, I stopped in Gort for a few bits and pieces. Two of my favourite shops were closed for the day, so I reluctantly went to the supermarket. The PA brashly announced:
“Shoppers! We have great value for you this week! Pork chops are only €20 a kilo, Cyprus potatoes €5 a kilo. Gaga gin only €20 a bottle…”
Terrible shit to hear after a long haul flight. So I grabbed fruit and bread and went to the checkout, to be served by a bored lady with a ring in her nose and a tattoo on her neck. My bill has €11…about $14. I felt ripped off, because I’d have bought the same goods for half the price in San Francisco.

Rain began to fall as I crossed the car park. I passed two country women muttering about depression. On the car radio talking heads rabbited about the risk of social unrest and secret training that the army and cops were undertaking. Was this the same country I left two months ago?
Instead of an answer, a song played in my head — “I left my heart, in San Francisco…”

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