Philip, Bert, and I boarded our Delta flight in Charlotte with no problems. Philip and I had seats together and Bert ended up beside a nice woman who was just returning from Ireland with stories to tell which we think calmed his nerves. In Atlanta, Sarah Bennett, my friend from Colorado who is helping me sell CDs and T-shirts, spotted us sitting in a café near our gate and all seemed well. Then we noticed on the concourse monitor that our departure time had changed. The flight was delayed by over two hours - Sarah and I played double solitaire on the floor at the gate while Philip picked out melodies on Sarah's banjo uke, and Bert did a little more "training" for his first Irish pint.Thursday, May 4
Mid-morning, we emerged from customs in Shannon with our baggage
carts to find a waiting-weary but smiling Robert whose flight actually got
in a little early. We headed to the Estuary Café for a bite and then
changed a little money and retrieved our rental cars. We decided to go to
nearby Bunratty Castle before getting on the road for Bundoran. A living history
museum, this medieval castle allows visitors to step back in time to try on
the persona of a lord or lady, cook, priest, or unfortunate prisoner. We stopped
in Cort for lunch at a little café on the square - a delicious first
meal in Ireland of aubergine and goat-cheese tart, winter squash soup, and
scones. When we arrived in Bundoran, Johnny Gallagher and his family welcomed
us with big smiles and Irish whisky. Johnny is Robert's friend from the Rain
Dance tour and one of the musicians who is booking us. We settled into our
apartment, took an evening nap, and then went over to The Wharf - the local
club where we are booked on Saturday - to hear Johnny and his band play the
last few songs of the night.
In the early afternoon, we had our first look at downtown
Bundoran. We changed some money and ate lunch together at a local restaurant
where we learned how to ask for ketchup among other things. In the evening,
we drove over to Johnny's studio to pick up the equipment we will be using,
set everything up in the kitchen of our apartment, and rehearsed the songs
that will be hardest to pull off without Shawn on Saturday. Later, Johnny
and his partner, Rosaleen, dropped by and Johnny used my acoustic guitar to
join in on a few tunes.
I found a place in Bundoran with wireless Internet access
- the bar of the Grand Central Hotel. But oddly enough, they expect people
to buy something to eat or drink while there. So, Bert and Philip are now
spending a lot of time in the hotel bar on "band business." The
first gig tonight at The Wharf turned out well. Our new Irish friends came
and brought relatives and friends of their own. Johnny sat in with us on the
second set and the music got pretty wild as he and Philip played off each
other's leads. After we finished our two sets, we all enjoyed kicking back
for a couple of hours with the patrons and staff. The bar has a license to
stay open only until 12:30 am but the authorities don't bother too much with
enforcing the rules at this time of year. It was a very late night but really
fun - the first of many I'm sure!
I woke up with an upset tummy (no, it was not a hangover as I only had one half-pint of Guinness) which gradually worsened as the day went on. So, it was a day to rest and get ready for what will surely be a killer week with two radio interviews and six gigs in seven days. We eagerly await the arrival of Shawn mid-week. He will rent the third car at Shannon airport and meet us at the Breffni Arms Hotel in Arva on Wednesday which will lessen our load considerably - both in packing the vehicles and making music on stage.Monday, May 8
We had a lovely dinner with Sarah's friends, Daphne and Brian
O'Mahony, who live north of Bundoran in Stranorlar (try saying that fast 10
times), before heading over to the Highland Radio station in Letterkenny.
We found our way with no trouble and our host, Packie Keeney, arrived to find
us tuning up in the guest room. We spent a little time getting acquainted
and then we crowded into the control room where he set up the chairs and mikes
for our interview. Although we were originally told we would share the show
with another group, we found out they were rescheduled so we started mentally
preparing to cover nearly two hours of live radio. It went very smoothly and
a highlight was having Shawn call in from his office where he was doing last
minute work stuff before flying out the next day. The guys drove back to Bundoran
after the interview and Sarah and I headed back to Daphne's to spend the night.
We left in the early afternoon for Longford to tape a one-hour
interview on Shannonside Radio and play at the tiny Tally Ho pub. We were
less informed about the format for this show and found out right before we
started that there would be no playing of tracks from the CD. Rather, our
chat and live performances were the whole ball of wax! Things were going swimmingly
until I realized that we might be asked to play any song on the CD with just
two acoustic guitars! The Appalachian traditional song we did a capella with
great success in Monday's interview came in handy as a substitute. When we
arrived at the Tally Ho after grabbing some food, the place was packed and
people's faces were full of expectation about this band from North Carolina.
It felt more like a house concert than a pub gig and the audience was very
responsive calling us back for two encores. Susan Tomelty, an Irish friend
who along with her partner, Steve McGovern, helped book us in the Midlands,
did a Joni Mitchell song with the band that went over very well. The owner
liked us so much that he promised to come to Arva the following night. After
packing up, a weary but happy group drove on a tiny fog-filled road to the
Breffni Arms Hotel where we would play on Wednesday night.
We woke up to brilliant sunshine. Robert's reconnaissance
revealed a nice ballroom with a stage where he assumed we would play. But
after breakfast, we were directed instead to set up at the front of the hotel
bar. This room was slightly bigger than the Tally Ho; however, people entering
the bar had to walk right through the middle of the band with Shawn and me
on one side, Bert and Philip on the other, and Robert and his drums in the
doorway of the restaurant. Now that's what I call audience participation!
Shawn did great even though he was jet-lagged. I must say that this has been
my favorite gig so far - I could hear really well and we didn't have to play
very loud. Steve sat in with us for the first time on piano when we played
Bluest Blues. The audience loved the show!
Sarah, Shawn, Philip and I drove on to Monaghan town this
morning - about ninety minutes north of Arva - while Bert and Robert doubled
back to Carrick-on-Shannon to pick up Steve. Upon entering the town, we encountered
a confusing maze of one-way streets but managed to find the Ashleigh House,
our lodgings for the night. We had the whole afternoon to explore the town
and stumbled onto a very nice, eclectic restaurant. Everything was delicious
from the pizza to the real Greek salads to the Cajun chicken with dough balls
(yeast rolls). Our venue, The Brewery, looked and felt like a rathskellar
and the sound bounced around like crazy. Sarah helped take in money at the
door and added "bouncer" to her job description when one young guy
tried to get himself and his mates in for free. After the gig, we had great
fun singing Beatle and Band tunes with one table of Irish folks, some of whom
were visiting from their home in Florida. And so the Irish and American exchange
of culture continues
Today is the last day of our mini-tour of the Midlands - and another fair day. From Monaghan, we traveled an hour or so through beautiful countryside to meet Susan at a music store outside the town of Cavan called The Music Man (www.musicman.ie). Brendan Ruddy, the musician owner, has done a nice job of stocking the small store and does "one-man-band" gigs. Our venue in Cavan - the Lavey Inn - was a real trip! A very large room with a proper stage, wooden dance floor, and round tables and chairs, it reminded me of an old-fashioned dance hall. Our small but enthusiastic audience was made up of Steve, Susan, Sarah, a few local couples, and some loyal fans from the Arva gig. Through most of the night, we could hear in the next room (and even played along with at times!) an Irish country band called Kay and the Nashville Sound. On the break, I checked out our competition and found a packed house of dancing older ladies and couples. After packing up, we drove back to Bundoran on narrow lonely roads through parts of Northern Ireland- not really a problem these days but still a bit of a rush for us.
Tonight, we played our second gig at The Wharf in Bundoran
with the welcome addition of Shawn's mandolin, guitar, and vocals. We quickly
launched into "Happy Birthday" for Frankie, the owner, when the
lights dimmed and one of the staff brought out a cake with lighted candles
from the kitchen. He came up to the stage to warn me beforehand but I thought
he was saying we were getting a free "keg" as part of the celebration!
We gained another enthusiastic fan who has invited us to her house for Irish
coffee when we return from our mini-vacation to Doolin. Jackie is the sister
of Allan, who I ran into in the foyer of the Grand Central Hotel, who lived
with Jennifer Lieko in Bundoran for two years, who is the American musician
who talked to Bert before we left
you get the picture!!
How wonderful to have a day off to spend with new and old friends! We met my former flame, Patrick Murrin, who is a native of Sligo, at a gas station on the outskirts of town. I first met Patrick when I was living in London and he provided the story about the leprechaun for the song, The Secret. Patrick guided us to a breathtaking view of the islands of Innisfree that inspired Yeats' most famous poem. We also visited a castle in Collooney, now an inn and restaurant, where we hear the ghost of a young girl was spotted only last week. In the evening, we had a wonderful meal of fresh salmon, carrots, peas, and lots of potatoes at the home of Johnny's parents, Sean and Mary Gallagher. After Irish coffee, we all traded songs with Sean, who is a fine traditional and country singer, and with Johnny and his brothers, James and Pauric, until they had to leave for their gig at the Bootlegger.
Monday, May 15
For the next three days, we will get in as much
sightseeing as we can. Today, we headed south to County Clare, renowned as
one of the centers of Irish traditional music. For much of the trip, we retraced
our route from Shannon Airport. After Galway, however, we found ourselves
sharing tiny, twisty roads with big tour buses. We also traveled through the
Burren, a unique ecosystem with a large concentration of limestone and wildflowers,
including some alpine plants. We arrived in Doolin in time to sample the craft
shops and watch the sun set over the Atlantic. We had a wee rest at our B&B
- the Sea View - and as directed by our hostess, left our breakfast selections
on post-it notes in the foyer. Then we headed over to the pub for dinner and
music. In fact, you can hear traditional music every night of the year at
one or more of the pubs in the Doolin area. Tonight's group consisted of a
fiddler, flutist, and concertina player. There was also a young woman who
step danced around the bar when the spirit moved her. Then, a man resembling
Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull got up and sang a couple of songs, inspiring
me to ask if I could do the Appalachian song. The flute and concertina provided
the drone and I am thrilled to have now played with Irish traditional musicians.
What a great day!!
Tuesday, May 16
This morning, we had a tasty breakfast in the B&B dining
room before going down to the Doolin Ferry dock. We had planned to go to the
Aran Islands but the ferry returned to the mainland too late in the day for
us to do anything else. So, instead Bert and Philip had their picture taken
with the ferry - The Happy Hooker. We walked along the magnificent Cliffs
of Moher and shopped for sweaters, scarves, Beleek porcelain, and Guiness
chocolate bars at Lahinch. Then, once they found Shawn's keys, Sarah and Shawn
left for Galway by way of Doolin where Sarah bought a bodhran and Shawn retrieved
a shirt from the B&B (it seems the faeries have been messing with his
head). Bert, Philip, and I headed to Limerick and on to Dublin. In Galway,
Shawn and Sarah had dinner in an Indian restaurant and strolled around the
town before finding a dance hall listed in Shawn's guidebook. The band consisted
of two accordions playing traditional music and there were groups of four
couples doing set dancing - Sarah and Shawn tapped their feet but couldn't
get up the nerve to jump in. Meanwhile, Bert was driving in circles in Dublin
(blame it on one-way streets and my bad directions) but we finally found our
hotel on the Aston Quay by the River Liffey. Bert and Philip set out on foot
to sample the nightlife but the best establishments were either packed or
required patrons to be 21 to partake of the drink - an Irish curse for our
prodigy lead guitar player. They ate dinner at the Hard Rock Café and
returned to the hotel. Well, it never hurts to go to bed early once in a while
even when you're in Ireland!
Wednesday, May 17
Bert got up early and found an elegant hotel with really good coffee and talked them into bringing him a cup out on the veranda. At a more decent hour, Bert and I walked by Trinity College and along Grafton Street looking for an Irish café where we could have breakfast - not an easy task in that part of Dublin. Our group also did tours of the Guinness Brewery, complete with free pints in the observation tower, and the Old Jameson Distillery Museum where we had a great lunch. Back in Galway, Sarah and Shawn went shopping for gifts downtown and found an Irish health food store where Sarah bought yoghurt-covered hazel nuts. And are you not surprised? Both parties found cool music stores to explore in their respective cities. Eventually, everyone converged back in the Bundoran bungalow and we took turns doing laundry and catching some winks before our next three nights of performing. Sadly, Sarah departs tomorrow by bus for Shannon Airport where she will spend the night before traveling home to Colorado on Friday. Although the guys are very secure in revealing their feminine sides, I will greatly miss her company, her smile, and her business acumen in pricing CDs and T-shirts!
We're up and ready in plenty of time to get to Heathrow
for our flight to Atlanta. Only, I discover at the last minute that we're
leaving from Gatwick instead, which is about 45 minutes further away. We've
hired a car so Bert runs out to tell the driver and change more money, and
we depart the tranquility of Kildare Gardens for the motorway at rush hour.
(I wonder why Bert who is sitting in the front passenger seat is so talkative
. I only find out later that our driver had not slept in
18 hours and tacked on this short jaunt to the airport before heading home.)
We arrive in one piece and make our flight with no problem but I don't have
time to pick up the plastic bottle of Powers Irish whiskey I wanted to give
my son, Jesse, for a present. So, it's duty-free Johnny Walker scotch purchased
on the plane for him instead. I guess it's just one more reason to come back
to Ireland as soon as possible!
Dear Music Lover,
Thanks for taking this virtual tour of Ireland with me, Sarah, Bert, Robert, Philip, Shawn, and our Irish friends. I hope you've enjoyed reading this journal and viewing the pictures from our Ireland tour gallery. And I'd like to extend my special appreciation to those of you who listened to the Highland Radio interview and kept in touch during our trip via e-mail. The music we make is not complete without your participation. I thank you from my heart for helping me to do this thing that I love. Please stay in touch.
Brenda Linton and Wee Big Folk
May 4 - 22, 2006
Click this link to view more photos of her Ireland Tour
Celtic Cross by
Friday, May 19
This tour is made possible by the very kind assistance of Johnny Gallagher
of Bundoran and Steve McGovern of Cootehall. Please visit the website of
Johnny Gallagher and his band, Boxtie at www.johnnygallagher.com.