Ireland

J.Brent©1993

Well, if I had a job in a band playing Irish folk, it was about time I went to Erin's green isle to get some first hand experience in the music that had chosen me to play it. Off the ferry in Dune Leary, into the Dublin night. The man at the border asked me why I was going to Ireland. To drink Guinness, of course.

The sessions at O'Donoghue's start at about 4:00 pm. I strolled in at about quarter past, and there was Finnbar as big as life playing his bones with the boys. I was really surprised when he recognized me straight away. "Sit down and have a fucking pint. How ya been keeping?" It'd been over a year since I last saw him in the wilds of Germany, but it wasn't but two tunes before I was right in the inner circle pissing up with the musicians. They're a great lot, it doesn't matter if you're young or old, if you can play you know, you're treated like a long lost friend. We played all through the afternoon, and then we went on a week long crawl.

I asked Finnbar what had happened to that beautiful little girl he had scored that famous night in Cologne so long ago. He got a sad expression on his face and said that she'd stayed with him for almost a year, but "You know it's hard to keep a girl who's that pretty". Yes, I know, believe me I know. But he was glad for the time they had been together. What else can you say?

By the time I said goodbye, I'd met every musician in Dublin and had been to every place that was any place. The one thing I wish I'd been able to do while I was there was get ahold of one of those incredible wooden flutes. But the boys wouldn't part with one to save their life. There's a big, big difference between a silver flute (the only instrument I had with me) and a wooden one. Besides the fingering, wood just has such a warm tone there's nothing that can duplicate it. They do horrible things to their flutes like ripping off all the keys and wrapping them up with tape and such, but oo-wee the sounds they get out of them! I want one, I want one, I want one, but those babies are worth their weight in gold, especially the old ones. That's the thing about wood, if it's well treated and well played it just gets better with age. It has something to do with the regular moisture, and the molecules align with the harmonics or something like that. Often these instruments are handed down over generations, and the best ones can't be had for love nor money.

I moved west across Ireland going from music pub to music pub soaking it all in. It may sound stupid, but the Irish really are the most blessed people on this whole planet. You'll never meet friendlier people no matter where you go. Once I was trying to hitchhike somwhere and the rain came pouring down. I ducked into a doorway, and after a few minutes an old bum ducked under the same doorway to get out of the rain. I remember he had long gray hairs growing out of every pore in his nose, and it occurred to me that he probably hadn't looked in a mirror for twenty years. We struck up a conversation, and somewhere along the way I said to him "Now I understand why this island is so green - It's because it rains all the time", and he said "Well, you know if it weren't for the rain, we'd miss it". So, there you go, that's your Irish logic in a nutshell.

One of the people who picked me up hitchhiking let me stay in his country house all by my lonesome for as long as I liked. It was about 5 miles from the nearest village, and if you wanted water you had to go down to the bottom of the hill and bring it up from a well. This well was just a rocky little hole by the side of the road, and it was all full of moss and really easy to miss. The water was the sweetest you'd ever tasted, but walking a mile up the hill every day with two five gallon buckets of water on either arm can sure tire you out. In the town there was a great pub with a piano I use to play every night for free drinks and tips, and I used to close the place, then piss drunk stumble back to the house. How I sometimes found my way back to my bed was a mystery. The main thing to remember was that you have to go left at the house with the red roof. Then you couldn't miss it, unless of course you walked past the well.

It was September, and they have the annual matchmaking festival in Lisdonvarne at that time. Well, it's a long, long way from Clare to here. But I made my way there, thinking that I just might meet my match. The sessions in the pubs were incredible and I sure was glad that I'd done my apprenticeship in Irish music so that I could join in.

Somewhere in the midst of a drunken haze, I ran into one of your real Irish poet/philosophers (named Jimmy) and his wife. This couple was so friendly that I thought I'd hit them up for a crash. They were there on holiday themselves (over from Dublin) and so they couldn't offer me anywhere, but they told me about the "Irish Arms". After the pub closed, the three of us went rolling down the street, and we arrived in front of a wrecked hotel, which had obviously been closed for years.

I climbed in through the broken window (hoping nobody would see me), and laid my sleeping bag down on the floor of what used to be the bar. I didn't have a flashlight with me and so I couldn't find any place better, besides I was afraid that the whole place was full of drunken bums, so I tried to be as quiet and inconspicuous as possible. Sometime in the middle of the night I got up for a piss, and my foot went stright through the floorboards right up to my knee. It scared me half to death!

In the morning, when the sun was trying to make a dent in the overcast day, I had a better look around. The whole floor of the bar was covered in green slime from the steady drip, drip of years of rain on the leaky roof. Seeing the state of the place (and the floor!) made me realize that I was fucking lucky I didn't fall down into the basement and break my neck. It would've been years before somebody found me!

Apparently the old man had died a few years back, and nobody had bothered with the hotel at all. All the coats and boots were still just where they'd left them and since I needed a coat at the time, I thought I'd see if any were any good. But the moths, spider webs, the dust and the damp had taken their toll. What a place!

In any case, I planned to hang around for a couple of days more and so I looked around to see if there were any more accommodating places to lay my head that night. Up the stairs, it was like a creep show, there were closets full of old clothes, all the wallpaper was falling off everywhere, and there were at least fifty dead cats all over the floors. The cats had been dead for so long that they didn't even stink anymore, and I thought to myself "Home, Sweet Home". I decided that room #7 was the one for me. So I covered my duffel bag with garbage and wallpaper, so that nobody would suspect anything of value was in there, and decided it was time to get some breakfast.

I didn't want to go back out through the front window, just in case somebody (like the local constable) spotted me. So, I went out the back door. There I found myself in the middle of a huge overgrown garden. There were rusty old chairs and a table, and the mass of underbrush made it feel just like some kind of a jungle or rain forest.

And the walls were eight feet tall. "Now", I thought. "How the hell am I going to get out of here without being seen?" I was getting hungrier and hungrier, and my stomach had been churning all night long from an overdose of stout. Finally, I climbed up a tree in the corner, and took a look over the side of the wall. There was nobody around, and I let myself down easy, with only a couple of feet drop to the sidewalk.

And there I was. First off, I was glad I didn't have to lug my gear all over the place with me, and second I couldn't wait to get something to eat. A quick plate of beans, and a little look in the mirror in the pub's loo, and I was a new man. All I needed now was a pint or two.

Nighttime wasn't long in coming. And back at the one pub there was Jimmy and his lady pissing it up again. They asked me about my night in the "Arms", and we all had a good laugh.

That night the electricity went out in the pub in the middle of the sessions. It was a Saturday and the place was packed to the rafters, nobody stopped playing, and the lights never came back on. The manager brought out two or three candles, and the session took on a mystical quality as one musician would play a tune and then there would be a polite silence and then another musician would play a tune and then another. It was wierd because the musicians were seated in different places around the room, and so one minute there'd be a banjo player on one side, and the next there'd be a concertina on the other side. You couldn't see who was playing, and it was dead quiet in between the tunes. For me it was almost like a religious experience, and you could tell that everybody else felt in awe, too.

I ran into Jimmy and his wife again a few times before I checked out of room number 7 at the "Irish Arms". He gave me his address, and we used to write each other and exchange poems. One of his that I liked the best was some kind of an end of the world thing with the line "Oh well, Orwell" in it. I've still got it somewhere.

I decided to hitchhike out to the coast (only 5 kms away), and see the westernmost point in Ireland. It was a balmy day, and I sat in the middle of a heap of rocks playing the flute to myself and the ocean. I remember I was playing "Peggy Gordon", and trying to get that plaintive emotion that makes that tune work so well. The Irish have a technique of bending the notes into each other, which is done by slowly taking your finger off one of the notes on the flute. It works like magic on a penny whistle or wooden flute with no keys, but it's hard as hell on a silver flute.

There was a campground nearby, and I saw a couple of freaks hanging around so after a while I sauntered over to use the bog there. After coming out, I went over to two girls and a guy who were standing next to a Renault with French plates. I said hello to them in French and asked them if they had any dope to smoke. Pretty soon we started talking and they told me that they were on their way back to France. I mentioned that I was going back to France pretty soon, too.

They told me that they thought it was really cool, hearing my flute wafting over the wind with the sound of the waves in the background. It gave them a real romantic feeling. I was just trying to work on my technique, but if they wanted to read romance into it, I sure wasn't going to stop them. You know how the French are!

Before I knew it, they had talked me into coming on the boat with them (you get the same deal with three people and a car as you do with four). And suddenly there I was in the back seat ot their car heading east. Here I had taken two or three weeks to slowly make my way across Ireland, and in just a few hours we were back in Dublin's fair city.

We stayed the night at a friend of theirs who lived in the suburbs. Since we got in pretty late, he just let us in and showed us our beds. Once upstairs, I found that my bed was right next to the little strwaberry blonde I'd been sitting next to in the back seat talking to the whole trip. I reached out my hand, and when her hand met mine, she said "What's that?" I said "It's my hand" (pretty stupid conversation, eh?) and in one sure move, I pulled our beds together, and cuddled right up to her.

At this point, we could already hear the groanings and humpings of the other couple, which helped to make the atmosphere more exciting. She said to me "Do you think I'd just make love to anybody?" I quietly explained to her that I'm not just anybody and then said "Look, Fanoche and her boyfriend Jean are doing the same". At which point she gave in. It was great. Everybody was getting it on at the same time, and it was a real turn on for my little girl to finally get some after she'd been listening to them banging away in their tent for two weeks straight.

Our man gave us breakfast in the morning, and shortly we were on the boat. Naturally me and zee leetle mademoiselle had it off a couple of times in the showers on the way over, rocking to the rhythm of the boat, yow!

When we hit the mainland, it was good to have a camembert sandwich with that long French bread, and smell the smells of France again. The little redhead had to catch a train back to her job in Brittany or somewhere and Jean and Fanoche had things to do too. Fanoch gave me her address in Paris though, to get together some time.

 

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