Ireland visits can be very different

All Ireland visits are as different as night and day depending on the perspective. Most peoples first impression of Ireland is the postcard view and the guide book narrative. This first visit to Ireland is filled with faulty assumptions, wondrous sites, treacherous driving, and surprising discoveries. If your first Irish trip is through a guided tour, you will be slow fed your Irish etiquette by your tour operator. These Irish tour operators are used to the tourist crowd and won’t shun you when you flash your money around, or insist on a picture, or invite yourself into the conversation. The tour operators will provide “Irish music dinner shows” so you can believe you are part of the Irish culture, probably some Irish step dancing thrown in for good measure. But inevitably you will stray from the pack and find yourself in a small pub where Irish pub etiquette is expected, it’s at this moment (hopefully) you will know you are a foreigner in a foreign land. A good friend of mine was offered employment from one of the universities in Ireland. He relayed this story to me to show how the same thing can be very different. My friend Pat arrived at University and there was a reception party to be held, not yet having a car to get around in he required assistance.

Pats co-workers ” Hi Pat did you have any trouble getting here?”

Pat———–  ”No Colleen gave me a ride ”

Co-workers– “Really” (snickering and muffled laughter)

Pat———- “Yes it was a fine ride out, she’s was very nice to help me out” “and she said she could give me a ride all the way back”

Co-workers in  full laughter- ” Really”.

Pat——— “What’s so funny?” (confused)

Well his co-workers eventually told him that he probably got a lift not a ride, as “a ride” in Ireland has a different meaning, and they didn’t want to besmirch Colleens reputation. Hopefully you have figured out what the difference is.

Bantry Bay

Ireland visit to Bantry

Another type of Irish visit and one of my favorite trips to Ireland is the family visit. The hospitality offered can be overwhelming, but it’s sincere, and it’s not unusual for a quick visit to last several hours. It’s important to accept the hospitality given. The three cups of Barry’s tea with biscuits and the answering of questions with the offer of further assistance every five minutes.  An example; I had stopped by my cousin’s In-laws and had almost made it out under 2 hours when I was asked where I was staying. That year I had a nice B&B near the R.D.S. in Dublin, so I told them I was staying in a B&B in Dublin. “Oh Brian what are you doing paying for a place, you’re family, (I’m the cousin of this fellows niece’s husband) you could have stayed with uncle Mike, he lives just down the road from the R.D.S., I thanked him for the thought and that next time I would be sure to stay at Mikes, but the rooms been paid for and it would be a waste to not use it. No matter what, you are treated like royalty, like a guest should be treated. It’s always nice to have a guide, show you the coziest pubs and the decent restaurants. I don’t think I can convey the warmth and welcoming feeling when you are invited into an Irish home.

Favorite Irish trip discovering Ireland

The most adventurous and tricky trip to ireland would be the self directed or self catered tour. You make your own itinerary and are a stranger to each town you enter. This is my favorite Irish trip, each town can be a craicin good time or a quite night out. You need to read the crowd, practice perfect pub etiquette, waiting for the invitation to join the conversation and be content if no invitation is extended. I remember a quiet night spent in Bantry, my wife and I celebrated our anniversary in a nice little restaurant, the only other people in the place were the owners and the chef. We had a pleasant conversation after dinner and it was really very pleasant. The next night we end up in Kinsale, the only tourists in the pub,we are invited into the group, and have a blast singing and carrying on till the wee hours.

When visiting Ireland take your time, you will not see it all, no matter how many times you go, you will not see it all, so take your time. The Irish Blessing gives good advise, enjoy the simple pleasures and blessings are present in each day, just know enough to appreciate them.

Cheers

Irish Folk Musician, Chris Lucas, Johnny Foxes

The Irish music coming out of Johnny Foxes one winter evening was some of the best traditional Irish folk music I had  heard on my whole trip to Ireland some fifteen years ago. The Irish musician Chris Lucas was playing at Johnny Foxes and he was terrific. We got to talking and I have Chris get me a cd so I could submit it to a couple of fellows who distributed Irish music in the states. Chris handed over the recording and with a, you are so full of it shrug, returned to playing his classic Irish folk music. I put the cd in my bag and when I got home made some calls on his account, a few months pass and one of the cd distributors ask if he would be willing to do some personal appearances, that it’s a tough business, no guarantees yadda yadda yadda. So nothing ventured nothing gained, I call the number on the cd case and it’s disconnected, I try to find him in Dublin phone directories, no luck, google him for Irish folk musician Dublin, nothing. I call back my friend at the distributorship and he tells me that it was probably a long shot anyway, let it go.

So time passes and “Troubled Times” by Chris Lucas is one of my favorite Irish music cds and gets full play at the St Patrick’s celebration I have each year. Other lovers of Irish music ask me were they can get a copy and I have to let them copy mine, which kills me because I like musicians to make money on their talent, not have it recorded and given away. My daughter while at Providence College, DJ’d an Irish music radio show on the college station, and wouldn’t you know my copy of Chris’s cd ended up on her playlist, It did sound nice hearing it on the Irish radio station.

Paddy Barry's

Irish Music-Paddy Barrys

Each year on occasion I would google a search for Chris Lucas Dubliner, Irish Music, Irish folk singer, but nothing would turn up. Now this will show how small the world is. This year just before Christmas I’m at Paddy Barrys Pub in Quincy Ma., the best little pub in Massachusetts, and there are several local musicians in attendance. I’m talking with Paul Kenney, An accomplished Irish Musician in his own right, about nothing in particular,when I ask Paul what part of Ireland he is originally from. Paul tells me he’s from Dublin and goes on to talk about some of the parts of Dublin and has some funny stories to tell, so I ask him if he ever heard of an Irish musician named Chris Lucas. “Oh Chris, he grew up two house down from me in Dublin” , I nearly fell off my stool, I ask Paul where has he been for the last 15 years, and he tells me he’s still playing and that he was over in the Boston area a few years ago. I finally did manage to find a youtube video, but I wasn’t sure if it was him, he seemed a lot older than he was 15 years ago.

Cheers

Irish Weather

Irish weather is ever changing. That is the most consistent thing to be said about he Irish weather. I’ve made my fair share of trips to Ireland during the winter months and the funny thing is I enjoyed the grey semi cold days of January. Everything is perspective. One year I left 3 feet of snow and 15 degrees F, to arrive at Dublin airport to 45 degrees F and overcast grey skies. I’m sure people thought I was crazy as I strolled down the Dublin streets in a golf shirt and light pants, but compared to Boston that winter, Dublin was the tropics, heck, the daffodils were already up, a sure sign of spring. The sun occasionally threatened an appearance, but grey was the color of the season. I arrive at my cousin’s inlaws and remark at the beautiful weather, how nice and warm it is, almost 50 F, and am met with faces filled with dis belief, summed up best by my cousins wife.

Irish weather in Dublin

 

Wife –”Geez Brian are you daft”

Me– “No, it was 15 F and I’ve run out of places to pile up the snow.”

Wife– “Cold is it?”

Me– “Yes”   (thinking my point is made)

Wife– ” I’D TAKE A MONTH OF COLD DAYS, IF I COULD ONLY SEE THE SUN. ”

And of course she’s right, but for a weeks stay it’s not that noticeable, and if you are coming from the Northern States, Canada, etc. it is warmer.

Powerscourt Waterfall

Irish weather Powerscourt waterfall

One of the nice things about the spring,winter and fall, Irish weather is when it is nice, it is spectacular. We spent an afternoon at the Powers court waterfall to a glorious blue sky and eighty degree days, We went swimming off Malin head in Donegal, a magnificent stretch of beach surprisingly wide open. We Had a great game of wiffle ball and had the beach almost to ourselves. At , I think it was the second Tullamore Fleadh, it had rained every day for a month. They have a farm competition that had to be cancelled because the ground was saturated. My daughter and I arrive at the B&B to woeful stories about the weather. I’m chatting with the Mrs. of the house and tell her that for the next 5 days it will be sunny, and warm, that the weather is always nice when we make the trip over.(which unbelievably it is). She gives me the don’t feed me that bull–it look, and shows us to our room. The next five days are beautiful, each day warmer and brighter than the next. When our stay was over that landlady was begging us to stay.

The Irish weather can change on a dime so be prepared, the temperature can drop 40 degrees in the same day, so make sure you have jackets and such in your car.

Pack a fleece jacket.

Pack a rain jacket.

Pack a portable rain poncho.

Good pair of walking shoes.

A sweater or two wouldn’t hurt.

 

Or you could be like this daft American and stroll down the cold grey Dublin streets in a polo shirt, It’s all perspective,

Cheers,

Oh and remember if it rains outside ‘ there’s a nice peat fire in the Pub.

Finnegans Wake

Finnegans Wake, the classic up tempo Irish folk music song is a must have for the Irish song troubadour. There are two ways to learn Finnegans Wake that will ensure it is sung with true Irish feeling and empathy.

  • The first is to lock yourself up in an ancient Irish castle or round tower and read the entire works of James Joyce, culminating with his 676 pages of Finnegan’s Wake.
  • The second would be to listen to different versions of the Irish folk music classic and keep an ear out for the proper feel of this Irish folk song.
It’s a tough choice I know but if you are willing to put in the time, I’ll suggest a few Irish folk musicians who do the song justice.
Finnegans wake by Christy Moore, slower tempo but has good feeling

Finnegans wake byThe Irish Rovers, they do a decent job, a little more life in this Irish folk music classic

But the Best version Of Finnegans Wake is and always has been the Clancy Brothers, You would think that after all this time there would be an Irish folk group to do the music justice, The story telling before the song gets a little old though. The Reunion cd.

Modern Irish music groups that have given Finnegans Wake a try include The Dropkick Murphy’s, a good old Boston rock/Irish influenced version if you like the Murphy’s you’ll enjoy this rock version.

The Fenian Sons give it a try, but still don’t have the true feeling for the song.

The best hope for new old Irish folk music might be The Orthodox Celts from Serbia

Yea I know this video isn’t Finnegans wake, but their youtube version just didn’t come through right and I wanted to give these guys some credit.

Cheers.

Beginners Irish Music

Irish music at a beginners session can be reenergizing. A lot of the stories in this series have been about tight Irish music sessions and outstanding talented Irish musicians playing  hot Irish jigs and reels. It is sometimes good for the soul to go to a beginners session and bathe in the rawness of the Irish music and appreciate the love and yearning of the not yet so talented players. I dropped in to the Irish Cultural Center in Canton Ma. last night to talk to Joe Kilcommons of Kilcommons catering, the man bakes the best Irish soda bread on the south shore, and happened upon the “slow” session.

ICC Pub

Every friday night the Comhaltas sponsors  both a slow and advanced session, the slow or beginners session always is held first, earlier in the evening, and usually sparsely attended. Being the parent of a successful Irish musician, I had attended my fair share of slow sessions back in the day, but hadn’t been to one in over a year. The players missed their fair share of notes and on an occasion you could tell some were lost, as they stretched to play a different or new tune, but there is a certain joy that comes through when a newer player hits the irish music correctly. It kind of reminds me of the little leaguer who finally learns how to hit the ball, all the frustration and failure turns to happiness and pride.

   ~ Boston

The other nice thing I find about this slow session is the lack of ego you have to wade through. They ,the Irish musicians, know they are learning and aren’t quite full of themselves yet. A lot of times at the advanced sessions you can run into some Irish music snobs who think they are pretty good. They usually turn out to be nice players, but not nearly as good as they think they are. Then there are the truly gifted players who usually don’t think they are nearly as good as you think they are. The point being ,for pure enjoyment a slow session can really hit the spot. The beginners session also is a little less attended, you can have a quiet conversation, and get a seat at the bar, and have a little elbow room to spare.

If you are a beginning player of traditional Irish music,remember the rules of playing in an Irish session. and if you are looking for a low key, fun, enjoyable traditional irish music performance go to the slow session at your local irish cultural center or participating Irish pub.

Cheers.

Traditional Irish Music, Doolin, Ireland.

An Irish pub in the traditional Irish music haven Of Doolin, County Clare should be the highlight of your Trip to Ireland. You have three respectable pubs to choose from, Mcdermott’s, McCann’s, and O’Connor’s, and Doolin being the not so official birthplace of traditional Irish music, there is always a session to be had year round. There is something special about a town or region that revels in it’s traditions, and it is this reverence for the Irish music which sets Doolin apart.

Doolin 02

O'Connor's

It’s not too late to catch the Russell Festival Memorial  Weekend,                                         February 24 to Monday February 27, 2012.                                                                             The Russell brothers, Packie, Gus, and notably Micho, grew up in Doolin in a house filled with Traditional Irish music.The Russel brothers and their music are celebrated the last weekend in February since 1995, after the passing of Micho Russell in 1994.This year One of Irelands finest singers, Sean Keane, will be performing live at the Russell Cultural Centre.

Traditional Irish Music

Traditional Irish Music

Doolin’s a nice spot to explore the Cliffs of Moher, The Cliffs are timeless in their beauty and grandeur. In 1989 I first visited the Cliffs of Moher on a self directed tour of Ireland with my wife, they were awesome. I had the pleasure to see them again last March on a visit to Galway, they were awesome. The tour buses from Galway always stop over in Doolin before heading back.

Cliffs of Moher - Hags Head

Cliffs of Moher

As Ireland becomes more of a surf destination Doolin Has great surf on Doolin strand or, if the waves are rolling in the opposite direction, check out the waves at the Lahinch strand. If there is a golfer reading this little travel blurb, yes Lahinch Golf Links is just 7 miles away. Then there’s the Burren, and the caves, and the rock climbing, and fishing…. .

Doolin Surf

Doolin Ireland surf to Irish music

But just so you don’t think it’s all a bed of roses, what would a post be without a little personal story of Doolin. First off the Irish traditional music at O’Connors pub was great fun and high quality, the Irish music ends and my wife and I are enjoying a pint and some pleasant conversation (using proper pub etiquette ). The waitstaff was pleasant and the atmosphere was perfect, the only problem was the loud conversation two tables away. There was this older Irish fellow in his fifties lecturing to two 20 something American girls. Hey that’s fine, more power to him, but the subject of the conversation was hard to sit by and ignore. Let me say that this was a long time ago, on one of our first trips to Ireland, and the politics may have changed a little since then. This guy is convincing these two skulls of mush of the moral superiority of the eastern european block, how east germany is the only hope for humanity. O.K. fine, let it go, leave it be, but then the tearing down of the American free enterprise system starts, and the two students on the parental paid vacation are eating it up. I can stand it no more, ask the girls if the really agree with this crud and open the door to a silly political conversation with the older Irish guy. He regurgitates the same pablum, and my wife to her credit intercedes to salvage the night. After receiving the well deserved lecture on letting things go, we get ready to leave, and, this is another reason I know God exists, at the same time four large Texans enter the place. For some reason they ask me how the pub was tonight, with a smile, I tell them that the traditional Irish music was fantastic, the Guinness at the bar was great, that the people I’ve met in Doolin were among the best, except for that guy over there, he hates America, not sure how he feels about Texas. Now that’s a conversation I would have liked to overhear,

Cheers.

 

 

 

Ireland favorites, Irish fun, Irish road bowling

One of my Ireland favorites is Irish road bowling, it is pure Irish fun combined with Irish skill and Irish tenacity. While traveling through the beautiful southwest of Ireland to the picturesque town of Skibbereen, our van was ask to pause for a minute on the country road. There was a mob of Cork fellows taking aim, and calculating angles for one good throw to even the match. The real competition was for the fellow taking the bets on who would end up with the best throw and who would be the eventual winner. To the novice (me and mine) it was fascinating to see the small heavy metal ball being hurled underhand down the street. the Object of the contest is to see who can cover the course in the fewest amounts of throws. We hung back and found a place to pull out of the way (not an easy task on the back roads of Ireland) and followed the game for a bit. Being careful not to intrude on the game or get in the way, another of my Ireland favorites shone forth, the stubborn confidence of competition. The arguing over the correct line and the total investment of mind and body to the task at hand. The Irish love all sport, and are mad about it. (mad-meaning crazy). We followed for a couple of throws but those Irish boys could really hurl that ball and we watched the second throw and headed back to our van. Next time you find yourself on an Irish country road, you might find yourself in an Irish road bowling match, put a fiver on the local kid you might win.

Skibbereen is a lovely part of the Irish southwest, not too far from Baltimore and the old head. We stayed in the Eldon hotel which is infamous for being the place where Irish Patriot Michael Collins had his last meal. Skibbereen is also infamous for being the worst area to suffer from the Irish famine and the cruel torment of the english land owners. Such things are not forgotten. Today the town is a lively and picturesque Irish village with plenty of shops to browse and scenic venues to see.

Take the drive out to Mizen Head and walk the bridge over to the museum. On the day we visited this Irish attraction the wind was howling, a real Irish gale. The views are fantastic, pick a sunny day and be prepared for the wind. Just before you get out to the peninsula there is a touristy woolens gift shop that is great for us tourist. Do your self a favor and spend some time in the southwest of Ireland, don’t just drive through on the way to the ring of Kerry.

southwest Ireland favorite Cork

Mizen head, Cork Irelands favorite

Cheers

Ireland favorites, Irish road bowling, Mizen head bridge.

An Irish music tradition

You never know when an Irish music outbreak may happen. I was visiting my Dublin cousin recently when I was asked if I wanted to attend an 80 th  birthday celebration for his wife’s aunt. Now she was actually turning 85, but when she turned 80 she didn’t want a party celebrating her being old, however, since she made it to 85, she thought it would be ok to acknowledge her 80 th birthday. So we drop by the local pub off license and purchase some libations for the festivities and arrive at a house packed with relatives and fans of the birthday girl. I figure we’ll hang around for an hour or two, go back to the house and plan the next days activities. Well nothing in Ireland ever ends early, just when we thought things might be winding down, everyone grabs a chair makes a big circle in the parlor and a major sing song starts. Thirty  people one after another start belting out Irish music, pop tunes, golden oldies, anything people liked, they sang. So this is where the boy scout training comes in handy, you know, be prepared. You will be asked to sing a tune, It’s good to know an American song like Johnny Cash or Neil Diamond (no really, Neil Diamond). There’s something about being proud of where you are from that rubs off on the crowd. Once the traditional Irish music and traditional irish songs start, they seem to feed on one another. Traditional Irish music is by definition an irish tradition and it was a lot of fun being included in this family sing song. I broke one of my rules and sang a Furey Brothers song “It’s a long way from Clare to here”. When I was done some chap from the other side of the room yells “I thought you said he was a yank”, Part compliment for belonging and part rank for not choosing a song from where I’m from. When the majority of the crowd ask you if you know another one, is when you know you are accepted.

You don’t have to be an expert to participate in the Irish music, just be sincere. If you flop the folks will be entertained as well, and for the most part the worst that happens is some good natured ribbing of your Irish music talent, just follow the rules for singing an Irish song,relax and have fun.

Cheers

Things to do in Ireland

No matter the plan, no matter how perfect the itinerary, there will be the times when you’ll be looking for things to do in Ireland. When you visit Ireland especially with children, avoid the dreaded downtime boredom with some unexpected Irish gems. The first suggestion I have is to go golfing, I KNOW, KNOW, I KNOW, golfing is an elitist expensive sport played by stuck up, cranky, etiquette driven old guys…well not always. In Ireland they have what are called pitch and putt courses, most are glorified pastures, some Irish farmer mowed the grass around and stuck in flagsticks. the great things about these Irish golf spots is that they are cheap, casual, and under utilized. I was in Enniskerry for a wedding, I had 5 kids ages ,8,10,10,12,and 14, we were driving around getting antsy and bored when I saw the sign, Pitch and Putt 5 euro. Now I did a little quick math 6 people 5 euro, o.k., would I be able to control five kids and not disturb the other golfers, that worried me but what the heck I pulled in. I was going to ask the fella in charge if there would be a problem with that many kids in the group, or local rules and such, but alls there was was a tin can “Place green fees here”and “5 euro adult, 2 Euro children”. We enter the course and it’s a wide open field with 9 holes laid out, each around 100 yards long, I give each kid a club from my bag a couple of balls, and they hack away. We are the only ones out there. These courses are designed for cheap participation, and a way for some farm land to make a euro or two. The bottom line is that the kids got to hang around outdoors under the guise of playing golf and really enjoyed themselves. I got to swing a pitching wedge for an hour and a half, under the guise of watching my kids, nieces, and nephews. It was a lot of fun, the only thing I had to be careful of was me hitting one of the kids as they darted around this Irish golf pitch and putt.

01st_green1

After you run the kids around the glorified pasture of the Irish golf p&p, take them to the local town centre and get them a 99. What’s that, you don’t know what a 99 is?(this question is in the tone of the snowman in Rudolph asking the question,what you don’t know the story of Rudolph). Well a 99 is an Irish soft serve ice cream with a cadbury flake bar inserted into it. It sounds pretty simple but with all things Irish, there is an extra creaminess to this Irish dairy wonder. The 99 got its name based on the original price when the Irish currency was the punt, it cost 99 pence (cent) good marketing. The current price would be three time that now, but still it’s a bargain. Look for the huge plastic ice cream cone in front of Irish stores that serve the 99, and look for shops that sell a high volume of cones as they tend to be better tasting.

Now that the kids have been exercised and bribed with irish ice cream, and of course happy to no end with you, grab your brother in law and get your own treat down to the pub. I hear there is some great Irish music playing tonight.

Cheers