As I sit in the upper lobby of my bewilderingly large hostel trying to decide whether the neon glow of the Generator’s welcome sign is gaudy or curiously comforting, a lone uilleann pipe begins its beautiful wailing just below me on the other side of the steel railings. As other instruments quickly join in on the melody the scenery transforms from the hostel that remains my sometimes-overcrowded-place-of-residence for the next two weeks into a warm and cozy local inn-like atmosphere where I instantly feel happy and at home. Honestly, I was half waiting for Merry and Pippin to jump on the tables and start stomping their feet to the music. OK, so I might STILL be waiting for that to happen – it’s good to dream right?
A few of you may remember the reporting trip I made a couple of years ago (2010 to be exact) to the West coast of Ireland. I ended up in a small village called Doolin where I was supposed to only stay for a few days but after 2 there was no way of convincing me to leave. Honestly, if there hadn’t been a family emergency back home I’m not sure I would have ever returned to Holland where I was supposed to be completing an exchange.
But in the grand scheme of things, the courses were pass/fail so really exams were optional. At any rate, it turned out I had to leave that beautiful little village nestled so peacefully in a small bay at the base of the Cliffs of Moher and I have yet to return. I didn’t say I will never return, just that I haven’t done so yet! Why oh why did I not choose some kind of topic that would have brought me there to study??
Where is my train of thought going, you ask? Well, I often don’t know the answer to that question myself but it just so happens that in this case I do – Pub Sessions… Doolin was filled to the brim with them. With only 3 pubs in the village (well 4 but the last one, as a local storyteller scoffed one morning over coffee, was chiefly meant for bus-bound tourists and none of the locals frequented the place ‘because of the principle of the thing’) you were bound to find a session every night usually featuring local talent with the occasional addition of musicians who were travelling through.
You see what I mean by talent? Seriously, people would drift in, pull an instrument seemingly out of their back pocket and just join in. No rehearsing, barely an introduction – just a raise of a pint glass, a nod and a smile and the music would begin.
I had always liked Irish music but it was on this trip that I feel deeply and irretrievably in love with this experience of the tradition and the emotions it stirred within me. It’s a sight to see, let me tell you. There’s no visible order to what they do, no obvious leader unless you know what you’re looking for. One of them just sort of starts and the others follow. Well that’s the leader Erin, obviously – that’s what your thinking isn’t it? Wrong! This person changes all the time AND there is no guarantee that the song that is led with is the one played throughout the performance – someone feels another tempo calling and off they go with the melody spinning in an entirely new direction. As the music swells and all the instruments join when they feel it’s time, that moment when they’re all in and playing to the best of their abilities (which are REALLY the best. I’ve very rarely heard their equal) is simply magical.
Just a few minutes ago, one of the musicians left the group temporarily and drew a bunch of German girls from the chairs in which they sat enjoying the music. I was a little confused for a minute until she started skipping around pulling them this way and that, all the while shouting out instructions and clapping her hands. For such a tiny woman she sure had a whole lot of energy. Soon enough, the girls understood what they were to do and what followed was probably one of the single-most entertaining moments of my week so far (and this week has been, well, pretty awesome). They all started dancing a sort of jig but in formation, moving around quite a bit. As they whirled around the small amount of space that had suddenly been transformed into the perfect spot for a furious dancing-session, myself and some Spanish teenagers who had come over to see what all the noise was about couldn’t help laughing and clapping along. In just a few minutes this tiny Irishwoman had taught a random group of students how to dance a fairly complicated looking Irish jig. Honestly, I think it was mostly due to her insane enthusiasm, I was even tempted to stand up and join in! Those who know me well could tell you that my dancing self does not surface very often although I’m starting to think she and my hippie self are in cahoots – I’ve got my eyes on you two. . .
Funny thing is, I was just feeling as if I was coming down with a cold and was thinking of going to bed early. I’m so glad I didn’t! So what’s the lesson here? Don’t ever give in to what you think is the most responsible plan of action, at least night right away. That seems to be how you miss all the fun! If Mom and Dad are reading this: I am still being very responsible don’t you worry 🙂 like my childhood self, the extent of my rebelliousness is never very great. In this instance it involved sitting in a comfy chair for an hour longer than I was planning on and still probably getting to bed before midnight – I guess I’m no rebel without a cause…
I will write another more entertaining post soon I promise (taking place in Wicklow County and involving a mash-up of Braveheart and PS I Love You- stay tuned!) but this experience was just to good to leave in my head… I can only smile to myself about something for so long before I start to feel crazy, hence the blog!
If you retain anything from this post, let it be this: Life IS Beautiful 🙂 and if you don’t believe me ask the Irish surfers above.