My first trip to Ireland was in May of 1999 and it was the music that brought me there. An ceol.

I remember hearing a song many years earlier, on a Sinead O’Connor CD, which was not particularly traditional, but had an Irish influence of drums, fiddles and whistles going on in the background that never failed to bring me to my feet. There was something ‘tribal’ about it, something that brought to mind ancient memories and bonfires. That song led me to search out more of this type of music and grew into a collection of traditional Irish/Celtic CDs worthy of a specialty music shop. I’m not talking about the Daniel O’Donnell type music meant to get the tourists clapping and singing along at Jury’s Hotel or the lovely sounding, yet sappy, commercial ventures like “Celtic Woman” walking around on stage in their pastel colored ‘prom’ dresses smiling sweetly through every song, no matter what story the lyrics tell. No, this is the music you will hear in the pubs of Doolin. The fiddles, tin whistles, bodhrán and uilleann pipes! The gravelly voices of men singing happy songs of war and sad songs of love. The glorious female voices singing ancient songs, which have been passed down from generation to generation in the oral tradition. This is the music made by pick-up bands formed of accomplished musicians who come from all around the world to play their instruments in the corner of a crowded pub at a table beneath a sign stating “Reserved for Musicians”. So, that is what brought me to Ireland the spring of 1999… the music.

McGann's Pub Doolin - photo by Siobhan Hussey

 

I planned my first trip abroad to a foreign land. A recent widow having just endured the winter of hell, I decided to go ahead with a trip I had been hoping to make for many years. And, in spite of the quizzical looks of a few, I did it my way, alone, without the company of a tour bus or even a friend, spending most of my trip in County Clare, based in the little town of Doolin. My days were passed driving my little, red Nissan rental car (smart me, I ordered ahead and requested an automatic) up and down the Atlantic coastline on Clare’s breathtakingly beautiful Coast Road and meandering around the winding back roads through the Burren and the rural countryside. Slowly I became enthralled and emotionally attached to this rugged, haunting landscape dotted with the ruins of medieval tower houses, ancient roofless churches, a Celtic High Cross situated in a churchyard and even a Neolithic treasure, the Poulnabrone dolmen, sitting in the middle of a farmer’s field! … And then there were the nights. My nights were reserved for music and a pint of the black stuff (though, I drink Guinness so slowly I stick to half pint glasses so it doesn’t go flat before the end). Doolin is considered the traditional music capital of Ireland, and it didn’t disappoint! McGann’s and Gus O’Connor’s were my favorite pubs. Old, dark and gritty, they seemed to attract the best musicians who would gather to play the music I had only heard on CDs up until then. It was always good, but on a couple nights it was pure magic.

So it is. Music brought me to Ireland, which brought me to Doolin, which brought me to County Clare, which has had a great effect upon my life as it has evolved over the last decade. And looking back, it all makes perfect sense.

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