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It is very dark and violent in the bog tonight. The wind has howled for a couple of hours, occasionally rattling the bottom half of the half-door so forcefully that it sounds like someone is just outside, knocking with an urgent request to come in from the storm! Eoin was pretty frightened by the wind, rain and knocking but after I read an extra couple of chapters of Redwall by Brian Jacques to him, a book we’ve been at for about a week now, he became relaxed and tired enough to fall asleep. Now his ‘brave’ mom has taken the situation in hand and opened the bottle of Bunratty Mead bought in a Ballyvaughan gift shop in anticipation of a night like this! Each rattling knock at the door is followed with a sip of steamy, hot mead – and a request to the bog fairies that the electricity keeps working, because I don’t think even the mead will help if the lights go out!

I have no photograph to go with this night or my eerie little tale, so I will go to the other extreme and post a photo I took today in the Ladies’ Room of the fantastic Magnetic Music Café in Doolin, which by the way, not only has a funny sign in its Ladies’, but serves the best rhubarb crumble I’ve every tasted! I could use a bit of a laugh at the moment anyway…

It pays to keep a camera in your purse at all times!

As I do my best to domesticate this cottage in the bog, all the while learning the true meaning of the term jury-rigged, I take comfort in the fact that, at least as far as I know, no prisoners from the Spanish Armada were executed here. This, however, is not the case for the beautiful Doonagore Castle in Doolin.

Doonagore Castle, courtesy Wikipedia.

Yesterday Eoin and I paid a visit to Doolin and as usual, stopped along the road leading down to Fisherstreet, to gaze at the beautiful tower house that looks down on Doolin and the Atlantic waves crashing on the shore below. Doonagore Castle, has long been a symbol of the romantic Irish past for me. I initially laid eyes upon it during my first trip to Ireland when I spent eight days in a Doolin B&B, wandering the Burren by day and reveling in the music of McGann’s and Gus O’Connor’s Pubs at night. Each day I would either walk up to the castle, or at the very least, pause in my little rental car to gaze upon it as I made my way up and down the steep, winding road that passes this treasure of antiquity.

Unusual for me, I somehow never managed to investigate the castle’s history beyond the information obtained from the owners of the B & B where I was staying – that it is privately owned, fully restored and belongs to “Americans”. However, after our visit yesterday, I finally googled the castle and was quite surprised to learn something of it’s darker side. In 1588 as the Spanish Armada retreated from an invasion attempt on Britain, a ship wrecked on the West Clare coast, after which 170 captured Spanish soldiers were hanged… in my favorite, picturesque, romantic Doolin castle! Alas, as lovely as it is, I don’t think I could sleep there at night!

Meanwhile, this American is doing  her best to make this little cottage in the bog into a home – fixing the negative surprises as they arise one by one and being thankful for all the positive surprises that come with each passing day we are here.

A cozy corner of the Teach deBúrca kitchen.

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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