It would appear that music is a thread being woven through what Jack is calling our Magical Mystery Book Launch Tour. And how very appropriate.
Yesterday in the interview with Thomas Sheridan about my book we wandered around the magical and musical soul of Ireland. The Oran Mór (the Great Melody) that sings a sacred harmony in all land and life here. It was a powerful conversation. With editing, music, and images the video will be released in the next few weeks.
And today we were gifted music by Martin Byrne, a megalithic expert and by his definition megalithic maniac, who played for us at two sacred sites. The Crevykeel Court Cairn and a Brigit’s Holy well that we wandered to through a field of wild flowers and hawthorn trees in full bloom. We were transfixed and transported.
Note: The books, Jack’s latest and mine, are being well received. They are now in the Drumcliff bookshop just a few yards from Yeat’s grave and in a delightful bookshops in downtown Sligo.
Reminiscing about Christy’s music, Sheila’s delightful culinary hospitality, and Padraig’s playing with the music legends of Doolin, the next morning we headed north to Galway on a route that would take us to Poulnabrone. This ancient megalith is an Irish icon, appearing on the cover of many brochures and, unfortunately, on the itinerary of many tours. As we made our way over the limestone terrain, we were alone with the dolmen until the park ranger wandered over to join us. “You are lucky to be here just the two of you. The busses will be along any minute.” As if on cue they started to arrive and disgourge their human cargo. The ranger was clearly interested in chatting us up, as they say here, and we were interested in listening. So we stepped to the edge of the field to continue our conversation – during which we would discover that he is he son of one of the music legends Christy played with over the years and had spoken of the night before. Ah, this is Ireland.
As much as he appreciated a moment of appreciation for the area’s musical legends and legacies, he was more interested in talking about the megalithic legacy in front of us. And we listened to his narrative on the devastation of this sacred site against a surreal backdrop of tourists streaming by to quickly take their photos and their leave. The tour must go on.
4,000 people a day visit this site. Some in the supervised light of day. Others by the dark of night. And within the span of a few decades the impact of their visits is destroying a site that has held place in this Burren landscape for 6,000 years. Some leave their mark in trash and spray paint. Others carve their initials into the stones. Just last winter some built a fire inside, cracking one of the upright stones to such an extent that now the ranger comes early each morning to make sure the dolman is still standing.
But it’s not just the legacy of this physical monument that is being lost. It is the legacy of respect for these sites that has lived in the people for thousands of years. A legacy that honored the sanctity of ancient ways and ancient knowing. Music or monuments, it seems the same. These legacies are precious gifts. Treasures that can so easily be lost to us. Forever.
Early in the evening thirteen of us gathered in Christy’s living room for a unique evening of music and folklore with Christy Barry, Doolin Life Time Achievement Award winning musician. It was like nothing I’ve experienced in twenty years of coming to Doolin. As we watched the sun slip into the Atlantic Ocean beyond the Doolin landscape, the smell of the turf fire, the music, and Christy’s stories transported us back to a time when community gathered around the hearth to play and sing and dance. The heritage of a people who worked the fields all day and the fiddles into the night. They were musicians by tradition and passion – not by trade. Their music passed hearth to hearth, heart to heart, and soul to soul.
Woven between the tunes they played – James Devitt on fiddle, Christy on flute and spoons – were stories of the music legends whose charcoal portraits hung on the walls around us. These were the music greats. Icons of Doolin’s musical heritage. Most of them gone now. Men who had played with and passed the torch to the men playing before us, themselves now legends. We were mesmerized.
As we got ready to leave, Christy mentioned that he was headed up the road to play in a Lisdoonvarna pub if we were interested. Absolutely! And we were soon settled into the pub with the good fortune of seating right next to the band. The music was fabulous. After a couple of tunes a man approached the band and a quiet conversation took place. The band members nodded and the man’s son sat down to join the musicians. His name was Padraig and he had turned thirteen just two weeks ago. After a few more tunes, Christy’s grey head leaned over to us and he said, “This young man will be the All Ireland Music Champion next year.” The band members had never met Poric before. But they immediately appreciated his talent and recognized his passion. As the night unfolded we watched the men welcome and work with the boy. We watched the torch being passed yet again.
The difference between the Americans and the Irish is that we still have time.
An Irish Publican
Friend Helen sent me a lovely book on Irish holy wells and this quote is on the acknowledgements page. It speaks to one of the things I most cherish about the Irish people. One of the things that so catches the attention of people who travel with me. The Irish still have time. In most cases, and especially in the west of Ireland where we spend most of our Sacred Ireland journeys, they haven’t given it all away.
In our modern and fast-paced culture, we give our time away so freely. To packed schedules, to myriad activities, to social media, to entertainment. And then we despair of having so little left. As if none of this is under our control. Yet so much of our time is ours to manage. Ours to give away. Or to keep for those spontaneous encounters in an Irish pub that call us to linger for yet another story. Ours to keep for a quiet walk along the cliffs in Doolin. Ours to keep so we can just be more fully present to the moment. Present to the moment…some might suggest that’s why it’s called the gift of time.
“The Irish are so welcoming and friendly!” I hear this so often from my fellow travelers. Yes, the Irish are very gracious, especially in opening and sharing their gift of time. And we could all use a bit more Irish time in our lives.