I hired a car for the day and zoomed off to Dingle, looking for the man named Padraig who played every instrument and knew every song. I wanted to learn about old Irish music …
I didn’t find Padraig, but only because instead I found an old man in a music shop called Michael and by the time I had left his shop I had stopped looking for Padraig.
He answered all my questions, and, on request, demonstrated a carved wooden version of music spoons. I now have my own pair of wooden music spoons and will have to start practising so that I can play them as well as Michael. He also played some songs on piano accordian and is a rich source of information about music in Dingle. He doesn’t seem to know much about music outside Dingle, (by his own admission), as he has never heard of the singer at the pub in Doolin. He said he would not know of anyone who performs in Doolin, and would not stock their cds, because that is Doolin not Dingle. He says that Dingle is the most musical town in Ireland. (Even though others say that Galway such). Anyway I had a great time hanging out with Michael listening to heaps of cds and trying to figure out these tricky little music spoons. I reckon ill get pretty good at them in the end; (if she says so herself ….)
Also now have songbooks and a little stack of cds, enough to keep me quiet and happy for awhile … or happy at least.
Also now have gumboots. Went for a drive around the Dingle Peninsula which is so wild and breathtaking. At Connors Pass there was a waterfall gushing out of the side of the mountain and I went leaping up the rocks like a mountain goat in high heels because I wanted to taste the water. This, and a later incident involving the first sandy beach since Australia, has confirmed that I need gumboots.
Just waiting till 6pm and then going back to the Dingle Music Shop. They have recently moved premises and are having a celebratory party tonight. Michael told me I will hear some of the best music in Ireland there. He says I should stay in Dingle, at least overnight, because when I leave at 7pm as I plan to do, everything will just starting and I will miss out on the good stuff. I bet he’s right – but its an hour’s drive back to Killarney.
Turns out the style of music I have been looking for is called Sean-Nos (pronounced ‘sharn-know’ and said very quickly with no hyphen, and with a slight emphasis on the last syllable). It means ‘old style’. Sinead O’Connor has an album out with this as title and it was one of those I bought at the dingle music shop. The cover shows her wearing an astonishing combination of fuschia pink and vermillion red and trying to hide in the garden. Bless her. But what a voice!!! I have been listening to her as I drive around the Dingle Peninsula. It is like the Atlantic wind, or a volcano in salty earth, or a valkyrie from another galaxy. The lyrics are powerful, often tragic and very poetic. Listening to the combination of these songs and her voice is like nothing else. Especially with the sweeping backdrop of this particular landscape. Great sing-along stuff also. Gave it my best. There were only sheep around most of the time.
If I ever get the chance to hear Sinead O’Connor sing these sean-nos songs live then I am going. But then in contrast, to hear Geraldine, the singer from the Doolin pub, sing sean-nos songs with her voice is a different experience. Her voice is like an arm chair, a fireplace, and yummy things to eat and drink. Still deeply moving, but not so elemental. So far I love both flavours of sean-nos.
The party at the Dingle Music Shop was awesome. There was good music, even at the early hour of my departure, and every one was very curious about me because I was the girl who had been told to go to Galway for music, and who would tell someone to go to Galway instead of Dingle? So I got asked about that a fair bit. Earlier, Michael had got out the atlas and I had to point out where I came from on the map. Everyone seems to have a son or daughter going or gone to Australia for work.
Everyone there is casually expert at music spoons and I received lots of tuition during the night, and music-spooned along with some of the songs.
Geeeeez there were some good musicians there, and just in the crowd bumming around drinking beer and wearing faded jeans. At one stage 8 members of the crowd broke into a complicated jig, of the kind that would promptly tie your legs in a knot and land you on your a*se. Not only did this not happen to any of them, but they did an even trickier ‘switching partners round and round version’ and didn’t miss a step.
It would have been an experience to hang around till the end, but as it was it was dark and raining by the time I got home. Made it to Killarney then realised that in true Irish style had left the address and phone number of our lodgings back in my room. So I asked a newsagent who was open late, who asked a customer buying milk, who got on his mobile and rang his wife. Then they all argued together about which would be the best directions to give ‘the girl’ and finally they settled on a set of the simplest directions in the world and here I am.
More music spoon practice tomorrow!
18 September 2011 – Dingle, Ireland
postscript – some photos and comments below
here is the Dingle Peninsula, including the waterfall that I managed to climb to in my high heeled suede boots ….
and this is the beach that was also bad for my very impractical suede boots
I have no photos of the Dingle Music Shop or of my music spoons, but I did buy a second pair of music spoons for my dad for his birthday, which was the same day as the party at the Dingle Music Shop. My dad was a musician. I should also say that some five years later I am still singing along in the car to Sinead O’Connor’s “Sean-Nos” CD and I think my voice is gradually getting better. Later this trip, in Dublin, a singer told me that the only way to learn Sean-Nos style is to sing it, and keep singing it. So I have been ….