Friday, March 6, 2015

Doolin Banjo

Dubhlinn House Bed & Breakfast
By 5 pm tonight we were on the road, and though overcast, it was still light enough to enjoy the rugged scenery on another stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way, which took us around the Burren and along the southern edge of Galway Bay to the coastal town of Doolin. From here, we had hoped to take a ferry out to the Aran Islands tomorrow morning, but because the weather had been so rough, no seaman was going to risk his own life taking a boatload of tourists across the choppy sound.

McGann's Pub
Losing our opportunity to see the Aran Islands was a big disappointment, but our evening in Doolin certainly wasn’t. Although the town is tiny, we had a little trouble locating the Dubhlinn House B&B, which was down a narrow dirt lane, across from an aromatic cow pasture. After we checked in, we headed back up the main road to McGann’s, a fairly large pub renowned throughout Ireland for its nightly trad music sessions. We were early (relatively speaking), so we had our pick of the booths and chose one near but not too close to the fire. The friendly waiter brought us bowls of delicious seafood chowder and Irish stew, a basket of chewy brown bread, and a crisp salad. By the time we were finishing dessert (a meringue with berries and cream), the pub had begun to fill up. We invited the two women from Chicago at the corner table next to us to move over and join us when they discovered that they had been sitting in the place reserved for the musicians, and as the latter began setting up, we realized that we had managed to get coveted front-row seats.
McGann's Pub before the music began

The party at the other table next to ours included a young couple from Boston and an older Irish couple. The young man had been born in Doolin but had migrated to the U.S. as a child with his mother; this week they were visiting his father, who still lives in Doolin. (The father came in to greet them midway through dinner; from his unsteady bearing and slurred speech, we surmised that perhaps drink was what had motivated his wife and son to leave.) The son had met his wife, an Irish dancer, at a ceilidh (trad music and dance party) in Boston; we overheard her telling their Irish friends about having just gone inside to use the restroom in a café on Boylston Street while watching the Boston Marathon when the explosions went off in 2013.

Musicians at McGann's
Tonight’s music was provided by a guitarist who sang some Irish and some American country-western ballads in a slightly raspy but pleasant baritone, and Kevin Griffin, a banjo player reputed to be one of the best in Ireland. (We would not disagree with that assessment.) They welcomed requests, and encouraged participation from the audience—stating that if anyone requested a song they didn’t know, that person could come forward and sing it themselves. More than one amateur vocalist took the mic (it seems no one in Ireland is afraid to sing in public), and when the musicians announced that they were going to play a few jigs,  the young dancer from Boston asked them to hold on while she went to get her metal-toed shoes. While she laced them on, her husband cleared the beer bottles from their table and then helped her climb onto it, and the jig began. The crowd—which now seemed to comprise the entire population of Doolin—cheered in approval as Sarah’s feet pounded the sturdy oak tabletop, her arms rigid at her sides.

Sarah from Boston kicks up her heels

Nancy vowed that before she comes to Ireland again, she’s going to learn all the words to a few Irish ballads (or at least some American CW tunes) so that she can more fully participate in one of these ceol agus craic (music and merriment) sessions. But even though we could only watch, listen, and clap along tonight, we felt completely caught up in the experience, and fully accepted as part of a warm, welcoming community. It was an evening we will never forget--and an appropriate way to celebrate the completion of Michael's assignment at Fidelity Ireland and the beginning of our time on holday.

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