Today was a very nice day for our tour group. There were a lot of options available to everyone and people took advantage of them. Some chose to ride the coach and visit the Foxford Woolen Mills, while others decided to climb to the top of Croag Patrick, which is the famous mountain where Saint Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. It is also the subject of our song "Gonna Climb That Mountain.” Others on our tour decided to venture into the many galleries and shops that are in the town of Westport. The rest were found seated in the snug of one of the pubs where they chatted with the locals and relaxed with a pint after yesterday's long journey from Chicago.
The Harrisons from Duluth made it safely to Westport as well. I found out that their plane was actually delayed, due to the arson that knocked out the radar facility near Aurora, Illinois. They had a great adventure on the train, which took them across Ireland. That trip is quite beautiful and in a way, they were treated to a wonderful first-time view of the country.
I myself took the train and headed east from Westport to visit with my cousin Catherine over near Garryduff in Claremorris. The mist was slowly moving across the hills and back toward the ocean as the sun climbed in the sky. Cattle were grazing in the fields, totally uninterested in the train rolling by their pasture. The few passengers that rode along with me were headed for Dublin, which is about three hours distance across the country. My stop was only 40 minutes down the track. Catherine was waiting for me at the station and we had a nice reunion. I went over to her family house where we spent time over a pot of tea, catching up on the news from both sides of the pond. It was perfect to sit there, the sunlight warming the room and out the window, seeing the big, beautiful clouds that we're rolling in from the Atlantic.
It was a time to also pay a visit to those who were no longer with us. We drove up to Barnacarroll cemetery and walked over to the Connaughton grave, where Seamus, Nell and Tommie are buried. Irish cemeteries are quite beautiful in that they have the high Celtic Crosses for grave markers. The older ones, exposed for years in the moist air, grow thick lichens which leave the grey stone mottled with yellows and whites. Here and there are the more recent plots, like the Connaughton's with marble high crosses and a marble perimeter as well. Unlike in the States, the Irish use wooden coffins and forego the concrete vaults. The result being that over the years, a whole family can be buried in one plot, which to me seems so much nicer that the individual system we have. And the families stretch back in time, so the lineage and the history are there etched in the stone. It was bittersweet to visit as the memories of the times spent with the cousins came back. The old house of Balllybrehony now lies empty and change moves everything along. And even at the cemetery, the change was there to remind me, for just past the graves with the high crosses rose huge wind turbines in the fields, slowly moving in the wind. The new Ireland looming over the old.
Catherine and I went next to the McCormack gravesite which is at Ballinasmalle. The cemetery itself is situated in the ruins of an old Carmelite convent and church, built in the 1200's and later destroyed by the forces of King Henry the Eighth. This cemetery is much older, with the crosses at various angles and the wild grasses growing between them. After paying respects to my relatives, we came back to Garyduff and visited more with family and of course had another pot of Irish tea. Soon after, I hopped the train back to Westport as it was time to get ready for the Welcome Dinner and the concert at Matt Molloy's Pub.
The highlight was when Matt Molloy came in and was kind enough to join us up on stage! I told the audience, "there's a fellow that we would like to audition" and everybody laughed. Our group was treated to a real once in a lifetime experience. The first song "Easter Snow" was so delicate and beautiful on Matt's flute that I hung back on the bass for fear of braking the spell. We dashed into some familiar jigs with Matt and Brian trading solos between the flute and the mandolin. When Matt's son Peter also joined us to play, we kicked it up a notch further by presenting some fine reels. It was a true honor to share the stage with both men and I didn't know if I was happier for our tour group or for myself!
Too quickly the evening passed and soon we were playing a "Simple Benediction.” But the audience wanted an encore and so we gave them "Muintir Na Sidhe.” Of course we went for the chairs and Brian made it on top of a table. We gave it all we had and the audience loved it. Though I do not recommend dancing on an upholstered chair!
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Click here to read Day 3