County Clare

The blog has been quiet because, for the most part, life has also been, out here.

Coming off the sensory overload of last week’s Bealtaine, I decided I needed a few days to unwind myself. Since I was already up north-ish, I thought I’d try on somewhere nearer than the cottage down in Kilcrohane, and set my sights on Doolin to see if a change in scenery might also help kick me out of the writing doldrums.

Doolin’s a quiet little town out on the coast in County Clare, and is best known for its top-notch trad music sessions. I didn’t know a thing about until a few weeks ago, when the lovely musician I met way back in Macreddin told me that really, I needed to experience Doolin. So I decided I would.

My usual routine at the cottage was to get up and write until the words were gone, then go out tromping in the afternoon. In Doolin, I reversed that, taking up the mornings (and large part of afternoons) with perambulations of County Clare’s ample vistas.

I tried Clare’s two most famous natural attractions the first two days: the Cliffs of Insanity\h\h\h\h\h Moher, and the Burren.

Moher is pretty much exactly what you’d think, but the Burren…well, I heard about five different descriptions of just what a “burren” was supposed to be. Usually, it turns out, when people talk about walking the Burren, they mean walking Mount Mullaghmore, and possibly its weird sister, Slieve Rua. Mullaghmore dominates the horizon of central Clare, looking – with apologies to Richard Harris – like an enormous gray cake that someone has left out in the rain. Slieve Rua is equally strange, a gray half-a-yin-yang of a mountain. Or karst, because that’s what they technically are.

Up close, the Burren is less like a soggy cake and more like a bizarre cross between an inhospitable moonscape and a crazy wildflower meadow. I know, it doesn’t make sense. And yet it is. Mullaghmore and Slieve Rua are limestone karsts squeezed up like toothpaste by tectonics pressure, then eroded into miles of ankle-snapping holes and hollows. What little soil hides in those hollows has become home to a bewildering variety of plant life. There are at least two species of purple orchids everywhere, and oxlip and half a dozen things that not even Google could identify. And daisies, of course. So many freaking daisies.

And the wind. That’s the thing about Clare – as far as I can tell, it’s always blowing. It blows like crazy down at the water. It blows straight up at the Cliffs of Moher. It blows with a vengeance across the rocky, stone-walled pastures inland. And at the top of Mullaghmore? Well, it was blowing even harder than that.

After getting back from each day’s perambulation, napping, poking at the writing and cleaning up, it was time for food and music. I quickly gravitated to O’Connor’s Pub, where legendary flute player Christy Barry held court some nights. My musical friend from Macreddin asked me to relay her greetings to him; when I did, second night in town, he looked me over and asked what I played. Guitar, badly, I said. Well, are you going to join in, or what? he asked. Come on, now.

I tried to keep up, but I was so far out of my league that I knew it was best to keep anything audible from coming out of my guitar, muting strings with my palm as I strummed. I could feel the great man watching me, questioning his earlier decision to encourage me.

About an hour in, he took another tack. “So Pablo,” he said, “Then, how about you sing one for us?” I tried to beg off at first, but once everyone’s eyes are on you like that, there’s no getting away. I tried Rambling Rover – yes, it’s an English song, not Irish, but the whole pub joined in and, if I may say so, rocked the place. Not long after, Owen, a young barkeep with a golden tenor, sang some Richard Thompson and Kenny Rogers – they seem to love “The Gambler” here almost as much as they love “Caledonia” (I asked him about it: “Oh yeh, we feckin’ love Caledonia, don’ we?”). And then it was a free-for-all, with John Denver and Johnny Cash accompanied by guitar, pennywhistle and concertina.

On his way out some time after midnight, Christy sidled up to me and clapped me on the back and confided, “So Pablo, not much for guitar, yeh know? But you do have a good voice on yeh.” Yeah, I was in heaven.

4 responses to “County Clare

    • And you had, too, heard of Doolin. That’s where Alyssa and I formed two thirds of a session with the Israeli dude who sang Dock of the Bay and other such dreck. All the trad musicians had gone inland for the winter.


  1. Standing stones and stone circles bring death closer but fiddles and sweet voices from pubs shout it down and shoo it away. Thanks for your play by play.


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