We arrived in Killarney on the 27th and are staying at the Neptune Hostel which is just off main street and very near the magnificent Cathedral here. Several folks are talking about celebrating mass there tomorrow.

After dropping off our bags and food, we high-tailed it to Ballyvourney where we had a social dance class with Timmy “the Brit” McCarthy at the Mills Inn. It had been four or five years since Timmy had visited us in Charlottesville, but he hasn’t lost any of his energy or quick humor since we’ve seen him.

After we moved outside and finished the last couple of figures, the dance morphed into a session with at least a dozen different musicians and singers from the Ballyvourney area with a few songs from the on-lookers egged on by the session leaders. After we finished our delicious (and huge) meal on the patio, the BRIMS musicians and dancers joined in the craic. It was a lovely, special evening for everyone and we soaked up the hospitality of our hosts from Ballyvourney.

On Day 2, a group visited Cork and Blarney Castle with the requisite kissing of the Blarney Stone. The fiddlers went down past Ballyvourney to take classes with Connie O’Connell. He taught us a good 8-10 tunes including some really cool slip jigs which I’ll post on here when we get back to the States. He also had some really good tips for the beginners and taught the tunes to the advanced class at a mighty rate.

On Day 3, no classes were scheduled so everyone explored the area around Killarney… some by foot, some by bike, some by car. Our group went out a bit past Kenmare (which looked like a lovely town – we snacked in the town square). Kenmare is on the southern side of the Ring of Kerry and our route took us by a number of gorgeous views of Killarney National Park. Here is one of the views along the way.

The full schedule was catching up with all of us, but it’s all just too wonderful not to squeeze it all in. Sometimes you just have to catch a nap wherever you can… preferably in a field of heather.


We’ve arrived in Doolin and are very much enjoying the weather (70s and sunny), sites (Cliffs of Moher, the Burren) and the music (4 pubs within walking distance with sessions every night!). Our first evening here, John Daly came over to the hostel and led a session with us. After dinner, we wandered over to Gus O’Conner’s on Fisher Street to enjoy a session with John and Christy Barry.

On day 2, we had a morning of music, Irish language and drawing classes with Geraldine, Maeve and Cillian Cotter at the Micho Russell Community Center. Geraldine taught tin whistle and piano, Maeve taught beginning and advanced fiddle, and Cillian taught flute, whistle, and drawing. All three taught us language because we needed all the help we could get! Then we were treated to a wonderful concert by all three. I’ll post music files when I get home… too hard to upload from the road.

In the afternoon, we scatter to the wind – some going to the Cliffs, others to the Burren, followed by visits to several local pubs and another evening of great music.

On Day 3 we traveled to Oranmore for classes in the home of Tommy Keane and Jacqueline McCarthy. Though we had a little trouble finding their home, it was well worth the trek. Tommy and Jacqueline had a beautiful old place with a thatched roof (pronounced “tached”). We had fiddle, singing, dance, box and repertoire classes followed by a fun session.

Our last day was a travel day, but Sean Deighan hadn’t had a chance to see the Cliffs of Moher yet, so we quickly ran up the path before we left… maybe we ran a little too fast… as we almost lost Sean. But don’t worry Mary, Sean’s fine now and in good hands.

Christy Barry’s #2

The other evening at the BRIMS social at our house, Joe Basconi (a fine young fiddle player who is in town working on an advanced engineering degree) suggested we play Christy Barry’s set. That rekindled memories of BRIMS’ trip to Ireland in 2004 where we were fortunate enough to have Mr. Barry as our instructor in a wonderful pub in Lisdoonvarna, called the Roadside Tavern. As it turns out, our first night in Doolin we’ll be going to a session with him… ah, I can almost hear his penny whistle and taste the Guinness now! Anyway, being the nostalgic guy that I am (no comments from the peanut gallery), I dug up the recording from 2004 and thought it would be the perfect segue way as we head to Ireland. I think I’ll learn it tonight so I can teach it to folks during our layover in JFK.

Listen to Christy Barry’s #2

Next posts will be from Ireland … so stay tuned! 😉

Let the Healing Continue

“I am deeply sorry.” After 38 years, these words are late in coming, but important to be said and heard rather than left for historians to ponder. Penned by the author of “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”, this Op Ed piece by Bono in the NYTimes today is one of many reflections of this historic moment. It is also a gentle reminder of the huge costs in not addressing issues peacefully that need to be addressed.

As we prepare to travel to Ireland on Wed, to enjoy the music and fellowship in the pubs, we should also reflect on the more somber side of Irish history that I thought Bono captured well here, “…for a moment, the other life that Martin McGuinness could have had seemed to appear in his face: a commander of the Irish Republican Army that day in 1972, he looked last week like the fly fisherman he is, not the gunman he became.” The words of an old fisherman’s song from Cork ring true.

“…And still I live in hope to see
the Holy Ground once more.”

Coppers and Brass

Here’s another tune I’ve been working on recently called Coppers and Brass. It is a 3 part jig that I learned from Will Rourk of KGB and it caught my attention early on when he and Michael Tuite played it at our Sunday sessions at Fellini’s. It partially caught my ear because of the fun runs and octave skip in the B part and the beautiful cascading arpeggios of the C part. But another reason I might have noticed it is because it changes keys in the B part from the primary key of G to D. We rhythm players have to catch these things, you know, and Will surprised me several times before I recalled it without hesitation.

The name also intrigued me. I did a little sleuthing on the web (Google is fantastic for this kind of research) and saw a couple of explanations. Those of you who know the Bob Dylan song, Copper Kettle, might have gone down that path, as a few of us did. But the more likely explanation, in my view, is that coppers and brass refer to coinage as this very interesting article from the Irish Medical Times points out. Apparently there was a bit of a shortage of money back in the late 1600s and a temporary mint was commissioned in Dublin where, according to the article, “the presses at Capel Street, known as the ‘James’ (named after the king) and ‘Duchess’ (named after the Duchess of Tyrconnell) presses, began churning out coins around the clock with two teams of men working 12-hour shifts night and day. They began with copper and brass sixpences in June 1689.” So that’s the explanation I bought with my coppers and brass… but I’m open to hearing any other ideas you might have. In the meantime, enjoy the tune!

Listen to Coppers and Brass

I should also add that I played this on my new octave mandolin which I’m thoroughly enjoying. It is quickly becoming my instrument of choice as I can play tunes, add rhythm, or accompany songs. Quite a versatile beast!

Irish and Appalachian Folk Music

From sound to melody, Irish music has played a vital role in shaping traditional mountain music. We hear its influence in a pipe-like drone of a cross-tuned fiddle, and in the fast-paced rhythm of any good old-time tune.” This is a quote from Katherine James’ senior project for the Blue Ridge Virtual Governor’s school. Katherine is one of our graduating high school seniors at BRIMS this year (Sean Deighan is the other), and you can easily see how the local traditional music scene in the Charlottesville area has shaped her musical interests. As part of the project, Katherine organized three lively hands-on demonstrations at Rockfish Elementary School with local area musicians, Kim and Jimbo Cary, Pete Vigour and Alex Caton. The demonstrations were great fun for all involved and reminded me just how fortunate we are to have such gifted instructors in our community. This is a perfect example of why traditional music continues to thrive today. Alex and Pete were Katherine’s fiddle instructors while growing up (and Kim and Jimbo informally at local jams) and they pass on this tradition to their students and eventually, their students do the same for the next generation. This passing on of music (and culture and wisdom) is a beautiful gift. We should take the time to enjoy and appreciate it!