21 March, 2007


Two weeks since I left Ireland. In dreams I am still there.

Every single night.

10 March, 2007


On Sunday, the program had us in a Dublin neighbourhood pub for back to back music sessions from three in the afternoon 'til close, which was more than most of us could face without breaking down and crying. (Incidentally, it was the over-50 crowd who were the die-hards among us, while the rest would be standing by the venue exit each night ready to board the coach and get to bed.)

Consequently, the majority passed on the afternoon country & bluegrass music session, which was a pity, because by all reports it was excellent. It would have been my session of choice, but the pub was across town, and I would have been in for the long haul. After some hemming and hawing in the lobby, Patrick decided to catch a nap and I went for a walk. We had supper at a pizza joint in Temple Bar, where management seemed to feel quite strongly that corn kernels are what's been missing from pizza all this time.

We caught a cab to the pub for the late session, which featured local traditional musicians. There were several fiddlers, a couple of guitars, accordian, uillean pipes, and a bodhran. The music was great. Pamela Morgan paid tribute to our recently deceased Dermot O'Reilly, which caught me off guard and made me cry. About that time, I noticed an older man come in who reminded me both of Dermot and my father a little. We ended up in the same cab together at the end of the evening. He was Sligo poet Dermot Healey, who was to be on the program with us at Dun Laoghaire the following evening.

That was to be our last gig in Ireland. We shared an inflated and convoluted cab ride down the coast to Dun Laoghaire early in the day, hoping to catch the student March Hare at the local college. But our cabbie couldn't find the place and by that time we hated him too much to hand him one more Euro than we were already into him for, so we abandoned the quest and had him drop us straight at the reading venue. We had a few pints and waited for the rest of our group to trickle in.

The evening was great. Everyone's energy was high. The local performers were terrific, especially the Shannon Colleens, a singing duo who did a biting satire about American soldiers who stopover in Ireland on their way to Iraq. It was a great night to go out on. The Newfoundlanders had an early morning flight back to Canada, so we didn't linger long after the show, although several of us gathered in the hotel pub for tea and farewell.

It was lonely the next day after they'd all left. We spent a quiet day in the city, Patrick working out of the hotel pub and me walking across the Liffey to the Writer's Museum. We splurged that night on the early prix fixe menu at a French restaurant off St. Stephen's Green, and reviewed all the ways in which we'd fallen in love with our travelling companions and with Ireland. Neither of those two threads feels like it ends here.

07 March, 2007


Curious about some of the folks I've been rambling around Ireland with? Here's a link to audio performances by several of them:

Rattling Books on MySpace

Also check out the bios for


More later on the rest.

05 March, 2007


Sunday, 4 March Dublin

Sitting in a (sigh) pub in Dublin with a cappucino, waiting to be checked in. It looks like it might take a while. Grey and raining day here, and not nearly enough sleep last night.

Yesterday morning was our last in Waterford City, and I was sad to say goodbye. It was a bright beautiful morning, and Patrick and I set out after breakfast to walk up and down the cobbled square, which was full of Saturday morning market stalls and buskers. A saxophonist burst into ABBA at which point we had to come to a complete halt, me grinning hugely at Patrick. “This is the happiest day of my life,” I sighed.

We had a quick tour of Waterford’s great museum, which has installed a Newfoundland exhibit since I last visited four years ago. Then a sublime lunch in the sunny, modern café: panninis of melted cheese and Irish ham with a glass of shiraz and a ginger-pear cake for dessert. That’s what passes for cafeteria food in Europe. We talked earnestly about moving there with the children, which is an obligatory point in any really worthwhile vacation. I wish it was mandatory for every American citizen to spend time abroad, just to confront the reality that people all over the world are enjoying life, liberty and pursuing happiness without the benefit of the so-called American values that some think need to be exported at the end of a tank.

I realize being on vacation is not a true measure of day to day living in a foreign country, but it seems fair to observe that the baseline asthetic is higher here. Even mass-produced items are beautiful. The attention to quality seems to require that life be lived more mindfully. You go to the butcher for your fresh meat, the greengrocer for your produce, the bakers for your bread. The carrots have dirt on them that needs to be washed off. It all seems more natural, and makes you wonder what on earth we are doing with all the time we are supposedly saving with convenience items in America. More time for tv? More time to rush to the next thing to distract us from living life?

We boarded the coach at two for our gig in Enniscorthy, the high point of which was a private tour of the town castle. It has just been turned over to the national trust, having been run locally for years. It had become a kind of wonderfully eclectic storage shed, with people donating family antiques, from penny farthing bicycles to woolen socks worn in the Easter Uprising of ’16. It had a tiny dank dungeon, to which we applied our clown car routine, clambering one after another down a tiny staircase into a cave with barely room to turn around and get the hell out.

We had dinner with our hosts at the venue, an American-style pub/restaurant. The reading itself was in a dedicated area with a stage. I went up first. The sound was problematic, but the room was filled and the audience was warm and responsive. Unfortunately, there was some miscommunication about time slots and it became a marathon. Our energy was pretty low by the time we piled on the bus. I thought the atmosphere was summed up perfectly by the kind of anecdotes our coach driver was telling: a few nights before he had entertained us on the way home with heartwarming tales about his Jack Russell terrier; on this night he was pointing out points along the way where pedestrians got killed in horrible traffic accidents. It was grim all around.

We did have a clear view of the lunar eclipse from the pub parking lot. We snuck out the back door one and two at a time, to smoke cigarettes and curse the long-winded; to crane our necks to the sky and watch our own shadow.

02 March, 2007


When Patrick and I lived in Mexico, we had a running joke over the daily decision of what to eat for supper. “I know!” one of us would say. “What about some sort of spicy meat, wrapped in some sort of flat bread—say, I don’t know, a corn tortilla— and maybe some cheese melted over it?

“Hmmm,” the other would say, as if pondering a bold culinary excursion where no tourista had gone before. “And what if there were some beans on the side?”

We have launched a reprisal of this routine in Ireland. “So, what’s happening tonight?” one of us will ask.

“I’m not sure, but I believe there will be people gathering in a pub. And that there might be alcohol served in large pint glasses.”

“And might there be some instruments, and perhaps some singing, involved?”

“Why, yes, Yes, I believe there might.”

In fact, I am composing this from a pub, and have just consumed a pint.

We spent our first really wretched day traipsing around Wexford County in the driving rain, throwing money at various transportation workers. It was a day off from performing, and instead of doing the sane thing and hanging around in bed all day, drinking hot tea and watching Spongebob in Gaelic on the Irish language channel ( which, next to the mummified cat and rat in Christ Church Cathedral is the most amazing thing I’ve seen in Ireland), I insisted we grab a bus and try to find a famine museum that turned out not to be open. After missing several buses and taxis, we then took a cab for ten euros to an outdoor interpretive exhibit of Stone Age culture, where we had a coffee and decided from the glassed-in café that the early Celts could have it, and took another ten euro cab back to a bus shelter to wait for the next bus back to Waterford.

We must have spent 70 euros, and on absolutely nothing. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson after I changed my mind the other night about going to Cork and caught a late afternoon bus, only to start violently vomiting in the public toilet as soon as I arrived at the theatre, and spent a miserable evening on the lobby sofa, listening to the applause within. All because I was afraid to miss out on anything.

Of course there was a pub session immediately following.

Oh well, they can’t all be An Rinn and Kilkenny, which were fantastic venues, although very different from one another, the first being in the village pub and the latter being in the tower room of Kilkenny Castle. Both were superb. We had most of yesterday afternoon to wander around Kilkenny, which is a gorgeous medieval city. I found the Irish counterpart to Wal-mart, Dunne’s, and bought lingerie and cookies. Had a great meal of roast pork in (wait for it) the pub. Picked up some lovely linen handkerchiefs too.

There were some fantastic highpoints in the Kilkenny show, which was a night off for me. Lisa Moore read from her novel Alligator. Nick Avis had the audience in the palm of his hand. Ron Hynes did his magic. A local poet, Mark Roper, almost took my breath away. I was determined to meet him before we left the building for (guess) the pub, and practically bowled him over where he stood, the poor man. Anyway, he was very sweet and gracious and he and I and his lovely wife Jane all had a drink together. Do look up his work. I thought it was outstanding.

It was a great day and night, and I’d be hard pressed to single out favorite moments, but some that come to mind are cappuccino and encouragement from Lisa, a wee, white haired man in the local pub standing up to sing us a song, standing in a phone booth in Kilkenny talking to Georgia back in Little Rock, because I had to tell her I was eating a Cadbury bar.

In An Rinn, we were blown away by a group of young local musicians, and an Irish poet by the the name of Áine Uí Fhoghlú, who writes in Irish and with whom I got to chatting later and hope to stay in touch.

Two funny moments from the An Rinn pub stand out and beg to be memorialized. To set up the first, I need to tell you that when we got to the pub, we thought at first there had been a mix up with the time—there was hardly a soul in the place. Then it was explained to us that, as it was a Wednesday night in the season of Lent, most of the villagers were still in Mass, and would be along shortly. Well, after church let out, they all filed in, among them an older woman who took her seat at the bar with an air of seniority and welcomed us all like a dowager queen. She was beaming and nodding and singing along from her throne right up until Joel Hynes took the stage and dropped some particularly colourful language.

The poor woman's eyes nearly popped out of her head. Her jaw dropped and she slid off the stool. She stood up and staggered around in circles, as if she had somehow slipped into a deviant parallel universe and could not now find the portal out. I imagine she took to her bed for three days. I wonder if she has recovered yet. Joel and the ladies.

The second cirque-de-hare act had the local master of ceremonies grabbing the microphone out from in front of Michael Crummey mid-reading to admonish the audience to stop talking, as it was distracting for the performers. Michael, considerably distracted, looked on with very nearly the same expression as the dear old lady above. It was hysterical. I don't know how he recovered his composure, but he went back to the beginning and saw it through. A pro, through and through.

It is all too much too keep abreast of, and in the middle of it, my digital camera has come down with its own version of Montezuma’s revenge, refusing to accept local batteries. I hope to sort this out before we move on tomorrow. I would hate to run into any more mummified animals and be caught without my camera.

01 March, 2007


Thursday morning, March 01

We leave for Kilkenny in an hour. Tonight's reading is in the castle there, which sounds like a 180 degree swing from last night's venue, the local pub in the fishing village of An Rinn (Ring), nestled in the Gaeltacht, where Irish is the first language.

Liam Rellis and I were having a chat about the Irish language just before I was due to go on and open the show. "Ah," says Liam, "the proper thing for you to say up there would be (insert unintelligible Gaelic phrase here)."

"Oh," says I, wide-eyed and earnest. "Okay. Tell me again, slowly."

Liam and I proceed to spend the next few minutes rehearsing my opening statement in Irish. Thank god, from the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a bystander smirk behind his pint.

I squinted at Liam. "What exactly does this phrase mean?"

Liam turned red all over, I think more with merriment than chagrin. "Ah, I don't think I could tell ye, Kyran. I'd have to show ye."

Note to self: don't trust the Irish.

I'm about to time out of my wildly expensive pay-by-the-hour internet connection (Patrick calls the local practice of charging for everything from packets of ketchup to coffee refills "death by a thousand cuts"). I want to share much more about our fantastic night in An Rinn and my miserable night in Cork (I changed my mind and caught a late bus), but it will have to wait.