Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Tales from Donegal

I was told a powerful family story from the past by a man living in Ireland.  It helped me understand the Ireland of my ancestors, and how that past shaped the character of Irish people in both Ireland and those places to which they immigrated.

In 1902 in a small town in County Donegal on the western coast of Ulster, now part of the Republic of Ireland and the European Union but in 1902 still under England’s thumb, a decision was made by a family living on a farm outside the small town of Ardara.  The oldest son, fast becoming a man and wanting to marry, would farm the land.  As for the younger boys, there was little opportunity for them.  Their small farm could only feed so many.  Times were hard.  It was decided the best course was for two of the boys to make the voyage to America.  Travel arrangements were made, and they prepared to leave.

I assumed, why I don’t know, that Irish men and women who left their homes went gladly, hungry for adventure, thirsty for the chance to work, buy land, and prosper.  That might have been the case for some, perhaps most, but this family told their story differently.  The boys picked to leave for America didn’t want to go.  They didn’t feel like lucky chosen ones.  All the support they had ever known in their short lives came from the people on that small farm and the community around it.  The feared life in a far-off place that didn’t include that support.

But they accepted the decision, boarded the ship, and after waving good-bye from the ship’s rail, turned their backs on those who loved them but sent them away.
Sixty-six years later a middle-aged woman made a journey alone back to Ireland.  Guided by her father’s detailed directions she was dropped in the early morning by a narrow lane that wound through fields and farms on the way to Ardara.  The lane intersected a larger road where she turned left as her father had told her. Walking alone she looked for a thatched roofed cottage at the base of a hill where her father told her she would find the farm on which he was born. Unsure of her whereabouts, she saw three men working in the field near there and made here way towards them.

An old man and his two sons were cutting peat.  To take peat from the bog you first take off the heather, then the topsoil, no more than a foot or two, and any clay you find under it.  When all that is gone the peat is exposed.

An old man at the bottom of the bog was cutting  peat into rectangular sods with a special type of spade called a slane.  His eldest son heaved the sods from the bottom of the pit to ground level.  His second oldest then loaded the sods onto a wheelbarrow and took them to a flat accessible area where he stacked the turf.  In the ground this fuel is peat, when it is removed and stacked it is turf.  Think of it as coal in an early stage before it hardens.

They were cutting peat and stacking turf for the next winter.  It would dry in the stacks for a full year.  It was hard work, but it was how they warmed their house and cooked their food.  Irishmen had cut peat and stacked turf on that farm every year for as long as they knew.  1968 was no different.  The son stacking peat in the barrow spoke to the others.

“A woman has climbed the fence and is walking towards us.”

“Who would she be?”

“I couldn’t tell you.”

“Help me up.”

His father left his spade in the bog, took his son’s hand, and with his help hauled himself up and out of the bog.  He put a hand over his eyes, squinted, and took a long look at her for himself.  As she came closer, he yelled across the field, first in Gaelic.

“A Chuisle Mo Chroi!  (O pulse of my heart!) I know who you are.  You need not say a word.  Welcome home.”

He walked towards her and they embraced.

“You must be my uncle.  How did you know who I was?”

“As sure as I know the back of my hand, I can see my brother’s face in yours.  You’re home with your family now niece, and us with you.  Let me introduce you to your cousins.”

As she shook her cousins’ hands, one of them said

“Well it appears at least one of our uncles made it to America.  Who would your father be?”

And with that the talking began and the stories flew.  During all the years that passed since two brothers boarded the ship that day in 1902 there had been no communication of any kind between them and their family in Ireland.  Then, in an instant, their family was whole once again.
That family has been in contact ever since, with letters and visits back and forth.  From that story I gained an appreciation for the pain and heartache caused by the huge movement of the Irish to Canada, America, and elsewhere.  And long ago my family was part of it.  The world is a smaller place now, and the desperation that forced that migration, at least for Ireland, is largely over.

So, am I the first of my great grandfather’s grandsons to come back since he boarded the ship in 1860? How did Robert McClure feel when Ireland faded in the distance, the ship hit open sea, and he was gone for good? There is so much I don’t know.

Ardara is the perfect place to see both the old and the new in today’s Ireland.  The town, with the help of the Irish government and the EU, has taken pains to preserve the buildings, the streets, the feel of the town as it used to be.  They have a nice diamond, which we would call the town square, a nearby river walk, and narrow cobblestone streets.  But their greatest resource is friendly charming people.  I’m prejudiced, because I’m a farm kid who lived near a little town, and will forever be convinced that nothing beats the feel of a small community.

By sheer chance the three days we scheduled in Ardara (it looks like it would be pronounced R dar a, but the locals say R dra) coincided with the annual Johnny Doherty music festival.  Johnny was a famous fiddler from Ardara.  There is a statue of him on the Diamond.  I took a picture of his statue but he looks  gray, cold, and quite stiff in marble.  Here’s a photo of Johnny in his later years.  Life becomes him.

 We heard live music every day.  The festival headliners were “Four Men and a Dog”, a musical group from all over Ireland.  We saw them play at the small downtown hotel ballroom.  They were amplified, on a stage, playing both traditional and non-traditional tunes and songs, and they were terrific.  The band (6 men, no dog) included an electric piano, accordion, two fiddlers, a great guitarist and vocalist, and a bodhran player.  One of the fiddlers occasionally switched to a banjo.

We had seats in the front row near the speakers.  We were blown away. They are famous in Ireland, but we had never heard of them.  They get to the states at times, though it sounds like its mostly the east coast.  Lots of talk about Boston.

The next night we saw the Friel Sisters, three young women who sing like angels.  Anna plays the flute, Sheila the Uilleann pipes, and Clare the fiddle.  They brought along a young man who played the Bozouki, a Greek stringed instrument played like a guitar.  The sisters have roots in Ardara, so it was like coming home for them.  They interacted so well with the crowd, sharing recent news about themselves.

Sheila explained the difference between Uilleann (Irish) and Scottish bagpipes.  Scottish pipers are always blowing into a stem that fills a bladder they squeeze under their arm to force air through the drones which hang down around the bag and the chanter which they finger as you would a flute.  Uilleann pipes use a bellows they pump with their right arm forcing air through a hose around their back to a bladder under their left arm. It allows them the freedom to sing.  And of course, the Irish think their pipes are far superior.

I always thought of bagpipes as novelty instruments, used for marching, but those Irish Uilleann pipes were a key part of their small quartet.  Sheila changed the tone of the instrument by raising and lowering the chanter, breaking a seal on a piece of vinyl on her leg.  When she did it let out a louder wail.  It was a haunting and beautiful part of their sound.  They did pretty vocals, but they rocked as well.  Especially Clare on the fiddle.  We were upstairs in a room with maybe 75 people.  Such an intimate concert.

Throughout our time in Ardara we would see people during the day on the street, and in the evening in the restaurants, whom we had seen at the pubs and music venues.  They would recognize us and  speak to us.  One day we found benches on a river walk that winds through town and butted up against a motel.

As we sat a father and his two sons were in the mostly vacant adjoining parking lot hitting a ball back and forth to each other with short bats.  The ball got away.  I ran it down and threw it back to one of the boys.  The father spoke to us from across the parking lot.

“Say, didn’t we see you at the concert last night?”

“Yes you did.  You were sitting in the row behind us.”

“Great band doncha think?”

“We loved them.”

“They’re famous.  Hard to see them.  So good they came to Ardara.”

“Are you from here?”

“No, we live down by Kilkenny but my wife is from up the road.  We’re here mostly to see the Friel Sisters tonight.  These boys are their second cousins.”

He sensed we were Americans.  How I don’t know.  We asked him questions about what he was doing with those bats.

“My boys are on a hurling team.  We’re practicing passing.  Do you want to try it?”

I did.  It’s like hitting a baseball, except you hold the bat cross handed.  It’s a dead ball about the size of a baseball.  My friend Ken tried it too.  The boys laughed at us a little, and their Dad didn’t approve.  One, the red head, lowered his eyes and blushed when his Dad gave him “the look.”  His cheeks turned red as apples.

We talked for half an hour.  Irish sports vs. American sports, where various sports are more popular in his country, Irish history, American politics.  He figured Elizabeth Warren was the new front runner among the Democrats.  He figured for sure the Democrats would elect the next president and relayed how shocked he, his family, and all his friends were when the current man who sits in the white house was elected.  He was very well informed on the U.S..
It was a sunny afternoon.  After a while the boys drifted away and resumed their game.  We continued our chat about food, places in the U.S., you name it.  Travel to countries where language is not a barrier offers great opportunity for visitors to really connect with others in the world.

On Sunday morning my wife and I went to Catholic mass in the old church on Ardara’s main drag.  It is surrounded by graves.  Good crowd at church.  No music, no incense, no frills. Three altar girls and an old Irish priest.  His message, on welcoming immigrants and aiding the poor, was refreshing.  When we passed the peace in the pews we felt warmly greeted.  I took communion.  I always do.  God has not yet struck me dead.

When mass ended, we ran into our host from the B&B who showed us his family’s graves and talked about those that occupied them.  Ardara, like many towns in that area, was known for its weavers and their woolen sweaters and coats.  I checked the directory of names that was provided at the entrance to the cemetery and then joined my wife at a shop across the street.

I bought a sturdy tweed sport coat.  I think it will last me till I go out and even longer.  As the shop keeper was ringing me up, I asked about the names in the cemetery.

“I checked the names on the map of graves for the cemetery and was surprised not to see my name.  There were all sorts of Mc’s and Mac’s but not a single McClure.”

“No,” she said softly, “there wouldn’t be.”

“Why is that?”

“Well that’s a Protestant name, and you were in a Catholic cemetery.”

“You know just by my name that my family is Protestant?  No chance of a Catholic McClure?”

She smiled.

“No, unless someone along the way converted.  You may find McClures in other cemeteries, but you could look for a fair long time before you come upon one taking their eternal rest next to a Catholic church.”

I didn’t know what to say and she could see that.  She went on.

“Remember now, we’ve had peace in Ireland since 1998.  Twenty-one years.  The troubles never affected us directly much here in Ardara.  But we were and always have been keenly tuned, each to the other, as to religion.  I’m very thankful that’s over, as all of us are, and we’ve relaxed in many ways, but habits change slowly.  We can’t erase our past.  We simply deal with it.  Separating Catholics from Protestants, not only in life but also in death, was part of it.  Still is.”

“Thanks for explaining.  I might have figured that for myself if I had thought for just a minute.”

“Thank you, Mr. McClure, for understanding.  Be glad you don’t think that way and ask as many questions as you like.”

Every day I was in Ireland I learned a little more.  If you travel to Ireland consider visiting County Donegal.  It is wildly beautiful, but its physical beauty is far surpassed by the loveliness of its people.  

Friday, October 25, 2019

Who are You Going to Shoot?

Forgive me for breaking up my stories from Ireland but I’m back home now taking a fresh look at the country I live in and its politics.  I’ll send you ‘Tales from Donegal’ very soon. It is half-written.  This one is done.

I have quite a few FaceBook friends and have gained more over the years by slowly finding people from my past. One group is people from the small Central Illinois town where I went to public school.  I graduated with 26 other students.

I always felt like I knew everyone in that community, and they knew me.  That was not true then and is even less true now.  Lots of us have moved away and others have taken our places.  But I find individuals, both living there and elsewhere, and when I do, I ask them to be friends.  Usually, they say yes.

I can’t help but think of those people as they were when we were both young, 50 or more years ago.  We’ve both changed a lot, and by reading their posts I learn more about them; what they did or still do for a living, the make-up of their families, what political beliefs they hold.

I want to stay close to them for who they are, not what their politics happen to be, or their interests.  We can’t help but have a lot in common because our childhoods were remarkably the same, or at least it seems to me they were.  We didn’t look for each other’s differences back then.  We assumed, or at least I did, that we were all in this thing adults called “life” together.  We’re all from the same place after all.  Same school, same town, same cornfields.

I unfriend very few people  Occasionally I reject the really over the top political posers on either side, right or left, who keep sharing false or questionable posts.  I welcome exposure to how those who differ from my beliefs feel, and how they react to the events we both experience.  I’m a liberal democrat, but plenty of my friends are not.  We’re still friends.  At least I think we are.  But sometimes they go silent and I fear politics has come between us.

That happens sometimes.  I had this exchange with a former friend from my hometown, an actual friend from high school and then a FaceBook friend for a few years.  He was a couple of years older than me, a Vietnam Vet (I was lucky not to be drafted), and a staunch defender of the second amendment.  He posted something along these lines.

If the libtards try impeaching our president, we’re going to have to get our AR 15’s out and take control of the situation.

Don’t quote him or me, but that was the sentiment.   A threat of violence, exercising his second amendment rights if our government used a constitutional process to remove a sitting president from office. 

This is a guy I know.  I played basketball with him.  Good guy.  I didn’t believe he would resort to those tactics, gun violence against people who disagree with him politically, joining a violent right-wing mob in the streets.
So, I replied with this message to make him think and perhaps spark an answer and a discussion:

“Who are you going to shoot?”

He didn’t reply.  In fact, after I saw nothing from him for weeks, I checked his status and discovered he unfriended me.  I guess I crossed a line of some kind in his mind like a few people have in mine.  He didn’t want to hear any more of what I had to say.  And now we have no opportunity to trade views of any kind.  I hope he’s doing OK.  We were kids together after all.

I thought it was some random sentiment until this week when once again the same idea popped up in an unlikely place, Major League Baseball.   An umpire posted this on his twitter feed

I will be  buying an AR-15 tomorrow, because if you impeach MY PRESIDENT this way, YOU WILL HAVE ANOTHER CIVAL WAR!!!!!!!!!”

He quickly took it down, but not before it became national news. MLB is concerned enough with its image that it is taking his threat seriously.  He’s issued an apology.  The standard spin is happening.  The story has not yet died.  But there it is again.  Impeach my guy and I start shooting.
Years ago, I used to argue with gun rights advocates about the growing mass shootings and lack of background checks.  Once, with a particularly frank friend, after more than a few beers, he shared his sort of background belief in a low voice.  Like he was telling me a secret.  The heart of the matter.  He was a former cop.

“You know why we’re free, don’t you?  The government knows we’re armed to the teeth.  They can’t screw with Americans or their rights, because they know what would happen.”

“What would happen?”

“We’d get our guns out and the country would go up for grabs.”

“You mean in England, and Ireland, and Belgium, and Japan and most other developed countries where governments have kept a lid on guns, they’re not free?  They still have working democracies.  It seems to be going well for them.  Why are they so different than us?”

“Oh, you poor naïve liberal bastard you.  Haven’t you learned anything?  Power comes from the barrel of a gun.  Give up your guns and you’re dead.  That’s why the second amendment is so important.  If they come for us, they’re going to have a fight on their hands.”

“Oh, come on.  If they really come for us, they also have the army, air force, navy, and marines.  I don’t think its likely a bunch of scared white men shooting guns in the streets are going to make a difference.  The thing that is going to make the difference is voting.  Free and open elections.  Using democracy the way it was intended.”

“Damn it, McClure.  I thought you were smarter than that.  I need another beer.”

Those conversations often dead-end and friends agree to disagree.  All the same, I thought, on that topic, he was crazy.  He thought I was a naïve pacifist.  I thought he held on to a violent fantasy. 
Apparently, that idea is still alive.  On Tuesday the 22nd of October Rick Wiles, senior pastor at Flowing Streams Church in Florida made this remark on his right-wing TruNews TV program. 

Cowboys, mountain men, and “guys that know how to do violence” would start attacking and “hunting down Democrats”.  

He says a lot more.  He is particularly critical of Beto O’Rourke for proposing a ban on assault rifles and advocating the removal of not for profit status for churches who discriminate against our LGBTQ populations.  Beto is not popular with the Reverend at all.  As are all democrats who have “never accepted the election of our current commander in chief.”

I watched that broadcast, which was slickly produced I have to say.  Nice promo, computer graphics, background music.  You would think you were watching a network news special.  He started with a monologue then brought on a guest.  The lighting was good.  They wore nice suits with ties.  Here are their greatest hits.

    •           We (I couldn’t tell how he defined “we”.  Democrats and Republicans?  Democrats and Christians?) are two different people sharing the same land.
    •          The Civil War has already begun.  The policies are laid out.  The conflict has begun.  It’s just that no shots have yet to be fired. 
    •  Our brothers the Southern Baptists and the Charismatics are preparing to defend their churches, and their homes, with militias if needed.
    •     Christians in America are under assault.
    •          I am not a violent man and I don’t want to cause harm, but I will defend the cross, the bible, and the church with my blood if necessary.  
I don’t go looking for these sites, except when I start to do research on a blog post.  I hadn’t heard of Breitbart News until our current president was elected and I became acquainted with former Breitbart exec Steve Bannon and his thoughts on America and its future.  Breitbart is almost mainstream now.  But you don’t have to seek out the right's internet addresses to hear a call to violence.  You can get it on the evening news.

Heck, you can hear it from the president of our country.  They’re veiled threats, but threats all the same.  Here are parts of a POTUS speech delivered in Pittsburgh to the Shale Insight conference, an annual energy industry event focused on fracking in the Marcellus shale basin, a region in the key voting states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, on Wednesday the 23rd.  A protestor interrupted his speech and our president responded this way, speaking ostensibly to the security guards but mostly the crowd.

Don’t hurt him.  Don’t hurt him, please.  They don’t know they’re dealing with very tough people in this room.”

Wild applause and laughter.

Oh, they don’t know who they’re dealing with.  They don’t know who they’re dealing with.  They just don’t understand.  All right.  Go home to mom.”

More laughter.

Explain to mom that you tried to take on very powerful people and many of them physically as well as mentally.  That is not a good thing to do-not in this room.  Be careful.

Big guys with hard hats were sitting near the President on the stage, grinning broadly. 

During his 2016 campaign, the presidential candidate that would go on to win the election but lose the popular vote was occasionally more explicit, at one point telling supporters at a rally if they assaulted a protestor, he would pay their legal bills.  At another rally he said, of another protestor, he would like to “punch him in the face.”

After incidents in which protesters at his rallies were assaulted, Trump modified his language.  He embraces physical toughness as a virtue and has demonstrated few qualms about those who speak out against him being handled roughly.  But he has mastered the ability to say what he means in a way that he can claim to have meant the opposite.  Like a hostage forced to read a letter on TV prepared by his captors to the folks back home. 

Our president embraces the idea that he’s the representative of the toughest Americans, people who would do battle for him if necessary.  In an interview with Breitbart News in March of this year, the president made the point more explicitly.

I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump-I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough, until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.

I don’t really think my boyhood friend is part of that group.  I want to think his post was intended to be provocative.  Bluster and bravado.  But could that certain point, which the leader of our nation referred to earlier this year, which he claims would be very bad, be an impeachment vote in the house? 

And if it is, I still want an answer to my question.   Who are the tough people with guns going to shoot?  Could it be me? 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Chasing Ghosts and Irish Pubs

I went to Ireland on the trail of two men, William James McClure, (1815-1895) who was born, lived, and died in Antrim County, Ireland and his son Robert Montgomery McClure, who came to America from there at age 18.  I just learned William’s name, and that of his wife Sarah (1815-1914), about a month ago.  His name and his dates of birth and death are absolutely all I know about him.

I’m a bit more familiar with Robert Montgomery (1842-1893) who was born in Ballymena (or was it Ballymoney?  My father always mentioned the two towns together) and sailed at age 18 for America.  
I know he had an arrangement before he left Ireland in 1860.  His passage was paid by a friend or relative, James Gillan, originally from Antrim County who was farming near Tremont, Illinois.  It was agreed that Robert would work on Gillan’s farm until his debt, payment of his passage, was paid.  As far as I know he did that, working seven years for Gillan, and then married his daughter Sara and moved to the Colfax, Illinois area where he bought land and farmed.  Facts.

But I know Robert Montgomery as a man, a person, hardly at all.  My Dad told me his father described my great grandfather, the Irishman, as “stern” and left the raising of the children largely up to his wife, applying discipline himself, harshly, only when needed.  I know one single story about the Irishman Robert pulling my grandfather Willie from the freezing water of a pond where they were cutting ice.  That’s it.

My great grandfather was father to William James McClure (named after his grandfather in Ireland), who farmed near Danvers and had a son named Dean, who did the same.  Dean was my Dad.  Simple straight line there.

William James McClure                              Great Great Grandfather

Robert Montgomery McClure                   Great Grandfather

William James McClure                              Grandfather

Dean Lyle McClure                                      Father

David Bruce McClure

Five generations of McClures, two born in Ireland, three in America, with a sixth underway.  Dean, my Dad, told me a lot about his father William, whom they called him Willie.  He farmed with horses, bought a steam threshing machine he would take on a threshing run to farms almost to Iowa, played the harmonica, threw horseshoes, and loved practical jokes.  I have a feel for him.

But Robert Montgomery who left for America and his father, William James who stayed in the Ballymena/Ballymoney area, are largely ghosts.  I know of them, but nothing about them.  I was out to change that. 

I’ve learned the hard way how this works.  We learn of the dead from the living, mostly through stories spoken and remembered.  After those with the first-hand memories die, unless they pass on stories that people remember, or have words or pictures printed on paper or preserved digitally, they are lost to the past.  By going to Ireland, I hoped to shore up our McClure history, this time writing it down.  On a tombstone in a cemetery between Ballymena and Ballymoney I read this inscription on some unrelated grave - “Forever Remebered.”  That’s a lovely thought but it just isn’t true.

As luck would have it, days before I left for Ireland, I ran into an old friend who had just returned.  He had visited a small country church where an ancestor was believed to have been married.  As he described it, he “could feel a piece of that man’s heart” as he stood near the altar where his ancestor once stood.  I longed to find a similar place and experience that feeling.

We landed in Dublin.  The ghost McClures were out of range.  The family I came from were Scots Irish, and as far as I know our whole story was written in the North in Antrim County.

But Dublin is big and beautiful.  We had two nights there.  Dublin gave up its treasures to us, mostly musical.  On one of those nights we went on a musical pub crawl with two musicians through the streets of old Dublin in and around the Temple Bar district.

All the music we  heard and musical lore we learned came to us in the upstairs rooms of three pubs.  Sometimes they call these rooms snugs, small rooms fitting 25 people or so, at low tables with squat stools.  “Nearer the floor for when you topple” was the reason given for their size.  At each a small bar in the corner served pints, half pints, and whiskey.  The musicians sat among us on slightly higher stools.  We started in Temple Bar.  I don’t remember the name of the pub.  They collected our tickets and explained the evening before us.

The man doing the talking and playing guitar introduced the band – Sarah. All told there were but two musicians.  The one who did most of the talking played the guitar and that flat Irish drum called a bodhran.  Sarah played the flute, not a silver flute but a wooden Irish flute, and occasionally a penny whistle made of tin.  I was hoping for a bigger band, a fuller sound., until I heard them play.  I was amazed at the music they got out of those instruments, and the number of notes that filled those three rooms.

Two or three songs and we were off through the streets of Dublin to the Ha’Penny Pub, then over the River Liffey on this beautiful pedestrian bridge to Brannigans.

According to the guitar player, who talked more as people bought him more drinks, true Irish folk music is never amplified and rarely played on stages.  The best music, he believed, is shared by friends and patrons in pubs in what are called “sessions.”  Musicians gather to play, inspired by their love of music,  with the hope that pints would appear at their table. 

“Don’t be fooled.  We all know the same tunes, a sheet of music on a stand you will never see, and we play our hearts out trying to make the tunes sound better.  Always the same chord changes, the same basic progression, but with a relentless push to put on our own touches. Tis well and good that people listen, but the session players don’t give a damn about you.  They’re there for themselves and each other, hopin’ against hope it all comes out right.”

Not only did the musicians play their instruments, they talked. And talked.  It was Ireland after all.   Here’s what we learned from them about Irish music.  Tunes are instrumental.  Songs have words.  There is a bright line between the two.  Irish musicians never claim they are going to play a tune and break into singing.  It’s just not done.

The tunes are of two basic types, reels and jigs.  For musicians, I gather it’s much about time signature. Jigs are 6-8 time, while reels are 4-4.  The numbers mean little to me, it’s about how they sound.  Thankfully they translated the math to English.  Jigs, in this case a single jig, say the word jiggedy (3 syllables) with the accent on jig in a repeating pattern.  JIG e ty, JIG e ty, JIG e ty.  And then there are variations, double jigs (carrots and cabbages), slip jigs, and slides.  Way over my head.

There’s also horn pipes, in the nautical tradition, and polkas, and mazurkas and all types of tunes and songs.  Polkas are helped by an accordion of course.  We never saw a full up Lawrence Welk style piano accordion but rather the little button box kind of squeeze boxes.  The musicians explained there are only three truly Irish instruments:, the harp (usually a small 13 string harp called a cruit), the Irish (different than Scottish) bagpipes called uilleann or union pipes,  and the bodhran.  There is also something called a timpan, played with a bow and a plectrum, rarely heard these days. 

The wooden Irish flute is hard to claim as Ireland’s own because flutes were played all over the world since music has been played.  I’d put the bodhran in that category too.  It looked very similar to a flat drum I’d seen played in Morocco that they claimed was theirs.  Why we want to split hairs on these things is beyond me.  You’ll hear banjo in Irish music, fiddles almost always, and any umber of instruments.  But the pub crawl musicians were purists.  The guitarist didn’t apologize for his non-Irish instrument though.

Jigs began and still are, when played more slowly, dance tunes for, you guessed it, Irish jigs.  There is little percussion in Irish folk music because originally  the tapping slapping shoes of dancers with their feet flying and their arms straight down at their sides originally kept the time.  A dancer joined the band at Brannigans and did all his steps on 3'x3'' square of plywood.  The story on not moving their arms is that the bartenders in Ireland used to dance behind the bar for money, and there wasn't enough room to put their arms out.  When they came out from behind the bar they couldn't change.  I'm not sure I believe that, but that's what I was told.

Reels are the hard driving tunes of Irish folk music in 4-4 time.  Phonetically that’s a UK bus repeated over and over “double decker, double decker, double decker.”  Reels are also played, usually more slowly, for Irish traditional dances called “Ceilis”.  We saw some Ceili dancing later in the trip.  Think square dancing.

Played fast, reels become the raucous rocking traditional Irish music you probably think of first.  Something about reels makes me want to drink.  Well jigs too.  Irish music in general.  Perhaps music in general.  OK, yes, I’ve been known to feel the urge to drink in deathly quiet rooms.  I admit it.  But nothing makes me want to drink more than Irish music.

Click this Irish reel done right and let’s end with a session.  

Next up, Stories from Donegal.