Tags: ireland

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Trad time

Fifteen years ago, I went to the Willie Clancy Summer School in Miltown Malbay:

I’m back from the west of Ireland. I was sorry to leave. I had a wonderful, music-filled time.

I’m not sure why it took me a decade and a half to go back, but that’s what I did last week. Myself and Jessica once again immersed ourselves in Irish tradtional music. I’ve written up a trip report over on The Session.

On the face of it, fifteen years is a long time. Last time I made the trip to county Clare, I was taking pictures on a point-and-shoot camera. I had a phone with me, but it had a T9 keyboard that I could use for texting and not much else. Also, my hair wasn’t grey.

But in some ways, fifteen years feels like the blink of an eye.

I spent my mornings at the Willie Clancy Summer School immersed in the history of Irish traditional music, with Paddy Glackin as a guide. We were discussing tradition and change in generational timescales. There was plenty of talk about technology, but we were as likely to discuss the influence of the phonograph as the influence of the internet.

Outside of the classes, there was a real feeling of lengthy timescales too. On any given day, I would find myself listening to pre-teen musicians at one point, and septegenarian masters at another.

Now that I’m back in the Clearleft studio, I’m finding it weird to adjust back in to the shorter timescales of working on the web. Progress is measured in weeks and months. Technologies are deemed outdated after just a year or two.

The one bridging point I have between these two worlds is The Session. It’s been going in one form or another for over twenty years. And while it’s very much on and of the web, it also taps into a longer tradition. Over time it has become an enormous repository of tunes, for which I feel a great sense of responsibility …but in a good way. It’s not something I take lightly. It’s also something that gives me great satisfaction, in a way that’s hard to achieve in the rapidly moving world of the web. It’s somewhat comparable to the feelings I have for my own website, where I’ve been writing for eighteen years. But whereas adactio.com is very much focused on me, thesession.org is much more of a community endeavour.

I question sometimes whether The Session is helping or hindering the Irish music tradition. “It all helps”, Paddy Glackin told me. And I have to admit, it was very gratifying to meet other musicians during Willie Clancy week who told me how much the site benefits them.

I think I benefit from The Session more than anyone though. It keeps me grounded. It gives me a perspective that I don’t think I’d otherwise get. And in a time when it feels entirely to right to question whether the internet is even providing a net gain to our world, I take comfort in being part of a project that I think uses the very best attributes of the World Wide Web.

100 words 085

I’m back in Brighton after a thoroughly lovely weekend in Ireland. I must remember to visit Cobh more often in the summertime when there’s quite a lot of fun things to do.

But it’s nice to be back in Brighton too. This is the time of year when a seaside town really comes alive. And this is a particularly good week to be in Brighton—in just a few more days it’ll be time for third and final Responsive Day Out. I know it’s going to be an excellent event, packed with great talks. I’m really looking forward to it.

100 words 084

Cobh really has become quite the tourist town. Today we—myself, Jessica, and my mother—took a boat over to Spike Island and enjoyed strolling around the fort and taking in the magnificent views. Then we went back across to town and had lunch where the White Star Line office used to be, sitting right next to the pier used to load goods and passengers for the Titanic.

We finished the evening in a pub listening to some great tunes (once the bodhrán player got the hint and left). Plenty of sunshine and plenty of pints. A really nice day.

100 words 083

I’m back in my hometown of Cobh this weekend to visit my mother. Usually my trips back here happen at Christmas time so this is the first time in ages that I’ve been here during the Summer time. It turns out that there’s quite a lot to see and do for the Summertime visitor.

Today we went out to Fota House and walked around the gardens. It was all very civilised. Tomorrow we’re planning on taking a boat trip over to Spike island. There we can take in all the history and also get a different perspective on Cobh, literally.

100 words 062

Yesterday Ireland held a referendum to amend its constitution in order to provide equal rights to gay couples who want to get married. Today it’s clear that the “yes” vote is going to carry the day.

This is amazing.

I left Ireland in the early ’90s. When I told people abroad about the medieval legal situation in Ireland on contraception, divorce, and homosexuality …well, people just wouldn’t believe me. Combined with the nationalistic political situation, I got used to a sort of permanent miasma of embarrassment towards the country I came from.

But today I feel a swell of pride.

100 words 046

I grew up in Cobh—pronounced “cove”—Cork, Ireland. There’s a statue in the middle of town; an angel presiding over the figures of local fishermen who lost their lives 100 years ago when a German U-boat torpedoed and sank The Lusitania off the old head of Kinsale. They were attempting to rescue survivors.

On the outskirts of town there’s an old cemetery where a mass grave was dug for the bodies of the Lusitania victims.

Cobh’s history is filled with ill-fated ships. It was the last stop of The Titanic. The ships are now memorialised as pub names.

Cause and effect

On November 14th, Cork City was the location of a wherein a crowd of people sang Mister Blue Sky on the city’s main thoroughfare.

One week later, the city suffered its worst flooding in 800 years.

Coincidence?

September 1913

I’m Irish (well, half-Irish anyway). Most of the time, that’s something I can be proud of. Lately though, I’m feeling downright ashamed of my country.

ISPs in Ireland are facing legal threats by the recording industry trying to strong-arm them into cutting off internet access at their say-so …’cause, y’know, that worked out so well for New Zealand. Eircom have willingly rolled over. Other ISPs are resisting. A New Zealand-stlye blackout campaign is being organised.

While the recording industry tries to push through a policy of guilt by association, the Irish government is trying to revive an older form of guilt. Would you believe that, in Ireland, it might soon be possible to be found guilty of blasphemy? The supreme court says such a law is unenforceable, common decency says it flies in the face of separation of church and state, but the Irish justice minister says gimme that ol’ time religion.

Ah, Ireland. You’ve got the best music and the nicest people …but outdated business models and outdated superstitions make you the laughing stock of Europe.

What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the halfpence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone;
For men were born to pray and save:
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Christmas trip

My family is in Ireland. Jessica’s family is in Arizona. We live in Brighton.

Every Christmas, we take it in turn to visit one of our families; Ireland one year, Arizona the next. Last year we were going to go to Ireland but because of a beaureaucratic incident with Jessica’s passport, we ended up having our first Christmas in Brighton and my mother came over from Ireland to visit us instead.

It was a great Christmas but it kind of messed up our scoring system. What are we supposed to do this year? Is Ireland still due for the next visit or was last year a de-facto Irish Christmas? Oh, what a conundrum!

I think we’ve found the perfect answer. We’re going to Arizona but we’re bringing my mother over with us. She showed up in Brighton today. Tomorrow we make the long trip across the Atlantic: Brighton to Gatwick, Gatwick to Houston, Houston to Tucson, Tucson to Sierra Vista. The shortest day of the year is actually going to be very long indeed for us.

Once the traveling is done, I aim to spend the holiday season being slothful and indolent in the high desert. Doing absolutely nothing—it’s what Christmas is all about.