Thursday, October 05, 2006

Irish Tour - September, 2006 - Part One

These wonderful photos were taken by Amy Berlin ... I wish I could have included all 500 photos in this narrative. Unfortunately, Amy didn't come to the Bellaghy gig and she didn't have her camera at the Dublin gig with the fabulous (or as they say in Ireland, "brilliant" -- or as they say in Northern Ireland "f@#!ing brilliant")Pol MacAdaim -- but this is the best photo documentation I've ever had of a tour. I just hope some of the folks who took photos of Amy singing with me send me a copy! Enjoy!

A peek at Ireland

My daughter and I flew to Dublin on September 11th and went straight to our friends, the Donnellys, for a visit. I met them first in 1977 on a visit to Ireland with my Mom and Dad, my Aunt Eileen and cousin Joanne. We loved them instantly. They came to visit us in Pittsburgh in 1980. They come from a strong Republican family. (It takes a while to get used to Republican being a good word in Ireland.) Caitriona Donnelly is the niece of Michael Mallon, one of the 13 Irish national heroes of the 1916 Easter Rising buried at Arbour Hill. Her father, Sean McConnell, was interned in Kilmainham in 1922 during the Black and Tan era. Her mother, Kathleen McConnell, kept an all night vigil outside Mountjoy jail in a vain attempt to save the life of young Kevin Barry. And Caitriona's husband Danny was sentenced to ten years in Crumlin Prison in Belfast in 1957 (he was 18 years old) for being an IRA member. On Saint Stephen's night (December 26) of 1960, he escaped from Crumlin.

Danny was the subject of a huge manhunt. The Republic of Ireland did not extradite political prisoners to Northern Ireland, so once Danny had made it safely into the Republic he was able to begin a new life. He wasn't permitted to return to the North until after the Good Friday Agreement was entered into in 1998.

Here's a photo of Danny, taken on this visit, as he gets ready to go out to celebrate his 39th wedding anniversary with Caitriona.

The next day, Danny and Caitriona went with me and Amy on a tour of O'Connell Street... in the rain.

Their hospitality was over-the-top. Amy and I sat enthralled watching Ken Loach's fabulous new film, "The Wind that Shakes the Barley." Danny kept us spellbound with his stories and recitations - "The Man From God-Knows-Where" - and many more. A bad cold kept Caitriona from singing to us, but she still prepared sumptuous feasts for us morning and evening for our first three days in Ireland. At night we settled into pre-warmed beds!

We took a day trip to Glendalough in the Wicklow mountains just south of Dublin. It gave me a good opportunity to try out my driving-on-the-left-and-shifting-with-my-left-hand skills. My passengers found it to be an exhilarating experience!

Glendalough has to be one of the most beautiful places in Ireland. We hiked there for a couple hours and headed back to another of Caitriona's banquets... this time she prepared broccoli, cauliflower and carrots to make an Irish flag!

As wonderful as it was to be in Dublin, on the third day I remembered I was there to work, so Amy and I set across Ireland to Sligo - where our branch of the Feeney family originated. I was booked into Barry's Pub. A small but enthusiastic crowd enjoyed Mixie McCafferty and then me. My sister had spent the last few days in Sligo, and joined me onstage for a tune at Barry's.
The next night we headed through the hills of Connemara down to Galway for a singers' night at the Crane. Niall Farrell had arranged for me to be the featured singer that evening, and we had a great time.

The next morning Niall took us on a beautiful three mile hike around Oranmore, where he and his wife Jenny and their two daughters live. When we returned, Jenny had prepared a detailed map for a self-guided tour of the Burren... one of the most desolate areas of Ireland, but magically beautiful. Niall is a dedicated anti-war activist, and has organized several demonstrations in opposition to the war in Iraq, and in particular Ireland's role in supporting it. His family has had its share of sorrow.

In 1988, his sister, Mairead Farrell, was summarily executed at the age of 31 by the British SAS in Gibraltar. Niall is another mesmerizing yarn-spinner, and his wit and warmth entranced us all. We were particularly touched by the poem and photo of Mairead that hung in his entrance hall.

It never ceases to amaze me how people who have sacrificed and suffered so very much throughout history, retain their humor, their joy, their generosity of spirit, and their optimism.

Sunset in Clare

We left Galway and went back to Sligo for a couple more days of sightseeing and nights of pub-crawling.

The designated drinkers - Kate and Amy.

Yeah, the leprechauns made me drink it!
Here I am, leading a little sing-along at Sheila-na-Gig's in Sligo.

The next morning we decided to go as far north as we could... and that took us to the tip of Malin Head in County Donegal. We arrived at the Sandrock Holiday Hostel after dark, and it looked as if we might just drive into the sea. Sitting at the water's edge, this hostel offered the best value of our tour - 10 Euro a night per person for a gorgeous spot at the end of the world! We spent two days hiking around Malin Head and then set off for Stewartstown, Co Tyrone.

We passed from the Republic into Northern Ireland without even realizing it until we saw the petrol prices posted in sterling instead of Euros. What a change from the heavily guarded borders of the late 70s! Our Stewartstown host and presenter was Patricia Campbell - President of theIndependent Workers Union of Ireland.

At one point Patricia had a husband and three brothers in jail as political prisoners. Working now as a psychiatric nurse, Patricia helps to build the IWU and organizes for workers' rights (and promotes concerts on the side). She arranged for us to have dinner before the show with another IWU leader, Tommy McKearney, who had been part of the 1980 Hunger Strike in H-Block. That effort ended in a "victory," which turned out to be a betrayal. McKearney and others went on a Hunger Strike to demand recognition of their political status as prisoners... that is, their right to be treated as POWs and not common criminals.

The Hunger Strike is a tactic that predates the English language and has its roots in Irish Brehon law. Brehon law holds that if you are wronged by a person of higher rank than you, you must go and fast at his/her doorstep. This calls the attention of the community to the injustice. The community then investigates and brings pressure to bear on the wrongdoer to do the right thing.

When Britain reneged on the terms of the 1980 settlement following McKearney's 59-day hunger strike, Bobby Sands and other H-Block prisoners in the famous Long Kesh "Maze" renewed the Hunger Strike in March of 1981. The 1981 Hunger Strike claimed the lives of ten young men. This year marked the 25th anniversary of these tragic deaths, and Northern Ireland was filled with memorials... some quite elaborate, some heartbreakingly personal.

Bobby Sands, the first of the hunger strikers to die, was elected to Parliament while he was on hunger strike. This established clearly that the Irish populace at large did recognize and support their non-violent demands to be treated as political prisoners. Margaret Thatcher's refusal to recognize their non-violent attempt at conflict resolution should have led to worldwide pressure on Britain to resolve the matter. While some condemned Thatcher, others, including Ronald Reagan, supported her. Ten young men died, and for many, so did the hope of non-violent conflict resolution. So many of our conversations on this trip centered around Ireland's tragic history... which is recorded so vividly in Irish music.

Patricia turned out a great crowd for my show in Stewartstown. We ended up singing some rebel songs, we had a wonderful time, and the next morning Patricia took us on a tour of the murals of Belfast. Starting in Ballymurphy, a poor Catholic neighborhood in West Belfast and then going over to the Protestant Shankill and East Belfast. It's hard to look at the discrimination and polarization and call it peace.

Ballymurphy Murals

Shankill murals ... these were by no means the most disturbing or violent of the Shankill murals. Art that glorifies oppression by the powerful over the disenfranchised has always given me the creeps... and there was little doubt that these murals were intended to inflame and to terrorize.

The next night we made our way out to Newtonards, home of "Downtown Radio," where Tommy Sands has hosted a radio show for a number of years. I was his on-air guest before my show at Kelly's Cellars.

We had been looking for oysters ever since we saw a sign for the Galway Oyster Festival. The tasty little mollusks proved to be elusive until we hit Kelly's - where the proprietor prevailed on the overbooked seafood restaurant next door to deliver 3 dozen oysters on the half shell and bowls of chowder for me, Kate and Amy! mmm mmm mmm ... The show at Kelly's was lots of fun, and the next night we headed to the John Hewitt pub.

Mixie McCafferty lives in Donegal now with his lovely wife Katje and their adorable son Rory, but I met him in Dublin in 1985 outside McCullough-Piggot's music store on Grafton Street. He was busking, and invited me to sit in for a song or two. My husband took a photo of the impromptu session, and it ended up being the cover of my Grafton Street cassette in 1987. Several years later, Mixie ran in to someone who owned the cassette and spotted himself on the cover. He called me, and we've stayed in touch ever since. He invited me to come to Ireland to perform this time, and arranged most of the performances. He also brought sound equipment to a couple of the gigs, and did a fine opening set at several of the shows.

Following the John Hewitt, Amy and I headed to Derry for the Sandino's show. It was a happy reunion for me with my pal, Joe Mulheron, who owns the left-leaning Cafe. He and I hung out at the Kerrville Folk Festival in 2000 when he came to visit, and it was great to see him again! The Sandino's show with Nick Harper was the best gig
of the tour. We had a full house and I sold lots of CDs and got an encore on my opening set. And a highlight of our Derry visit was getting a tour of the Bogside (Catholic area) from our friend Kieran Gallagher. Kieran is one of the Raytheon Nine who exposed Raytheon's involvement in the Iraq war to their neighbors in Derry. He and the other defendants go to court on October 12th. Please read and sign the Online Petition
to support their work.

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