Around Ireland in 80 Tunes – September

And then there were eight. Eight locations left to visit on my five month journey of Ireland. For once past me did present me a solid and after I’d planned out my route I realised I would only need three days to finish of the tour. With a prayer of gratitude to past me I set my alarm and got an early night.

The day didn’t start as well as I would have liked. After packing my bag that morning I walked up to the bus stop and waited for half an hour for a bus that just didn’t seem to want to come. As I was waiting I realised I had forgotten to pack my tripod, my tour sign and my house keys. Grumbling vociferously I walked back to the house, hammered on the door, and nearly frightened the life out of my housemate as I stomped back up to my room to collect the missing items. The second go went a bit better and I was on a bus to Middleton by half past ten.

My first stop for the day was Clonmel. When planning the tour I actually made the decision to go out to Middleton and hitch up and over the mountains so I could see the Vee, a viewing point in Tipperary. Here’s what I saw:

The Vee, Co. Tipperary

I’d say it was worth it. There was also a sheep, sitting calm as you please in the middle of the road. He wouldn’t move for the car, we had to drive around him. Unfortunately, I was too busy laughing at it to take a photo.

Tour Lesson 11: Take the scenic route

I got to Clonmel at about half past one. It took the me the same amount of time as a bus would have but I got to meet four new people and see a fantastic view rather than a boring old motorway. Waving goodbye to my lift I set off through the town.

I dropped into the Old Guard building for a quick history lesson on the Ormond family who ruled a lot of the area I was visiting on this trip. Then, after getting my footage I started walking out the main road towards Carrick-on-Suir.

After about twenty minutes of walking, in the blazing sunshine, a lad named Chad pulled up beside me and asked if I needed a lift. As he put it, I clearly had my life on my back and somewhere to be. After yet another explanation of what I was doing and why he dropped me of in Carrick with a smile and a good luck.

I wasn’t actually filming the town of Carrick-on-Suir. Rather, I was filming the Suir valley. So I finished my filming in record time, played a quick tune for a curious bystander, and set off for my third location of the day, Mooncoin.

I’ve been excited about Mooncoin ever since I started the tour. I cannot explain why. The name actually means Coyne’s Bogland in Gaelic. The town has a population of about a thousand people, no town square, and almost nothing in it. And yet, it was charming. It’s the kind of place you would never conceive of just going to, which makes it all the more special that I can say I’ve been there. These things make me happy.

Mooncoin, Co. Kilkenny

And that was the end of my first day. I caught a ride to Waterford city and checked into my hostel by about five pm. I don’t know if I’m getting better at this, or if I just managed to plan a really easy route, but honestly the day went so well I was almost suspicious.

Seeing as I had plans for the next morning I walked around Waterford that evening to get most of my footage. That’s when I learned about the Waterford Walls. Started in 2015 the Walls project is aimed at creating beautiful art for everyone to enjoy. All around Waterford city, often in the less visited side streets and back ways, you will find stunning graffiti works stretching over entire building. Sometimes up whole streets. I did not find all of them but here’s a little sample for you:

The next morning I went into town and did a little spot of busking before joining in the FridaysforFuture climate strike. There was a good turn out and it’s clear that Waterford people really care for their town. Children, parents, activist groups, buskers, we all set off marching through the town. In August I wrote that nothing comes before the tour. This is the one exception.

I only had two locations for that day, so after the march I caught a ride to Kilkenny and arrived in time to enjoy the warm September sunshine in the castle gardens, and catch a good bit of the Culture Night festivities. I got a tour of the castle and went to a local Ceoltas performance, before turning in for the night.

Saturday morning I packed my bag up for the very last time. I checked out of the hostel and walked for what felt like forever to get to a good hitching spot out of Kilkenny. I caught a lift to Durrow, where I was met by several members of the Durow Development Forum. With their help I got permission to film at Durow Castle, now a privately owned hotel, and was given a short history and tour of the town itself. It was a wonderful.

Durrow is a small town. It has a population of less than a thousand people and was bypassed by the M8 motorway in 2010.

Bypassing a town certainly speeds up a commute, but it can sound the death knell for small towns who rely on passing trade for their existence. Talking with Emer from the DDF she told me how the town struggled, shops closed, the town was dying. But the people of Durrow are proud of their little town, and they have every right to be. It’s a lovely little spot with it’s own history and it’s own distinct feel. So the people fought back.

Durrow hosts an annual scarecrow festival. It’s community run, manned by volunteers, and the proceeds go back into the development fund which is used on projects in the town. Where most of the towns I visited have the usual Tourist Information signs, Durrow has a lovingly hand-painted version made by one of the Forums members.

Durrow, Co. Laois

Having seen a broad spectrum of Ireland at this point it is genuinely wonderful to visit a town with real pride. Their enthusiasm was infectious, as you can tell from the picture. In an act of real kindness Emer went to fetch her car to drive me to my next location as she didn’t think I’d ever manage to get there hitching. All in all, Durrow has joined the short list of favourite places I’ve been on this tour.

Lisheen on the other hand…

I swear it’s on the map. Emers satnav couldn’t find it, but I swear it’s there! Eventually we found a marker for Lisheen Castle and decided that would probably do.

Lisheen Castle, Co. Tipperary

Well here it is.

Lisheen Castle is in fact a privately owned hotel. It’s quite exclusive. It has a big gate. But as luck would have it, we arrived at the entrance just as the owner was leaving to get his lunch. After a quick chat to explain what I was doing, and why I needed to get into his castle to film, he waved me through the gate with a slightly confused look. Honestly, I think he just wanted me gone so he could go get his food.

But I was through, so I trotted up the lane and made my video. As you can see in the photo, the weather was turning on me, so I had to move quickly. I walked round the back of the castle and bumped into some of the cleaning crew who let me in, also with a slightly confused look, and I got to take a quick peek at the beautiful decor. I may have sneakily taken a little footage as well. Packing up my gear I headed back down the lane and hit a slight snag in my plan.

The gate.

The owner had let me in, but the gate was electric and obviously needed a code. But the wall and hedge next to it looked fairly climbable. I threw my bag over, put my harp on top of the hedge, and hopped the wall. Only then did I notice the parked car on the other side.

Inside were two lovely Americans, fresh of their flight from Dublin, patiently waiting to be let into their hotel. We had a quick chat and I told them what I was doing and where I was going and assured them I wasn’t a burglar. They seemed to take it all in their stride. Time was pressing though so I bade them goodbye and headed off in what I hoped was the direction of a main road.

About five minutes later they pulled up next to me and gave me a lift.

Jetlagged and weary, they’d made space in their car and come after me because, -now say it with me-, “I’d never get a lift out here.”

They dropped me off in Thurles after a nice little jaunt through the countryside and a little bit of local information from myself. I think they actually went to have a look at Thurles, but I couldn’t hang around. So, pack on my back, I walked out the old road to Cashel to catch my next ride.

And then I was in Cashel. Number eighty. The last one.

It was raining.

I have never, EVER, been in Cashel and it not been raining. I have seen pictures of the Rock of Cashel against a beautiful blue sky. I can only guess that the photographer camped out for several months waiting for that five minute window of opportunity.

But even the rain wasn’t going to dampen my spirits. I walked down to the old Abbey ruins first as it looked quieter down there, and filmed my footage sitting on wet grass under a grey and stormy sky. Then I went and climbed all over the Abbey, because I could.

Cashel, Co. Tipperary

Now, I had originally hoped to arrive in Cashel to some kind of welcome. That after five months of travelling the country I might be welcomed to my last stop, give a little performance, maybe get to sit up on the Rock and play my final tune which was, fittingly, Carolans Ramble to Cashel. But it was not to be.

In the same way that I have had wonderful welcomes in some of the smaller places like Tuamgraney, Ballydehob and Durrow, many of the larger towns have been completely unresponsive and uninterested in what I am doing. If you’ve seen the vlogs from July and August, or spoken to me at all, you will have picked up that I don’t get on very well with the national body known as the OPW. They own many of the larger monuments in Ireland and have been entirely unhelpful with regards to my tour. In one email, which still rankles, I was told that my project was deemed ‘an unsuitable use of a national monument’. So with very little hope of success I climbed the hill to the Rock, and was turned away.

That may seem like a poor way to end such a massive project, but I disagree.

In my room I have a map of Ireland. Every time I come back from my trips I cross off all the places I’ve visited. I have been to, or through, almost every county in Ireland (Wexford, Wicklow, Carlow, Mayo and Tyrone… your time will come).

I have told my story to hundreds of people and been met with much confusion, but also a lot of enthusiasm and encouragement. People have given me places to sleep, snacks and presents and driven miles out of their way to help me reach my goal. Many of the people I’ve met now follow me on social media and seeing their names pop up means much more to me than having a thousand faceless ‘likes’ ever could.

I was turned away from a national park because they don’t allow filming ‘for profit’. I tried to explain that I don’t make any money from these videos. That the tour is not for profit. It is a labour of love. An institution cannot understand that, but people can and it has moved them to kindness on my behalf.

The beauty of Ireland is not in its institutions. It isn’t even in its grand monuments, though they are certainly beautiful.

The real beauty of Ireland is its people. People who have welcomed me, helped me, given me the benefit of the doubt and often thanked me for it afterwards.

The work isn’t finished. I still have a lot of music to record. There are still over sixty videos to put together and post. I’m working on a show that will bring together stories and music and images of the tour and hoping to bring that back to some of the best places I visited. But the tour itself is over. My sign has been packed away, my hat is sitting on the wardrobe waiting for next summer, and I only have one thing left to say;

Thank you.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to every single person who has helped me. To every person who stopped to chat, who asked for my story and listened to it. To everyone who gave me a lift, whether it was five miles or fifty. Thank you to my family and friends who have supported me and encouraged me when I was flagging. Thank you to Emma, for whom there are simply no words great enough.

I will leave you with this collection of my favourite moments from the tour. Enjoy.

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