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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.

Around Ireland in 80 Tunes – May

Kilconnel Abby

I have been home from my first week of tour for four days. I’m only just starting to feel human again. So here goes. From the blur of travelling, filming and general madness I will try and extract a coherent story for you. I promise nothing…

I left Cork city on Monday the 13th with my usual level of preparedness for any major task I undertake; which is to say not very much. I didn’t know how to play most of the tunes I was setting out to play. I only had three nights of accommodation organized. And I still hadn’t decided on my video format. This is normal.

For the entire three hours on that bus I sent emails. I emailed radio stations, I emailed local newspapers, I emailed prominent tourist locations I was thinking of visiting. Some of them got back to me. I was featured in The Clare Champion that week and Shannon Heritage offered me free entry to film in King John’s Castle in Limerick. Three hours well spent, I think.

I reached Ennis feeling energized, accomplished and on my way to stardom. I stepped down from my bus and was greeted by a distinct lack of cheering fans but I didn’t let that get to me. Grabbing my bags I set off for the town with determination.

Tour Lesson 1: Musicians have roadies for a really good reason.

Turns out lugging a harp, an amp, a stool and a weeks worth of clothing and stuff around is really heavy. I have sprained interossei muscles (the little muscles at the base of your fingers). I didn’t even know I had interossei muscles ’till I managed to pull all of them.

Glor, Ennis

So I sat down in Ennis, busked for a few hours and then set off to record my first music video. I walked around town for a while and eventually decided that it was too windy to record outside so I went to Glor and asked if I could record my video in their atrium. They were happy to help me and I left half an hour later with my first video thinking “That was easy, this tour will be a breeze“.

Tour Lesson 2: It’s never that easy.

I hitched a lift to Tulla, where my dad picked me up and drove me home to Feakle. In the space of a fifteen minute drive he both vastly improved the quality of my tour and quadrupled my workload. Thank you, dad.

He pointed out, not unreasonably, that if all I was doing was taking a video of me playing a tune in each place people would get bored. That it would be much more interesting to make each video a little showcase of the place I was visiting. It made sense. So with this in mind we stopped off in Feakle to record “The Maid of Feakle“. Now, here’s the difference:

In Ennis I sat down, played my tune, and that was it. I have ten different pieces of footage for Feakle taken in three different locations. I still had twenty more tunes to film in twenty different towns across three counties. Suddenly, a week felt like a very short amount of time.

With dad’s help I managed to film Tulla and Maghera mountain without too much difficulty. I got to play my tune in Teddy Griffin’s bar in Tulla, Loudens brewery and I finally managed to find the pig grave I read about in Eddie Lenihan’s “The Pigs Of Tulla“. And suddenly it was Wednesday and dad was waving goodbye as he dropped me off in Tuamgraney. I was on my own.

St. Cronan's church was built in 964 AD and is the oldest church in continuous use in Ireland. Brian Boru himself passed through its doors over 1000 years ago.
St.Cronan’s church, Tuamgraney

I filmed the video for “Tuamgraney Castle” with the help of Elisabeth Affolter, organizer of the Tuamgraney Blossom Harp Festival.

She got me permission to film in St. Cronan’s church, which is the oldest church in continuous use in Ireland. Brian Boru himself passed through its doors over 1000 years ago!

After a lovely lunch at Nuala’s bar, I set off for Scarriff. I filmed my videos at the Community Garden and outside the remnants of the former Scarriff workhouse. The sun was beating down on me as I wrapped up for the day and made my way to Whitegate for the night.

Thursday morning, I stuck out my thumb and got a lift to Woodford. I still had a long way to go. I filmed my videos, stopped in Walsh’s bar for a cup of tea and a local history lesson, and then walked out towards the main road.

An hour later I was still walking. I believe I went live on Instagram to complain about the complete and utter lack of cars on that road. The scenery was lovely, but I had places to be! Eventually a car did pass. I hitched a ride to Aughrim with two elderly gentlemen who had come down to Woodford for a funeral. They drove out of their way just to drop me in Aughrim and spent the entire drive bickering about how many Lough Dergs there are in Ireland. I believe they concluded it was two.

Aughrim was… smaller than I expected. The battle center was closed (can you tell I planned this trip?) and the town appeared to be empty. I stopped a local to ask where Aughrim castle was. He laughed and pointed me down a little grassy track. “There isn’t much of it left,” he warned me as I trundled off down the road.

I crossed two fields and three stiles to reach the last remaining wall of Aughrim castle, where I learned my next valuable lesson:

Tour Lesson 3: Check fields for cows BEFORE you sit down to record.

If I’m looking askance in the Aughrim video it’s because as I started playing an entire herd of calves started making their way over to me. They surrounded me, outside of the cameras view of course, and listened to the whole tune. They were really very sweet. Unfortunately, when I went to leave they decided to all stand between me and the exit. So I did the only thing I could. I played them another tune.

My concert finished, I left Aughrim and the cows behind me and headed to Athenry. I was in town for precisely no time at all when I met Alan Burgess, who just happens to run the Athenry Heritage Center. He spotted my sign and my harp. Here follows our conversation:

Alan: “Is that a harp?”

Conni: “Yes. I’m touring Ireland with it and making music videos in all the towns I visit.”

Alan: “Would you like to film one on my stage in Medieval costume?”

Well, what do you think I said?

Athenry Heritage Center

Within ten minutes of arriving in Athenry I was sitting on a throne in a full jester costume, complete with silly headgear. When life hands you a funny hat, put it on.

Athenry was insane. I got dressed, recorded, put my outfit away and was out of that museum in half an hour. Then I borrowed the keys to the Priory, with a warning that I had half an hour to bring them back, and nearly ran across town to get the rest of my footage. I think I left some rather perplexed people behind as I tore across the town with all my bags and my harp.

I made it to Galway that evening. Exhausted and hungry, I was welcomed into a student house, presented with a steaming bowl of pasta and veg and informed that the shower was broken, the holes in the roof were completely normal and it’s ok, that bit of carpet is only wet because there’s a burst pipe under it.

I slept like a baby.

Friday morning, I scratched one more city off by buskers bingo card. Galway was generous to me, I think I had my picture taken about five hundred times in the space of two hours and I left with my pockets jingling. I caught the bus to Oranmore in good cheer.

Now, I’ll be honest: I’ve never been to Oranmore before. Through it, sure. To it? Never. Such is the fate of many of the places I visited on my journey. Isn’t it amazing how you can know a place only through the window of a bus and never realize that there are real people living there, doing real people things.

Oranmore was lovely. I met up with Elisabeth again, who listened to my tales with amusement. She asked if I was going to film at Oranmore castle. I told her I was now (I didn’t know Oranmore HAD a castle up till this point).

Oranmore castle

Turns out Oranmore castle is still a private residence and is only open to the public for ten days a month over the summer. It was like Aughrim all over again. However, I could see someone moving around up by the main door so I called the number on the sign and spoke to whom I believe was the lady of the castle. She said there was a concert on that night and she would send someone down to me. Five minutes later, a confused sound technician was opening the gate for me. He told me I had half an hour, possibly less.

Twenty-five minutes later we were locking the gate behind us. I had my footage, a quick history lesson on the castle and it wasn’t until the gates were locked and the man had driven away that I realized I’d left my umbrella inside. Such is life.

Next stop was Kinvarra. Once again I was amazed to discover that another castle I have never heard of. Ireland is coming down with these things! This is also the only castle on my whole trip that I didn’t manage to get inside. Unfortunately, it was closed for a Medieval banquet and they couldn’t let me in. Should have brought the jester costume with me, they never would have noticed.

Saturday it rained. For five days of glorious sunshine I dragged my umbrella around with me. As soon as I lose it, it rains. This was also my day on the west coast of Clare. At least I captured it in its natural state.

I left Kinvarra at ten am with the longest itinerary of my week. Lisdoonvarna, the Cliffs of Moher, Ennistimon and Kilfenora, with Limerick as my final destination for the night. A grand total of 128 km. I made it.

It was weird. Lisdoonvarna was deserted, the Cliffs of Moher have changed a lot since I was last up there (over a decade ago!), I didn’t know Ennistimon had waterfalls and Kilfenora was also deserted. I thought I was travelling in tourist season but apparently I was too early for the seaside. It was kind of nice, I had the place to myself.

Even with the filming going smoothly, catching lifts easily and generally keeping the pace up, it was still evening by the time I made it to Limerick.

Linda “The Filmik Fairy” Feeney O’Grady was waiting for me with a chicken stir-fry and a bottle of wine. I cannot put into words how grateful I was to sink into her couch and be fed, watered and generally fussed over for the evening. It was just what I needed to get through my last, and toughest day of tour.

Sunday the 19th of May. The homestretch. There’s a Dutch saying that “The last weights weigh the heaviest” and I felt it on Sunday.

Live actors in King James’ Castle

It started easy enough. Linda drove me to Limerick and I was welcomed into King John’s Castle by Mary, the manager, and given free run of the place for my filming. I learned all about the making of Limerick city, the siege during Elizabeth’s reign, the building and rebuilding of the castle. I filmed in the courtyard and enjoyed the view from the battlements. I was finished in Limerick and on the bus to Charleville by lunchtime. That’s where things got interesting.

The last three places on my list were Kilmallock, Kilfinnane and CastleOliver. All I knew about them was that they were east of Charleville. So I hopped off the bus, found a road sign, and headed east.

Kilmallock was easy enough to find. I got a lift from a lovely couple who not only gave me a quick guided tour of the village, but also sang me a few verses of a song called “The Fenian Gun” which is set in Kilmallock. Armed with my recording and a grasp of the town I headed to the ruins of the old abbey, made my video, and then called in to the Kilmallock museum. There I was given even more of a history lesson and also told one very important piece of information. CastleOliver is not a place.

Turns out CastleOliver is a big house, not open to the public. There is also a ruin, up on a hill, that is associated with it. Well, I’d come this far. I wasn’t about to let the non-existence of my final destination stop me from getting there.

I left Kilmallock and made my way to Kilfinnane. It’s a small place and I was finished filming quickly. Stopping into a pub I asked for directions to the ruins. The locals seemed a little bemused that I was heading out there with all my gear in the beating sunshine, but they gave me directions anyway.

Needless to say, I got lost.

In the end I walked about three miles out of my way. Occasionally I would spot the ruins up on the hill through a gap in the trees. It looked so far away. There were absolutely no people on this road. Passing by a house I stopped to ask for a glass of water. The door opened and two Newfoundlands bounded out to greet me. The lovely couple in the house gave me a big bottle of water from their well and told me I was about a ten-minute walk away.

Forty minutes later, I collapsed at the top of the hill in the shadow of the ruin of a castle.

The view from the top, CastleOliver

I have looked for information. I don’t know what that place was or what it was called. But after I dragged my harp over two fields, a barbed wire fence and up a very steep hill I was going to call it CastleOliver and there was no-one there to tell me otherwise.

The wind was howling. The sun was burning my skin. I was tired, sweaty, hungry and sore. But I had a bottle of sweet spring water and in every direction were green fields awash in the golden evening sunlight. I could have sat there and watched the sun set quite happily.

But that would leave me on a hill in Limerick county, in the dark, on a Sunday, so I finished my water and got to work. I made my film, wind threatening to send my phone flying down the hill, and turned to make the long journey home with the sun setting behind me.

I got home at half past ten in the evening and nearly fell through the door.

It took me four days to start this blog and it’s taken me three more days to finish it. My fingers are still sore. I spent an entire day wading through the footage I took and another sending it to my wonderful cousin Emma who is once again bailing me out of my own insanity and making the music videos for me. The week has gone by so fast and I have a mountain of prep to do for the June week.

But even with the aches and pains and never-ending list of emails to send it was worth it. Sitting on that hill I felt proud of myself. Proud of how far I’ve come and what I achieved. This tour isn’t about making money. It’s not about getting gigs and being famous.

This tour is a love-letter. It’s about sharing what makes me happy with a whole country and showing that we are all connected through music. It’s my gift to Ireland and I’m happy to hand-deliver it, no matter how far I have to walk.

Oranmore beach