It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog. Honestly, I didn’t really know what to write about. I feel a little lost.
I imagine every performer feels this. I suppose I should ask a few. After a big gig, or a tour, or a launch. Any event you’ve psyched yourself up for and poured yourself into.
At the beginning it’s so daunting. You stand at the bottom of a mountain of work and wonder why you’re doing it. And then you start.
I, personally, love the beginning stages of a new project. Everything is a clean slate, no idea is off the cards, you can just wallow in the deepest pools of your imagination. Then at some point- reality starts to kick in.
You make calls. You print flyers. You record music. You start doing whatever jobs there are to be done. At this point you might have a nice little bullet-pointed to-do list. If you’re like me, you go through reams of paper writing everything down. If you’re sensible, you do it on a computer or something. Save the trees and all that.
At this point you’ve told all your friends and family. You talk about your project with the doe-eyed awe of an expecting parent.
“Look,” you say. “Look at this thing I am creating. When it is finished, it will be beautiful.”
And then it starts. You get into the meat of the work and you start to get a little tired. Things get crossed off your list and new things get added as you crest one hill only to find another one behind it. You learn lessons. You adapt.
And then at some point, a little after the middle but before the final act, you maybe have a moment like I did. Where you look at the mountain you’ve climbed, now behind and below you, and you turn and look at the mountain in front of you and think: “I should have stayed in the office.” Every plate is up in the air. Every part of the project needs attention all at the same time and your brain starts turning into pudding. If you’re lucky, you have a team behind you to take some of the weight.
One of the greatest moments of the tour was sitting watching Emma research locations for the August week of the tour. At that point I honest to God couldn’t make one more decision. I think this is where the body takes over.
Now you’re running on auto-pilot. If you had a good day, or a particularly strong coffee, maybe you’ve rewritten your to do list on a clean sheet of paper. You put your head down and you work.
The August week of touring occupies a similar place in my head as my final few weeks of college. Everything was due, there was a mountain of work to be done, so I just put my head down and worked through it till it was done and damn the consequences on the other side.
And then you’ve broken the back of it. You can see some kind of finish line on the horizon. It’s a good feeling. At this point you are probably running on caffeine, or adrenalin, or something equally wonderful and unhealthy.
You make more calls, do more promotion. On some level you realize that you are nearly done and you actually cannot wait to be free of this thing. The doe-eyes are gone, replaced with exhaustion, but there’s no stopping now so you keep going.
And then you’re done.
You play your gig, you release your album or book, you finish your tour and go home.
And life just kind of… goes on.
There’s still stuff to do. There’s probably loads of little pieces to pick up. For me, there’s a seemingly endless number of videos to put out. But I can do that from my bedroom, drinking tea and watching the rain.
I get this at the end of every big project. When I finished college, when I released my second and third album, and now the tour. I spent the first week just sort of wandering around the house. Too tired to do anything, but too used to doing stuff to sit still. I thought about writing a blog and my brain nearly shut down.
And here I am, writing these thoughts down for you.
I’ve never had a blog before. Not because I don’t like writing, or talking, or telling people about things. Anyone who knows me will agree I enjoy all of these things. It was more a case of I didn’t really know what to write. I didn’t think people would be interested in my ramblings. But then I realized, this is my blog and I can ramble if I like.
So there you have it. The come down off the tour. If you’re a fellow performer I would love to hear if you have a similar experience with big projects. And if you’re reading this and considering embarking on a big project I can only say this:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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, 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.
Do you remember tour lesson 2? No? That’s ok, here’s a reminder:
Tour Lesson 2: It’s never that easy.
It’s amazing really how fast we forget these life lessons. I thought May was hard. The hardest week I was going to have. I thought June would be easy in comparison. I forgot lesson 2.
Last Monday I set off on my second week of tour feeling very prepared. I had spent an entire day the week before sending emails to almost every town I was going to visit. People knew I was coming, some people were even going to be there to greet me. As I was travelling in and around Cork county, I could go home most nights so my pack was considerably lighter than it had been in May. I had a new umbrella.
My first stops were Fermoy, Mitchelstown and Mallow. Monday morning I got a bus to Fermoy and stepped out into the glorious June drizzle. This was going to be a bit of a theme for the week.
But the drizzle eased off and I made my way through Fermoy in good time. I did get a bit lost walking up the hill to find the old famine graveyard, but the view from the top was well worth the walk.
Next stop was Mitchelstown. I got a lift from a local lady and her mother who were more than happy to give me a potted history of the town. As we drove into Mitchelstown and rained speckled the windshield, she happily informed me that the mountains act as a cloudcatcher and Mitchelstown, as a result, tends to be a bit wet. She wasn’t wrong.
Thankfully it cleared up long enough for me to film myself playing in the town square. I did attract a bit of attention though and several very kind people came up to tell me I was in the wrong spot for busking. The concern was genuine and appreciated.
On my way out of town I passed by St. George’s Church and saw the door was open a crack. On a whim I stuck my head inside and that’s how I met Bill Power, a local historian who was more than happy to give me an extended history of the church, town and surrounding area. Thank you, Bill.
My last stop for the day was Mallow. Now, I went to college in Mallow for two years and mistakenly believed I knew the town reasonably well. Then my lift drove us into town on the other side and I realised I had only ever seen one half of the town. I hopped out of the car, over a fence, and went to take a look at the Spa House where I learned all about the history of the town and also about the tune “The Rakes of Mallow”. Fitting, considering that that was the tune I had picked out.
Tour Lesson 4:Just because you’ve been there, doesn’t mean you know a place.
On Tuesday I played at a wedding. What can I say, bills need paying.
Now, I’ll admit that my schedule for the rest of the week doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If you read this and think “Surely there was a better way to do this? A shorter way?” then not only is your geographical knowledge of Ireland better than mine but you are also 100% correct. On account of the wedding, I had to reorganize my schedule and I made a bit of a mess of it. But it makes for a good story, so it all works out in the end.
On Wednesday I travelled to Bantry, Schull and Ballydehob. I got a bus as far as Bantry and was met with great enthusiasm at the tourist office. I was plied with tea and requests for music. It was lovely.
I covered the town fairly quickly before heading up to Bantry House. Eileen from the tourist office had apparently called ahead and they were happy to let me run around getting my footage.
In the back garden of Bantry House there is a long flight of stairs leading up to a terrace that overlooks the house and bay. There are over a hundred steps. When the video comes out, I would like you all to pause it at that part and appreciate the effort of climbing a hundred steps with a harp on your back. I suffer for my art.
In all honesty though, Bantry was gorgeous and I was sorry to go. I walked out along the coast road and caught a lift to Skibbereen and from there on to Ballydehob and Schull.
The alert reader will already have noticed what was wrong with that last sentence. Allow me to illustrate:
Ladies and gentlemen, I am an idiot.
Tour Lesson 5: Check the map twice.
I stuck my head into the tourist office in Ballydehob to say hi and to tell them that I would be back soon, but had to film Schull first. I got offered a lift, which was great, then I forgot my umbrella in the boot of the car, which was less great. Then it rained.
People think I’m paranoid about the weather. I will carry an umbrella on the sunniest of days. What they don’t understand is that it’s a weather totem. If I don’t carry it, it will rain. Without fail.
Anyway, Schull. I filmed. I got rained on. I left. I did see some really cute cygnets though, that was nice.
In Ballydehob, Deborah Beale of the tourist office was waiting for me. She sat me down, let me rest my weary feet, and I told her about the tour. While I was talking she was bustling around, arranging chairs. I didn’t really think about it too much.
Then people started wandering into the building and sitting down.
Suddenly I was playing a mini-concert to a room full of people.
I’m still not quite sure how it happened. That Deborah is a wily woman I tell you. One minute she’s lulling you into a false sense of security with her talk of tea and local news, the suddenly you have an audience looking at you expectantly. I think I was the only person who didn’t know I was meant to be playing a concert.
All joking aside though, it was really lovely and I would like to thank Deborah for arranging it for me. She’s a gem.
So, where are we now? Oh yes, Thursday and Friday. We might need another map for this one.
On Thursday I got the bus out to Tralee with the intention of busking, but the weather was poor and it was cold so I cancelled busking and was on the road to Killarney by one in the afternoon. I got a bit lost going out of town and walked 3km around the ringroad looking for the Killarney turn off, but I found it eventually and got a lift from there.
Killarney was my last stop for the day; so I went into town and set up again to do some more busking before finishing up my filming for the day. It was odd, only doing two towns in one day and I was at my friends house having dinner by about 6pm. Early for me on a tour day.
This is where we’re going to need the map. On Friday I travelled, exclusively through hitching, from Killarney to Dingle, to Brosna, to Rathmore, to Cork.
Cue the map:
I do not recommend this to anyone. During the day I told lots of people what I was doing and where I was going and every single one of them, upon hearing my route, laughed. Most of them didn’t think it was even possible. By seven pm I was starting to wonder if they might be right.
I left Killarney at half past nine in the morning. It was raining. I lost my whiteboard marker, which I need to write place names on my hitching sign.
Lack of sign not-with-standing, I still managed to get a lift and with a stop in Killorglin, and then again in Castlemain, I eventually made it to Dingle just as the sun broke through the clouds. It was beautiful.
I wish I’d got to spend more than an hour there.
As I have pointed out, I am an idiot, and due to my poor scheduling I ran around Dingle like a mad woman for an hour and fifteen minutes getting my footage together, before I had to leave. On my way out of town, I was stopped by a young man who had seen me in three different places in town and wanted to make sure I wasn’t lost. I told him what I was doing. He also laughed, but wished me good luck as I headed for the main road.
It is at this point I would like to thank the two gentlemen who picked me up and gave me a lift to Tralee. Upon hearing what I was doing they turned the car around and drove me up through Conor’s Pass so I could get some beautiful mountain footage. They were late for a meeting because of me. Thank you.
From Dingle to Tralee, on to CastleIsland and from there to Brosna.
What can I say about Brosna?
I mean, it’s tiny.
I’m told it has a wonderful music festival which I had missed by about two weeks. In that case I suppose it’s very much like my home town, Feakle. It even has a little dog. If you grew up in a rural village in Ireland you know exactly which dog I mean. It’s of the terrier variety and only nominally belongs to a single person. It’s the towns dog.
I petted the terrier of Brosna and walked for two miles back towards CastleIsland before I got a lift. It rained.
From CastleIsland I got a lift with a lady called Clare. She was going to Killarney but detoured to take me to Rathmore. Did you know that the town of Rathmore is divided into two towns? We didn’t. Wikipedia has this to say:
Rathmore is divided into two parts. One being the main commercial centre and the other being the administrative centre where the schools and churches are located.
After some initial confusion, I was dropped in the second Rathmore. It didn’t have a church so I’ll assume it was the main commercial center. It also had a dog. You know the kind.
I got home at about half past nine having hitched 277km and essentially worked a twelve hour day. But I wasn’t done yet.
On Saturday I was booked to busk at Blarney Castle. This was the other reason my schedule looks a bit ridiculous, but again, bills need paying.
Sunday morning; I caught the first bus to Bandon for my last two towns.
I was in Bandon for five minutes before I broke my phone tripod. I would have bought a new one, but it was a Sunday morning so most of the shops were closed. Instead I bought a tube of superglue and set about reworking the tripod. I removed bits, snapped bits, stuck bits on upside-down. It held. I moved on.
Bandon has some beautiful buildings. I hope I did it justice in the video. You see there was a slight…. weather issue. Namely, it was raining.
I got a lift to Skibbereen. I don’t know why I thought Bandon and Skibbereen were near each other. Possibly because they are on the same bus route. More likely, because I am, as previously discussed, an idiot. The lovely lady who drove me had to stop at a shop for fresh dill (she was on her way to what sounded like the most amazing and extensive family barbecue ever) and bought me a snack bar. Possibly to apologize for describing the barbecue to me.
I won’t lie. By the time I got to Skibbereen I was ready to call it a day. I was cold, I was tired, I had blisters. I nearly asked if I could just come along to the barbecue and pretend to be some long lost cousin. Instead I got out and waved goodbye.
Tour Lesson 6: You are made of sterner stuff than you think.
This week of touring felt intensely different to my first week.
On the one hand I was much better prepared. People knew I was coming, I researched the towns I was going to, I knew my tunes much better.
On the other hand the weather was against me and coming home at the end of the day was a challenge in and of itself. It is hard to travel for a solid week, but once you’re in the zone you just put your head down and do it.
Getting up early every morning and leaving my own warm bed to head out into another day of cloudy skies and long distances was another story.
It seems to be that my last day is a test. In May, I climbed a mountain. In June, the mountain was in my own mind. I wanted to be lazy, to slack off and maybe do it another day. I wanted to turn around in Bandon after I broke my tripod. Then again when I got rained on. But I’m glad I didn’t.
It is easy to follow your dreams on a beautiful, sunny day in May.
It is an achievement to keep following them through a wet and windy Sunday in June.
That said, I was very glad to have a lie-in on Monday. And now, in order to end on a cheerful note, here are some fish puns from Killarney: