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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