Irish tourist boar

By Jim Remington


Traditional music sessions come in all shapes and sizes. From the helter-skelter informal gathering where many musicians don’t even know each other and maybe come from different countries, to the more formalized local sessions where it is the same cast of characters from week to week. Sometimes a session is made up of “star” players who might play with each other from time to time and sometimes a session is limited to a small group of band members playing in an informal session setting. The main characteristic of all these different sessions though is the spontaneity, lightness and lift given to the music. Nobody is quite sure where the whole thing is going. The music is meant as much for the players as it is for the audience and because of this, magic happens. Creativity and energy become their own force and the craic can be mighty!
Such was the case with a session that my friend Tom and I stumbled into in Miltown Malbay on the west coast of Ireland in 1989. We were at the Willy Clancy School of Music where lessons are taught, concerts are performed and sessions are nonstop. It was late in the evening and we were making the rounds to numerous pubs looking for the perfect session. We were actually looking for the great County Clare fiddlers Bobby Casey, Joe Ryan and Junior Creehan who were teaching at the school and playing the evening sessions. We knew they would be involved in a brilliant session. But they were nowhere to be found. Instead, we stumbled into an amazing session at a pub on one of the side streets in Miltown. And what a session it was. As soon as we entered we could feel the energy and lift of the music and the excitement of the audience. This was what we had been looking for. The place was packed but Tom and I managed to be absorbed into the mass although I ended up a few rows back and to the side of my friend Tom. But we both had a good view of the musicians. Five young players; fiddles, flutes and bodhron. No “stars” here but great players who had obviously been playing with each other for some time and probably part of a band. The sets were new and fresh and the playing was brilliant. There were smiles from ear to ear on musicians and audience. I was in heaven. Drinks were passed on trays overhead, hand to hand by the audience, and nary a drop was spilled. This was perfection!
But not long after Tom and I had settled into our cramped surroundings I noticed a hulk of a man enter the pub and proceed to rudely make his way through the packed crowd towards the music. This man was over 6 feet tall with broad shoulders and determination on his face. Not a man to be trifled with. As he neared Tom, I watched Tom step back as best he could and make room for the man to pass. Tom later told me he thought the man was urgently on his way to the rest room. Instead the man stopped right in front of Tom and filled the space that Tom had graciously opened for the man to pass. Tom’s view of the musicians was totally blocked by this “wall” of a man. Tom caught my eye with a mixture of amazement and total irritation. There wasn’t much I could do from my position that wouldn’t have ruined the night for the entire pub. Tom was on his own. Several times I watched Tom try to get the man’s attention but to no avail. He ignored Tom completely. This man knew this was where he wanted to be and he was staying there. The music rolled on, a perfect sound track of wonderful intensity. At one point a large tray of drinks was passed over Tom’s head and for just a second, as Tom was passing the tray, I saw him pause and look over at me. A tray full of drinks down the “wall’s” back would surely get the man’s attention and no doubt give Tom great satisfaction. But ever the gentleman, Tom passed the tray on. He later told me that tipping the tray would have also doused the musicians and denied the drinks to those in need and he couldn’t do that. But Tom had a plan. Shortly I noticed the “wall” moving in a curious way. Not in time to the music but to some seemingly invisible force of discomfort. Then I caught a brief glimpse of Toms needle-like elbow buried in the “wall’s” lower back in the area of the kidneys. That had to be uncomfortable. Several times the man tried to turn around and say something to Tom but the music was loud and the place packed. Tom kept at it. I waited for the man to explode but to my amazement and Tom’s relief (to say nothing of his safety) the man parted the crowd and left in a huff. Tom didn’t look at me but the smile and satisfaction on his face were clearly noticeable. Mission accomplished! The music continued long into the night and all was perfect again.
The next day Tom had planned a trip to the Aran Islands with friends. They would leave from Doolin pier taking one of the small tourist boats out to the islands for the day. As Tom recounted to me later, he found a seat just back from the starboard railing and a bit sheltered from the wind and spray by a friend sitting in front of him. The seas were a bit choppy but the small boat cut a clear path through the waves. The mood was jovial. But at one point, the friend sitting in front of Tom left to get some refreshments. The boat took a sudden and sharp turn to port and Tom was doused head to toe with a large wave. Was this all a coincidence? Wiping away the spray of cold seawater from his eyes Tom looked back at the wheelhouse and there stood the captain, with a large grin on his face. The recognition was immediate. The captain was the “wall” from the night before. He had gotten his revenge and it obviously delighted the man. What a small world Ireland is!
And this goes to show that a dose of revenge is a good pill for a pain in the back.

Jim Remington is a teacher and director at Lakewood School of Music in Lakewood, CO, and lives with his wife, 2 horses and 3 dogs in the Wet Mountain Valley near Westcliffe, CO. Jim can be reached at: [email protected]

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