Tulla Festival 2013

As a few people know we’re kind of particular to traditional Irish music and the music of East Clare is high on our list. Most years we can be found heading for Feakle Festival (John helps out with their website) and it was a particular disappointment that we missed it this year due to the death of a close friend.

However, the neighbouring village of Tulla also has a smaller festival at the beginning of September and so we loaded up the campervan and headed of to East Clare for the weekend. Now Tulla can seem a bit of a quiet place (even the residents might agree) – by day it is an ordinary working town that probably doesn’t feature too highly on the tourist radar. It’s even known as ‘the Windswept Hill’. But for those in the know (together with neighbouring Feakle) it is a rich vein of traditional music that produces some of the finest pearls (that could be a tautology or some other linguistic faux pas – but I hope that you get the gist).

The music from this region is some of the best on the planet and I’ve seen some of the all time ‘greats’ playing in the pubs here; Liz Carroll, Arty McGlynn, Joe Burke, Seamus Tansey, Matt Molloy, Eileen O’Brien, John Carty, Mary Bergin, Darren Breslin – the list is endless. Mind you Tulla and Feakle have their own list of greats including the mighty Tulla Ceilidh Band and Martin Hayes.

We got to Tulla on the Friday to find the whole place buzzing with excitement as Clare were in the all Ireland Hurling final on Sunday (Probably the equivalent of the F.A. Cup final in the UK).

The Colours of County Clare

The Colours of County Clare could be found everywhere including John Minogue’s Pub

The Festival proceedings were due to ‘kick off’ around 8.00 p.m. on Friday night with a parade through the town. By 8.15 not much was happening (to the consternation of a couple who had found their way here from Quebec – and I had to explain that Irish time can have a slightly different meaning to elsewhere) but by about 20 minutes past the hour the Chapel Gate Wrenboys, All Ireland Wrenboy Champions, came strolling through town; looking remarkably like extras in Midsomer Murders. They then put on a lively, fun and (sometimes) bawdy show in the Courthouse; great fun.

Chapel Gate Wren Boys

Chapel Gate Wren Boys parade through Tulla to open the Festival 2013

From their we trotted across the road to Minogue’s bar to catch up with a few friends, have a few pints and listen to the session going on. There is clearly some strange ‘time vortex’ in Irish pubs; before you know it – it is 2.30 or 3 in the morning.

Saturday evening brought the main event; the Concert in the Court House hosted by Mary MacNamara, a fine concertina player who does much to teach the youngsters in the area. What a great concert it turned out to be with fine playing from the start when it was opened up by some of those youngsters including 12 year old Lilly O’Connor.

Sorcha Costello and Aisling Hunt

Sorcha Costello and Aisling Hunt, who won the duet category (U18)  at the Fleadh na hEireann, show why the music in Tulla is so strong. Brilliant playing girls!

The concert continued with a line up that just kept up a cracking standard all evening including, Johnny Og Connolly, Harry Bradley, Oisin MacDiarmada, Caitlin Nic Gabhann, Zoe Conway and the Full Set band. Brilliant stuff and a reminder that there is astonishing music out there.

Caitlin Nic Gabhann

Ciarán Ó Maonaigh and Caitlin Nic Gabhann

Harry Bradley

Harry Bradley in full flight

Zoe Conway and her husband John McIntyre

Zoe Conway and her husband John McIntyre

The Full set

Part of The Full Set (if you see what I mean). An excellent young band playing powerful music.

Once again it was back of to the pub afterwards where Andrew MacNamara, Eileen O’Brien, Mark Donnellan and Michael Landers playing a great session. ‘Playing’ is not quite the word for Andrew (whose playing can be best described as ‘fiery’) was trading unusual phrasing with Mark and the battle went on into the early hours with Eileen smiling to herself every time these two issued another challenge to each other. Mighty music; you’d have to have been mad to miss it. Another late night/early morning in a pub (Tulla has this effect)!

Sunday was the day of the ‘All Ireland’ final and Tulla seemed deserted. Some more sessions were happening at lunch time but most minds were focussed on the big game starting at 3.30 pm.

A Session in Minogues

A Session in Minogues at Tulla Festival 2013

Clare had not won the All Ireland Final since 1997. And there was much excitement as Clare led for most of the match, to lose the lead in added time and then equalise 30 seconds after the ‘end’ of added time. So it all has to be done once more in a few weeks time! Not sure I could stand that much excitement again.

It looks all over for Clare, losing by one point at the end of extra time.

It looks all over for Clare, losing by one point at the end of added time.

Then a defender knocks one over from long range 30 seconds past the end of added time!

Then a defender knocks one over from long range 30 seconds past the end of added time! It’s a draw.

Sunday evening was rounded off nicely by a CD launch from Edel Fox (concertina) and Neill Byrne (fiddle) who played a great set to finish the festival off. Time for another pint before heading for the Ferry and home. What a weekend that was.

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A Circular Walk Around the Teifi Pools

We haven’t posted a walk for a while, not because we haven’t done any walking  but because of a general lack of inertia when it comes to posting the details.

The Cambrian Mountains are a wild and empty plateau lying between the Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons National Parks. They are Wales’ fourth national park in-waiting; designated in 1972, the Park was later cheated of recognition and protection, by an unholy alliance of landowners and politicians. It remains surprisingly unknown to a lot of people.

The Teifi pools lie to the north east of Strata Florida and are a group of lakes situated about 1500 ft up the western slopes of the Cambrian Mountains and this is a rather exceptional walk on a fine day. It can get very wet underfoot so good boots (and gaiters?) are essential pretty much any time of year.

Teifi Pools Map

Teifi Pools Map

As we are in the middle of an unusual heatwave in July 2013 we set off in the campervan the night before to make an early start. The walk is approached from a ‘no through’ road from Strata Florida and there is parking for about 3 or 4 cars at the point marked on the map above. There was no one else there at around 10.00 pm other than a lot of midges! So we camped there before setting off about 5.30 in the morning. The walk starts about 100 metres BEFORE or west of the parking place not where the footpath is shown in the map  If you try and take this route you’ll be going straight through a farm (Tyncwm) full of barking dogs. The path is an easy uphill, past a cairn, until you reach Llyn Egnant. Here the track becomes tarmac as it is a service road for the reservoir. Keep going until you reach a ‘T junction’ then turn left.

Llyn Egnant in the mist

Llyn Egnant in the mist early on a summer morning

Continue along this track with Llyn Hir on your left until you come to a board indicating that you have reached Llyn Teifi. Turn left and follow this track, through a gate until you reach the dam. Go through the small double metal gates then follow the track under the dam. Follow the lake side across all the other small dams. Once you have gone across the last one turn back sharp right and find the fairly indistinct track down the valley. Keep going down until you reach a small cairn, just ahead is a waymarked fence. Follow the path along the fence. The path turns away (left) by a marker post and goes up to another small cairn. The track should be more distinct now.

The Teifi Pools as the mist clears

The Teifi Pools as the mist clears

Follow the track towards the farm Frongoch. Go through the gate and in front of the house turn right and go over the ladder stile in front of the farm buildings. Keep following the track all the way to Troed-y-rhiw. When you come to the white holiday cottage there is a gate on the left, go through it into the field and follow the path across the field to a stile. Go over the sile and follow the contouring path down to the road. Turn left on the road and walk back to your starting point.

The walk is about 6.5 miles in total.

 

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Baltimore Fiddle Festival and Some Thoughts

Early May 2012 saw us setting off in Huey, our campervan, for Ireland. We headed off at first for East Clare and after calling in to Peppers Bar to see who was about we visited our good friends Michael and Dorothy and their family in their excellent B&B at Clondanagh Cottage. If you are ever visiting the west of Ireland I can’t recommend their hospitality too much!

We then headed just across the border to Kinvara in Galway for The Cuckoo Fleadh, a rather extended weekend of traditional music and drinking, to search out a few sessions before going on to Connemara. We then drove south, heading for the Baltimore Fiddle Festival stopping off on the way on the Dingle and Kerry Peninsulas. Finally we travelled back north east to Dublin staying overnight in the Wicklow mountains on the way before returning to Wales via Rosslare.

Camping on Valentia Island

Over night stop on Valentia Island, Kerry in our Camper Van

For us there are two different Irelands. The one that is represented by the traditional musicians who keep the tradition alive with their amazing musicianship. Just in these few days we listened to Edel Fox, Andrew MacNamara, Thomas Bartlett, Dennis Cahill, Martin Hayes, Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, Iarla Ó Lionáird, Sam Amidon, Cleek Shrey and Nic Gareiss. Most have devoted much of their lives to learning their craft and tradition. The other Ireland is the one that rushed headlong into the nonsense that became the infamous Celtic Tiger. A land of speculation, institutional corruption, garden decking, hot tubs and men in pink shirts driving 4x4s and talking excitedly into mobile phones about their next ‘Real Estate’ purchase in Bulgaria.

This  two-facedness was apparent when we stepped into a bar in a village on the Dingle. The pub looked very traditional and even sported a plaque giving it some ‘Trad Pub Music status’. I should have known better when the menu outside was promoting their Chinese food. Inside there was a cosy fire and a large plasma TV which, about 5 minutes after we sat down with a pint to await pretty much the only non Chinese item on the menu, was turned over to ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ or some such programme. Until now I’ve not watched one of these shows and my worst fears were realised. A variety of truly dreadful acts were loudly cheered by a studio audience of imbeciles and was presumably watched by many millions of cerebrally challenged morons who clearly don’t have two neurons to rub together. First came an appalling girl singer followed by a dance act who cheekily misspelt their name to start with a ‘K’. I can’t remember what they called themselves but it should have been ‘Kuntz’. The teenage girl singer, whose sole talent seemed to comprise a pair of decent legs in a short skirt, was ‘singing’ some anodyne song with a voice that had all the charisma of public service broadcast in North Korea. When she had finished the judges, the two female ones of whom seem to have just come back from a face painting competition, pronounced their verdict. By now I’d lost the will to live so finishing my food and resisting the need to vomit (not from the food) we headed out on onwards to Baltimore Fiddle Fair.

As I write this I wonder if I’m just a miserable old git, elitist or probably both? Am I just sneering at what other people seem to enjoy? So what if someone enjoys such banality? Then, no doubt like my elders before me, I muse over the lowering of standards to the lowest possible denominator. Are people so fecking stupid that they can’t even get out and watch some live music for themselves and decide if it is good or not?

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and fright­ened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin read­ing.

Take down a musi­cal instrument.
Let the beauty we Love be what we do.
There are hun­dreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

People seem to be sleepwalking into a packaged world where the advertising executives are trying to control what they think so that they can sell them more crap.

A world where people are so divorced from nature that thy think meat comes wrapped in cellophane in TWATCO’s. A world where people think they have talent because their ‘friends’ on Facebook tell them they have.

Loads of Brilliant Beaches to Stop at near Baltimore

Loads of Brilliant Beaches to Stop at near Baltimore

Baltimore Fiddle Festival was the antidote I needed. It was our first trip here but the amazing list of musicians that have been here over the years and played in small bars, rooms and marquees is almost a ‘who’s who’ of traditional music. This weekend was no exception and it would have been great to stay longer but we had to head up to Dublin.

In the Wicklow Mountains

In the Wicklow Mountains

Things only got better when we did get to Dublin, via an overnight rough camp in the Wicklow mountains, and not just because Liz got to see a shower for the first time in a week! We were in Dublin to see ‘The Gloaming’. This band are made up of some of the best trad musicians around who are pushing the boundaries away from the ‘trad’ tag. This Irish new wave doesn’t suit all the traditionalists; but of course music always evolves and needs to or else it just becomes repetition. We had been at their first ever gig in Dublin last August and now we were back for a ‘one off’ gig this year. It was a very, very special night; it must have been because even the Irish President turned up to the rather unglamorous venue at Vicar Street. Their trad tunes and songs were played on the edge with Thomas Bartlett (who also opened with his childhood friend Sam Amidon) playing some sublime piano. I probably shouldn’t use the word ‘play’ it’s more that he feels the music throwing in single notes and chords together with plucked and damped notes on the piano strings. Iarla Ó Lionáird’s singing (and I can’t understand a word of Gaelic) made you want to cry at the beauty of it. But I doubt that the media muppets who trotted out the bilge on the plasma TV will ever understand that music is about emotion not the plastic crap foisted on an acquiescing public between the commercials. The principal purpose of the whole exercise being to sell them even more crap (such as air fresheners) that they don’t even need in the first place.

And if you want emotion no one really puts their ‘heart’ in to it more than Martin Hayes. When he plays music, he doesn’t just play notes; he becomes the music and when it is over you feel drained by the emotional journey he has taken you on. You feel spiritually uplifted and know that you have been transported and transfixed in some world in another place. I could of course just be talking complete bollocks as a tone deaf Englishman who has absolutely no musical ability in his body. On the other hand I’ve always been able to make my own mind up and I’ll choose Martin Hayes, Iarla Ó Lionáird,Thomas Bartlett and the rest over what some TV executive deems to be talent any day.

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The Elan Valley

The elan valley

Mist in The Elan Valley

Oh dear we’ve been very lax in updating the blog recently. Too busy enjoying ourselves. For the last two weekends we’ve been spending time in the Elan Valley camping overnight in a wood near Rhayader in mid Wales and photographing and walking round the lakes during the day. We were there to take advantage of the amazing Autumn colours and as you can see from the photographs this was enhanced by the amazingly still water.

The Amazing Autumn Colours at Carreg-ddu

The Amazing Autumn Colours at Carreg-ddu

The dams, reservoirs and 73 mile of aqueduct of the Elan Valley waterworks in mid Wales were mostly built about a hundred years ago to supply clean water to the city of Birmingham in the English Midlands. Although it looks like a bridge the Carreg-ddu dam (below) is partially submerged to keep the water level up at the extraction point.

Carreg-ddu Submerged Dam

Carreg-ddu Submerged Dam

Leaving aside the morality of removing the original residents to flood the valley the reservoirs and dams which supply water to Birmingham entirely by gravity are a an amazing feat of engineering. It is almost beyond comprehension that thousands of men could build these structures. It really does put in perspective the rubbish that we see built today. In addition the foresight of elders of Birmingham to conceive and undertake such a scheme is astonishing. As well as building the dams this also involved building a 73 mile long aqueduct down which the water travels at less than 2 miles per hour, taking one and a half days to get to Birmingham.

The Foel tower is where water starts its journey to Birmingham

The Foel tower is where water starts its journey to Birmingham

There is more information on the Elan valley dams here.

The walk around Carreg-Ddu reservoir is a lovely walk and you can start at various points. We parked at the car park by the Carreg-Ddu dam and did a complete circuit of the lake. The map below shows a longer walk starting at the visitor centre.

Carreg-ddu Walk

Carreg-ddu Walk

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Snowdon and ‘Huey’

Well summer is drawing to an end and it’s time to introduce you to our new friend ‘Huey’ as he (it) is known. Having had a Landrover since we came to Wales (which was indispensable in the worst of the winter) we had to acknowledge that we didn’t use it enough the rest of the year and what we really wanted was a campervan. This led to a big dilemma as we didn’t want to be running three vehicles. Eventually we ‘bit the bullet’ and decided to buy a VW California 4motion. One of the few vans that comes in a 4×4 configuration. So after handing over an inordinate amount of money here is ‘Huey’.

'Huey' named after his numberplate

'Huey' named after his numberplate

So after an initial weekend away walking in the Radnor Forest last weekend we seized a brief interlude in the weather and drove up to Snowdon last night to climb Snowdon or Yr Wyddfa as it is known in Welsh. We over-nighted in a small lay-by not far from Beddgelert and then drove to the car park at Rhyd Ddu (off the A4085 – SH 571 526) to have breakfast and make an early start.

Room with a View

Our Room with a View Complete with Quilt Cover from the Charity Shop

The plan was to walk up Snowdon via the Rhydd Ddu path and descend via the Snowdon South ridge. Other than a slight navigational error on the descent that is what we did. The walk up took us around two and a half hours. The cloud cover cleared, as forecast, as we ascended giving us some good views at the top. The routes up Snowdon are detailed here our route is below.

Rhydd Ddu Track

Rhydd Ddu Track and Snowdon South Ridge Walk

The ascent up Rhyd Ddu is fairly gentle in most places, the South Ridge path is a tad more challenging.

Near the Start of the Ascent from Rhydd Ddu

Near the Start of the Ascent from Rhydd Ddu

The Ascent up Snowdon

The Ascent up Snowdon

The South Ridge of Snowdon

The South Ridge of Snowdon. In the distance is where the Routes Diverge.

Near the Summit of Snowdon

Near the Summit of Snowdon and quite possibly the highest sheep in Wales!

Liz Near the Summit

Liz Near the Summit with the new Cafe in the background where most Tourists Arrive by Train

All in all we had a great couple of days and we’re pleased to have ‘Huey’ to help us to take advantage of the amazing countryside in Wales

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