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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.