Irish Washerwoman

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February 13th 2010
Published: February 13th 2010
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Sarah and I are now in Angers with our good friend Soup! A lot happened in our last day in Dublin though.

We visited the Chester Beatty Library and saw a display that provided a glimpse into various religions. Included among its materials was a fragment from the original Gospel according to John. We also visited the Natural History Museum of Ireland. There we saw a very long and very old canoe. We read some history on the Vikings, and looked at some old medieval weapons. We sat in St. Stephen's Green and watched the birds. The beauty of that park makes it quite apparent why the Guinness family is so loved. The park was built by Guinness and is well maintained - open everyday for the public to visit and enjoy. The Guinness family also provided great financial assistance in the construction of St. Patrick's Cathedral. When I compare our cultural relationship to beer at home, I would not be surprised to hear of great acts of charity by the Molson family. However, I've yet to hear of a physical landmark or location for which they are responsible that embodies our national heritage quite the way Guinness did.

We went to look at a display celebrating the life of William Butler Yeats. It's hard to provide a good physical museum for a writer, but they did a good job. On display were his original journals, and they had various other forms of media running as well. I left wanting to read more of his material. I'd like to thank Mr. Michael Peng who is in great part responsible for many of our positive experiences in Dublin. On Michael's list of things to do was a coffee at Bewley's which concluded our afternoon. Bewley's is very old, and very good. It has 3 levels, and I was impressed to find that it also had a theater hosting various productions throughout the year.

We made our way to St. Patrick's Cathedral for Evensong. As I have never experienced Evensong in Canada, the service was a new experience. The entire liturgy was sung by a choir, and it did not include mass. As such, the participation required on our part was very minimal - mostly sitting, standing, kneeling. But the music was absolutely beautiful. There were only 4 people including us there at the Cathedral for the service that evening.

There was one thing left on our list to do in Ireland before leaving. And that was to see some live music in a pub. We went to Cobblestones near our flat, and found it to be pleasantly alive but not quite the same picture of chaos that we had come across during our initial arrival in Dublin. There was a group of 11 musicians playing fiddles, uilllean pipes and other whistles. Sarah decided she wanted to meet people so she went over and introduced herself to a couple of young Irish men. They were surprised but very kind and personable. Their names were Ronin and Patrick. We talked for some time about Northern Ireland and about Patrick's recent skiing accident (two separate matters).

I wanted to play and join the circle very badly, but I was shy. Thanks to my lovely wife Sarah though, this soon became a possibility. Sarah mentioned to an older gentleman that I played. He asked if I'd like to play a tune and then lent me a violin. The intimidating prospect was trying to fit into the group. While some jams back home are very liberal (anybody plays anything at anytime) this jam had order and a certain code of respect that was to be followed. People did not invent songs, harmonies or backgrounds. They simply knew tunes. Sometimes tunes were sung, and everybody would hush to listen. At one point I could tell a very heavy song involving Ireland's history had been sung because most people looked quite emotional, and I think some were close to tears. As for the instrumental music, all 11 musicians played each tune note for note in unison. And if you didn't know the tune, you didn't play. Usually there would be one leader, and as a medley of tunes flowed, the leader would always initiate the movement of one tune into the next. Now holding this violin, I was suddenly the leader.

But what would I play that everyone would know? My background as a fiddler, as a Canadian fiddler is a good reflection of Canadian identity: mixed. The fiddle tunes I know cover a wide spectrum from French, Scottish, Irish, Cape Breton, Bluegrass, and Country traditions. And being as most of the tunes I know were engrained into me at a young age, I didn't always take the time to recognize where all the music came from. Typically, some music would be easily generalized. I knew a Celtic sound from a country sound. But differentiating between Scottish, Irish, and East coast fiddle music was/is more difficult. So... what tune would I choose in this scenario? My best bet was a song called, “Irish Washerwoman”. The name felt like a safe bet. I began playing, and I had 100% participation. But then the tune ran out, and I was without a second tune in line... After a minute of awkward silence, they encouraged me to play 'anything'. And so I did - a mix of tunes that I was less sure people would know. Unfortunately, I was correct about this as well. Nevertheless, they were very gracious.. I concluded my medley and they all applauded 😊 A gentleman with a set of pipes in his hand leaned in and made comment of my fiddle tunes coming from Cape Breton. I smiled and nodded affirmatively.

And that is my story as to how Sarah provided me with the opportunity to play the fiddle in an Irish pub in Dublin. It was a good night. We are now in Angers, France, and it is very cold. I will likely be purchasing a toque (or beanie as it is called here) and a set of mittens before too much more time passes.

To watch a clip of us playing Irish Washerwoman, click the link below:

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Our Photographer

This picture was actually supposed to be of us. He had the camera backwards though :)

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