Sunday, November 13, 2011

Music and Language Lessons in Sligo

On Halloween weekend, Zach and I traveled across the island to Sligo, the home of Yeats! We had heard of a music festival going on there and wanted to take in as much of Ireland's modern and traditional music as possible. As an added bonus, Elvis Costello was also playing there, so we got tickets, boarded a train and set off for adventures 'round Ben Bulben!

We shot out of Dublin after Zach got out of class, and arrived in Sligo early that evening. We dumped our bag at the B&B then set off to see what was happening at the local bars. 

Not much at 8 p.m. That's apparently too early. An ungodly hour for music, some might say. So we set off for dinner where we took in some Guinness (Zach) and Bulmer's Cider (me). 

Now the Sligo Live website had a full program listing all the local bars hosting all sorts of musicians and various forms of music, from modern to rock to traditional. We had not yet located a printed program, so after dinner we resorted to wandering the streets and using our ears to guide us. We stopped in at one bar where the musician tried with all his might to sound awesome doing CCR covers with his lone guitar, an elaborate back-up music machine, and his shaggy drummer. I do emphasize that he tried. Three whole songs. But he had to stop in between them all to keep readjusting his equipment settings, so we bailed. We went to another bar and got to hear Ireland's version of modernized rockabilly! It was fantastic! Here was a very young bunch of guys covering everything from Elvis to the Big Bopper! The chap on keyboard was brilliant! The bar was hoppin' as a result and had there been more than 18" between the bar and the tables, I think everyone would have been doing the Lindy Hop! 

Knowing we had a full day ahead of us, we went back to our B&B. This place was fantastic! McGettigan's! Book it for yourself when you're next in Sligo. The owners (Liam and Geraldine, husband and wife) were so hospitable and so eager volunteer where we should go and what we should check out! Liam was also so good as to help us improve our Irish-English. Evidently, we Americans have a problem saying, "Perfect." Well, Liam illustrated through a series of snappy jokes why one should not say "perfect" in response to good news. Instead, he taught us to say, "Grand." 

Q: Do you like your breakfast?
A: Grand! (not Perfect!)

Q: Would you like another pint?
A: That'd be grand!

Besides the wonderful hosts, the breakfast was sensational...or should I say grand? There were, among other choices, two "Irish Breakfast" options: large and small. We tried the small on our first morning. It came with two eggs, two sausages (which are about five times the size of American sausages), two slices of bacon (which are what Americans would call pork chops), fried tomatoes, lots of toast, endless cups of hot tea, yogurt, fruit, fresh artisan breads...I know I'm forgetting some stuff. 

Suffice it to say we were beyond stuffed and very glad we did not get the "large." 

Off we went to ride horses. I had booked a one-hour ride along the beaches of Grange--just a few miles north of Sligo. Of course it was raining full-force when we arrived at the stables. The good folks there lent us some Wellies (Wellington boots) and some rain pants and we stalled as long as we could, but the rain was not about to let up. So we clambered up our noble steeds and set off. I rode a sweet little horse called Lollipop, while Zach rode the sometimes more willful Gippy. 

The ride along the soft sands with rain splashing down, while sometimes f-f-f-freezing, was about the most breathtaking way to experience the scenic beaches of Sligo county. I wish that as a writer I could communicate how stunning it was to see the light green grasses flowing atop the tall, rounded embankments of tan, soft earth or the frothy, choppy waves splashing ashore like so many sea dragons! But I know I lack the skill because I cannot even describe for you that special shade of grey that is sometimes blue and sometimes green which spreads across the horizon when you look out to the sea and keeps you from perceiving where the water ends and the sky begins. 

All too soon our ride was over. We were back at the stables peeling out of our rain gear, discovering that we were still pretty well soaked to the bone. We caught a cab back to Sligo because we needed to shower and rest up for a very full night. Not only did we have a list of bars and pubs we wanted to visit to see the live jam sessions, but we also had the Evlis Costello show that night!

As for the sessions at the pubs, what the locals call "trad" sessions, here are some videos! 

Let me just say that we got a treat! At one point there are three fiddlers. One, an 85+ year old gent, the father of a man in his 60s who was one of Ireland's most respected fiddlers and composers of trad-music, and then an 11-year-old (or younger) who had just been crowned the nation's best fiddler that weekend! I'm being brief on my descriptions here because I'm letting Zach take over on the next post where he will talk about the music and Elvis Costello! 

The next morning, after yet another scrumptious breakfast, we made a quick trip down to Sligo Abbey, or rather it's ruins. Be sure to check out or photo gallery for pictures! After that, we had to check out and catch our train back to Dublin, but our ears, eyes, and bellies were more than satisfied with a quick getaway to Sligo!

Video of the young fiddler-champ of Ireland: