Midsummer Music

Here’s a little burst from our traditional session in Rosie’s, Ballydehob, last Friday, with a great crowd of players and singers filling the pub with Irish music, as they do every week through the year. Sometimes the session takes place at a different venue in the village, but you will soon find it, between seven and nine on a Friday evening. The music is to remind us that the The 9th Fastnet Maritime and Folk Festival will be held from the 17th – 19th June this year, after an enforced ‘Covid’ break. Hopefully it will be ‘just like old times’. There is a great programme to look forward to – don’t miss it! To get you into the spirit here’s Festival regular Matt Cranitch leading a rendering of the beautiful air Sliabh na mBan.

There’s a tale attached to all good songs, and Sliabh na mBan is no exception. This is from the Dúchas Schools Folklore Collection 1936 . . .

. . . Finn mac Cumail, having come of age, took upon himself the task of choosing a wife. A public man like him had to cater to the popular expectations and he was in sore straits fearing to give hurt to any of the noble families wishing to link their daughter with Finn in the bonds of Holy Matrimony. Having tasted of the Salmon of Knowledge, he was all wise, so he hit upon a good plan. A race would decide who to wed him. He sat on the top of Slievenamon, (Sliabh na mBan – Mountain of the Women). All the ladies were to race from the Anner and the first up was to become his wife. Then the gathering began – old, young, fair, dark, ugly, beautiful, sprightly and lame all came to try and become Finn’s wife. “They’re off!” – what a view as all the maidens of Munster set off on the race. The beautiful girls began well, but soon got tired and as some old hag would limp past them she’d sneer “Fair and go easy goes far in a day”. On they went, the latter tripping the former – three remained to do the east climb – two beautiful girls and a worn, old hag: up, still up – who’ll win what? Wait! the fair girl has fallen, now just a dark-haired caílin and the old woman. Oh look, she’s down – the girl hurts her ankle and tries to creep along, but faints. Now the old hag has an open field. Finn must marry her – But no, up the slope comes a lovely girl and reaches Finn first and like all nice stories, they were married and lived happily ever afterwards. (Nobody knew that Finn had instructed his lady love to run over to Boherbee where the mountain is low and go along the gradual slope, instead of trying to climb the steep precipitous mountain face) . . .

Schools Folklore Collection – Miss H Noonan Aged 70 – Cloneen, Co Tipperary

A reminder of pre-Covid days (above, in Levis’ Bar) – folk legend Martin McCarthy (now aged 81) was a regular at the Ballydehob Festival. There’s some good ‘new blood’ there this year, and the launch of an album of the best Sliabh Luachra music from Pat Fleming with Maria Cotter, Tim Browne, Gary O’Brien and Timmy O’Connor. A special event will take place in Bank House in the main street at 7.15 on Thursday 16th June: festival organiser Dick Miles will give a talk on the ‘folk revival’ – (A musical journey from England to Ireland). There will be plenty of opportunities for all musicians to participate over the weekend, starting with the regular Friday folk session in Rosie’s at 5pm (note the earlier-than-usual time) on the 17th.

There are plenty of good food opportunities in Ballydehob: all will be available over the Festival weekend: the wonderful Yay Burger (top), Budds (above) and Bally Bia (below). Don’t forget Antonio’s and – if you want Michelin Star (why wouldn’t you?) there’s the Chestnut.

But the festival is – first and foremost – all about the music. We hope to see you there over this coming weekend. We’ll finish with more Sliabh Luachra tunes from Jackie Daly and Matt Cranitch, who will be there to serenade us. Enjoy!

Shopping for Memories

Miss Clerke

In my post Going for the Messages I told you about rediscovering the shops of my childhood here in West Cork. Since then, Miss Clerke’s shop, lightly photoshopped but totally recognisable, graced the front page of the Irish Times Magazine as their illustration for their Ireland’s Best Shops competition. So it’s not just me, then. I’m not the only one with a nostalgia for the old-time shopping experience.

Evans of Bantry

In that spirit, I am revisiting a few of my favourites traditional shops. I have discovered two more shops like Miss Clerkes. First, there’s Evans, In Bantry. Proudly run by Miss Evans, it has the same look and feel of a place unchanged since the 50’s, although perhaps the pinkness of it all might be more modern. It has a lovely atmosphere – when I was in there a couple of kids were trying to decide how to spend their pocket money on sweets from the big glass jars.

MIss Murphy in her traditional shop

MIss Murphy in her traditional shop, Eyeries


Lunch is served outside

Lunch is served outside

On the Beara Peninsula we stopped for lunch at Miss Murphy’s store in Eyries and chatted with her about my Great Uncle who had married an Eyries woman. Since I couldn’t remember her name Miss Murphy was unable to help, but she tried, and she made us a delicious basket of sandwiches.

Some shops are a little puzzling – for example, P. Cronin Carpenter in Skibbereen. I’ve never seen it open and I’m not sure what it would sell if it did open its doors. The photo of the interior was taken through the window.

In Bantry one of the Undertaking establishments has a shop. At first I found this idea a little startling, but it makes a lot of sense once you come to appreciate Irish graveyard traditions, including how often people visit graves and leave tokens at them.

half holiday

Shops in Irish country towns follow traditional opening hours. They invariably close for lunch (1PM to 2PM) and generally follow a five-day-a-week opening schedule. This can mean they are closed, besides on Sundays, on Mondays – but other days are possibilities too. None nowadays follows the old tradition of the half day. Remember that? 

messenger bike

And remember how the groceries would be delivered – by a young lad on a messenger boy bike? You can still get delivery but now the messages come in a van.

Levis's Pub in Ballydehob: the traditional grocery section is still intact

Levis’s Pub in Ballydehob: the traditional grocery section is still intact

Of course, one of the traditions we remember about country towns was that of pubs also selling groceries or dry goods – whatever people needed. You went in for a pair of wellies and a dozen eggs, and took your ease with a pint on the bar stool, or a whiskey in the snug, before you left. Levis’s Corner House in Ballydehob has preserved the grocery counter. You can hear Joseph talking about it, and about the great history of this historic pub in the excellent radio documentary “Keeping the Door Open.” It’s about far more than just this one pub – it’s about a whole way of life in rural Ireland. A way of life that still lingers in West Cork…so far.


Ballydehob Trad Fest

Young Traditional Musicians at the Ballydehob Trad Fest

Young Traditional Musicians at the Ballydehob Trad Fest

If you like traditional music, then Ballydehob was the place to be this weekend. Féile Átha Dá Chab, the Ballydehob Traditional Music Festival, had us bouncing on our bar stools, hooting and cheering in our concert seats, and applauding the talent of hoards of youngsters.

Finale of the Four Men and a Dog Concert

Finale of the Four Men and a Dog Concert

The Festival kicked off with an outstanding concert by Four Men and a Dog. Playing, singing, telling stories, and with the unique wit of Gino Lupari (an Italian bodhran player with an Irish accent) they entertained us for over three hours in the village hall. They invited two talented local girls to play with them, and with Mairead and Maria Carey on their flutes, we were on our feet for an intense finale that left us exhilarated.

Sunday afternoon session at Levis's

Sunday afternoon session at Levis’s

Once the concert is over, where do you go? To the pubs, of course, where there were sessions going on till all hours. We were in Levis’s, but we could have been in any one of half a dozen pubs, all with great music.


Maureen Culleton/Learning how to twirl

Maureen Culleton/Learning the steps

Our friends from Devon, Chris and Gill, who are staying with us, bravely signed up for the set dancing workshop next day, along with sixteen others. They are tango dancers and in great shape, but by noon they were exhausted and had a whole new respect for this form of dancing. Maureen Culleton, highly experienced and very encouraging, introduced some new dances to the locals and put everyone through their paces. The day culminated in a Céilí (pronounced kaylee) where the set dancers danced into the wee hours to the music of the Striolán Ceilí Band from Kerry. People around here love set dancing and are very good at it. It’s an activity that brings together all ages in country villages. Here’s a good example of set dancing, with the Striolán Ceilí Band playing in the background.

In Rosie's

In Rosie’s

Robert and I aren’t set dancers so we took to the pubs (amazing how much time a couple of non-drinkers can spend in pubs!) for the sessions that were going on in most of them. Members of Four Men and a Dog were in Rosie’s, playing with local musicians. Getting to see them in such an intimate setting was great.

The Kilcoen Kids

The Kilcoe Kids

Today, Sunday, the sun came out and the streets of Ballydehob filled up with young musicians competing in the Street Seisiún Competition. Seisiún, pronounced seshoon is the Irish word for session. And a session, in case I haven’t explained this before for our non-Irish readers, is the word used for a bunch of traditional musicians getting together to make music. The younger children, of course, stole our hearts, singing, dancing and playing music on the streets. The teens were remarkably accomplished: many of them have been studying in the Comhaltas system for years.

Dancing in the streets

Dancing in the streets

As I type, people are wandering from pub to pub on the session trail in Ballydehob. When you love something, you just don’t want it to stop! Fortunately, in this part of Ireland, the music is alive and well – and in good hands for the future.


The future is assured!

The future is assured!

Well done, Ballydehob, on another fantastic traditional music festival!

Danno enjoying a private concert

Danno enjoying a private concert