Category Archives: Notes on a Journey

Reading, Writing and Craft

About a month ago I was invited to Borris House in Borris Co Carlow to the festival of Writing and ideas. The premise of the festival is to allow artists, mainly writers to come together and discuss their craft and whatever else they might wish.

PJ Harvey spoke to Anne Enright. They discussed the process of creation – maturity, subject matter, and research. PJ’s last album ‘Let England Shake’ is about war. PJ spent a great deal of time and energy researching the subject. She went to great lengths to take herself out of the narrative and leave the listener with a module of emotion and information that did not try and enforce or sell any one idea or point of view. She worked with Seamus Murphy to make a series of short films to go with the songs and music. I saw one on the day and it was beautiful. She comes across as a powerhouse with a selfless devotion to her work. A scholar.

The land in Borris is rich. Trees follow the undulating earth way off into the distance. The sun brought everyone out and it felt like we were blessed. I met a day old foal who was born on Friday night.

I met Ben Okri and spent a fleeting hour sharing a stage with him discussing his life and work. I asked him had he any stalkers because I did!  A voice from the house responded “they are all here”!

He read a poem in honour of his father…’O Lion! Roam no more.’ and one for his mother ‘My Mother Sleeps.’ These he delivered with great power at the beginning and at the end of the conversation. He also read ‘The Mysterious Anxiety of Them and Us’ – a type of short story in Haiku style. I can only recommend finding it and reading it. His work is astounding. He said he takes, often, six months to read a book to do proper justice to and to fully experience the work. Also a book is such a wonderful thing why rush finishing it?

He is a man of great generosity. I admire the man who is willing to wrestle with his mind and give the time to exposing himself through the medium of a story. A book is a great thing.


Paris in Spring

I took a seat in the sun by a small table on the corner of the street. The street was on a hill. I ordered coffee and a Camembert sandwich. I’m in Paris. Montmartre to be precise. Rian, our show was to open in Theatre de la Ville in two days. This was a day off. The coffee tasted just right with the baguette. I’m living the dream!

People look at each other here. There is a conversation in a glance. Our hotel is beside the Montmartre cemetery. I like being close to these places. I get a sense of peace where the truth of impermanence lives.

The avenue is lined with slim and tall trees with luminous green leaves. At night we took ourselves up to the steps of Sacré Couer ( Our music drew the attention of local youth who expressed themselves with great energy and humour. Most appear to be from Tunisia. Soon we were seeing each other through our music. Wide eyes and open arms marked the close of a meeting of cultures ages and minds. We felt proud of our people. My Irish drum is the same shape as the mainstay North African equivalent. Apart from the absence of a hole! We laughed! The Tunisian drum has a hole in the frame where the player puts the thumb.

There is a hotel beside the stage door that looked very inviting to my eye. I decided to try it out after our second night. As a stranger I was made welcome there. This was a place where one might have bumped into Piaf, back on her day.

We brought our music in there later and Michael our director took to the table and calmly placed the sole of his foot on the ceiling!

Paris in the spring! You could feel the energy of the creative muse here in Montmartre. Everything has a beat and although we are in the city, the physicality of the land seemed to sing through the place…..

Canal Connections

We drove past Brussels out to a canal dock area. We were stuffed into Jan’s car and I was buried in my book – Zoli by Colum McCann. By this stage I couldn’t put it down. A powerful portrait of an individual and of her people and time.

When I looked up we were pulling in to the yard of what looked like someone’s home. Boats and maritime bits and pieces were here and there. A boy of about nine appeared upstairs. We climbed to the balcony and came to a glass door. Inside were tables, a bar counter with a rope and bell. Lifebuoy and canal maps on the walls. This was our venue for the night.

Klaus greeted us. His eyes spoke for him. He showed us all we needed to be shown and put food on the table for us. I feel like we were really somewhere that is cared for and loved. This is where the canal workers, the sailors, the locks men and their friends and families come to eat drink and be merry. Klaus told us that he worked a lot with and for the Roma/gypsy musicians. This resonated with me as my book was all about the life of a brave woman who came from these nomadic people.

Luc was our man. He booked this show for us and I am glad he did. The view from the window was of the great canal which to my understanding connected much of Europe’s waterways. It was all about the nomadic today!

Peter and I felt completely at home here and played for around two hours. Later we sampled beer made by the Trappist monks and played some more at our leisure. This was a European crossroads. I could have rested on a couch there for some hours and grabbed a lift east or west on a barge. Who knows where I would end up! The world is small but the possibilities are infinite.

Bert sat at the bar and was all about the power of a handshake. Gurt had the kindest face and served behind the bar. He worked the canal bridge by day and said that some days no one was happy.  He drew my profile with pencil and I drew his.


Good people.

Clouds over Belfast

In the rain there appears a pale circle above the motorway as you enter Belfast from the M1. It looks like a perfect circular cloud over the silver light of the wet road. There is a subtle beauty to it.

On closer inspection it is in fact a sculptural construction. Made me think of wire type metal. It is a sphere within a sphere and is locally known as the balls in the falls. The next exit after this structure brings you into the city.

There is snow on the mountains and the heater doesn’t work in my car! The windscreen is fogging up and when I crank up the fan the air that comes is freezing. We’re nearly there.

Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill is traveling with me. She is a singer and multi-instrumental composer. She co-founded Skara Brae and The Bothy Band. Her bass lines are some of the most jubilant and brilliant in Irish music. One of my all time favourite albums is ‘After Hours’ by The Bothy Band. Exciting is a word that only begins to describe the music recorded in a night in Paris back in nineteen seventy something.

Tríona and I are joining ‘Guidewires’ at the féile an phobail…People’s festival tonight.

Endless Horizons

The Magyars are a Hungarian people. Magyar means tall one. They are horse people. Masters of the six horse chariot. We payed a visit to Ishteban in Kanizsa last week in his farmstead on the outskirts of the village. Kanizsa, and the surrounding countryside, reaches out into the far distance. It is flat. You could walk in any direction and imagine getting to where you had to go, in a straight line. East to Turkey and further. West to Paris and Britanny.

Kanizsa is built on what was once the sea floor. There is water here underground that has healing qualities. Sulphurous water springs right beside the farm and is called miraculous by the local people.

Ishteban’s mustache brings attention to his laughing eyes. Bright blue…he is a Magyar.  He was wearing white pants and shirt with a black waistcoat and black circular hat with feathers when we went to visit him. He embodies an image of east and west.  He has white horses. He raises turkeys, goats, sheep, dogs, geese, rabbits and hens. The farmhouse is old and warm. The fireplace is fed from outside heating a cone shaped wall that radiates a glorious warmth at the heart of the house. He, his partner and his sister treated us to a feast of goose and home produced vegetables. The wine was also from the area and there was no shortage of it that day. They spoke no English and we spoke no Hungarian or Serb so we used German as a middle ground…the eyes did most of the talking anyway and we laughed a lot.

It was a wet day but we were warm in their company and enchanted as they described the sun as it rose in the east and set in the west. In a place so flat, this would be quite a powerful image. We were sitting in a temple to the sun. I imagined coming here on holiday to this flat country to listen for the traces of our human tapestry in their music. From east to west, cultures and traditions must have come and gone leaving echoes for the likes of us to discover and re-kindle.

A Proper Sydney Welcome

Sydney is the territory of the Eora people. The word comes from the local word meaning ‘from here’. The people were describing themselves to the colonial visitors.  It is also Cadigal land. The Cadigal people lived along the coast of the area where Sydney now is. They suffered great decimation at the hands of the colonial land lust. There are places in Sydney where the aboriginal people cannot go because of the atrocities carried out there. Women left to die in a swamp area near circular quay; their hands cut off.  Too painful to even be there.

The story is becoming clearer and at last moves are being made towards some kind of healing. There was an official apology two years ago. The aboriginal flag now flies alongside the colonial one.

I saw a play called The Secret River in the Sydney theatre. It tells the story of a settler family and a local family. Not pretty. The aboriginal culture is like pure water.  Instead of investing their evolutionary energy in material permanence, they advanced in the sophistication of their relationship with creation and each other. To pay attention to this culture is to be deeply moved and connected to the world on new levels. Their art still lives in caves and sacred places all over the land. Just like European cave paintings except they continue to refer and relate to theirs.  They are connected to their beginnings. There is a strand of this dreaming in Irish tradition. One Steve Cooney carried some of the dreaming when he came some 30 years ago.  He brought the yidaki into our music and with it a respect for the law of that culture. A law that relates to the mystery of creation. A foundation for great vision…that is my experience. It lives in my heart.

Sydney still has untamed land. There is national parkland all around. It makes it easy to feel the presence of the songs and the dances that made this land. I shared a dance with Trevor Jameison one night after a show. An eagle about to fly from the Nullarbor Plain. Inland of West Australia which is Trevor’s country. Pidginjarra people.

We were welcomed by the descendants of the Cadigal (sometimes sounds like garrigal)….people before our third performance in Sydney. It is now an official part of political protocol to be welcomed formally by the original people of this land. It has always been important to be welcomed to a country. Someone from one territory would have to be welcomed if they were to travel to another area outside of their ancestral claim. This is civilization. The welcoming tunes the person to the energy and spirit of the land they are visiting. We were singing and dancing on Cadigal land. It was important that we were welcomed. Millie Ingram. Her sister Norma, and their Niece Delara and Christine, a saltwater freshwater woman did us the honour.

Saku, Louise T, Anna and myself took ourselves out to the royal national park on a Monday. Breathtaking beauty…bush and sandstone, pink and white. As we descended from the cliffs Saku nearly stepped on a black snake. The snake went to bite him but stopped short. I believe our welcome protected us. The Royal National Park is also Dharawal country.

I am back now. There is a great wind blowing outside. It is night here. It is morning there. The earth is a miracle…

ps … there is a lot more detail regarding people and language groups around the Sydney area. If you go to Aboriginal People and Place you will find a beautifully put together site giving more detailed information and history about Sydney’s aboriginal heritage.

A Pirate in Lyon

Before going to Lyon I heard that the city was inhabited and founded originally by the God Lugh. A Deity from some of our oldest traditions. Lyon made us welcome, very gently.  Maison de la Danse is a fine place to work.

The city is a meeting point of two rivers. I crossed one of them one night. I heard a voice call ”Hey!  Irish!!”

I stopped and peered around the corner saying “yes?”

There he was. Benoit. He wore a pirate’s hat, a great coat, and scarves. He had books and songs in his head. He was a scholar. His head was shaven on both sides and his eyes shone blue above his cheekbones. We had a glass together by the river’s edge.

He reminded me of a messenger…a mythical creature who lived for life. But he is real and a reminder that life is good and is there to be embraced and made clearer by music. A brother. We bade each other strength and I returned to my room, smiling.

I like meeting strangers for no other reason than to pass the time and share dreams and songs.

Lyon made Rian welcome. I look forward to returning.

‘Il n’y a pas de movement sans Rythm’