Tag Archives: John Denver

If the Pipes Call, Take a Message

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Our son had called the tune when the singer invited requests. “The Rocky Road to Dublin” was the second of the boy’s picks honored that night (the first, “Galway Races”). The crowd of pensioners packing the small hotel bar in Tuesday-night Donegal took a shine to the wee lad from America with a taste for Irish tradition. It was well past 10, but the boy was fighting sleep – afraid to miss a minute.

When he reached the end of that verbose “Road”, the singer called out for more. An old lady piped up.

“‘Danny Boy’,” said she with a tone of good-natured frustration. “I’ve asked for ‘Danny Boy’ three times now.”

Like Ronald Reagan dodging questions from the press corps at the door of Air Force One, the singer pretended, for the third time, not to hear. Instead, he issued a musical plea to be taken home by way of “Country Roads”.

Go raibh maith agat, I thought, for I share his evident disdain for “Danny Boy”, the go-to anthem for every dyed beer-swilling frat boy in a green plastic derby, the obligatory sendoff for every ward-boss before he’s planted in the ground. Ironically, this insufferably sappy tune – held dear by Irish communities around the world – was, in fact, penned by an Englishman. These traits, when juxtaposed with the infinite canon of fine Irish music new and old (or even the John Denver catalogue), permit no justifiable cause for suffering “Danny Boy”.

Frankly, I just don’t get it.

Though often reduced to drunk and downtrodden caricature, Irish music is, in fact, rife with a kind of exuberance that is at once comic and tragic, and it often employs a dark, inherent brand of humor which, at its best, may be equitably applied to both cirrhosis and the RIC.

“It’s not that the Irish are cynical,” author Brendan Behan once noted. “It’s rather that they have a wonderful lack of respect for everything and everybody.” Behan certainly fit that bill, as did his brother, Dominic. The latter, himself an author, singer, and songwriter, had a paradoxical sensibility that could at once convey humor and sorrow, loyalty and insolence. It fully manifests in his recording of the jaunty “A Grand Old Country”, written by the Behan boys’ uncle, renowned rebel songwriter Peadar Kearney:

We’ll pray for mother England while I’m waiting on the day
I’ll pray for mother England ’til I’m blind and bald and grey
I’ll pray that I and she may die, and drown that she may drown
And if ever she tries to lift her head I’ll be there to push it down

But Behan is but one voice in a musical oeuvre that includes Planxty, the Dubliners, the Wolf Tones, the Clancys and Tommy Makem (who introduced the world to Irish music), but also Enya, Thin Lizzy, The Cranberries, Van Morrison…to name very few.

Just not U2, who might be the only humorless lot in the bunch.

I don’t know if the old lady’s request was ever fulfilled, as the craic was still going full bore when we retired for the night. But it was not the last we saw of her. The next morning, we crossed paths in the hotel lobby. She and a friend of similar age engaged our son with a few friendly words, and complimented us on his conduct. Many Irish, we observed throughout our travels across the Emerald Isle, seem to have a soft spot for children.

Maybe that explains “Danny Boy”?

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11 Unexpected Things About Ireland

Ireland was really WPT’s trip. I had a few places I wanted to see, but it was really more about fulfilling a promise I made him several years ago. So expect more in-depth posts from him and some nonsense from me. Starting now…

1) DRIVING

I expected to drive on the left-side of narrow roads. I had driven on the left before, but that was 15 years ago. What I didn’t expect was to find the drivers in Ireland to be the most polite I’ve ever encountered. I’m used to driving in one of the most aggressive regions in the US. The drivers in Ireland were such a pleasant surprise. Slower cars and trucks pulled over to let faster traffic pass, people took turns merging, and there was friendly waving and a lack of beeping. I shed my East Coast skin of speed and rage and cautiously wound my way around the island.

Driving the Ring of Kerry
Driving the Ring of Kerry

Much like people ask, “Did that tattoo on your foot hurt?” and my response is generally, “Why, yes, it did. Quite a lot.” People similarly ask about driving in Ireland. The narrow, often dark and rainy, winding roads were very challenging. In fact, after driving all day I was completely spent. I was usually rewarded with scotch and a hot bath for my efforts. I should also mention the black ice. Yeah, that was unexpected. I deserved a badge of some kind for dealing with several miles of that shit and not a scratch on the car or any of us. Ultimately, after 1829km, I could hit a roundabout at speed and merge like a pro.

Pointless studying
Pointless studying

We brought several maps with us, but they were useless at times. Actual street names are something of a secret handshake known only to locals and postal carriers. They change block-to-block and I saw one instance where different sides of the same street were known by different names. WPT deserves a badge for navigating.

2) PORRIDGE

Oatmeal tastes better when you call it porridge.

3) SELFIE STICKS

People really use selfie sticks. This is weird. We saw one guy with a selfie stick and iPad at the Giant’s Causeway. He appeared to be having a great time with himself.

Selfie Date
Selfie Date

4) THIS DISPENSER IN A HOTEL TOILET

What more could you need?
What more could you need?

5) MY BRAIN EMPTIED

Those of you who know me in real life know that my attention is all over the place. I tend to have 2-3 trains of thought going at any given time. Not so in Ireland. I had to concentrate fully while driving. The usual din of brain chatter was quelled. I focused like I hadn’t focused in years (maybe decades). I was thrilled to see it was still possible. An odd side-effect was that my brain was empty and quiet at night. I actually slept. It was amazing.

6) THE QUIET MAN

In the village of Cong there’s not only a statue of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, there’s a museum and a gift shop devoted to The Quiet Man. You may want to take a moment and sit on the bench devoted to the movie and reflect on that.

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7) EIGHT-YEAR-OLDS IN BARS

People are downright pleased to see an 8-year-old in a bar, requesting songs, at 10pm on a Tuesday night. The 8-year-old was ours.

I loved the child-friendly attitude and that people were so nice to our son.

8) JOHN DENVER

Based on live music we heard, John Denver is very popular in Ireland. Or maybe just the song Country Roads.

9) PICKLED ONION CRISPS

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Simply undeniably delicious.

10) AIR

For unknown reasons I expected the air to be clean and smell of damp earth and the ocean. Instead it often smelled smoky from all of the wood and peat burning hearths. It was also colder than usual.

11) CONFLICT

Conflict
Conflict

There is a constant struggle between the permeating damp and dry heat. The greatest casualties in this war appear to be paint and hair.

Battle of the Split Ends
Battle of the Split Ends