george staines emily durtnall mary egan dermot carroll joe keehanThere is a time of magic. There are still places of magic, where an enchantment holds which defies twenty first century logic, the cut and thrust of cities, the hurly burly of the mundane, the everyday that stops up the human spirit and masks other worlds and other realities.

A house on a hill in the deep rural borders of the County Clare and west Galway.There is an ancient, gnarled apple tree in the garden, variety unknown, laden with apples, one of its branches touching the ground so that it seems to be resting. Below, the ground slopes away into woodland, beech, alder, birch and oak and then the landfalls, down to a river, the murmur of which can be heard in the distance. There is a gentle rain falling.

And from the house floats the sound of two instruments, concertina and mandolin. Inside are two men, one older, silver maned, intense, the other younger, dark haired, passionate. Their faces are locked in keen concentration as they play, sitting at a large oval table cluttered with musicians’ accoutrements, cases, sheets on which arewritten the hieroglyhics of the tunes they are playing, cups of coffee and discarded newspapers. Their playing is precise and accurate, Irish traditional melodies, new and old, with a superb touch and a lightness that fills the room with, well, a hint of magic. They finish a set of tunes – the younger man sets his concertina on the table, picks up a pencil, marks something on the score in front of him, says something to his companion in a low voice and the other responds by playing a phrase on the mandolin. “Yes, like that, that’s it.”

Then, as ever, the moment passes – a car pulls up, a woman comes into the house, the instruments are put away, tea is made, a second car arrrives, wheels crunching on the gravel, another man comes in, then suddenly the kitchen in this house on a hill seems full of conversation and teenagers and family and anticipation and a sense of excitement. All is gathered up, the cars are filled with bodies and equipment and itis off, down that hill, through winding lanes and boreens, until the two-car convoy reaches the small town of Gort.

The party, for that is what it must now be called, meets up with more people waiting in a pretty restaurant-cum-art gallery. Another car stops outside, coming in from Limerick with friends; a slim young man and a girl with smiling eyes, who has just flown in from London, come in. There are warm greetings, acknowlegements, taps on the shoulder, hugs and introductions. A dozen or so people sit down to lunch, there are conversations and discussions and the gradual feeling of a team spirit emerging. Often that’s the way magic works.

And in a while, food eaten, a sense of urgency gathers – there’s work to be done and so more vehicles are filled with lots more people and the whole circus, for that is now what it is, heads back out into the country and fairly soon they all come to a village, so small and hidden that it has escaped the probing eyes in the sky, the satellites that map our world and reduce the mystery of geography to the click of a mouse. There is a pub, looking like a caricature of the Irish picture post-card tourist haunt. But this is no ersatz creation, this is the real place, wooden bar, high, photographs of Gaelic teams on the walls, fireplace, cups of tea, pints of stout and the bustle begins.

george-staines-mary-noonan-mary-egan-larry-egan-dermot-carroll-colie-moran-joe-keehan-emily-durtnallThe recording engineer sets up – microphones, mixing desk, laptop, speakers, stands,chairs. The photographer comes in, starts to get shots of the participants, some formal, some shot on the run. The girl with the smiling eyes takes out a sketch-book and begins to draw, catching expressions unawares, looks and moments.

And then and then, all is prepared and the man with the mandolin and the one with the concertina commence to play – and play they do, all a long August afternoon, one set of tunes segueing into another, it feels almost without stop. The woman from the house sings, a fourth musician with banjo and guitar joins them and this little corner of the Earth is filled with music.

~ George Staines © 2012