Irish traditional music helped set the mood when I was writing Irish Firebrands. Pictured is an Irish drum (the inscription on this one means “music, talk, and fun”). It bears a family resemblance to a tambourine, but it’s usually larger and it never has bells. In Ireland, I visited the shop of a bodhrán maker, and was told that the drum head is made of goatskin. The bodhrán is held upright (as in the photo), and it’s played with a single drumstick.
Irish Trad also played a large part in Irish Firebrands. In Chapter 1, we learn that the role of music in Dillon Carroll’s life had significantly changed:
Geary’s pub was chock-a-block with patrons who’d come to hear a session – and the number of unfamiliar faces meant Dillon would be speaking Irish, already. He recognised the members of the trad-band, with their fiddle, bodhrán, and guitar, but he’d not be staying to hear them play. It had been a long time since he’d paid any attention to music in pubs – or anywhere else, for that matter. Music had left his life so many years ago, that since then whatever passed for it had become merely background noise.
Chapter 4: Lana Pedersen goes to Dillon’s local for supper, on another night when a trad session gets underway.
She’d nearly finished eating when a crowd came through the door. Some persons carried musical instruments; she recognised Colm Sweeney with his button accordion, and his companions bore a mandolin, a guitar and a fiddle. You never knew what you’d hear at a trad session, and once the music started, Lana had found it nearly impossible to go before closing time.
The musicians headed towards the far end of the room, and then Frank Halligan entered the pub.
Frank, a dairy farmer with unusual avocations and a way with women tries to persuade Lana to go out with him on a musical pub crawl.
At that moment, the man with the mandolin launched into runs of crisp triplet notes that wove themselves into a tune that sparkled against a background of chords by the guitarist. The mandolin and guitar passed the melody back and forth between them, until the button accordion entered with a complementary theme that the strummed instruments then briskly supported. Lana couldn’t help tapping her foot to the rollicking rhythm, and at the end of the performance, she joined the rest of the audience in clamorous appreciation.
Frank noticed her enjoyment. “Brilliant, aren’t they? And all local lads. I’ll wager you’ve not heard anything better in the Temple Bar district.”
“Temple Bar? I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been there.”
Frank cocked an eyebrow in disbelief. “You mean to say you’ve been in Ireland all this time, and you’ve not been on a musical pub crawl in Dublin?”
“I haven’t been anywhere in Dublin, actually. The airport shuttle went past Ha’penny Bridge on the way to Busáras, and on the bus leaving town, I saw all those statues on O’Connell Street – with pigeons perched on their heads! But that’s about it.”
“Then, I take it as my job to change that! When would you like to go?”
Lana hesitated. It might be fun to do the touristy stuff someday, but right now, she needed to make up for lost research time. Besides, she wasn’t quite sure yet that she wanted to spend time with Frank anywhere but here in the safety of Geary’s pub.
… The music began again, but departing from the energetic tempo of the last number, the fiddler began a slow, undulating melody that soon found an echo in Colm Sweeney’s accordion. The two instruments plaited the notes into a gently oscillating tune that the mandolin occasionally pierced with bright, clear tones. Lana felt as if she’d been carried away by a gently rocking boat on the face of a lake that mirrored a midnight sky punctuated with glittering stars. The mood in the pub became poignantly pensive, and afterwards the applause was sincere but subdued.
Frank said, “It’s a bit early, but that made it feel like it’s time for sean-nós.”
“What’s that?” Lana said.
“Sean-nós is old-time singing or dancing. The singing is usually in Irish, without accompaniment.”
“I’ll bet you have to be really good to do that.”
“Not necessarily. There are competitions in the Gaeltachts, but here we just do it for the love of it.” Frank took another swallow from his pint. “Now, Dillon Carroll – he could compete. Singing and dancing. He learnt sean-nós from his granddad, who was reared in Connacht. The troupes you see nowadays have nothing on Dillon – when he danced, you were looking at the soul of Ireland. And sing! Why, he could sing the very heart out of your body, and hold it in his hands. But Dillon hasn’t sung or danced for years.”
After Dillon turns up at the pub, some strange things happen to him during the trad session.
Dizziness struck him. He gripped the edge of the table; then sat down and reached for his unfinished pint – but the very smell of it was so bitter it made him faint with nausea before he could put it to his lips. He’d felt this way when he was five years old and had his first taste of porter from the dregs of a bottle that Daideo’s hired hand had given him. He shut his eyes, set the glass down and pushed it away.
“Something wrong, Dillon?” It was Frank Halligan’s voice, but it sounded distant. Dillon opened his eyes and saw Frank standing before him – with Lana on his arm.
Dillon took off his spectacles and rubbed his eyes. “I’m just a bit tired.” He rose from his seat. “Hello, Lana. What brings you here?”
“Hi, Dillon. I came for supper, but wound up staying for the music.”
Frank regarded her with an exaggerated expression of disappointment. “And there was me, thinking it was because we were having such a cracking good time together!”
Lana laughed and patted his arm. “Oh, of course! Sorry about that! But it’s late – I’d better get going.” She withdrew her arm from his. “Excuse me, please. My backpack’s under the table.”
“I’ll get it for you,” Frank said. He fished out the bag and held it while Lana put her arms through the straps. The he raised his eyebrows and said, “Now, what do you say?”
Lana hesitated a moment, and then she said, “Go raibh maith agat!”
They laughed and shook hands.
“And don’t forget, I’m to bring you to Dublin for a pub crawl. Let me know when you can go.”
“Thanks. I will.”
Frank watched Lana walk away – and Dillon watched Frank. He’d never before thought that yer man’s reputation for skirt-chasing was any of his business – but somehow it felt like it was very much Dillon’s business, now.
To be continued….
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Blog text © 2016 Christine Plouvier. Excerpts © 2012 – 2016 Christine Plouvier. All Rights Reserved.