Sheep and Stone
In a land of sheep and stone
Black crows perch in naked trees
Ancient ruins, dark and spare
with Celtic crosses circled there
rise from green and rounded hills
veiled in rain and howling wind
And, everywhere, the sheep and stone
We’ve just returned from the land of sheep and stone. Misty rain at daybreak is called a ‘soft morning‘ in Ireland. Small towns in the West bustling, always bustling on crowded sidewalks, tiny cars parked carelessly on narrow streets. Along one side of a row of shops the green grocer, with dirty carrots and parsnips stacked out front; across the street the butcher shop’s bright-lit cases display fresh cut meats.
The smell of peat from countless fires adds flavor to the smoky air, the swirling mist. I can describe parts but fall dismally short of the whole of the West of Ireland. Back home for less than two days, my heart aches for that land.
Very small roller-coaster roads that twist and wind through open land, a land impossibly green and gold and bronze in the November chill. Roses everywhere. Rainbows squeeze between storms and giant farm tractors rumble like thunder, unexpected around each hairpin curve.
Sheep stand in the road.
The night of our arrival a friend told us of a benefit at the Wyatt Hotel on the Octagon in Westport. It was a fund raiser for the new Kilmeena Community Centre. There were traditional bands: the Clew Bay Pipe Band, Ceide – Matt Malloy of the Chieftains, who lives in Westport, brought his son and they played a lovely set of duets. Six men, who called their group Coda, sang an unbelievable set of a’capella songs before Johnny Fadian and a friend sang what he called “Old Hippy Music.’ The entire audience sang along to Games People Play.
From there it was on to The Big Tree bar, where our friend Olcan Masterson, a world class flute and whistle player, was in the middle of a set with Brian Duffy and an incredible young violinist from Hungary who reminded us of the fiddler on Treme.
Our first true Guinness, lots of Jameson’s whiskey, and in bed by four a.m., our first night in Ireland finished.
We played four wonderful shows while we were in the West, and sat in with Donal McLynn and his extraordinary group of musical guests at Donal’s pub (McLynn’s) in Sligo our last night in the West. Full from ten days of Clew Bay mussels, fresh-caught salmon, trout and plenty of lamb, full from dark pints of Guinness, weary from the drive along the Shannon to Dublin for a day a Bewley’s Hotel and a ten hour flight home.
The music of Ireland still rings in my head – traditional, folk, modern alternative and even a little heavy metal inside Shoot the Crows in Sligo, and the music of the language that surrounded me like warm water. Home with my head and heart filled with memories I’m trying to release this morning over coffee and toast, wishing the coffee had a little whiskey in it, wishing the toast was brown, wishing for the taste of white and black pudding, of pink rashers of bacon and an egg, over easy.
Wishing I was still there.
(I took the photo in Tourmakeady, near Lough Mask. Two new-born sheep with mom)