Cormac MacConnell: Fleadh’s old stagers have seen it all

The night started off as lively as usual, in the musical corner of Brogan’s popular old pub in the centre of Ennis, with Eoin O’Neill and his friends at the heart of the session, as always.
Cormac MacConnell: Fleadh’s old stagers have seen it all

If anything, things got even livelier, for a good while after the one they have always called Rakish Paddy arrived on the scene.

After about an hour though, Rakish Paddy left the musicians at it, and went up to the bar for lubrication.

After just a few sips of porter, both Rakish Paddy and the one who is always just called The Maid Behind The Bar (in Brogan’s and elsewhere) started complaining bitterly about the impending arrival in Ennis of the All Ireland Fleadh Cheoil.

“It’s getting worse every year for sure” sighed Rakish Paddy from behind his pint.

“Look out around the bar, here and everywhere else in town, and the new crowd that have taken over the Fleadh are here already from all over the world.

“I’ve been around for a long time, as you know, girl, but I won’t be able for it this August at all. I won’t last until the end of the month the way things are going”.

“I know well how you feel Paddy”, said the Maid,”To tell you the truth, I feel the same way myself.

“I thought long ago when I learned how to manage the Bucks from Oranmore that I’d be fit for anything, but now I’m not sure. Here, boy, have another drink on the house”.

“When I hit the road first, all those years ago”, mused Paddy, “I was with the likes of Felix Doran and Willie Clancy, and it was only our own people that bothered their heads with the likes of you and I.

“Country people, playing our own music from the heart, in country houses around the hearth, and sets being danced on flag floors, maybe.

“Or in small pubs to help pass the winter nights.

“Lads with cheap fiddles and penny whistles and boxes, and them with hard hands on them from heavy work, lads like Miko Russell and Pakie, that worked a quarry in Doolin, and had the callouses to prove that.

“But they could knock real soul music out of those whistles and old fiddles. Is not that way any more”.

“True enough for you” agreed the Maid.

‘They are arriving here now every hour from Germany and Hungary and England and Australia and America and God knows where else”, said Paddy,”And they have instruments with them that cost the price of a good house, the most of them.

“And look at the mens’ hands. They have soft hands like women. Never did a day’s hard work in their lives.

“And most of them have spent thousands in getting trained by classical teachers about how to play our Irish music, and sure what they play the most of the time is note perfect and pitch perfect and all that, but sure it is not the Real McCoy at all as far as I’m concerned. It’s something else”.

“Paddy,” said the Maid, “The truth is that a lot of these lads and lassies are coming to the Fleadh, not really to play in sessions like the one over there in the corner, but they are coming to win the competitions of the Fleadh.

“They want to be All Ireland Champion on the fiddle or the flute or the concertina, or whatever. That’s the truth of it for you.

“I’ve seen kids of 12 and 15 years of age, even younger, being drilled by their mothers and fathers for hours on end, week after week, so that they can have a chance of being an All Ireland champion and, Paddy, nowadays, out in the clubs and concerts, they can make a tidy living from that. Competition, Paddy, is what it is all about in this new world”.

“Dreadful things happen to the likes of you and me as a result of that” sighed Rakish Paddy.

“We will be twisted and turned and mangled about a million times before this fleadh is over, and that’s for certain. Honestly, I don’t think I’m able for it any more.

“I’m sure and certain I won’t be above in Lisdoonvarna again for the matchmaking this September”.

“All that business is changed too, Paddy” said the Maid sadly.

“There won’t be much of a demand for me up there any more either, come to think of it. Not since that referendum business”.

And it was exactly at that moment that Eoin O’Neill led the session into a blast of Banish Misfortune.

But it did not seem to change the mood of the two old stagers at the bar.

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