Monday, 16 July 2012

Checking in with Father Ted


Now I'm sure you're all massive bodhran fans so you also know all about Craiceann. What's that you say? You have no idea what I'm on about and suspect that I might be making up words? Ah, well, ye uninitiated, I'm not. I write all of this in seriousness, but with a pinch of divilment.

The bodhran (pronounced "BOUGH-rawn") is the traditional drum of Ireland. It's made by stretching goatskin over a round wooden frame. The musician then strikes the drum with a stick - which come in ever increasing varieties - while using his or her other hand to control the tone and timbre by moving it on the back of the skin. The best players can create entire songs with just the drum, hitting a wide range of notes and creating a depth of sound that is incredible from such a simple instrument.

And every year the little Gaeltacht island of Inis Oírr hosts a week-long celebration of this instrument called Craiceann. Using the tried and true method of judging an event by it's motto, this is clearly a winner. How can you go wrong with a tagline like "Lock up your goats"?
Seisún at Tigh Ruairí's

The simple fact is: you can't.

As a child, I spent a fair amount of time on the smallest of the Aran Islands. My cousins and I played with the local children, though it was more difficult for me given my fairly limited knowledge of Irish. As a Gaeltacht region, Inis Oírr is a native Irish speaking island, so when I was going there in the 90s, most of the young kids, my age, didn't speak much English. They went to school on the island until secondary school, so they were much happier speaking Irish and my stock of "close the door", "turn off the light" type phrases were of surprisingly little use.

O'Brien's Castle, Inis Oírr
Not that it really mattered. My cousins all spoke more Irish than I and we were a bit of a gang unto ourselves. We raced one another up the hill, over stone walls and across fields to the castle, where we climbed all over the ruins. We cycled - more than one to the bike, as there were only two - out to the shipwreck played on its rusty skeleton without a thought to tetanus. We swam in the freezing ocean - okay, I didn't, but the others did while I sat on the sand wrapped in my warmest duds. The sum total of traffic on the island was one tractor and loads of free roaming donkeys. To slightly wild children, the donkeys were brilliant. Despite the shouted warnings of my aunts as we left the house, we never let the donkeys alone. The game of get-the-donkey-to-kick-someone-else was just too hard to resist and we all had the bruises to prove it. It really was a childhood paradise.

When I went back for the first time in about 15 years at the end of June a couple of things had changed. There were a couple of new houses, including a little tourist enclave of thatched cottages and some enormous B&Bs, and so much traffic. It seemed like everyone had an SUV. This is an island where you can walk between the two furthest buildings in thirty minutes as a comfortable pace. You can do a complete circuit of the island by foot in a couple of hours. Most odd, though, was the abundance of horse drawn carts. There were exactly zero of these in the 90s, but along came the tourism boom of the Celtic Tiger and so the donkeys were out and along came the ultra-modern mode of transportation: the horse and cart. Today, Inis Oírr is filled with English speakers, vehicles and tourist transport with a noticeable lack of donkeys. It would seem someone decided it was unwise to have temperamental animals who can kick sideways roaming free amongst the tourists. And so went a brilliant game.

Look familiar? It's the ship from Father Ted!

The other half and I had a fantastic time with my family, walking and enjoying the top-notch music. The festival draws the best Irish musicians from around the world even as far away as Japan. If you've never been to a seisún in an Irish pub, you have to get to one. It will change your perception of traditional music and have you planning your own trip to Craiceann next year. If you fancy learning to give the bodhran a whack, there are lessons and workshops for musicians of all levels, from experts down to those asking, "Which way is up?" Or, if like us, you just want a couple of relaxing days in Galway Bay filled with music and good food, you can just join the nightly pub seisúns and concerts up at the community center.

It was a bit disappointing to have to leave after four days, but one can't really complain when the next stop is Spain. Arriba!

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