I became friends with Sasha Hsuczyk whilst studying at UL and, it being five years since I’d seen her, I’d been looking forward to re-living our college days. ‘Any interest in going to Kerry?’, she asked. ‘Sure’, I said. ‘Why not?’
I remembered the last time I had been to the Corca Dhuibhne Gaeltacht (Irish speaking area) for Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh, the spring music school organised by the famous Begley family. On that occasion, I was delighted to spend half an hour speaking Irish. Thanks to Joe from Macroom, who listened patiently and didn’t mind the mistakes. It’s great to find someone who is encouraging when it comes to speaking a language which is not native to you, and no longer widely spoken. In particular, I remember a gorgeous, quiet Sunday afternoon session. Played completely in E-flat, the musicians were Conor Byrne, Caoimhín O’Raghallaigh and Carol Lieder. Giving more concern to finding a place to stay the night and being without transport at the time, I didn’t get to explore the area. I remembered my last look at a winding road down to the sea and knew I wanted to go back sometime.
Fast-forward to 2018. We had an international session on the Saturday night; tunes with Sasha (California and Pennsylvania), Anton Zille (Moscow), Caitríona Moskovskova (Moscow), Donal Cullinane (Kerry/Dublin) and Cathy Cook (west Cork). Specifically, we played Sliabh Luachra tunes, and more specifically, the tunes of legendary fiddle-player Denis Murphy. Distance is no obstacle when it comes to the research Anton has done into Denis’ music! On Sunday I had some free time for a scenic drive and found Clogher beach just as the sun was getting low in the sky. I took the Slea Head route from Drumquin to Ventry, which looks out over the now-deserted Blasket Islands. This route was at times terrifying (rocky cliff to my left, and a sheer drop to the ocean on my right!) but always stunning. From there I made it to Ventry and back to Ballyferriter, where the Begley’s held court for a final evening of tunes for the sets (set dancing) and of general madness. A lady from South Korea sang amazingly in both Korean and Irish, whist Brendan Begley sang a song of emigration – ‘little did she know as she stepped on that liner (…that she would never return to Kerry)’