Horses soaking up the sun during the COVID-19 pandemic

Operations under Lock-down @ Burren Fiddle Holidays

Hello everyone. I woke up this morning with a sense of clarity and lots of ideas for a news update from Burren Fiddle Holidays HQ – it’s about time! It’s been just over 8 weeks since the schools and universities closed here in Ireland and slightly less since we’ve been in lock-down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When this hit on March 13, I’d been so excited by the promise of my last post. It was days from St. Patrick’s Day, typically the signal of the start of the tourist season in Ireland – also of better weather, festivals and music gatherings to come after a long winter. I’d been looking forward to hosting fiddle holidays and guests from many different parts of the world. What followed for me – and for many of us, though I know our circumstances may differ substantially – has evoked a whole range of emotions and questions.

Life here is simplified and I am lucky that Burren Fiddle Holidays is located on my neighbour’s farm. We had a 2km distance allowance for exercise (now extended to 5km), but on the farm 2k is more like 3 or 4km when you are already quite a distance from the main road! Thankfully the Coronavirus did not halt the change in seasons. There have been lambs, calves and a new foal born. The grass is growing like mad. There are hares in the fields and all of nature seems to appreciate the cleaner air and the peace and quiet. There are more bees and insects than I’ve seen in years, and we have had only about 3 days of rain since this started. 3 days in 8 weeks? Amazing.

Lambs on the farm in March

The car still has petrol in the tank despite having been filled over two months ago. And its National Car Test which indicates road-worthiness has been out of date since the end of March, but it doesn’t matter – the test centres are closed. Things are not running by the book. My oven is broken (there are actually steps under way to fix this!) but in the meantime I’ve been using the solid-fuel range. I’ve been gathering wood from the hedges each day to burn, which also heats the main room in the house and provides hot water. I’ve used it to make soda bread, as it’s now more difficult (though not impossible) to get the strong flour I use for the bread machine. Twice I thought I might like to replace an item of clothing which had worn out, so I looked on EBay for some which were pre-loved . Not finding anything that I wanted, I thought better to make do with what I still have. I have a very basic lifestyle anyway, but this time of lock-down is a test in sustainability. What do we really need to live?

I’ve been learning some new tunes, including some of Tommy Peoples compositions – thanks Ken for the copy of Tommy’s book. Here’s ‘The Fairest Rose’. I learnt this in 2006 during Tommy’s class at the Willie Clancy Summer School. It is still a work in progress.

Emotionally there was the initial thought that ‘weren’t the school closures very sudden and a bit drastic’? How would lock-down work on our comparatively small island? Things in those first few days still looked the same, but the feeling in the air could be described as apocalyptic sci-fi.  A couple of days later came the shock realisation; people are getting really sick and many are dying. Our health service is under pressure on a normal day, so how is it going to cope with a pandemic which is growing exponentially? I quickly understood that we need to play our part, however small, to follow restrictions and limit the number of cases that our exceptional and already over-worked healthcare workers have to deal with. Going shopping for groceries has become a mission to be planned like never before, and the big supermarkets are a bit of a minefield involving social-distancing logistics which others sometimes don’t adhere to, and high levels of stress. The idea of making a trip like this on my own makes me a little uncomfortable.  This is somewhat ironic, when there have been times when I’ve wanted nothing more than to escape my immediate surroundings.

Here’s a clip of me playing some polkas. Excuse the lateness of the hour, the wood-gathering clothes from earlier in the day, and the Coronavirus hair style! I recorded this in memory of Maurice O’Keeffe, whose festival I would have been at this past Easter. The tune names I have for the first two are Bill the Weaver’s (one of them) and The Glountane Monument polka (one of two). The third is from Martín O’Connor’s first album.

Economically, many of us have been unable to work at all. Even as the first stage of restrictions lift on May 18, many will still not be able to. Some friends who work in the arts and the hospitality industry wonder if they will have to find different types of work in the meantime, and have started planning. This is of course difficult, when you realise that thousands of people are in the same situation. I really miss playing music sessions, hosting guests and students and teaching in person! I have been very lucky in so far as some of my regular students switched over to online lessons and I have been able to work on a part-time basis. Thank you to my students!  Until recently, it felt like talking about work or financial survival would be insensitive, considering so many others were fighting to survive at all. However, We – the able (touch wood) – need to be able to survive ourselves in order to look after and care for those who need it most. Neither are emergency payments from the government sustainable in the long-term. What with music being such an irrepressible form of expression, I’m looking forward to working face-to-face as soon as it is safe to do so. After the 18th, all going to plan, we will be able to have socially-distanced gatherings of up to four people outside. I am anticipating classes and sessions here at the farm, facilitated by this most beautiful weather we’ve been having. August is suggested as the month when some of the cultural things may be able to start happening again. I post below an Irish Times article by John G. O’Dwyer written in early March. It is about activity holidays in Ireland and features Burren Fiddle Holidays. I initially felt I couldn’t post this, but I share it now as something to look forward to when we have a better understanding of the virus and how to manage it:

I leave you, hoping that you are all safe and well, and sending my thoughts to those of you who have suffered under the effects of the pandemic. For anyone who is in need of distraction and has always wanted to learn fiddle, or would like to improve and take a few online lessons, please do get in touch through the contact page or email directly. I would be delighted to hear from you.

With Best Wishes,

Laura at Burren Fiddle Holidays