Learning London: Celebrating St. Patrick

We’ve had a lovely St. Patrick’s weekend here in central London.

Yesterday, we visited the National Portrait Gallery to see “Only Human” by photographer Martin Parr. After lunch at Chipotle, some gelato and hot chocolate to honour my dad, and a quick break at The Courthouse Hotel, we got to the Photographers’ Gallery for the last hour (for free entry!) to view a show I’d found don Time Out and another to boot.

We ended Saturday at Backyard Comedy with four hilarious comedians.

Our Art Fund pass and memberships with Tate and Backyard are really paying off!

We learned a lot this weekend about being British, thanks in no small part to Martin Parr. Here’s a selection of photos from yesterday:

Today, we breakfasted beside Whitechapel Gallery, walked to the Tower of London, took the boat down to Embankment and walked to Tate Britain. We visited two photographers’ exhibitions–seeing the second half of photojournalist Don McCullin’s show (we hadn’t allotted enough time in our first visit). Then we took a double decker bus over to Trafalgar Square, enjoyed lunch at Thai Spice, and took in the last hour of the city-sponsored St. Patrick’s Day music festival.

While it feels surreal to sing Irish Republican songs in Trafalgar Square, particularly because it’s not considered entirely kosher to sing such songs in Dublin these days, we truly felt our love for Ireland by singing along–without having to love London any less!

Ireland’s Call by Phil Coulter 

Come the day and come the hour

Come the power and the glory

We have come to answer Our Country’s call

From the four proud provinces of Ireland

CHORUS

Ireland, Ireland

Together standing tall

Shoulder to shoulder

We’ll answer Ireland’s call

From the mighty Glens of Antrim

From the rugged hills of Galway

From the walls of Limerick And Dublin Bay

From the four proud provinces of Ireland

CHORUS

Hearts of steel, and heads unbowing

Vowing never to be broken

We will fight, until We can fight no more

From the four proud provinces of Ireland

Aongus and I were making the most of our last day together for a while. I’m heading home to Virginia help my Dad who hasn’t been well.

We ended the day at the Blind Beggar, site of a notorious gang murder long ago (see the plaque for further explanation). I’d not been there before, despite it being just blocks from our London home.

Photos from today:

Irish Trad: Traditional Irish Music on Internet Radio

Photo taken while visiting Kevin Donleavy in December 2012, during my Fulbright Fellowship to Ireland, but visiting Virginia for Christmas. 

A friend of mine in Virginia delivers a radio program of traditional Irish music. Tune in 3-5 pm Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) on Saturday, March 2. That’s 10-12 EST to hear Kevin Donleavy’s show!

Learn more about Kevin and how I met him here, about a past show here, and about our dear, departed friend Jerry Crilly here.

A chairde and pals, howreya,

Yes,  time for Irish traditional music on-line again.  The date is this Saturday, March 2,  and the program will be broadcast from 10 am till 12 noon as always. Or 3-5 pm that day in Ireland.  You need visit WTJU.net on the Web,  and then click on the Launch button. Your host, Kevin Donleavy of the O’Neill-Malcom branch of Comhaltas.  So do mark your calendar.
Here are some highlights from the upcoming show :  A couple of selections from the Sweets of May collection of music from South Armagh.  Liam Weldon singing the tremendously touching song, ” Where Is Our James Connolly ?”
Tunes from such fiddlers as Ciaran Tourish and Oisin MacDiarmada and the powerful Mick Conneely.  Lovely uilleann piping from Christopher McMullan’s new compact disc. Two songs from the woman’s band Girsa: “I Courted a Wee Girl,”  and “Mary and the Soldier.”  Cuts from the traditional groups Danu and Teada.  A political song or two, of course.  A seldom played reel called “The Nine Points of Roguery,”  played by the fine Sean Norman Ceili Band.  And more ….
This Saturday, time to wet the tea, roll back the carpet,  and get cracking!  Mi daza!
Kevin

An Evening of Astronauts and Magically Informative Skies

 

Last night’s sky over Dublin was spectacular, and a magical evening unfolded. I’ve been sequestered in my flat here in Dublin for the past few weeks, on a self-imposed writing retreat away from my current home in London.

 

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The view from my balcony, looking south toward Four courts, just beyond the roof of the Cappucian Friary and Padre Pio church.

However, my retreat has transformed into a sort of boot camp. The past few weeks have been like the days I was enrolled full-time for my Ph.D. while holding down my full-time teaching job (and somehow still doing well at both). I’ve been so inwardly focused that I’ve thought of calling this time my ‘hermitage.’ Yet, I’ve been so productive I’ve considered making this an annual thing.

After working straight through the weekend and submitting two big projects Tuesday, I was ready for a break Wednesday evening. And the evening didn’t fail to deliver. It was nothing short of magical.

Remarkable moments I enjoyed:

  • Views from my balcony at sunset.
  • Views of the city center from the top of a double-decker Dublin Bus–before realizing I was heading in the wrong direction and getting nowhere fast!
  • Recognizing, just in time, the error in my plan.
  • A fine fair-weather clip across town on a Dublin Bike, with a long haul up the hill to the far end of Phoenix Park to the residence of the US Ambassador.
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    US Ambassador’s residence in Dublin

    The stunning sight of the Ambassador’s home, tucked under a thick, delightfully-cheerful but ever-so-slightly-ominous blanket of clouds.

  • Clouds lit from the underside by our small but bustling city–a town beaming with holiday cheer and festive lights.
  • Stories of being in orbit from a man who has traveled far above the earth’s surface, in multiple spacecraft.
  • Learning about different types of rockets, and safety procedures that saved the lives of his colleagues in a recent failed mission.
  • Viewing dramatic photos US astronaut Shane Kimbrough captured from space–many from the Russian side of the Space Station, which he says has clearer glass that makes for better pics. img_2158
  • Meandering around the ground floor of the residence and enjoying the architectural details, but unfortunately, not recognizing a soul.
  • The delightful sensory experience of cycling back through the park on my way home. (By this time, the weather was starting to cool and I wished I’d donned the jacket that was tucked in my purse.) I pushed onward, not wanting to break the magic.
  • Parking my Dublin Bike at Blackhall Place, wandering through Smithfield Plaza, and enjoying the plaza’s holiday lights.
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    Music session at the Cobblestone, with Mick O’Grady, Pat Goode, Brenda Malloy, Tony Nugent, and others.

    And finally, stepping through the warm and welcoming front door of the Cobblestone pub, and soaking in greetings of musician friends and bartenders–catching some tunes, and sharing stories after the 7-9:30 session.

This fairy-tale set of events unfolded, after a somewhat odd day. I’d dealt with random, miscellaneous tasks, following on the heels of a week of productive writing and editing. Although this day wasn’t particularly productive, I kept trying.

But I had a particularly strange occurrence while working from home during the day:

A guy knocked on my apartment door and I asked through the solid core panel, “Who is it?” He didn’t say who, but rather that he needed something. I asked what. He said, in pained exasperation, that it was too complicated to explain. He sputtered and stuttered that he’d just have to go tell someone else. Fine by me. Look, if you’re bleeding and you need a doctor, say so. If you can’t explain your problem, I’ve no way to assess if and how I can help. My friends at the pub last night said never, ever open the door. Thanks to both God and good judgment that I didn’t.

I’ve been struggling with my vision and waiting for a new pair of multifocal glasses to arrive. Turns out, my far sight has improved, and this has thrown off all the settings on my progressive lenses. As a result, I’ve been fighting headaches from struggling to find a head-tilt position where I can actually see the screen. This has been going on for months, and I’ve only just gotten to the bottom of it all. A temporary pair of reading glasses is helping, but wearing them is disorienting and headaches still crop up.

So yesterday I was quite ready for a break. I wrapped up my work to head out for an event. I blended up a healthy juice of fruits and veggies–apples, carrots, cucumber, spinach, celery, and ginger–to pep me up for the evening.

I noted the stunning view of clouds rolling into Dublin at sunset. I clicked a photo from my balcony to post on Facebook:

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It’s already feeling like Christmas in Dublin! A bit of a Dickens Christmas, the lighting suggests. 

Such a lovely place to be, in this bright and sunny flat!

I quickly donned a skirt and boots with heels (unusual for me these days) and I zipped out for the bus slightly after 5 PM, en route, I thought, to the US Embassy. I grabbed a seat front and center on the top deck of the bus, and successfully deflected the man-spread in progress in the adjoining seat.

Views from the top deck were lovely! But, a half hour after I’d left home, sitting atop a bus stuck in traffic, I double checked the invite. It was quite clearly sent from the US Embassy, and that’s where I was headed. It’s on the southeast corner of town.

Nevertheless, the event–a public discussion with a highly experienced US Army astronaut–was actually in the other direction!

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The only way through rush hour traffic and up to the US Ambassador’s residence perched on the hill of Phoenix Park was by bike. It’s touted as the largest city park in Europe (or something of that sort), and the Residence is, as I’d come to discover, at the very northwest corner of the park. On the far opposite corner of town.

I had to wait for the bus’s next stop. It goes all the way from the Liffey, around Trinity College, to the far, far end of Nassau Street–almost to Claire Street, between stops. Quite difficult to see all those buildings pass by while wanting to disembark!

Once the bus finally stopped, by the grace of God, I clambered toward the nearest Dublin Bike dock.

Despite the mini-skirt and tall wedge-heeled boots I’d put on, I managed to make good time. I was up to the Ambassador’s in under a half hour. The cycle ride required great physical exertion, but there was no other viable way to get quickly from Trinity to Heuston Station. From the station, I could have taken a cab up and across the Park, but I persevered. After days sitting at the laptop, I needed the exercise.

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Gusts of wind billowed past, pushing a thick blanket of clouds across the winter sky. But it was warm. What a treat–the feel of cycling through the park in this delightful weather (despite rough paving on the cycle lanes, which appear to be under renovation). I felt a deep sense of joy while approaching the formal gates, to be greeted by the cheerful security officers who quickly found my name on their list. The magic of the evening was reinforced by this delightful setting–the Ambassador’s residence was aglow under a dramatic sky.

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The US Ambassador’s Residence is architecturally impressive.

I arrived in time to grab a canapé and a glass of wine before finding a seat. My face, flushed with energy, glowed brightly. The crowd filled three rooms, and so I observed through two different sets of doors. What ensued was delightfully informative. The dialogue was well worth the haul!

The speaker, US astronaut Shane Kimbrough, has the rare distinction of having served aboard BOTH the Space Shuttle AND the International Space Station. Once, he was in orbit for a full six months. That mission had been planned for four and a half months. Near the end, he received word that his stay was extended another six weeks.

Such interesting stories! He told of a mission he was on that launched from Russia, of bringing a soccer ball from a Challenger astronaut into space. He said during a spacewalk, you’re essentially in your own little one-person space capsule. He brought the experience of being-in-space alife for us all. img_2139-1

For more on NASA Astronaut and Former Commander of the International Space Station Shane Kimbrough see his webpage.

Shane shared amazing photos of his adventures and talked of cultural exchange, including multiple Thanksgivings spent in space. He described one year where the multi-national group aboard the Space Station celebrated our Christmas (December 25) as well as Russian Christmas (January 7).

He was also on a mission touted as “Home Improvement” since their team delivered and installed new kitchens, bathrooms, technical and exercise equipment and the like. Shane seemed so young and vibrant, yet he’s done all this. And what a remarkably humble guy he seemed to be!

Something he described will stick with me: he emphasized the fragility and beauty of the thin layer of atmosphere that protects, and indeed enables, life on our planet.

Of course, I ‘know about’ the ozone layer. My mom taught me to protect it since I was a kid. But I had never internalized the magic of this layer.  Although I knew about it intellectually, I had trouble ‘feeling’ it.

The scale is immense and the set of variables inconceivably complex. I have always had trouble wrapping my head around the idea of climate change. Shane made it palpable.

With a few words from Shane Kimbrough, I realized I’ve really only been looking up and out. From the International Space Station, he’d been outside, looking in. There, he adopted a more holistic view. He articulated it beautifully.

I’d been looking at all this from our human center, and been rightfully concerned. This astronaut helped me ‘see’ another way, but this also increased my concern. We must do more. I now have a better sense of awe of the beauty, vulnerability, and fragility of this thin veil.

img_2196-1On a night like yester–looking up, looking out–I saw the clouds rolling past. The jet stream pushing them along bound from the Atlantic along toward Scandinavia. img_2212-1

Heading home, I saw clouds. The stars were masked by plumes of water droplets suspended in air. Thick blankets of billowy, puffy clouds–holding us together–keeping us safe.

En route, I was inspired to wander the plaza and soak in the festive holiday lights. Then, I stepped in to see friends at my favorite local pub, the Cobblestone. Inside this pub, I feel love. Love of music and life-long friendships among musicians. I am always treated like family here.

Returning home, I fell into dreams of stars, with a new and deeper sense of awe for this planet we call home.

img_2218I awoke this morning to the ominous political news of Brexit, the pending collapse of the UK government, and then Teresa May’s resignation.

There was a different sort of sky, the sort of rays my friend Glen calls ‘God light’. Dear God, please let this light show us the importance of the atmosphere and of each other. Let it lead us to make better decisions.

Fête de la Musique

fete 1The summer solstice brings throngs of Parisians to the streets. They sing, play, and dance the night away on the longest day of the year.  The annual event is called the “fête de la musique” or festival of music. I’ve shown pictures of some street performers, but there are also large-scale events. There were rock bands in St. Eustache all day long, for instance.

This year marked my second fête de la musique in Paris.  I was there as part of Hampton University’s architectural study abroad program… my colleague, Prof. Mason Andrews, always makes sure we get to be part of this fun cultural event.

It’s 10pm: Do You Know Where Your Cobblestone Is?

The Whelans.

The Whelans enjoying another lovely Friday evening at the Cobblestone pub.

I galloped down to the Cobblestone tonight to hear my favorite set of the week. The Friday 7:30-9:30 group includes singers as well as instrumentalists.  This week the Whelans were there, so I had friends to chat with.

It’s bright and cheery in the musicians corner during the evening this time of year… the sun stays up in Dublin until ten pm.  And it raises before five am!  We are so far north.

Irish Music Radio this Weekend

This just in from Kevin Donleavy:

Pull up your easy chair this Saturday, and have a listen to Irish trad music on-line.  The date is June 1,  and the programme runs from 10 am till 12 noon in the eastern US,  which means 3 to 5 pm in Ireland. Kevin Donleavy is the usual host,  and the show is called ATLANTIC WEEKLY PART TWO.
 
Here are the easy listening steps.  On your computer, go to http://wtju.net. Next, select Listen Live on the right side bar.  Then, choose between Ogg and MP3.
 
Here are some highlights from the music to be broadcast. Mary McNamara will play Co. Clare tunes on her concertina. You can hear songs and two uilleann pipers from the Belfast band Réalta.  Kerry’s own Mary Courtney will sing some ballads, and you can hear Liam Weldon singing that powerful song,  “Where Is Our James Connolly.”  Harper Sue Richards will perform, and you can hear Paudie O’Connor on accordion play polkas and reels with John O’Brien on uilleann pipes.  Dublin singer Pat Broaders will  do a fine version of the US trad song called  “Storms Are on the Ocean.”  That’s just the beginning ….
 
Hope you can tune in. You will also hear the latest news from the only Irish archaeological dig in the state of Virginia,  and there’s more information about it at www.clannmhor.org.  And the latest news from such groups as BRIMS (the Blue Ridge Irish Music School), and the Washington branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann.  

The Song Collector

Researchers help define and preserve culture. Last night, I got to hear Len Graham (a researcher and collector of Irish ballads) sing songs he has collected over the decades. Here’s a YouTube video of Len performing “at the Big Muddy Folk Festival in Boonville, Missouri on April 4, 2008.”

Len called last night’s performance “It’s of my Rambles… Recollections of Singers and Songs from the Ulster Tradition.” He prefaced each song with an explanation of how and where it was collected and which demographic group claimed to have originated the song (Ulster, the Travellers in Ireland, etc.). He explained some of the meanings behind each song.

Len spends his life singing and tracking down songs and singers.  He transcribes and archives words and melodies so that they aren’t lost to humanity. He’s travelled to Australia to find people who know rare songs and to Arkansas to record missing verses to a known song. These are just a couple of the many travel stories he told.

Len Graham singing at Na Píobairí Uilleann. The placard to the left lists Alfie Mulligan, who I’ve posted a snippet of on this blog (playing uilleann pipes at his brother’s Cobblestone pub).

Here you can see what the uilleann pipes look like (photo downloaded from an online blog).  (There are lots of YouTube videos available of uilleann pipers.)

Len spoke of a time not so long ago when there were just ten or so uilleann pipers in all of Ireland. Today, he says, more than a thousand people play these pipes.

He’s part of a vibrant oral tradition of storytelling that’s alive in Ireland today. But the songs have also been recorded and archived in important libraries–such as the one here in Dublin and another at Brown University. A researcher from Harvard (named Child) did a lot of important research into Irish ballads back in the 1800s.

I especially enjoyed Len’s songs involving heather (the name of a flower that became the name of my sister).  I also found “When Irish men throughout this world are brothers one and all” to be quite catchy.

This event was part of Na Píobairí Uilleann’s monthly Notes & Narratives lectures, which the organization describes as a series of “performance-based lectures on traditional music, song and dance by some of Ireland’s finest traditional artists.” Last night’s event was held at the Na Píobairí Uilleann hall on Henrietta Street.

Thanks, Jonathan Kennedy, my fully-bright friend, for the heads up about this event. Hope you’re putting your uilleann pipes to good use out there in Western Ireland this weekend!