September 13, 2007

Sun, Sea and Sessions

Well, it's Thursday, which of course means that tomorrow is Friday.
God, it's happening again - I'm morphing back into one of those people who counts down to every weekend. This is not how I want to live my life, wishing it away. Not good. One of the absolute best things about travelling around South America was not really ever paying attention to what day of the week it was - there was no need. One day just slipped easily into the next. When you're back in the 9-5 saddle though, the weekends become the focal point of every week, that time when you can actually live.

Last weekend was by far the best one since I got back. It wasn't so much a weekend really, as I managed to wangle Friday and the following Monday off work. Myself, my brother and two friends had organised a weekend in Donegal to attend a bodhran workshop and we were all looking forward to it immensely.

On Thursday evening I was in fantastic spirits leaving work - blue skies and glorious sunshine were heralding a great weekend! We left Limerick early on Friday morning with a quick stop in Galway to pick up Cian who had just flown in from Beijing the night before! The day was beautifully warm, and the further north we drove the more spectacular the scenery became. How had I forgotten how beautiful this part of the country is?!

Some frenzied grocery shopping was accomplished in Killybegs - supplies to tide us over for the few days. Where we were headed was out in the middle of nowhere so we thought we better stock up! We arrived in Glencolumcille at around 8:30 and raced to the Oideas Gael Centre to register. There we were met by a docile individual called Liam, who seemed slightly bemused by us all. I realised later that he just looks that way all the time. He told us to be in Biddy's Bar at 10pm to meet the rest of the group for a few drinks.

So off we went to find our hostel, Dooey Hostel, preceded by its reputation. My brother, Brian, had stayed here before and had warned us of what was in store, but NOTHING could have prepared you for what lay in wait at Dooey. This place is without a doubt THE most unique hostel I have stayed in to date, and that's saying something when you consider some of the places I found in South America! There is a sort of devil-may-care attitude to everything at Dooey, due in no small part to the indomitable Mary (70 yrs old) who glides around the place like some sort of spectre with fag-ash dropping as she goes, and her rogue of a son Leo. It can only be described as like staying at your granny's house but you're granny is a bit mad and smokes hash! They are an entirely lovable pair and totally laid back. Rules and regulations do not apply in this place!

After getting over the inital mind-warping experience of meeting Mary, we were shown to our rooms and told that a welcome cuppa was on the way. While we were sitting outside sipping our tea and taking in the truly awesome scenery all around us, various people from the hostel wandered over to talk to us. That evening we went down to Biddy's as planned in the hope of gettnig some live trad. As it turned out, it wasn't really that kind of place, but when we wandered in with our bodhrans and whistles a couple of local lads decided to treat us to a bit of a music. Myself and Shane picked up where they left off, more to practise for the following day than anything. Next we moved on to Roarty's pub where we ran into half the hostel along with..wait for it...The Columbia Three, who we found out later were apparently in town for some Cuban fundraiser evening. I remember saying to Mum back when all that stuff happened about great it would be to get their story, and here they were standing right by me in a tiny little pub in the back of beyonds in the north opf the country!!Anyway, it was a good evening, but it must have been the sea air or something, we all fell into bed and slept our brains out.

Slight panic ensued the next morning as we woke up to find that we were late for our first day of the workshop! With muggy heads, we rushed to get dressed and put a quick call in to say we'd be late. Not off to a great start really!When we arrived at the centre it wasn't hard to find where we were supposed to be - you just had to follow the sound of a bunch of people all lethering away on bodhrans. Holding court at the head of teh group was the closest thing to Santa I've ever seen. This was Paddy, who was to be our mentor for the next couple of days. We made our apologies for our tardiness and of course a bit of banter ensued about the pub the night before - this kind of broke the ice all around which was good :)

The first day was great. Paddy gave us lots of good tips for proper bodhran playing and it didnt matter that we were all crap really - it was just good fun. We were treated to tea and chocolate biscuits at 11 and this was a good way to get to know the rest of the group. There was about 15 of us in total - all sorts of people from all walks of life. It struck me a few times over the course of the weekend what good people you meet at these sort of things - genuine people just looking to broaden their horizons, learn something new. We met some nice folks and even swapped a fwe emails here and there. It was quite a long day but we all left that evening full of zeal for the bodhran. Back to the hostel for a couple of hours chill-out and some food. Myself and Shane got busy in the kitchen, cracked open a bottle of vino and whipped up a spag bol. Less than an hour later however Cian was in the bathroom throwing up. We figured it must have been the meal we'd just eaten. He stayed in the hostel while the rest of us went to the pub. In the space of another hour, my body was violently rejecting whatever I'd eaten. Ugh.I blame Shane :-D
Anyway, we were fine the next day and Brian and Shane remained unaffected...
Next morning, we were up again for another day of bodhran beating. This day was a lot of fun because Paddy just stuck on tunes and let us all play away to our heart's content with a few solos thrown in here and there. It was on this day that the group really started to loosen up a bit and it was pity that the course was so short because we were really only all getting to know each other. It was a short session, finishing at 2, but it left us the rest of the day to do a bit of exploring, so we piled ito the car and headed off to the little town of Ardara, a few kms over the mountains. We spent the late afternoon sitting on a deserted beach in Maghera playing our instruments and listening to the waves. As ever, it felt fantastic to be breathing in sea air and feeling the sand between my toes.

That night, a group from Dooey set off into the middle of nowhere to a little pub called The Rusty for a session proper given by Paddy and his friends. It was a great pub with a friendly atmosphere and we were all in the mood to make a bit of noise. Paddy had promised us the session to end all sessions. But things didn't go quite as he planned!! lol. When we arrived both the banjo player and the guitar player Sean were half-cut. As the night wore on, the guitar player Sean got worse and worse until he ended up slumped over his guitar with everyone shouting at him to play Lisdoonvarna. It was hilarious! There were one of two English tourists in the pub who just looked on in total incredulity!That was a pretty good evening. Had a great chat with Leo who plied us with alcohol and regaled us with his adventures from around the globe. We were doubled over in knots laughing at him most of the time. A total character!

It was with pangs of regret that we packed our bags the next morning, said goodbye to our new friends, Angela, Mary, Leo, Peter and set off home again, but not without some photographs to remember them all by. One thing is for sure, I will be paying Dooey Hostel a visit again and the next time I will stay for a longer time, do a bit of walking and really relax in this absolute gem of a village hidden away in the mountains of Donegal.

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