Reading My Way Around the World

Thursday 22 December 2011


The Winter Solstice is always an exciting time for me - a new year beginning, the holidays still to come and a chance for the next 10 days or so to look back on the past year.  And it's been mostly a really positive year.

  This time last year we were encased in snow - an experience I've never known before and it made for a very relaxing Christmas time.   But it's very reassuring that everything is back to normal this year - much nicer to be able to get outside and do things, see people and share the holiday.  

Professionally in 2011, Tom and I released our second Songbirds CD which was very well received everywhere - we got loads of radio play all around Ireland and on Irish programmes abroad and we were featured on RTE TVs Nationwide programme - the clip of that is still on my website if you haven't already seen it.  Click here to link directly to it. 

Apart from that I had a solo tour in America which was great fun - thank you to everyone who hosted me during that time and who fed and watered me along the road.  Tom and I played several times in Scotland and England and together with Brendan we played the St. Patrick's Day Concert outdoors in the London Borough of Brent which was really exciting for us.  And also with Brendan we did several Irish shows including our first concert in my hometown - Belleek in Co. Fermanagh - and had a very enjoyable night in Newry for the local hospice.  

Our studio, Ballyneddan Cottage Studio, was busy all year - Tom engineered and helped produce CDs for Shane Morgan, Patrice McKevitt, James Curran and the Mourne Grange Camphill Choir, as well as editing a yoga video and recording voice overs for a Hungarian tour operator!   I've been making the coffee for a very interesting bunch of performers and enjoying every minute of it.  

And lastly my community choir has finally found its feet.   I am passionate about helping people find their voices.  So many adults have been badly affected throughout their lives by having been told as a child that they could not sing. My feeling is that everyone can sing - of course we're not all going to be Pavarotti or Barbara Streisand but we all have the need to use that muscle.  

So, after short series of workshops in Rostrevor last winter and in Castlewellan in the Springtime, we settled in to a regular Monday night workshop/practice in Warrenpoint Town Hall. This group of singers of all abilities and ages will continue throughout the Spring and my vision of having a second group working in Castlewellan will hopefully bear fruit early in the Spring as well.  There'll be a few performances coming up so I'll keep you posted about that.  

So now on to 2012 ... wow ... where's the time flying to.  I never thought I'd live past the year 2000:)))  A new CD and loads of travelling will be the order for the year -  back to Belleek for a follow up concert in February, a German tour in April, some Irish dates in May, France in June, Australia in September and UK in November - with teaching in between and the choir running alongside all of that, it should be a pretty busy year.   I'll try to keep doing some updates on Facebook and by mail, although I'm not very prolific with that side of things - maybe it'll be this time next year when I get back to say hello.  

In the meantime, I wish you all the blessings of the winter solstice and the holiday season.... have a good rest if you can get it, look after yourself and have healthy, happy and prosperous New Year. 

Thursday 18 August 2011

Signs of Autumn

I'm totally new to this idea of blogging although I can find at least 3 or 4 attempts to set one up over the past number of years. I guess I'd like to have a place to look back on to see my travels and thoughts over the coming years.   So I'll have another attempt at coming back from time to time and writing some notes. 

Already the leaves are starting to fall and the beach beside our home looks browner when the tide is out.   There's a chill in the air and we've had the fire lit for the past few nights. 

In the old Celtic calendar Autumn began at the beginning of August - it was the start of the harvest.   There's a Threshing Day in a field not far from here on Saturday - I must go - to bring back memories, although I don't ever remember the thresher in our field.  Ours was a smaller operation but I do remember the smells of this time of the year  - as children we had to do our share in saving the hay - after the grass was cut with a scythe, we helped rake it into long rows, the length of the field.   After a few days,  we helped in turning it - there was a knack to it - either pulling it to you with a rake, or turning it over with a fork - so that the underside could dry.  And then the next day building hay stacks - the smaller ones had the honour of standing on top of the stack as the men threw up the yellow straw like strands to complete the rounded top of the rick.  

"Being dry is the key to preserving hay -- a wet stack will rot from the inside, or ferment, causing enough heat to catch the stack on fire. But a properly dried stack can last many years outside."

 Turning the hay....

In the hay field, tea was brought to the men in a tin can which I would carry on the bar of the bycycle when I was deemed old enough to be entrusted with such a precious task.  My mother had been baking scones all morning and making egg and onion sandwiches.  I've never tasted sandwiches as good as those and the tea had the most special flavour.  

Bringing the turf home from the bog was another smell altogether - the smell of winter coming in.  The dark peat had been drying for ages and on the day it was piled onto the red and blue cart, the children  piled on top of the turf - at least 3 or 4 of us -  to be taken home by the donkey and pulled up the Pullen Brae.  That road was closed off not long afterwards when the Troubles started in the late 60s - the end of a childhood.