Before I went to Ireland, I would listen to traditional music and imagine myself standing on a green, windswept hillside, with the sound of pipes in the distance and smoke rising out of the chimney of a charming cottage nearby. I thought of high kings at the Hill of Tara and great legendary and mythical figures: Brian Ború, Cúchulainn, Queen Medb. And I dreamed of standing at a cliff’s edge, gazing resolutely into the distance, while waves crashed into the rocks below.
Imagine my satisfaction when I went to Ireland and was able to live out all of these visions — with a few alterations, of course. There was plenty of standing on green, windswept hillsides, though it lacks a certain something without the pipes and the cozy cottage setting. It doesn’t take long before you start to feel like an idiot for being cold and windswept (and most likely rained on) when any sane person is in the pub having a pint.
I also spent one glorious summer afternoon at the Hill of Tara, seat of the ancient high kings, which turned out to be a set of otherwise unremarkable undulating hills situated next to a busy visitor’s center. And none of my fantasies had involved the swarming masses of tourists always present at the Cliffs of Moher — except for the time I went in January and the wind blew so hard, you had to be especially careful not to get too close to the edge. There’s no resolute gazing when you’re gripping a rock wall in terror. (My friend might look happy in this photo, but I’m sure he was terrified on the inside.)
All of this is the long way around to saying that having a crush on a country is a bit like having a crush on a person. The better you get to know it, the more it will disappoint and delight you in unexpected ways. The end result may be even better than what you originally dreamed of, but it is still different, and something to get used to.
Listening to Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s version of “Cúirt Bhaile Nua (The Court of New Town)” brings back all those old dreams and visions. Which I don’t think is such a bad thing after all. They represent a longing to connect with a place, or a period of time, or a people that might not really exist anymore, except in a spirit that you can still sense in intangible ways — or in tangible cultural elements that remain with us thanks to artists like Colm.
Gaeilge (Irish) is also one of those things that, to put it plainly, I love about Ireland. Colm, who is also the violinist for The Frames and The Swell Season, tells a lovely story as Gaeilge (in Irish) about the title of his solo album, The Hare’s Corner, in this video from TG4.
Finally, in the clip below, you’ll notice that Colm says that this song is typically sung unaccompanied in the sean nós (old style) tradition. So please also be sure to check out the second video as well — an amazing clip of Nora McDonagh singing “Cúirt Bhaile Nua” as Gaeilge. The two songs actually sound nothing alike, but I’m taking it on faith that they’re two versions of the same beautiful thing.
Colm Mac Con Iomaire