Friday night, February 19: we emerge gratefully from our snowbound solitude to celebrate the Thirty-Second Annual Evening of Irish Music and Poetry
Plus a gem of a short story called “Walk the Blue Fields.” Claire Keegan read us her story in a gentle, lilting accent, heightening the effect of her reading by voicing the parts of various characters. From time to time she interpolated material, often of a wry or humorous nature. I can’t recall any of those comments specifically; I can only say that it was a captivating performance.
I wrote about this story in a previous post, and I feel that I benefited greatly from hearing the author herself read it. It seems to me now a profound meditation on the essential sadness of the human condition. Something my mother used to say kept coming back to me: “People are always demanding justice, when they should be begging for mercy.” Or words to that effect. Anyway, ultimately there is a mercy to be found in “Walk the Blue Fields,” albeit a small one. But in the circumstances, it will have to suffice.
The story concerns a priest who is officiating at a marriage ceremony. This should be a happy occasion, and it is for some, but not for others – and certainly not for the priest himself. At one point, one of his parishioners makes a deprecating remark about herself, and the priest gallantly contradicts her. All the time he’s thinking of how often he is forced to perform this tedious little dance. Here was an incident whose specificity made it ring absolutely true.
Claire Keegan’s story “Foster” appears in the February 15 & 22 issue of The New Yorker.
I should mention that Ms Keegan was introduced by His Excellency Michael Collins, the Republic of Ireland’s ambassador to the U.S. Ambassador Collins was also on hand last year to introduce Frank McCourt.
After intermission, it was time for music and dancing. The music was supplied by the excellent Narrowbacks: the Brothers Winch, Terence and Jesse, were joined by consummate fiddler Brendan Mulvihill, singer and guitarist Eileen Korn Estes (whose velvety voice I love), and piper and flutist Linda Hickman.
Jesse Winch plays the guitar and the harmonica, but he really wowed the audience with solo gig on the bodhram, or Irish drum. Here’s a video of a student of his playing that singular instrument.
Jesse’s brother Terence plays the button accordion and is also a songwriter and poet. He read us several of his poems, which I found quite delightful.
The Narrowbacks provided the musical accompaniment for the step dancers from the Culkin School. They were great! (See below):
Once again, our master of ceremonies was Catherine McLoughlin-Hayes, the Irish Evening chair for HoCoPoLitSo.. Among her several tasks for the evening was to issue a plaintive plea for donations. She mentioned that this was a hard thing for her to do, and I think we all appreciated her efforts and tried to respond in kind. (One does worry about the arts organizations in this country, what with the perilous times in which we’re living. We lost the Baltimore Opera, seemingly over night. Let’s hope that fate does not befall too many similar entities.)
There’s a moment in one of Alexander McCall Smith’s recent Isabel Dalhousie novels when Isabel reflects on the many gifts that Ireland has given to the world. To that, one can only respond with a heartfelt Amen.