Keadew is a tiny village north of Boyle, and once a year they have the O’Carolan Harp Festival, a traditional music festival, with summer school classes in all the traditional instruments. They study each day for a week, then there’s a recital at the end, with competition in each age group.
As you walk through town, music comes out of every window and doorway. Everyone carries an instrument, even the smallest children. We come to the town hall, where an accordion lesson is in full swing. Mothers an their kids play along together, breaking into small groups to practice. Here the kids learn the music that their grandparents knew. You can tell they are proud.
The bodhran lesson is in the pub next door. Fifteen people, from 5 to 50, sit in a circle holding bodhrans and listening to the teacher as he plays an amazing tune on his own drum.In the afternoon there is lecture at the school on the music of the area. One of the flute teachers talks about local musicians who were never famous, but were great players. At one point he asks, “Who remembers Joe McGoohan?” and half the audience raises their hands. “He was a good fiddler,” he says, and the others nod.
These are the daughters and nieces of the town, and they all remember. Their ancestors were their teachers. They passed down the tradition to them, and they pass it to their own daughters.
Then, amazingly, he hands out a whistle to someone in the audience. “Play for us, Dierdre.” She does. It’s beautiful. Then she hands it to her sister, and her niece, and they can all play, even the youngest one. One woman sings a tune, another sings one about the English oppression. It’s like watching living history.
That night we return to town for the Ceili Dance, which starts at 9:00. At 10:00 we’re still waiting. It’s Irish time, not American.
The band begins playing, the flute teacher from the lecture along with an accordion, drums, piano, and banjo. By then crowds of people have arrived, and they all hit the dance floor. They move into groups of eight and begin the traditional dance moves. It’s a lot like square dancing, with better music.
It seems the whole town is here, along with some from neighboring towns. Young girls dance in pairs, hoping to join the grownup groups. Dancers from Limerick and Dublin are here. The community is on its feet, dancing together.
It’s the highlight of our time in Keadew, at least for me. For Dave, the highlight may be when he comes back for summer school with his own kids.