Almost without noticing it Labor Day Weekend is on us again. I always console myself by noting that September is invariably a beautiful month but who am I kidding? My summer plays out between Memorial Day and Labor Day and I spend both those weekends in County East Durham.
I can’t pretend that I’m not a booster of the Irish Catskills, though hailing from South Wexford - where the wild Atlantic hits the quarrelsome Irish Sea - I tend to gravitate towards the coastline.
Perhaps that’s why I identified with Bruce Springsteen’s early albums. Those dusty little seaside towns he salutes on Greetings From Asbury Park and The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Suffle were familiar turf for someone who played every pub and marquee from Courtown to Tramore.
The mountains were more an acquired taste, in fact my first summer spent up in Leeds could as well have been in Katmandu such was the craic at the Irish Center – then owned by Gerry O’Shea, now in the capable hands of impresario Gertie Byrne’s family.
Despite the ongoing bacchanal I did gather that people came up from the city to banish their misfortunes and it didn’t cost an arm and a leg to do so. Many things have changed but the sense of homeliness and community spiced by good value has endured.
Talk about a land that time forgot – you can stroll into any resort in the region, run into people you haven’t seen in 10 years and it’s as if you’d only bid them farewell the previous dawn.
Time moves at a different pace in the Irish Alps and whatever is troubling you melts away and seems somehow less threatening. Maybe it’s the realization that those mountains will be there a long time after you’ve kicked the bucket so you better make the most of the brief time that’s granted you.
There’s a certain coltishness in the air on Memorial Day Weekend. Tom McGoldrick’s festival at the Michael J. Quill Cultural Center is rocking all evening, Gavin’s, Furlongs, The Shamrock and the Blackthorne are throbbing through the night and the summer stretches ahead of you endless as Derek Jeter’s optimism.
Labor Day Weekend has more to do with the old Gaelic feast of Samhain. Already some of the leaves are turning and there’s a lovely chill in the air at nights but, even so, there’s also a chance for one last blast, one final kicking up of the heels before the responsibilities of the fall descend upon you.
East Durham reminds me of the old Ireland where all ages gathered together – not today’s fractured country where a pounding techno beat rattles the glasses in the younger lounges while kids wouldn’t be caught dead in the quieter pubs.
In East Durham it’s still a glorious mix. The seventy-year old gentleman thinks nothing of sweeping the beautiful college sophomore around the dance- floor. His legs may ache the next day, but what the hell, the night is forever young in the mountains especially when the Jameson’s is flowing.
And when I stroll into the Blackthorne bar on Friday evening, Pat Floody will be knocking sparks out of his accordion as if he were still playing in the El Dorado Showband back in Drogheda in the ‘50’s. The mountains do that to you – everyone relives their youth for one last fleeting summer weekend.
Pat’s always been a chap at heart and he cuts through the Catskills like Yeats’ Fiddler of Dooney making the merry dance like a wave of the sea. Check out his myspace page – it won’t be long ‘til he’s twittering.
There are definitely more fashionable – and more expensive – places to go but a piece of the old Ireland is alive and kicking in the Catskills. Come on up this weekend, we’ll be dancing and carousing long after Snooki has passed out down the Shore.
East Durham has got all the musical bases covered from Andy Cooney to Black 47, King Peter McKiernan to Prince Tommy Flynn. There are rooms to suit every pocket, camping sites galore and a spare spud in every pot for the unexpected guest.
It’s magic up in the mountains on Labor Day Weekend, it’s time you kicked up your heels again.