“For these are my mountains, and I’m going home.”
I didn’t always feel that way about the Catskills. After all l was born near where the South Atlantic and the Irish Sea collide. In a twist of fate, I landed in the East Durham-Leeds area after being fired from a gig on glorious Cape Cod.
As luck would have it another band had been given the heave-ho at O’Shea’s in Leeds, as a result Pierce Turner and I got the job of keeping the punters “thick on the floor” at the Irish Center.
Old Gerry and Mrs. O’Shea weren’t too sure what to make of the “Wexford Hippies” as the locals called us, but Kerry people are renowned for their hospitality and, boy, did we make those patrons dance! It’s no secret that there’s been an epidemic of hip and knee replacements for all who jived and quickstepped to Turner & Kirwan that glorious summer.
I had my first shot at writing a novel down by the “waterfall” at the back of O’Shea’s but, alas, with a bevy of beautiful Bronx ladies working on their tans on those long hot hungover afternoons I never made it beyond the first fifty pages.
This weekend will, I believe, mark my 20th Memorial Day Weekend at The Blackthorne. The uncertainty arises because, like many others, time tends to come careening to a halt the moment I cross the border into the Republic of East Durham. And it’s not just because of the fatigue that follows the wild nights; no, it’s more of a general mountain dazzle that doesn’t dissipate until you hit the thruway on the way home.
I’m always amazed at the number of Irish-Americans who have never experienced the “Irish Alps.” What’s keeping you? Sure, you can fry yourself silly in the Caribbean, but what’s that compared to stretching out on the grass at resorts the like of Gavin’s, The Shamrock House, Michael Dee’s, McGrath’s, The Ferncliff, Hogan’s and a host of others as the wind whispers sweet nothings from among the leaves overhead.
My own favorite activity is strolling the back hilly roads on a sunny afternoon. There’s an old wall within an overgrown field that I like to sit upon. It’s made from the same flat stones and fashioned like those at home in County Wexford.
I often try to picture the people who built this little divide and wonder what became of their hopes and dreams – all long gone now. If you sit still long enough you’ll hear the birds in concert while small things slither by amidst the grass. Sometimes, if you’re on the right side of the wind a deer will amble past and pay you no mind.
There are few frills up in the mountains but the homespun comfort is stitched together with warmth and an easy hospitality; and if you’ve any problems with the head, the heart or the soul – and nowadays, who hasn’t - East Durham will slow the world down to a manageable pace so you can find your place in it again.
If it’s excitement you want you’ll find it this coming Saturday and Sunday at the East Durham Irish Festival. It’s a family affair with many children’s programs and a host of theatre, music and dance workshops. I’ll be doing a reading in the cultural tent at 4pm Saturday afternoon and answering questions for those who wish to know more about the worlds of music, memoir, playwriting and the price of turnips!
All through the afternoon and evening there’ll be the finest of Irish-American music with Shilelagh Law (keep away from my Green Suede shoes this year, you bowsies!), Celtic Cross, Andy Cooney, Hair of the Dog, The Narrowbacks, Band of Rogues, Dicey Riley, Erin's Og, and so many others. Black 47 will close the show at 8:45 Saturday night – then a short break and we’ll play a midnight set at the ever-popular Blackthorne.
It’s all just as it should be – madness in the mountains! Book your rooms now or dust off that old tent in the basement. Life is short! I’ll see you up in the Irish Alps.