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February 18, 2004: Fáilte go Baile Átha Clíath! [Repost]

We’re here. The concert is tonight. In just a few hours. It’s getting dark already. Holy feckin’ crap.

It had been 11 years since I’d been to Dublin, and even when I was there before I’d only spent a couple of days there total. I’d forgotten what a big city it is, and hadn’t taken into consideration how much bigger it had gotten since I was there last. We spent a lot of time farting around in Kilbeggan, and when leaving I foolishly said to Wesly, “The timing is perfect. It’s about 4 now, so we should be hitting Dublin between 5 and 5:30.”

Yep, perfect. Just in time to hit rush-hour Dublin traffic. And to put us in a traffic jam the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen even in Los Angeles.

It was unbelievable. Un-feckin’-believable. It slowed to the consistency of chilled molasses when we were approaching the city from the N4, but once we hit Dublin city limits, it just stopped. Complete feckin’ gridlock. What might have made it worse is that we found ourselves on a road I didn’t think we should have been on, and I didn’t quite know how we ended up there. Somewhere in Chapelizod I missed a sign, and when I had been hoping to be on the Chapelizod Road just south of Phoenix Park, I ended up on a series of roads (St. Laurence, Sarsfield, Con Colbert, St. John’s West) that were just jammed. I might have taken a picture for you, just to document how bad it was, but I was too busy shrieking “FUCK!” (no, Mrs. Doyle, not feck, the actual F-word), pounding on the steering wheel and perspiring. It was so bad, and we were so far behind the schedule I’d hoped we’d be on, that for a while there I thought it might actually be possible that, after all this expense and travelling, I’d miss the show (at least the beginning).

My expert reading of the Dublin city map left a lot to be desired, too — it’d been over a decade since I’d been there, I hadn’t spent that much time in the city to begin with, and I’d forgotten how the streets tended to be one-way when you didn’t expect, and how hard-to-read the street signage was. Once we got past the traffic and into Dublin 1, I ended up taking a half-dozen wrong turns on the way to the apartments. We ended up stopping at a petrol station at a frighteningly busy intersection way the hell up Drumcondra Road to ask for directions. Apparently the gentleman inside seemed to think Wes was quite mad, but he headed us back in the right direction, which was, of course, back the other way … and it was impossible to go that way from where we were. “Can’t get there from here, though!”

Somehow, we made it … 42 North Great Georges Street, the Mount Eccles Court Hostel and Apartments, checked into apartment #2, looked around (okay, it was nice; not quite as nice as the impression the photo gave, but perfectly nice enough), double-checked the showtime (8:30 instead of 8 … thank CHRIST!), threw our stuff inside, left immediately, got back into the car, and drove to the venue. It didn’t take long to get there at all … but parking the car was another matter. Did I mention that it’s a relative nightmare to have a car in Dublin? If you’re thinking about it, don’t. It’ll cost you more to park it than to hire it, the disc parking system can be diabolical (buy a parking disc-permit from a machine on the street for between €1.60 and €2 per hour, with a three-hour limit, there are evil clampers everywhere who’ll clamp your car if you’re so much as a minute overtime, there are only 9 multistorey carparks in all of Dublin, and only four of them are open 24 hours. Jesus.

Finally, after more wrong turns and U-turns there was the beautiful sight of the multistorey car park on Usher’s Quay, a mere 10 minute walk from the venue … and there we were, a whole 40 minutes early. There was a nice lady outside who handed me our tickets. The bar had just opened. We were there. Good Christ, do I need a pint.

Liam O’Flynn / Liam Óg Ó Floinn (1945-2018)

I’m absolutely gutted.

The great uilleann piper and founding member of Planxty Liam O’Flynn has died.


The first time I heard Liam O’Flynn play, I burst into tears within ten seconds.

I was 18, and caught a snippet of something wonderful on WWOZ‘s Irish/Scottish music show “Music in the Glen” (I must confess I don’t remember who was doing it in 1980). I heard the back announce it was a band whose name sounded like “Planks Tea” and had never heard of them. Very soon after I went to my favorite record store, the late lamented Leisure Landing on Magazine Street, and dug through their Irish music section. “Oh, it’s spelled Planxty!” I said as I came across their latest album, “After the Break.” Bought it and brought it home.

I can still remember putting on my gigantic Koss headphones, placing the needle into the groove, and listening to the first song, “The Good Ship Kangaroo.” That’s a wonderful singer, I thought, called Christy Moore. (Who sang at our wedding, in fact. Well, a recording of him did. Try as I might, I was unable to get the greatest living Irish musician to do a wedding in Pasadena on a Thursday during rush hour.) The interplay of strings — mandola and … Irish bouzouki?! What the hell?! — between Dónal Lunny and Andy Irvine. I’d never heard anything like it. Gooseflesh broke out. And then, after the second chorus, Liam burst in with the uilleann pipes.

And my head exploded. And as Andy himself sang years later, recounting the story of the first time he heard the Clare piper Willie Clancy, the tears welled in my eyes. I’d never heard anything so beautiful.

I wore that album out, then bought a second one and wore that one out. The LP copy I now have is the third one, and the CD I bought afterward I’ve managed not to wear out.

From those four musicians, the other bands they played in, or with, or produced, and all the othe rmusicians that they led to, and their bands and solo records, all branched out into not just a tree but a forest of Irish music that led to a wall of records, all from the seed of that one song.

I’ve been privileged to see Liam perform in person several times — the first at McCabe’s when he and Dónal performed as a duet, right after I got back from my first trip to Ireland. I got a front row seat, and made the both of them laugh and give me a strange look when they announced that they were about to play one of my very favorite tunes, and I kind of yelped. Everyone cracked up, and I sheepishly murmured, “It’s my favorite tune.” “Well,” Dónal said, “we’ll play it grand for ya!”

Then there was the Planxty reunion in 2004, the single greatest musical experience of my life. More on that later.

I’m still having a hard time dealing with this — his music meant so much to me. All the lads in Planxty are getting up there too — Andy turns 76 this year, Christy 73, Dónal 71. They all seem perennially youthful to me though, and their music to this moment surges with energy and life and vivaciousness. I’ll miss Liam terribly but fortunately he’s left a lot of great music behind. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Here’s a great remembrance by Leagues O’Toole, whose Planxty documentary in the early oughts led directly to the reformation of Planxty for their first reunion show in 23 years in Lisdoonvarna, and then their legendary 10-night stand in 2004.

I’ll be doing a few reposts from my old, pre-Wordpress hand-coded weblog back in 2004 when Wesly and I went to Dublin to see Planxty, the show I’d waited more than half my life to see. (I have no idea if anyone’s still out there and will even notice this old, dead weblog, but here it is anyway.)