Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Old Boathouse

    You ever have one of those days where you know, without a doubt, that you will never have an experience like the one you just had ever again? It is like you know inside of yourself that those moments in time were special. Unique to that place, and space, and time. And as you are living it, you know it. That was the feeling I had as I approached the old boat house, that stood on the edge of the rocks which stretched as far as the eye could see, along Wicklow Bay. The the owner of the hostel in which I was staying had imparted to me that it was “National Heritage Day” in Ireland. He told me that there would be traditional Irish music at “The Old Boat House” that evening and urged me to go. I immediately thought to myself "how cool." A bunch of pub musicians getting together at a local bar in celebration of their heritage. I could not have been more wrong about that assumption or pleased that I was. First and foremost the “boathouse” was just that; an old lifeboat house which, since the year eighteen and sixty-six, sat at the back of Leitrim Place and had, over the years, seen a lifetime of men sail out to brave the sea; to make a living for their families, to rescue those in need, or return a lost soul to a family that waited ever vigilant upon the shoreline. 
 Time seemed to stand still as I stepped up to the old wooden door, worn and tattered from the constant battering of the wind and the rain which howled past and seemed to beat ever gently upon it, as if waiting for someone to answer. I turned the handle, stepped across the threshold, and found myself instantaneously engulfed in the warm glow of the inner circle of the community of Wicklow. The room was filled with people. Not musicians from the local pubs, but with young girls who sat twirling their fingers in their hair. It was filled with young boys laughing and dragging the toes of their sneakers across the faded wooden floor, as they impatiently waited for the next song to begin. There were young men who sat bemused. There were old men beyond 80 years and then some, that held within their wrinkled faces; strong eyes of crystal blue, quick smiles, and the knowledge of the ages.

 There were woman who wore cotton dresses, who sat with their hands folder in their laps while chatting with their daughters; all of whom were seemingly waiting for the town elder to begin the next song. I tried as hard as I could to be unobtrusive and quietly made my way the few steps to the back of the room. I nodded at two of my roommates from the hostel who were sitting in folding metal chairs. each looking rather unsure of themselves. I smiled and eased myself down into a chair next to them as a hush fell over the room. The boys straighten in their seats, the girls tucked their fiddles under their chins. A chair scrapped across the floor, and the rest of the players, young and old, plucked and strummed in preparation. And then, simultaneously, without so much as a cue, the music began. Simply at first. Then then with the vigor of those comfortable in their surroundings and a certainty of their own skill.
The room filled not just with the sound of traditional music, but with a depth of purpose of which I can only describe as a legacy defined. It was as if a thousand years of tradition, of heritage, of pride, was at that moment being passed down from one generation to the next. I could literally taste the past in the notes that drifted across the room and fell upon my grateful soul. As the music played I closed my eyes, opened my heart and felt an unimaginable sense of peace and belonging well up inside of me. This was it. This was why I  had come to Ireland. To live and to experience this very moment in time. And as the night progressed I began to realize that this wasn't just about “traditional music” but about tradition. There was to follow: readings of Gaelic legend, traditional Irish dancing, and of course wine and song. I found myself wrapped in the warmth and deep seated love of these people and the beauty of their Gaelic culture.  

 The singers came one by one to welcome me and my friends. One of elders began to open up bottles of wine, passing them about with little plastic glasses which were of course accompanied by smiles, music and the hushed sound of children giggling. The women tried to teach me some Gaelic words, the men an Irish jig, and the children an ancient Irish song.  It was as if these people did not want their heritage to just be a thing of the past, but were breathing life into it right then and there in that little boat house. They were ensuring its survival as they gently and patiently handed down music, and stories, and dance that had existed for centuries, to the children who sat within. The children who would in time, pass what they had learned down to their children and to their children’s children. 

It was a simply beautiful evening that I was blessed to share with those people. I was treated as if, and I certainly felt as if, I belonged there. They did not approach me as an outsider but accepted me as one who loved the land, the legacy, and the tradition of Ireland as much as they did. They shared with me, in the glow of the evening, something special. Something…magical. I will never forget the stories that were told, the music that was played, and the love and laughter that were given to me so freely in the old boathouse that still sits quietly on the quay in an extraordinary place called Wicklow Town which lies nestled beside the echoes of a deep blue Irish Sea.

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