When the Tray Ran Away With the Spoon


Note to self: When attending an Irish funeral, never forget your bodhran.

Yesterday, I attended the memorial service for an old Irishman, the uncle by marriage to my dearest friend. His name was Seamus O’Sullivan, and it doesn’t get much more Irish than that! We were regaled with stories of his illustrious past, a past marked by a fairly star-studded career playing the “mouth organ,” not to be confused with the harmonica. Apparently, Uncle Shay had entered and won a number of playing competitions, and I cannot recall the party he ever attended where he did not take up residence in a corner and begin playing; he was a veritable encyclopaedia of Irish folk music.

Some years back when my son was still living at home, he being my resident musical partner in crime, we travelled with Uncle Shay up to the Irish Club in Hammersmith, London a couple of times. And what nights those were! All who played instruments took a seat in a semicircle at the front of the hall and just began playing. All together and at the same time – everyone, and I mean EVERYONE knew every melody. The calibre of talent was simply unbelievable.

And being Irish was not a prerequisite! Players came from all corners of the globe, bound by one thing: A love of the music. 

I have to say, when I was asked to sing, I very nearly bottled out on account of being so thoroughly overwhelmed and utterly humbled. Nevertheless, my son and I did a couple of American Country songs, which, being American and Country, were very well received. The Irish and Hibernophiles in general seem to love Americans, so I was onto a winner in any case.

Uncle Seamus, being himself, was sure to give me a proper critique afterwards, and well deserved. We had intended to perform with two guitars, but I had abandoned my own on account of it had got knocked and the tuning was off. I was sternly reminded to never bring an instrument that was unprepared. The fact my pegs got knocked as we were setting up was beside the point: One must always be ready!

Well, if this is the one rule of performance, chalk me up for an epic fail yesterday.

After the funeral we gathered in a pub along the Thames, and much to our surprise, it turns out Uncle Shay’s brother, Bertie, also plays the mouth organ! Honestly – what a dark horse. Who knew? Well, before long, Bertie was set up next to the fire, and a couple of musicians from the local Irish music club started playing, one of the top Irish flutists in the country, and an equally brilliant fiddler.

As Bertie was plying me to sing with them, I joked about what a shame it was I had not brought my bodhran… The fiddler laughingly suggested I grab a round drinks tray and a spoon and join the party.

Well, I am nothing if not flexible. 

So, after a year of rehearsing on my well-tuned and softly oiled bodhran, I made my drumming debut in front of about 50 friends and family on a brown drinks tray with a spoon as my makeshift tipper. Bertie smiled approvingly from behind his mouth organ as we all played together, and the audience was indulgent and appreciative.

I can’t help but wonder what Uncle Shay would have made of my ghetto bodhran. I was not prepared to perform, it is true. A proper Irish musician wouldn’t dream of attending an event with other musicians and be caught without her instrument. My bad.

But then, I am but an amateur. Perhaps he would forgive me in the end?

Nah. Not Uncle Seamus. 🙂

I shall never, EVER attend another Irish funeral without my drum.

Mother Hen

© motherhendiaries 2014 all rights reserved

p.s. Musical ADHD has struck again: I think I’m in LOVE with the Irish flute! I played the silver standard band issue in school, but… the Irish flute is a different animal altogether! I must save my pennies up and invest…

I leave you with a little taste of this wonderful music… Matt Molloy, Christy Moore, Donal Lunny & the Chieftans from 1987. I DARE you  not to tap your toes!


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