The world is a lot smaller now...

It's been several months since my last post, and much has happened!

I presented at the VASTA conference in Singapore last summer, my first time to visit anywhere in Asia. It was great to present my work to other professionals, and get some perspective on not only where my work has come from and can go to, but also in confidence and ownership over it. I was pessimistic about surrounding myself with a lot of, mostly American, voice teachers for an intensive week or workshops and seminars, but it certainly paid dividends. It was also a relief to discover that many of my misgivings about current voice practise are shared by a great many other practitioners across different sectors. Those who loathe guruism and doctrine fear not - we are not alone (albeit we are in a minority)!

I don't generally fly very much. I didn't fly anywhere until I was 25 years old, and only then because I had to because getting to Bahrain otherwise would have meant travelling through Iran (long visa process), Saudi Arabia (very difficult), or Sudan/Eritrea/Djibouti (very dangerous). If you can afford the time to travel by land I'd certainly recommend it. Aside from meeting people in a very different manner (usually for longer and more relaxed), you also get a much better sense of how far you've gone. Sometimes seeing the changes in physical landscape can also aid other knowledge, history for example. I remember always knowing about the siege of Leningrad in terms of hard facts, for example, but it wasn't until I travelled from Helsinki to Moscow by train that I understood how the physical terrain hindered the fascist advance and supply through Russia during WWII; the surrounding land being either swamp or immensely dense forest (or a combination of both) for many hundreds of kilometres. There's a great website in English at www.seat61.com which tells you how to get anywhere in the world without flying, mostly by train. It's very detailed, and well worth a look. Train travel can often be cheaper than flying on short or long journeys, and you don't have baggage allowances to worry about - let alone falling out of the sky!

But so I went to Singapore from Dublin via Helsinki and back in the space of 10 days. Was it a dream? Did it really happen? Thus feels my body. The country was certainly interesting though, one of the first places I've been where multiculturalism seems to genuinely work/gel. Singapore has four official first languages - Malay, Mandarin, English, and Tamil. School students have to take at least two of these languages, and all state services are available in each language. Of course there are areas where specific communities come together - Little India, China town etc, but these areas don't feel as ghettoised as other metropolises I've been in.
 It also has an incredibly easy relationship with it's colonialist past - all the Singaporeans I met were either indifferent or positive towards the imperialist Raffles. "Well, he made the country really - it wouldn't be so prosperous if it wasn't for him" was the general run of things. All of this says nothing of course about the vast migrant worker population mostly from the Philippines, whose language does not enjoy the same rights, and whose citizens clearly do not enjoy the same benefits as the people they work for or serve...

Unfortunately, my return to Ireland did not a great bounty of work afford and so I set about looking for stuff abroad. I'm now living in China, teaching Public Speaking, Theatre, and a bit of Debate for a specialist education agency in Beijing. As much as I dearly love Ireland, I wasn't making a comfortable living there and so I've jumped ship for a bit. More on China in another post (or perhaps a book haha), but it is certainly an adventure and has already allowed me to visit Vietnam for a holiday, and to see and learn many many new things. Funny old life ain't it?

Take Me Home To Mayo

Wow, what a roller-coaster since that weekend in Cahersiveen, which was a long and bloody brilliant weekend I have to say! I ended up going on a jolly up the west coast for a couple of weeks, handily meeting friends and seeing sights often inaccessible by public transport (I only learnt to drive earlier this year so my new found liberty of movement is all still a bit of a novelty)...

From Cahersiveen I first headed to Dingle, supposed home of some of the best trad in Ireland. The reality? One of the most over-hyped places I've ever been, the hitch-hikers I picked up en-route and when leaving being of more interest than the stay. I stayed at the Grapevine Hostel, which I'd recommend if you do go however - lovely staff, and clean/cosy beds made for some comfort at least. The main problem is that the town is wall to wall with American tourists and the whole economy apparently serves this. If you're not balling down a bar asking if you can bring X number of people in for food, you're unlikely to be served, and the music; far from the trad paradise I had been told of so often, was two or three to a bar bands through a PA. Few sessions, and the pubs are all empty by half 10 because the Americans seemingly can't handle the pace. I stayed on a Wednesday/Thursday night and only one bar was open after 11 - something distinctly unheard of in other such centres of population in Ireland.

Hey-ho, I headed up to Galway for a few days, stopping off for a bit of fishing in Listowel and taking the Tarbert ferry for a drive up through Clare. Galway is grand enough for the friends I've got there, but I find the music scene a touch pretentious - lots of people so awash with hero worship of musicians that they don't actually play anything, or they spend 20mins discussing a set to play, trying to gauge if their tunes are hip enough for whoever is sat in with them. In short, minimal craic! The great musicians of course don't give a hoot what's played, and would join anyone in any tune they play, but Irish trad breeds a selective clique of weirdos, otherwise known as "purists". I got some great tunes on the Sunday night at An Droighnean Donn in Spiddal however - definitely a friendly place worth visiting for good relaxed tunes. The herring fishing is good here in the summer too, it would seem.

From there, I connected with a family friend in Oughterard before heading up through Connemara for a few days in Westport, Co. Mayo. I lived just outside the town for a few months just over a decade ago when working with a somewhat questionable Children's Theatre company. Having loved it so much then, I've no idea why it took me so long to return. Westport is a great town, mid-sized/small but thriving - and with good independent shops too. Big enough to have everything you need, but small enough not to be overwhelmed. Community spirit is quite awesome in the town, volunteers can be seen regularly sweeping the streets or cleaning the river, and everyone has a "hello" for you. The music is great too, with sessions on every night of the week and enough variety to suit most tastes. 

After a few days I headed to meet up with a friend and talented singer/musician Paddy Shannon in Enniskillen, Fermanagh. For the first time ever, approaching the border I found myself feeling a general sense of dread and foreboding.  Coloured by my experiences in Armagh City and Belfast the previous year, and having done no research on the place, I feared the worse... My fears were allayed thankfully, the general vibe from the town and it's inhabitants being far more positive, and far less openly racist, than other areas I have visited in Northern Ireland. I also got some very tasty tunes in Blakes of the Hollow, with great lift and tremendous speed (ableit a little cramped).

I'd planned to stay in Donegal for a week or so, having only explored the northern part of it a few years ago after the fleadh in Derry when I went to Buncranna and Culdaff. After a day in Donegal Town, one in Letterkenny, and a few tunes on a back road to Glenties however, I'd had enough. "Where are you from?" is the same loaded and intrusive question (read "accusation") it is in parts of Armagh, Belfast, and elsewhere. This really saddened me, as it's the only time I've come across such behaviour in the Republic. It left a sour taste that even the welcoming of the session at Sandino's in Derry couldn't lift so I thought "ach well, what the hell, I may as well return to where the craic's 90, right"?

And so back to Westport for a few days for tunes, theatre, cinema, and new friends made. I realised what I'd been missing all these years and so have jumped with both feet and moved here. It's the best decision I've made for a long time - there's lots of work available and a commute to Dublin for the occasional client/audition/gig isn't such a burden. West Cork has been great - the first time I've lived in a village has been long enough to appreciate it, and long enough to realise it's not for me. Lovely people, and a beautiful place, but very little work (and no broadband makes it even more difficult to generate it). 

So here I am home in Mayo, and in that, somewhere I can genuinely see myself establishing a long-term base!