Hiking the Mountain

A view of the mountain from my cousin's house

A view of the mountain from my cousin’s house

By Ramona Flightner/ @ramonaflightner

After my recent trip to Ireland, I have thought a lot about the saying, “You have to know where you come from to know where you’re going.” As readers of my blog, I am sure you know that I am fascinated by history. One of my favorite activities when writing is the historical research I do for my books.

However, when I travel to Ireland, it is my personal history I am discovering and sharing with others. On this most recent trip, I introduced my dad and brother to our Irish relatives. I enjoyed watching as my brother charmed our cousins with his mixture of humor and irreverence. I relished seeing my dad interact with my cousins as he reminisced about my grandparents with them. I watched their connection to Ireland solidify as they spent time with our cousins.

The front of the house

The front of my great-grandfather’s home

One of the highlights of our trip was visiting the home my great-grandfather emigrated from in 1900. The home is in a remote area of County Clare, in the midst of the Burren. It has been in the family for well over 100 years. The view outside the front window is of one of the three main mountains of the Burren, with a portion of the central part still owned by my cousins. My grandmother had told me stories of “hiking the mountain” when she visited Ireland with her family as a girl in 1920.

A beautiful stone fence

A beautiful stone wall

A herd of feral goats

A herd of feral goats

Gentian on the Burren

Gentian on the Burren

Orchid on the Burren

Wild Orchid on the Burren

With my cousin Mary, we set off to hike the mountain. It was rugged in certain parts due to uneven footing from the limestone that makes up the Burren. Because of the late spring, flowers such as gentian and orchids bloomed in late May that usually stopped blooming in late April. As we continued our hike up the mountain, we passed a herd of feral goats resting in a nearby field. Partway up, we paused and my cousin showed us the extent of their farm. The mountain was used for grazing, whereas there was good farmland in the valley below. The views became increasingly beautiful the higher we rose. The stone walls, seemingly cobbled together and yet quite sturdy, fascinated me. As we stood at the top on a beautiful clear day, we could see for miles.

A gorgeous stone wall

A gorgeous stone wall

Amazingly balanced stones

Amazingly balanced stones

From the top of the mountain looking down toward my cousin's farm

From the top of the mountain looking down toward my cousin’s farm

One of the best aspects of the hike was chatting with my cousin. We learned more family history and caught up on family news. The bonds of family knitted tighter together that afternoon.

The limestone of the Burren

The limestone of the Burren

A view across the Burren

Throughout my travels, I have found that there is something distinctive about traveling to a place where I have family. I have more of a sense of coming home, rather than passing through as a tourist. I feel a connection to the land, people, culture and history. By knowing my heritage and my family in Ireland, I have a better understanding of what has shaped me and why I believe in what I do. Ireland will always be that special place where I feel at home and at peace. Do you have such a place?

I Traveled To Ireland And Got… A Suntan!

The Slea Head on the Dingle Peninsula

The Slea Head on the Dingle Peninsula

by Ramona Flightner/@ramonaflightner

As I packed for my recent trip to Ireland with my family, I found a warm pair of wool socks. Forewarned by a cousin that the weather in Ireland had been cold and wet, I wanted to be prepared. I packed warm tops and only a few tee shirts. I discouraged my mum from bringing sandals, for who would need sandals in 55 degree weather and rain?

Cliffs near Dun Aengus

Cliffs near Dun Aengus, Inis Mor

As it turns out, Ireland experienced some of the best weather in years. In fact, it was the warmest place in Europe at least one of my days there. While parts of Europe dealt with historic floods, the sun shone on the Emerald Isle.

The Cliffs of Moher, Clare, Ireland

The Cliffs of Moher, Clare, Ireland

A closeup of the Cliffs of Moher

A closeup of the Cliffs of Moher

The glorious weather allowed us to see places I had previously seen only through the mists and rain more common to Ireland. I never wore those socks, and dreamt of sandals on a few days, extremely thankful for the amazing weather. I know I have just returned, and yet, I am already dreaming of my next trip to Ireland.

The coast near Annestown in Waterford

The coast near Annestown in Waterford

Have you been to Ireland? What were some of your favorite memories?

An Evening With Lunasa: Great Craic Had By All

By Ramona Flightner/ @ramonaflightner

Sunday evening found me at the Blackstone River Theater in Cumberland, Rhode Island eagerly anticipating a concert by my favorite traditional Irish band, Lunasa. I had become interested in traditional Irish music when I first traveled to Ireland in 1995. During a few of our evenings there, my cousins took my mum and me to pubs where we could hear good, traditional music, not just the kind played in pubs for the tourists. They were off the beaten path, especially the one in Dublin, and it was an eye-opener. I could have sat until dawn listening to that music as the musicians, sometimes numbering up to twelve, played songs and pieced together tunes as they went along. For some reason, the traditional music called to my soul, and when I returned to the States, I yearned to hear once again the exciting music I had listened to in the pubs in Ireland.

In 2000, while living in Philadelphia for school, I heard that an innovative group called Lunasa was to perform at a small venue. Thankfully, I decided to attend their concert. It was a phenomenal performance and I have been a fan ever since. I have gone to nearly a dozen of their shows since that time, from Philly to Boston, (I even saw a show in Seattle when I was there for a conference!) and I have never been disappointed.

Trevor Hutchinson playing bass, courtesy of Wikipedia

In the spring of 2010, their album, La Nua had just been released and they were playing in Boston. I decided to attend the concert and obtained one of the last tickets at the Somerville Theater. While at that concert, I watched as they performed “The Fruitmarket Reels,” and had an epiphany. I saw five men on stage performing joyfully, doing what they loved. I thought to myself, “I want that.” I wanted to discover what I needed to do to make my soul sing. It was at that point that I recognized my need to examine my life and discover my own creativity. Not long after that concert, I began to write and have found tremendous joy in writing.

Now, when I write, I have an “Irish Mix” that I play. In reality, it is a mix of all of my favorite Lunasa songs. I find that if I don’t have the music on, my muse can be more recalcitrant. By the third or fourth song of the mix, I have settled into writing, and often I have written for an hour before I realize how much time has passed.

As for the concert on Sunday night, it was wonderful. Although I love their albums, there is nothing like a live performance. They played a good mix of music from their albums, though the majority was from their latest albums. They have a new guitarist, Ed Boyd, and I enjoyed watching him play and interact with the other band members. He has a good sense of humor and told funny stories when Kevin Crawford attempted to go mute for a while. Kevin, who masterfully plays the flutes and whistles, again told wonderful stories that made us laugh.

Cillian Vallely playing the uillean pipes, courtesy of Wikipedia

I must admit, one of the reasons I love Lunasa so much is that I love the uillean pipes. More often than not, when I am at their the concerts, I spend a lot of time watching Cillian Vallely play. It’s fascinating to me how he coaxes sounds out of the pipes. They sounded particularly rich and melodious on Sunday night. Sean Smythe makes playing the fiddle seem deceptively easy. His skill and mastery never fails to amaze me and I loved hearing him perform “Punch” again. My aunt and I were both awed by Trevor Hutchinson’s bass playing and his performance on “Dr. Gilbert’s.” It was another phenomenal performance by my favorite Irish band, and hopefully nowhere near my last.

For all my friends and family in Montana: head to Helena, Hamilton or Butte toward the end of March to see Lunasa perform. I can’t imagine a better place to watch Lunasa than the Mother Lode Theatre in Butte. I wish I could be home to go to that show! If you have even an inkling of interest in Irish music, go. You will not regret it.