Ireland to Texas, the Circle is Complete
In the most unlikely places, connections can be found linking two cultures, two worlds and two vastly different centuries. Such was the case in a small, village in County Laois, Ireland.
At the edge of Ballybritas, on the back road to Vicarstown, sits the dairy farm of Michael and Brigid Dempsey. It is a quiet, unassuming place which probably wouldn't even garner a passing glance were it not for the thatched cottage sitting on its western edge. Abbeyview Cottage epitomizes everything Irish. Its walled front garden, thatched roof and brightly painted door seem to beckon you in to sit a while and enjoy a cup of tea. Built twenty-four years before Columbus discovered America, Abbeyview Cottage is the oldest, continuously inhabited home in Ireland.
This was the cottage we were to call home for a week at the end of July. This was, by luck or fate, where we found a connection that closed the circle between what it is to be Cowboy and what it was to be Irish. The roots began to intertwine with my first knock upon the Dempseys' front door. "Oh my goodness, Cowboys are you?" queried Brigid Dempsey, her eyes twinkling with delight, as she took in the sight of six road weary Cowboys at her stoop. As she unlocked the door to the cottage, she commented that Jack would have been tickled to know that Cowboys were walking upon his lands. Jack, as we would soon discover, was Jack Adair, who, along with Charles Goodnight, established the JA ranch in the Texas Panhandle, nearly one hundred and thirty years ago.
"What brings you to Ballybritas?" Brigid asked as she showed us the layout of the cottage. When told that we were performers of Western Music and Poetry, she expressed a desire to hear some of our work. We offered to play for them one of the evenings while we were there, which helped to lay the groundwork for a most memorable occurrence.
To the Dempseys' amazement, their cottage guests were up at seven to help bring in the herd for milking. Their new pup, Maxie, was benefiting from the patient training she was receiving on what her job was as a cow dog. B.J. was there at the evening milking, not to observe, but to participate. A friendship grew and once again the roots were being woven tighter.
Wednesday evening found us bringing in the dairy cows, once again. As we walked along with Brigid, B.J and I quickly learned that the "small bit" of music and poetry we were planning to do for the Dempsey family had evolved into a small Jamboree. "I've some eggs put aside for your breakfast tomorrow morning, in case we eat up all your food", commented Brigid, creating a moment of panic, as BJ & I suddenly realized that we were expected to provide more than tea & coffee. However, Cowboys are a resourceful bunch. While the rest of us prepared for a concert we were attending that evening prior to entertaining the Dempseys and a few of their neighbors, BJ took stock of what we had in the fridge and cupboards. When it comes to making hors d'oeuvres from leftovers and the odd can of tuna and salmon, BJ has now been crowned the Cowboy Martha Stewart! With fifteen minutes before the Jamboree was to begin, BJ whipped up salmon salad on crackers, cucumber sandwiches, cheese slices, cookie plates and enough tea & coffee to feed more than what we assumed were coming.
Irish folk are punctual, this we learned as the first knock on the door sounded precisely at half past ten that night. The first of a "few" neighbors and friends passed through the door and on back to the patio carrying an upright Bass, a guitar case, a banjo case, bongo drums and a tin whistle. It was then we realized that we were in for a night of seriously good Craic (fun, for those who don't speak Irish)! Edward, who had stopped by the previous evening, showed up soon after bringing his electric keyboard. As the musicians set up, Michael began bringing in straw bales for seating. As I watched the bales increase in number from five to fifteen, I began to understand that "few" was a relative term.
What a night it was! The musical gamut was run from Traditional Irish music, some older than time and some written by the musicians themselves, to Silver Screen & Honky Tonk Western music. There was Poetry, as well, both Cowboy and Irish. If you ever want an insight into the "Troubles", you only have to hear or read "The Papist and The Prod", whose author is unknown, and which was artfully recited by Edward. Jeff was well received, both with his harmonica and his Poems. Debra, after she was brought from behind her camera, delighted our guests with her story of "Snakes in the Décolletage" and a few of her own Poetry pieces. BJ, not to be out done, told wickedly, delightful stories about the oddities in her freezer. Casey & I sang out, raising up the trail songs and a few new pieces we had written. As the night progressed and the music encouraged, there was dancing, Cowboy and Irish. Through out it all, there was laughter and a sense of those who had lived before also joining in the gaiety.
"Auld Triangle" to "Old Paint", "Place in the Choir" to "Kansas City", the courtyard reverberated with the sounds of roots intertwining, friendships being built and a ghostly chorus reaching forward to sing the past. We sang every song that we could recall, were surprised by the repertoire of American songs that the local musicians brought to be sung and, when it came time to say goodnight, marveled at how quickly the hours had flown past. As the last of our guests left, I felt sadness and a sense of fullness. I couldn’t help wondering just how many other Jamborees had been held within these walls. Did they throw an American Wake for Jack Adair or was it a celebration of his leaving? How different the landscape of Palo Duro and the Panhandle must have been to a native son of Ireland. As the circle of roots intertwined and closed, I said a prayer for the soul of Jack Adair and asked for blessings on the Cowboys who now ride his trail. Fate or luck, We will never know for sure. From Ireland to Texas and back again, the Circle is now complete.
By Catherine Lilbit Devine © August 31, 2006