Tag Archives: Ireland

A Little Music for the New Year

The late, beloved Goku, inspiration for my tune, Spotted Cat.

The late, beloved Goku, inspiration for my tune, Spotted Cat.

I’ve spent the past few days reworking some of the music I’ve written over the past thirty years as a concertina and whistle player. Some tunes were also composed on the fiddle. The way the folk process works, some of these contain hints of melodies from other tunes. While I’ve copyrighted all of them, I’m putting the tunes out here for anyone to use, especially as they were written to be danced to.

To hear these tunes, you should download Easy ABC, a free music composition program available online. Copy my music, including the header, and paste it into the window labeled ABC Code. Then click on the play arrow to hear the tune. Print the music, play the music, mess with it. It’s for having fun with.

The first tune is one of the oldest, a jig written on the concertina in the early 1980s.  Because it’s a concertina tune, it presents a certain challenge on the fiddle. Continue reading

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Belfast Volunteers

The contemporary view of Ardoyne is cleaner and has more nice cars, but the long blocks of terrace houses look the same.   © Copyright Dean Molyneaux and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The contemporary view of Ardoyne is cleaner and has more nice cars, but the long blocks of terrace houses look the same.
© Copyright Dean Molyneaux and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

I woke each day in the blue room on the north end of the house, on what the Irish referred to as the first floor. As an American, this translated to the second story, since I climbed one flight of stairs to get there. In the back corner was a cold coal hearth. I don’t think I lighted the hearth all year long. It was dirty and drafty, contributing to a constant chill in the room. Moreover, beneath its scorched bricks was the hidey-hole for the house cash box. But through my window I could look out over neighboring rooftops to the heights of those vacant mountains north of the city and the outline of the Iron Age hill fort atop Napoleon’s Nose. It was a reminder that however bad things got in Ardoyne, the world beyond considered other things equally important.

I had inherited this room from the former house master. Now I held the secret of the cash box. Apart from me, the only other one who knew where we kept the Glencree money was Len, the American volunteer who had beaten me to Belfast.

He had taken a small room at the top of all the stairs, one that lacked a door, but was so high up it seemed inaccessible from below. Beside my room was the bathroom, equipped with the longest clawfoot tub I’d ever seen. It was cold as an iceberg in that room, too, and with the tales that the neighbors told, about the old woman who had died in that tub, taking a bath became a heroic exercise. I knew that if the bathroom was haunted, the old woman’s ghost would have no difficulty in passing through the wall into my bedroom. Never noticed a thing. Continue reading

Belfast From Napoleon’s Nose 1981

From the Iron Age hill fort above Belfast the camera had difficulty capturing the city because of the smoke and fog generated by coal heating, industry and exhaust. This photograph was taken on one of the excursions with children from both sides of the divide in 1981.

In a previous post I mentioned the photograph I am posting today, which I rediscovered as I organized our storage cupboards. The climb to Napoleon’s Nose was a startling contrast to the neighborhoods the children grew up in. From their streets the children could see this hilltop towering above the city, but few had ever ventured this far before. The trail to the top led through meadows of bluebells, past ruined cottages and onto steep slopes of heather. It was only when you got above the smoke that you even realized how filthy the air in Belfast really was.

The Far Side of the City

That summer of 1981 I became familiar with urban poverty. By far, most of the families I encountered in Ardoyne relied on a government check, the Dole, to get by. How they managed to make the money stretch to pay their rent and what they called their rates (utilities) and taxes, I couldn’t imagine. Not to mention the money they spent on food, often at a chippie, which is what a fish and chip van was called. Sometimes they’d buy a curry from the truck that sat near the shops, but other times hunger drove them to serve their children “chip buddies.” This consisted of two slices of buttered white bread with French fried potatoes laid between them. Carbohydrate delight. Of course there always seemed enough money to pay for pints at the Shamrock and other social clubs.

I knew a woman from the college I’d attended in Spokane who had married a man from Belfast, and at one point that summer I contacted her for a friendly visit. She took me on a walking tour downtown and introduced me to her brother-in-law, who shared the opposite side of their huge semi-detached house on some private acreage to the south of the city. John was a bachelor, trained as a geologist, and comfortably situated after years of oil work in the Middle East. He was delighted to meet Sally’s college friends (I discovered that one of my dorm brothers had previously visited him), and he invited me to come to his house for dinner sometime when I wanted a break from the inner city.

My dinner with John was one of the most unusual events of that year, an evening of surprises. Continue reading

May 1981

I had been in Belfast for only three days when the first of ten hunger strikers at The Maze Prison (Long Kesh) died. The tension building up to the event was palpable in the community. It felt like everyone was preparing for war. Helicopters stationed above Catholic neighborhoods hovered endlessly throughout the day, spying, photographing, filming activity on the streets below them. The British army sped through the streets of Ardoyne in armored vehicles, and it wasn’t always clear why they were there. Were they simply asserting sovereignty over the people, were they pushing for an incident, or were they spying on local activities? Occasionally an army foot patrol would pass through, nervous young men in heavy gear, four to a patrol. Two would face forward and two would back through the streets so all angles were protected. At a command the soldiers would whirl about to face the opposite direction so everybody got a turn at backing up through the hostile streets.

The children of Ardoyne demonstrated a warrior spirit whenever these patrols passed by. Grown-ups kept themselves scarce, seeking shelter in gated gardens, entryways and the doorways of shops or homes. But the children taunted the passing soldiers, sometimes throwing stones or bottles. When this would happen in the midst of organized games or outdoor activities, the other counselors and I would retire to a safe haven and watch the children we’d been playing with attack heavily armed soldiers. Although I didn’t smoke, I remember borrowing a cigarette from a youngster one day so I could appear more nonchalant. Children as young as six years old smoked publically. I looked down into a car that went speeding past me as I held my cigarette to my lips. A television camera aimed at me from the back seat, the ABC logo prominently plastered on the door of the car. Continue reading

A Walk Through Ardoyne

A British Army patrol on the streets of South Belfast in 1981. Patrols that visited Ardoyne typically showed up in armored vehicles, wearing protective gear. This photograph courtesy Jeanne Boleyn, who released it to the public domain through Wikipedia.

(Continued from Wheatfield Gardens)

The morning after my arrival in Belfast, my predecessor Ryan took me for a get-acquainted stroll through my new neighborhood. The two of us were from totally different backgrounds. He was an affable city boy from Philadelphia, while I was a somewhat naive and laconic westerner who had only a couple of years experience living in Seattle. Perhaps he sensed that I would need to be shown the ropes, introduced to key people who would take me under their wings to keep me safe and make me useful.

There had already been one surprise awaiting me at Wheatfield Gardens: it turned out I was to share responsibility for running the house with another American volunteer, Len. He was much like Ryan, charming and friendly, and he seemed like he already knew his way around the area although he had only arrived a week or two before. I was a little jealous. While I had taken months to arrange my term as a volunteer, sending letters, making phone calls and doing interviews, Len had simply showed up in Belfast and been given a job!

The three of us left the Glencree house together on that bright morning, waving at the only neighbors who cared to mix with us, the Scotts next door. The street was lined with brick garden walls with little iron gates on pavements that led to semi-detached brick houses. The houses looked like they’d all been built from the same plans, and there was very little individuality to any of them. It seemed odd that all this urban landscape was crammed together so tightly around us and yet a short distance away the green slopes of vacant mountainsides soared above the city. Ryan saw me looking and took the time to point out Napoleon’s Nose, a peak with an Iron Age hill fort on it, within walking distance from my new home. He couldn’t have given me a greater blessing. Later on, when things seemed particularly bleak, I did like I did back home, but instead of climbing Saddle Mountain, I scaled Napoleon’s Nose.

We hadn’t gotten to the end of the street before Ryan stopped us and us listen. There had been a constant sound in the background of our conversation, and he pointed out the helicopter stationed over the west end of the city. During the year I spent in Belfast, the British army kept up an almost constant aerial patrol of the Catholic communities of West Belfast. Sometimes the copters hovered over Ardoyne instead. Continue reading

Wheatfield Gardens

(Continued from To Belfast)

The ferry to Ireland passed through a couple of light rain showers, but by the time it approached Larne the sun was glistening on the Irish Sea. Green hills rolled into the distance beyond the town: oil tanks and smokestacks, docks with freighters and yachts tied up at them, parking lots with cars and trucks and buses pausing in their duties. Shipping containers ranged along the shoreline. My train waited at the landing and I gathered my belongings, dragged my suitcase on its tiny wheels, my backpack stuffed to overflowing strapped to my back, my shabby concertina box clutched under my arms. I jostled down the ramp towards the station, leaving the sleek ferryboat behind.

As I left the ramp, though, two men stepped out of the crowds toward me. One, bulky in a down coat, red-haired and grinning; the other was a black-coated priest smoking a cigarette. “Are you Mark Danielson?” the man in the coat asked.

This encounter bewildered me at the time. I wasn’t expecting to be met at the ferry, and I had taken an earlier train than the one I had planned to be on. Even now, years later, I wonder how they knew I would arrive on that ferry. Was it by chance, or had they somehow been informed? It was the first of many mysterious events that took place that year in Ireland.

I would come to know these men reasonably well over the next few days. The man with hair the Irish called “ginger” was Ryan, an American volunteer who had been running the Glencree House at 14 Wheatfield Gardens in Belfast. It was my understanding that I would be taking over his position. The priest, Father Kevin, was the Glencree representative. I would never see him without a cigarette in his mouth. I should mention right here that I’m using pseudonyms, not just to protect the identity of those I worked with, but because it was thirty years ago and I don’t always have the most accurate memory!

Father Kevin set about putting me at ease. He asked about my hometown, my family. “Do you have any Irish in yeh?” Well, no. Most of my family were German or Scandinavian. “Ah, sure, they’re all the same North Sea bastards.” I had been adopted as an Irishman pro tempore. Continue reading