When I was a teenager (about 13 or 14) I started going to music pubs regularly, once or twice a week, usually with my parents or other friends of the family, to hear the sessions and maybe even join in! Most of the people at these gatherings were rural Irish people typically from families that were large and houses that were small. Their conversation and music, their singing and dancing was their entertainment – and I loved it too!
I am sure many of our English neighbors who might have disapproving notions about Irish pubs were surprised that my parents actively encouraged me to go into these places but, when I look back, I see it as a very important part of my education. I met people whose knowledge and use of language (both their own and English) was unsurpassed, their love of music and dance and song was inspiring, and their respect for history, tradition and ritual was a great lesson to a young teenager. It was a great counter balance to the bombardment of commercialism masquerading as “culture” that most youngsters have to endure.
Soon I started to play with a ceili band, the Glenside, and played nearly every weekend at various Irish Dance Halls around London. My favourite nights were when groups of great Set dancers would show up. They were very exciting to play for and really heightened the energy of the music.
In 1966 we took part in the Ceili Band competition at the All-Ireland Fleadh in Boyle, Co. Roscommon. Although very much the “underdog” we were declared the winners. Of course, we were all thrilled at the result but we were especially delighted for the several band members who came from that part of the country.