I love lots of music. Bluegrass, American folk and traditional Irish music are among my favourites, and to listen to the talent and skill of Jim Rooney, Mick Daly and Arty McGlynn last Saturday was a privilege. The fact that I got to draw them too… well, it was just a bonus.
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Saturday night and you’re driving along country roads lined with hedgerows on steroids – they’re basically Godzillas of hedges and wild flowers, exploding with life. Everything is intense green. In the dusk you see a most unprepossessing building with a green door. It’s Ballinderreen Community Centre, in deepest South Galway, home of movie screenings of hurling matches, zumba and pilates classes, visits from Santy in December and Easter egg hunts in April. But last Saturday it held a most unusual trio. They are three of the most amazing musicians I’ve heard, and were joined by a special guest with a voice of honey. The musicians were Mick Daly on banjo and vocals, Jim Rooney on guitar and vocals and Arty McGlynn on guitar and vocals. The special guest was Seán Keane, and anyone who has heard him sing the May Morning Dew knows what it means to come from rural Ireland. Jim Rooney has lived music all his life, and is a folk singer in the vein of Hank Williams, Pete Seeger and others, and has produced Nanci Griffiths and many more; Mick Daly sings so beautifully, plays banjo like he was born to it and has been a fixture on the traditional Irish music scene for forty years, and Arty McGlynn, traditional Irish music royalty, plays sweet and gentle and makes your heart stir with passion with his guitar when it resonates so deeply. Jim and his wife Carol have spent the best part of twenty summers here in Killeenaran, but have recently returned to live in the States permanently. He’s just published his memoir, In It For The Long Run, and he was launching it before the concert on Saturday night. Early last Tuesday morning, five days before the concert, there was a knock at my door. It was Mattie Larkin, a neighbour of Jim’s in Killeenaran. “Would you paint something for Jim Rooney?” asked Mattie. “We want to make a presentation to him on Saturday night at the concert. I know it’s short notice…” “I’d be delighted to,” I said. “I’ve just finished a job, I’m gasping to get out of here and it’s a beautiful day.” I run an illustrated wedding invitation business, and by that Tuesday morning I had been sticking invitations together for 72 hours, taking breaks only to eat, sleep and do things mothers have to do with kids at weekends. The floor of my studio was littered with the leavings of 180 invitations’ worth of double-sided sticky tape, most of which seemed to have missed the bin. My fingers were sore from folding and tacky from glue and I had just packed up the last invitation when Mattie arrived. We knew just what to paint – Jim must have walked along the road that leads to Killeenaran Pier about a million times. I spent the next few hours in wind and sun painting the beautiful bay at the top of the road leading down to the pier. I’m getting more splashy and less particular as a watercolourist, thanks to the years of urban sketching, because you’re frequently under pressure to fire off a drawing in ten or fifteen minutes. It’s a long, thin panoramic painting but here’s the far left-hand side of it:
Part of the deal was a pair of tickets to the concert, which I had been planning on going to anyway. Besides, I am completely addicted to sitting out with my paints with nothing but the sky for a ceiling, so I couldn’t have been happier. My friend Andrea Lippert lives quite close to me down another beautiful country road, and she makes beautiful frames, so I was thrilled when she reckoned she could just about squeeze in a frame for the painting before Saturday. The concert opened up with a group of local musicians, Sue Fahy on fiddle, Ellen and Mary Wiseman on guitar and vocals and Fintan O’Malley on percussion. Ellen sang All Of Me and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. Here are Sue and Mary – I didn’t get the others in, which is a pity!
Now, I’ve drawn in lots of places. I’m not shy, and I stopped feeling self-conscious about drawing in public years ago. But for some reason I was self-conscious as I drew these ladies. It may have been the fact that I was in the front row, just a few feet in front of them, or perhaps because I wasn’t sure whether they knew I’d be drawing them, or maybe because I was the only one drawing in a room full of people sitting in rows behind and to either side of me. But my husband said to me quietly that I’d better get used to overcoming that…so I just drew. Four and a half hours after my husband and I arrived in the Community Centre in Ballinderreen, we were sorry to have to leave, full of tea and scones and the warmth of sharing music with our lovely neighbours. The weather had broken and it was pouring rain. I stood in the doorway with another lady whose husband, like mine, had gone to get the car. We smiled at each other, obviously both feeling a bit guilty. “Sure that’s what husbands are for,” she said. Afterwards, I thought about Jim, who became very emotional during the concert as he reflected on his long and happy life of love and music. “I’ve been so very blessed,” he said. And I thought about painting in the sun and wind, and surrounded by beautiful music to my ears, and I thought how blessed I am too. Róisín Curé