In September 1995, I was on a visit to South Leitrim. My partner and I got taken out by a musician friend to visit an old man he knew, so we could all play a few tunes together.
It was about three-thirty in the afternoon, and the rain had just stopped when we arrived at the end of a grassed-over lane in the middle of nowhere, somewhere on the edges of Roscommon and Leitrim. Leaving the car we went through the gate, and walked across two fields full of cattle to get to the cottage.
The old man we had gone to visit was Pa McCormack. His cottage had no electricity or piped water. He lived on his own, cooked over his open fire, and kept his bacon fresh by wrapping it in dock leaves.
Inside, the cottage was dimly lit by the fading daylight through the half-door, and the glow from the peat fire. Hospitality was offered, but Pa was a bit ashamed of his cracked cups, so instead of tea we drank Guinness out of the bottle. We talked for a while, then Pa reached down his fiddle from a shelf above the fire, and played a reel.
Michael and myself produced our flutes, and our friend Gene took out his fiddle, and the four of us played into the early evening. We paused now and then for a chat, and for Pa to open a fresh bottle of Guinness and put a bit more peat on the fire. The music Pa played on the fiddle was electrifying; mainly local Leitrim/Sligo tunes, many of which (so he told us) he learned from his father.
The whole experience, with flutes and fiddles pounding out fast Sligo reels, in a run-down cottage lit by the soft, rainy light and the warm peat glow, was really eerie. It was like we had been transported back in time one hundred years. Even now, seventeen years later, I still feel awed and moved when I think about it.
I heard, a few years back, that Pa had died. I also heard that he’d had a very healthy bank balance, but had not been interested in using any of it to change anything. He was more than content living the life of a hermit, alone in the house he’d been born in, quietly farming his land and playing music from another time.