Musicians in a cave

I had just put the mornings Homity Pie in the oven, ready for lunch guests at the café. It was about 11 o’clock and I walked outside into the sunshine and there was Andrea from Germany who had stayed at our house in Dingle. She had stayed at The Boathouse, as a B and B guest, despite the fact that we were not a B and B, and I had done her a rather quirky breakfast too. It comprised of the seaweed Laver, hand picked from Binn Bán, fried with oil, slivers of bacon and soy sauce. With this I added some tomatoes and Soda bread to normalise it a bit. She had considered it a genuine Irish cultural experience. I felt she wanted the opposite of a package holiday and so that is what we gave her. We had got on enormously well and I had half expected to see her on the island – now here she was.

We greeted and she introduced me to a young lady roughly my age named Ann-Marie. They were friends and so I treated Ann-Marie as a friend too. We talked, laughed and nattered, then I asked them where they had met each other. “We met on the ferry“, Ann-Marie said. “Oh really, but you don’t mean today?“ I said. “Yes, Andrea just started talking to me, and said she was going to stay the night on the island, and she told me about you and your mother“. I was so surprised. They seemed so friendly together that I could hardly believe it. Next Ann-Marie told me that while Andrea would be staying the night, she had to go back on the last boat. I remember that I bluntly told her not to. She listened to me, which I found unusual, and so I continued with the vein, and told her how wonderful it was having the island to yourself when the boats had gone, with just a handful of people on the island. "How many will there be?“ I made a mental note, and counted 6 or 7, and told her so. I might also have mentioned that the island wanted her to stay – it is quite likely I did.

Looking back, it was either the island that wanted her to stay or it was my express love of the Irish fiddle, something which Ann-Marie had with her and which she admitted she was liable to play. Memories of Irish females playing the fiddle, in pubs, outside cafes, on city streets and on this island, will always remain with me as somehow uniquely and magically Irish.

Ann-Marie decided to stay the night. She and Andrea came into the café that evening. Fran was there too, with his flute, and Ann-Marie and he developed an immediate musical rapport. They played very well indeed, and I began to realise that we actually had a bit of a superfine fiddle player with us.

Later that evening she told me how it was quite odd for her to be so friendly with me, being English, because although she wasn’t anti British some of her good friends in Dublin were, and had been to strong, ultra Republican rallies. She said she had not really ever had an English friend. She seemed so open about it, and so apologetic that in a way I didn’t want to tell her that I was born and raised in Ireland, and was essentially both Irish and English. We talked long into the night, then in the morning she left for the next stop on her ‘ voyage to Irish islands ‘, which she had just begun. She was going now to the Aran islands, and then to Tory Island in Donegal, with possibly one in Mayo too, which I can’t remember. She promised to come back in two months time, in August. There was something in her promise which made me believe it utterly. We had gotten to know each other very well in just twenty four hours.

Two months later Ann-Marie returned, very refreshed from her island holidays. It was good to see her. My hair had grown a lot apparently, and perhaps needed a comb! She had stayed in touch with Andrea and had come over with her and Rob, a very good guitarist, He was a nice man whom Andrea and myself both knew. Rob didn’t bring a guitar but upon seeing mine he immediately tuned it, as I always played an out of tune guitar. He and Ann-Marie were then sitting on the long blue bench outside the café and immediately started playing. We were treated to two very lively jigs, then in-between tunes I interrupted them with a proposition

Anyone who knows me at all well knows I like adventures. It is an impulse I cannot restrain, and once I remember I asked someone to let me out of a car at night so that I could explore a village we were passing. It was a place where I had spent some of my childhood. It was about twenty miles from my home and I was, in the end, persuaded not to, but I felt like I had curtailed something awesome when I decided to relent. I do not know where this comes from in me, but it is likely to do with the fact that I spent my secondary school years on the island of Tresco in the Isles of Scilly, an island two and a half miles long and one mile wide. I got to know every little bit of Tresco, and so when myself and another friend from the Scilly’s arrived on the mainland of Cornwall we both developed the habit of making long, sometimes five hour long excursions into the, for us, expansive and mystical areas surrounding our homes. Our night walks became a compulsion and I think they account for my sense of adventure as it was very much the hobby of my formative years. Anyway, my proposal was for all of us to go down to the cave which I had recently found since Ann-Marie’s first visit, and to take our instruments and play them down there.

I remember a very brief discussion and then Ann-Marie adventurously agreed. Since she agreed the other two felt it to be okay too. The older, more cautious two seemed to remember their youth. I told my Mother and off we went.

The entrance to the cave at the northern tip of the island, was near enough to the beach but no-one ever visited it on account of its entrance being invisible from the cliff, and access to the miniature bay it was in being just a little too treacherous for holiday makers. My charges looked down into the bay and I could not tell what they were thinking, but to alleviate any doubt as to the safety I went to the edge of the cliff and took my shoes off, left them on the grass and walked down the thin cliff path in a demonstration. Near to the bottom, I shouted up that it would enable them to have better grip if they took their footwear off. They came down, I believe Rob was first, and he had his shoes tied together and dangling around his neck. He transported the guitar down with surprising ease. Then came the other two. None of us had actually stepped onto the shore yet because it involved ourselves lowering ourselves down. I remember Ann-Marie asked me if I was sure we would be able to get back up once down there, and I replied with confidence in the affirmative. That seemed good enough for her and down we went.

We then all walked to the tiny entrance into the cave. We were all very impressed for this cave is complete with a large-scale, arched sea entrance. It looks perfect with the water filling up half the archway, and it was low tide, so we could see and walk on the small pebbly interior. It was heaven. The pebbles were all blue, green and red, sometimes faint yellow, ovals of egg size and they looked like Jasper pieces to me. There were three further interior tunnels to explore, and most of the interior could be explored because the ceiling was above head height.

It was only the third time I had been in here, the first being the time I found it and the second being the very next day afterwards when I told a German lady named Siegried all about it. She was enormously interested and decided she would dive off the cliff and enter it via the sea entrance. She invited me too, but I was working. However, as I watched her walk down toward the beach I decided that the café could miss me for an hour, and in a matter of ten seconds I had grabbed my towel, told my Mother what I was doing and then I was running down the hill to catch her up. It was particularly nice to enter the cave this way, and I did so again later in the year with Bid and Fran’s son, Merlin, in the week that he visited. The only other memory I have of the cave is with Miira, a lady from Finland, who I also told about the cave. We found ourselves walking towards it and I thought she just wanted to view it and see where it was, because she had a baby of about six months with her! But no, she seemed to want to go right inside. We stayed at the top thinking for a little while and then I offered to look after her son while she went in. She turned to me with eyes beaming. “ Oh would you ? “ She knew my Mother very well so she obviously trusted me. I had never looked after a baby before in my life and as I watched Miira walk down the cliff-face, and enter the cave, I wondered how I might have to explain to the little toddler how I had sent his Mother to her death! but it was only a little thought, mostly I was just happy to see this young Mother being able to do the things she wanted. She was very good and came back out of the cave in just over five minutes. Her “Thank you Simon“ was a beaming thank you, and very sincere.

Inside the cave Rob, Andrea, Ann-Marie and myself sat down in a dry spot within the biggest tunnel. I got out my Dictaphone and pressed record. The light was an issue but I was with two very competent musicians and they seemed un-phased. The first sounds of the fiddle with its emissive F note appearing just as the waves crash into the cave with their low sound is something I have listened to almost a hundred times. It is a Yiddish tune which I asked Ann-Marie specifically to play (and which, years later, meeting in Temple Bar, we were astonished to hear as the first tune played by the band that night!), and the waves sounds which compliment it throughout made it a very memorable recording. Also, as percussion, I am knocking two of the jasper pebbles together as she and Rob play.

I remember that Ann-Marie stayed up all that night walking the island, at least that is what she told me. I was up early the next morning and she had not slept. Instead she seemed to have given her heart to the island, and it had given itself to her. It was one of the most beautiful things to see; a young woman at peace, knowing herself intimately and feeling expansive, exuberant – all because of a connection she had made with the earth, the air, the sky, the sea, the animals and people.

We sat on a bench outside the café that morning. We were the only two there because it was very early and no boats had arrived yet. She asked me for some paper and a pen. I supplied her with them and sat opposite her, intrigued. She wrote down on the paper and I had a feeling I was watching her write a letter to me. She was to be leaving on the first boat, so it made it a possibility. I faced the beach and she faced the main hill of the island. I do not remember any words said as she handed me the note. I don’t even know if I read it then or if I saved it for later. I know that I put it in my back pocket though, because whenever I get this letter out to read I am reminded of the sea and how I nearly lost it by going for a swim later that same day! I must have spontaneously gone in wearing my trousers.

I know that the letter had a big effect on me though, as the most poignant piece for me reads:

”If I owned this island
I would give it all to you,
for I think you are a part of it
and it is a part of you.”

©: Simon Francis Hambrook.

The Green Dragon No 13

Baile / Hafan / Home