FolkWorld #51 07/2013
© Seán Laffey


Sanity In a World Gone Strange.

There is a method behind these first words. The first words are written last, when the harvest of stories is gathered in. I try to reflect on the common themes in the interviews. Sometimes outside events have a habit of knocking that strategy off-kilter.

So it was with the sorry tale of the Boston marathon bombing. Our immediate thoughts went out to friends over in Boston, a city I'm fond of. If you've ever stood next to the statue of Sam Adams, had a pint of his beer, eaten a bowl of chowder in Faneuil Hall, walked the campus at Boston College or sheltered under the trees at Harvard, you'll have an understanding of the deep history of the city.


Head a little out of town and you'll discover the tough but honest Irish neighbourhoods on the south side. I recall a mad taxi ride around those suburbs with Tommy Fleming, both of us fresh off the plane; we were looking for an authentic Irish bar. Our taxi driver knew a few dens of iniquity, in fact that's all he seemed to know. He didn't have the intimate knowledge you get as an accustomed blow-in to the city. A half dozen bars sussed, rejected and $90 lighter we were back in our hotel.

What we needed was an immigrant to guide us, that everyman or woman who has the knack of getting you into the places where everyone knows your name.

When we heard the bomber was holed up in Watertown, we felt for the Irish community, locked down and not connecting. We know Somerville's Davis Square is the place to connect and anyone from Ireland will eventually make it to the Burren pub which is run by fiddler Tommy McCarthy, the genial Irish-Londoner. It was a haven on my first trip to Boston. It became a home from home and on the final Sunday we enjoyed a relaxed lunchtime session, so relaxed I forgot to take home my prized bodhrán... that was 15 years ago, but I live in hope someone will find it and return it.

The point is of course, hunting out bars like Tommy's is a natural thing to do for immigrants. The quarry isn't the drink but that connection with home, a place where news is more intense, more personal than anything you'd get on social media. It is one reason why bars like the Burren continue to flourish. The Music they play there does you good too.

Holed-up in a new country, in a strange town, confronted with different customs and unusual food, a reel or an old Clancy ballad is all that you need to remind you, that even in a melting pot of 300 million souls, your identity is still intact.

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