A Wheel Of Klezorim

Allow me to recall the culmination of events in the village of Mountshannon, on the western shore of Lough Derg. On this night in the early hours of June 2 2008, perhaps a hundred souls or more, most born and bred there, many others long blown in, a few for the first time, danced with abandon into the dawn.
It had been a glorious May. The warmest in over a century and that rarest thing, you could trust the weather. The countryside seemed to excel itself in natural bounty. After so many days most everybody had started to look well and be comfortable in their skins. Out on the fields, the first cut was taken and things could wind down for a bit. On this particular Sunday night, the air was the warm side of mild and everybody seemed to be out.
The Clare hurlers had won down in Waterford earlier in the day (Bugler scored a point) and many stopped in on their way back. The holiday homes were full of visitors from every part of Ireland and the harbour jammed with boating merrymakers. Being the Bank Holiday, it was the big night of the annual Arts Festival and this year’s headline band was playing in the parish hall. The hotel and the two pubs were mad busy and many took their stools to chat outside. All these things were in play you see, in the making of the Pure Drop. The gig in the hall ended and disposed the street with yet more people. There was much talk of the extraordinary music just heard in the hall, that the band were mad for a pint and would, maybe, play a few more tunes, if the village wouldn’t mind. Sure enough, down they came; accordion, banjo, clarinet, trombone, tuba, double bass, fiddles, guitar, these “klezmorim” (for that is what players of klezmer music are called) from Dublin. The North Strand Klezmer Band. And Klezmer music? Well, think big Jewish wedding or maybe hot club jazz. Very expressive good time music, waltzes, polkas. Here is the scene after midnight. A full town in great form and a Klezmer Band skulling pints outside Keane’s Bar & Lounge. Their immediate thirst quenched and the promise of more to come, the band uncase their instruments and strike up. Bizarre and exotic notes sway together to the rhythms of the Balkans and beyond. Banter gives way to listening, feet are compelled to move. The crowd grows onto the street and merges with the gang sitting outside Cois Na hAbhna. Some people start to dance up and down and across the road and a kind of permission is granted by the night for others to join in, sure there’s no traffic at this hour. The patrons from the Hotel wander down. Hands start to join, the band are hooshed into the middle of the road and play in the centre of this great wheel of people, first moving in one direction, then jumping up and moving in the opposite direction. Like a village in Crete liberated by the Allies they danced to the driving rhythms, on and on, until the lavender light spread from the east and the crowd melted to their beds at dawn, exhausted.
As for the band, they retired to the boat rented for them to sleep in and were last seen out in the bay, cruising in a great circle in front of Bushy Island, playing through the sunrise, the strains of Klezmer heard clear across the still water. The next day, nobody could be sure it actually happened. But it did, for those few hours and I was there. A small community united in heartfelt bonhomie, the Pure Drop indeed.