Summer is late at Lake Superior, but Autumn comes early. It’s about 11°C/50°F today, and the wind is whipping rollers and whitecaps on the lake. Great thunderstorms roll in in the evenings, knocking out the phone lines. The skies are grey. The campers and the college-student rangers have gone home. The animals are gobbling the rest of the harvest before winter.
It feels like the west of Ireland, like mornings walking the windy cliffs in Kilshannig, Co. Kerry. Last night I cooked up a dinner that would shock my mother, who thinks my tastes are dainty: what we call “a big feed of bacon and cabbage and spuds” (boiled ham hock). I saved the ham stock for soups all week.
At night I read the Brehon Laws and Brian Merriman’s poetry (and because I have the best sister in the world, I’m about to get an Amazon package with the Seamus Heaney translation I wanted). The stereo is stacked, five CDs deep, with Irish music, though I hardly realised until I listened to them all through. On No Prima Donna, a Van Morrison tribute album, I listen to Liam Neeson’s spoken-word cover of “Coney Island” (the real Coney Island, in Van’s northern Ireland). It is rapturous. If Lou Reed were Irish, this is how “Perfect Day” would have sounded. Suddenly I want to be drinking Guinness with soft-spoken people again. (You can get the MP3 here.)
On the same album, Sinéad O’Connor sings “You Make Me Feel So Free”, whispery Colin Farrell vocals backed by an over-the-top orchestra. I have a love-hate relationship with Sinéad, the poster child for neurotic Irish women, and this cover is dreadful. No amount of Nelson Riddle strings will convince me that she has ever felt free in her religion-addled life.
A Tired & Emotional Mary Coughlan takes modern Ireland to a Midnight Court of her own on her smoky Galway blues albums: “I want tah be se-jooced,” she purrs in an accent straight out of Ringaskiddy. She was faintly scandalous when I was growing up in the 1980s: a thirtysomething single mother, a blousy redhead who sang about drinkin’ and smokin’ and _men_. Gay Byrne clucked like an old hen whenever she was on _The Late Late Show_. Ireland has changed so much.
It is fourteen months since I was in Ireland, the longest I’ve ever gone without a visit. Time to go back soon. In the meantime, I’m halfway there.