In writing these experiences down for the first part of this journal, and realizing after publishing said dross that there were many noteworthy events that escaped recollection, it has become increasingly apparent why the touring party were in a near constant state of bewilderment and mental exhaustion. The sheer quantity and variety of people, places, travel, logistics, work and general happenings presented to the travellers in a relatively short span must have put their brains into utility mode, leaving little room for reflection or recall. However, with the retelling of the adventures, many of these moments are gradually returning to us, and before heading into the next episodes of the odyssey we’ll sneak in some memories from the previous weeks that are too tremendous to omit.
The School Concert - How could we forget this! Derrick’s mother Marina hatched a plan to surprise his niece Alanah one afternoon and organized for the Pokers to perform at her school in Rochfortbridge, near Mullingar. Now, after years of playing rowdy acoustic sessions in noisy pubs, the boys take a certain pride in their ability to project their voices un-amplified, but we can tell you now that the Pokers are no match for 250 5-12 year olds singing like they are trying to blow the building down. Playing a selection of Christmas carols and classic Irish singalongs, it was impossible for us not to be swept up in the joyous energy of the tykes bursting with pre-holiday excitment. We only hope we didn’t embarrass Alanah too much!
Set Dancing at Caitins - There’s some things you just wouldn’t see at a regular gig in Australia. Between brackets at our gig in Caitins, Kerry, a cheerful group of teenagers performed a few set dances with great enthusiasm and humour. It was one of many moments where we realized that we were right in the heart of a thriving cultural tradition. The carefree attitude of the dancers made what might seem a showy spectacle come off as a perfectly natural and timely undertaking, and undoubtedly added another dimension to the merriment. Absolutely charming.
BPs Beanies! - Part of the fundraising for our recent film shoot and the tour itself was selling hand-spun and hand-knitted beanies crafted by Ben and Toby’s mums, Patti and Helen. One of the many ways in which Caroline, Sharon Buckley and Kirstie (Toby’s partner, visiting from England) helped us make the most of this tour was in the promotion and sales of these delightfully quirky warmers. There were just too many great photos of them on various heads turning up to not give ‘em a mention.
Week 3 - Hanging in there
Christmas Day was upon us, and The Pokers were to be hosted with the greatest festive spirit and generosity by the Buckley family in Mullingar. Before this happened, however, there was the matter of a local ritual to attend to - a winter’s morning plunge into Lough Owel. While 10ºC is actually quite mild in an Irish December, it certainly isn’t ideal swimming weather. Nevertheless, the jetty and diving platform beckoned and Derrick and Caroline made the plunge, followed closely by Ben, who performed an aerial water-entry-maneuver known in Australia as the ‘bombie’ (duly adorned in the appropriate attire for the stunt - a pair of cut-off jeans he’d fashioned that morning for the purpose. An Antipodean cultural ambassador indeed). Toby’s health precluded him from participating in the the frosty feat, but he happily provided the sportspeople with technical support, locker duties, and a warming beverage upon their egress from the lake.
Not a pub
Set dancers at Caitins
Kirstie and Caroline modelling the merch
At frosty Lough Owel - the face says it all
Doing it for Australia
‘I hope you’re not wearing that to dinner!’
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After a wonderful dose of Christmas festivities, it was back to work on St. Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day) in Sean Doyne’s Pub, Glenidan, Co. Westmeath. Seconds after pulling into the carpark, we were greeted by a rousing cheer of ‘The Broken Pokerrrss!’ as a spirited group of young revelers poured out of the next car. After a moment of stunned confusion on our part, we realised that the lively crew did indeed know us, having been at Fiddler’s Green two weeks before and deeming the Pokers’ show as worthy of a good night out. A fine omen for the evening, we exchanged handshakes and laughter and then knuckled down to make sure we would repay their support with the finest tunes we could muster.
Doyne’s, like Fiddler’s and many of the other country pubs we played in, was cosy and full of community cheer, which most surely eminates from the Doyne family themselves. Sean, Mary and Sean Óg kept the bustling crowd happy from behind the bar while we played away, joined for the last set or two by a local tin whistle player, Paul, just in case the merriment wasn’t enough already. A happy return to the charms of Westmeath, though as content as we were, the itinerary had itchy feet.
In Part 1 of this travel log, mention was made of the calmly seducing quality exuded by the Blue Line of Least Travel Time, common to many mobile phone GPS apps. On our earlier trip to Kerry we learnt that the Blue Line’s promise of a peaceful, simple journey IS A TRAP AND SHOULD NEVER BE TRUSTED, at least not before zooming to a very high resolution, and perhaps consulting a cartographer’s map (sure, roads curve left and right, but sometimes also up and down, and in particular areas, sideways). What we didn’t learn from our trip to Kerry was our lesson, and accordingly used the same lazy logic to navigate towards our next destination, The Foot Inn, Burnfoot, Donegal.
From Mullingar, there is a perfectly sensible route along motorways and the like to Burnfoot, but the Blue Line was up to it’s old tricks and was having none of that. The recommended route as wild and remote as anything we’d encountered, involving more extended stretches of confusing and frightening surprises, and fewer signposts. Additionally, we were crossing back and forth into Northern Ireland where our temporary telephone SIM cards would not work, wreaking havoc on our already chaotic navigational method, damn you Blue Line! All this said, in the end we must give begrudging thanks to old Bluey, if only for directing us through some magnificent scenery which we’d never have seen travelling on the motorways (On our crazy route there were, in addition to many natural beauties, not one, but two prehistoric stone circles. Say what we may about our mischievous navigator, but that’s some pretty special sightseeing for one afternoon’s commute).
Sean Doyne’s Pub
All roads lead to Doyne’s
Paul laying down the whistle
Irish hospitality was in abundance upon our arrival at the Foot Inn. The slightly frazzled troubadours were met with an enormous tray of fresh-cut sandwiches, a big pot of tea and pints of Guinness courtesy of owner Madeleine, before being escorted to our lodgings for the night at the Devlin family residence (more on this later). A quick spruce up, and keenly off to the gig we were, dashing down the hill a with a little more eagerness than usual - a long awaited reunion in was store.
One of the pleasures of this tour was the seeing the familiar faces of our Perth friends and followers present and past, and tonight we were in for a special treat. Two friends of ours from days gone by in the Perth trad scene, Aveen Cooley of Derry and Eugene Hackett of Tyrone, made the journey with their families to Burnfoot. As well as being wonderful and charming company, these two are also stellar musicians, the kind that put a big grin on your face. For a short time the Broken Pokers grew to a five piece group, Eugene sharing banjo and mandolin duties with Ben*, and Aveen on the tin whistle - a boon for the Pokers and audience alike. Mention must also be made of the guest appearance by Keelan Arbuckle, Rose’s nephew and one of Ireland’s finest country singers. Too good Keelan. The talent on hand made for one mighty session indeed, but the fun wasn’t over when the music finished, no sirs, not in Burnfoot.
*A long running feud over plectrum ownership between the gingers was settled - a win for geopolitical diplomacy, banjo-wise. See photo
With Aveen Cooley
Eugene fires out a tune
With our Burnfoot host, Rose Devlin
Keelan Arbuckle killing it
Led by our hosts Rose and George, a convoy of taxis ferried what seemed like half the pub back to their house for a late night shindig, and while the bards themselves were all completely exhausted and inevitably packed it in, the Devlins and co. fired on till sunrise. We woke with a lingering feeling that we’d perhaps let our hosts down in party terms, but any guilt was quickly put to rest by the cheerfully indefatigable Rose, running on only a few hours sleep yet still up and cooking a hearty breakfast to fuel us for our next jaunt. We took a moment to absorb the spectacular rural views and hit the motorway - yes, motorway Bluey, you devious scamp - back to the Midlands.
Staying in Mullingar had brought back many memories for Derrick, particularly of the early days of his music career and the musicians and venues that shaped his formative years as a budding rock star. He regaled us with tales of a legendarily wild gig played at a famed local live music institution with a knock-together band named Rubber Dukky, and upon securing a gig for the Pokers at the venue’s latest incarnation, Derrick assured us that this would be our most spectacular and memorable show. In his words, “That’s gonna be the one…that’s gonna be the one.” Loading in to The Stables @ Smiddy’s Bar straight off the road from Donegal, the anticipation began to rise, which was handy, as tour fatigue had the troubadours seriously depleted. Any spark of excitement was much welcomed.
True to Derrick’s reckoning, the evening shaped up to be a unique gig in a unique tour. Unlike the cosy pubs to which we’d become accustomed during our time in Ireland, The Stables was well appointed for a show-like performance, with a stage and lights and, thanks to old mate Frank Byrne, we were able to augment our trusty compact PA to provide a more impressive sound. Once Derrick’s brother Alan (also Rubber Dukky alumni) had decoded the stage lighting to provide that extra fancy touch, we dashed home, scrubbed up, and returned to yet another happy surprise. Not to be outdone by Burnfoot, Mullingar dished up another serving of home-from-home friends, with Geraldton, Western Australia residents Derrick, Lynnette and family catching the train up from Dublin to meet us at Smiddys, as well as ex-Perthian Siobhan popping up out of the blue, smiles and cheer all round.
The ample stage at Smiddys - what a joy
One more gig Boby, one more gig……
It being our second to last gig of the tour, we decided to reflect on our time on the road with a song or two from each county/town/city we’d visited, and took the night on from there. The venue filled up nicely, and we finally felt we’d proven ourselves, especially after noticing a few more local faces from earlier Westmeath gigs. With this in mind we set out to enjoy the show from our own perspective, play some of our personal favourites to the lovely, receptive crowd, and generally have a marvelous time of it all.
ONE MORE TUNE, ONE MORE TUNE (one more gig)
To paraphrase Britney Spears, “Hit me Boggans, One More Time”. In what turned out to be a perfect and way to wrap up our Irish odyssey, we played the only show where we knew the location of the front door prior to loading in. Small mercies were welcome at this stage.
Soon enough, Boggans Pub filled up in a fashion poignantly representative of gigs from the entire trip. There were punters young and old, new and returning, convinced and sceptical; there were families, sports teams, musicians, loners and revelers; there were familiar faces from Australia and new friends from Ireland. There were stories and laughs, misunderstandings and connections. A big crazy bi-cultural soup. We hope you all had as much fun as we did. We’ll be back.
This trip was made possible and enjoyable by many people, so we’ll do a brief but sincere thanks to our friends and followers in Perth and Ireland for their suggestions and contacts, and for supporting our fundraiser concert; Ollie Carroll for being our trans-continental liaison and turning the suggestions into bookings; The Buckley family in Mullingar - we can’t begin to explain how helpful, generous and welcoming you all were; Caroline for your patience and moral compass hahaha, you were a great travel companion and calming influence on the rascals; our generous hosts while we were far from the ‘Gar, the Golden and Devlin families, and of course all of the people that came to see us in Ireland, because “that’s what it’s all about….Aaaalll do the Hokey Pokey!”.
We made it! (to both our destination and then back to our beloved Perth). We’re all stunned and bewildered by the feats and adventures of our Irish jaunt, and so without further ado, here’s the best of them…
How Not to Travel
If one were preparing to embark on an Important Trip involving a long haul aeroplane flight, the transportation of 120kgs of fragile and expensive baggage, three weeks of performances in unfamiliar venues with equally unfamiliar equipment, and 1500kms driving on roads of mild to severe treacherousness, common sense would dictate that one might be well-rested and schedule an appropriate pre-journey allowance of time for unforeseen contingencies. An alternative to such preparation would be to work oneself to the bone, barely sleep in the days preceding, depart to the airport FROM A GIG , ‘securely’ pack one’s instrument using a steak knife from the pub to fashion a handler-proof package, and quite nearly leave one’s passport at said pub. The Pokers (well, mostly Ben) chose the latter option and proved that common sense is not the only path to success.
The posse arrived in Dublin intact and full of hope with all of their luggage excepting their instruments, which as it happened were in the Middle East. A minor setback, and the intrepid travellers agreed upon staging an a capella concert series. Thankfully for the good people of Ireland the instruments were retrieved and duly delivered. This was indeed also fortunate for our troubadours, as the Broken Pokers Choral Tour would certainly have resulted in their proverbial swan song.
Nollaig Shona! The yuletide spirit did become us in this wondrous place.
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Derrick leads a tour of Mullingar
The Star of Bethlehem?
Ok, it’s the moon, not the Star of Bethlehem above Mullingar we see pictured here. The editor demands that we return to the 21st century.
Week 1 - The Bucolic Life
If there were ever a place to begin a rural tour of Ireland, it would have to be the locality of Streete, Co. Westmeath, and its wonderful hub, The Fiddlers Green. A row of mobile phones decorated the one windowsill where intermittent reception could be had, and the wifi password at the venue was ‘We have no wifi’. Though warmly welcomed by proprietor Jim, as an Irish trad band made up of two-thirds Australians we were unsure how we’d be received until the place filled up with patrons aged 18-80 and we were asked for the ditty ‘A Home Among the Gum Trees’ as rendered by Australia’s own John Williamson. Streete, you’ve won our hearts.
In contrast, Clarkes Bar in Mullingar had excellent wifi, but by no means did this mean that the hospitality was any less genuine (I seem to have presumed an inverse relationship between internet reception and good times). Owners Kieran and Carole made us very welcome, so much that it became a regular watering hole during our stay. A wonderfully spirited crowd helped us to lift the roof and settle into our new home from home. The singing and dancing provided by the staff of Quality Tractor Parts was exemplary, and bolstered the band with a bit of up-and-at-em spirit for the next adventure, and adventure it most certainly was.
The road to Athboy conjures up many varied memories… “Oh wow there’s so much to look at, picturesque doesn’t even start to AAARGH!! THE GROUND IS FALLING AWAY! WHO PUT THAT CORNER THERE AND FOR WHAT PURPOSE!! I THINK IT’S A MESSAGE!!! COW!!!!!”. And then there’s Alfies where, like the aforementioned road, they don’t do things by halves. At the helm were Aaron and Hazel, casually guiding the chaos with confident grace. The booze was flying, the craic was ninety, and we met a senator from the Oireachtas (the Irish Parliament), so we can only presume that Alfies is the place where big ideas are born. To top it off, Toby was delighted to find out that his stool was to be positioned right by the pokie machine. That boy does love a flutter.
Fiddlers Green - our first gig in Ireland
Chatting with the locals at Fiddlers Green
In full swing, dancing-wise
Mid-song chit chat (?!?)
‘All together now…’
Toby takes a punt
Week 2 - The Ridiculous Itinerary
Our entire strategy for this tour was something along the lines of ‘let’s book tickets to Ireland and then play anywhere that will have us’. We were flooded with suggestions and leads from our friends and fans, and as our calendar filled up we were quite chuffed with ourselves. The idea that the hardest work was over started to seep into our consciousness, especially after the first week of shows which had been relatively forgiving in terms of navigational demands and hours on the road. Accordingly, and with a smart slap from reality, this notion was laid to waste when we plotted the second week’s itinerary, a beast to behold. Steeling ourselves, we aimed the wagon towards destinations far from the haven of Derrick’s home town of Mullingar - the odyssey proper had begun.
In keeping with the rural focus of the tour we landed next at Campbell’s Tavern, situated very much by itself outside of Headford in County Galway. While appearing to be a simple building from the outside, the interior of Campbell’s is a delightfully bewildering maze with surprises round every corner - including a rehearsing choir - and even after many hours spent there we still were getting lost. Host Willie Campbell showed us to our seats and soon after we were met by a roomful of friends old and new for an intimate session, joined by our travel companion/photographer/moral compass Caroline Perks for a rousing rendition or three.
We did promise adventure and chaos, and on this day it came in the form of accommodation and transport. Due to unforeseen events our resting place for the night became unavailable the morning of our departure for Galway, and so between landing at the venue and the performance time we scrambled for ideas, debated at length our various options and scraped in reservations for a few beds in Headford by a whisker. Relieved and thirsty, we left the car in town and were kindly driven to the venue by a local publican. Now, it must be said that the idea of ‘nearby’ is relative - 2kms is a lovely evening stroll in balmy Perth, but it becomes an entirely different kind of fish dinner in temperatures of 2 degrees and relentless rain, and another mix-up had us donning the hats and braving the wet road home at the night’s end. Mercifully, our sodden selves were spotted halfway down the road by another friendly local who, after removing a baby seat from her car, ferried us to safety. A nightcap was in order, after which followed a robust debate on the rules and protocols of travel, and then, finally, the troubadours (as christened by Willie) succumbed to exhaustion.
With the sun setting at 4:30pm, shows starting at 10pm, and our arrival at any given venue always being in darkness, any overnight stay meant that the scene at daybreak was a complete surprise, and almost always a pleasant and invigorating one at that. After retrieving our equipment from Campbells in the morning we couldn’t help but pose for a few pastoral themed snaps, and don’t we look fetching.
Three brave men
Session at Campbells, Galway
Cosy is the word
Session at Campbells
Definitely not farmers
How’s about ye?
There’s always one…
The Pokers feat. Caroline en route to Headford: a quick one in Seans Bar, Athlone
Galway city beckoned, and with a gap in the calendar we enjoyed a night in its famous cobbled streets, taking in a swift dose of music and urban vitality before traversing the country to our next show at Garvey’s in Silverbridge, County Armagh. Once again we arrived in unfamiliar territory with some trepidation as to how we would be received, but manager Eamonn and owner/namesake Brendan Garvey quickly put this to rest with one of the warmest welcomes we could hope for. In Brendan’s emphatic words, ‘Any friend of Kieran Campbell’s (of Perth) is a friend of mine!’. As we set the stage we couldn’t help but notice a sea of red festive jumpers worn by some very spirited ladies who began shouting song requests before we’d even played a note. The Happy Faces Day Care Christmas Party was a powerful phenomenon - joyous, raucous and slightly dangerous. As this is more or less the motto of The Broken Pokers we couldn’t have been more pleased that Fiona and her entourage chose to stay on at Garvey’s rather than continue to another venue as planned, and thanks to them we have witnessed the spectacle of air-tin-whistle, Armagh’s answer to air-guitar. The hospitality was continued through to the conclusion of the night, upon which it took the form of a hair-raisingly high speed shuttle to our accommodation, courtesy of Garvey’s evidently fearless staff.
The Australia/Ireland connection was in play again the following night at Jimmy Boggans Pub, as we were referred here by Jimmy’s son James who had been taking guitar lessons from Ben in Perth - cheers to James and Jimmy alike! The vision of this establishment is one that can not be forgotten, and we’re glad we could tick off having played under a thatched roof* during our trip. Derrick’s family were out in full force to cheer us on, adding to a full complement of lively locals. To top it off, a very talented tin whistle player rendered a poignant version of ‘The Lonesome Boatman’. We left Boggans happy in the knowledge that we’d return the next week for our only repeat show of the tour.
*An interesting aside - while admiring the building Derrick’s brother Alan explained to us that in times gone by family pets would nestle in thatched roofs such as this one at Boggans, but when it rained heavily they would be washed out, hence the phrase ‘raining cat and dogs’. Well, there you go.
The following day we embarked upon the longest leg of a long week’s journey (until the unplanned and definitely longer return trip). We eventually met our friend Anne Golden in Co. Kerry, 4 1/2 hours south of our location, after doing our best to reconcile the simple, guiding blue line of Google Maps with the diabolical indifference of reality (credit where credit is due to our drivers Derrick, Toby and Sharon). We arrived at Caitin’s Pub, Kells, in darkness as per usual, but clues as to the surrounding terrain were gleaned from fleeting glimpses of sheer rock faces on one side, and a stone wall and not much else on the other. Later on we were told it’s better for the nerves if you can’t see anything but the road. Greeted in this somewhat forbidding and isolated place by publican Jack Golden, it wasn’t long before the good people of Kerry filled the hillside pub with warmth and cheer. The conversations flowed, connections were made, and the music began. We gave a rendition of a song penned recently by Anne about her ancestor John Golden, ‘From Geringong to Kells’ , a special moment considering the large extended family present, not to mention the monument to the song’s protagonist just down the road.
Where Headford’s morning views had been gentle and bucolic, the scene we awoke to in Kells was something much wilder and less forgiving, all ocean and mountains and death-defying sheep. Upon leaving we thanked Jack for having called the clouds off so we could revel in the brutal glory of it all. Due to Toby’s insistence that we visit the nearby town of Sneem (based purely on a strange fascination with the name) we enjoyed a great deal more of these inspiring views while traversing the Ring of Kerry, a worthy detour on our way back to Mullingar where, 5 hours later, we decided that we hadn’t played enough music for the week and rounded out Christmas Eve with a great session in Clarkes Bar alongside Derrick’s musical comrades from days of yore. No rest for the wicked, they say. (Note to self: Sneem is awesome - Ed.)
Caitins, Kerry - what a wild spot
Christmas Eve on The Ring of Kerry
A pint at Rineys in Sneem
Toby and the local legend Declan Byrne at the Clarkes session
Christmas Eve chaos
Part 2 coming next week…