My Guest today is Claire Fullerton, touring with her new book DANCING TO AN IRISH REEL. I’ve read lots of what I call Rock Romance, so I was attracted to Claire’s book because it wasn’t about rock and roll musicians but traditional Irish music artists. I thought this would be something different for you all!
I’ve had many people ask about the picture on my author page where I’m standing against a gray stone wall on a windswept day, in the middle of an Irish field, with what are obviously the ruins of a monastery behind me. Observant people have said to themselves, “Wait, there’s a ruined monastery behind her, why is her back turned as she looks into the camera, holding a set of keys in her hand as if it were the bigger focal point?” I’m so glad to have been asked.
We kind of knew where we were heading, my friend Tama and I, and by that I mean we had a loose plan with regard to how we were going to spend the afternoon in Gort, Ireland. We’d been freewheeling across the countryside in a rented car the size of a match box with its steering wheel on the right side while we drove on the left of the two-lane road as if trying to best a test for dyslexia.
Tama is a devout Catholic who has a thing about historic churches, which is why we couldn’t have adhered to a plan had we had one. “Stop,” Tama would shout every time we spied one of the dim, ominous structures off in the distance. We’d scratch the gravel driveway and wander inside, our solitary footsteps crossing the marble floor in a tread- ye- lightly and humble yourself echo off the cavernous vaulted ceiling. We did this so many times that after a sweep inside, I’d take to wandering the halcyon graveyards to read the Irish inscriptions, while Tama would light a red votive candle and fall to her knees.
I thought I was alone in the yard when a voice came from behind me. “Have you found your way to Kilmacduagh monastery?” I turned to find a young woman taking in my outlander attire of three quarter down jacket and rubber soled shoes. “It’s just up the road there,” she said pointing, “when you go, just knock on the door of the middle house and ask Lily for the keys.”
I was standing behind Tama when she knocked on the front door of a low slung house on a sparsely populated lane. Across the lane, placid fields of damp clover shimmered in the afternoon mist as far as the eye could see. There atop, a series of interspersed ruins jutted in damp metal-gray: some without roofs, some with wrought-iron gates, and one in particular beside an impressively tall stone spire with two windows cut in vertical slashes above a narrow door raised high from the ground. Immediately the front door opened, and a pair of blue water eyes gave us the once over with an inquisitive, “Yes?”
“Are you Lily? We’re here for the keys,” Tama said. “The keys, is it? Just a moment there,” the woman said, and after closing the door, she opened it seconds later to hand us a set of long metal keys. “Just slip them through the door slot when you’re through,” she said, closing the door with a quick nod.
I can’t say there was any indication of which key went to what among the cluster of gates and doors throughout the 7th century monastery called Kilmacduagh, but we figured it out. I was so tickled over the keys that I couldn’t get over it. “Is this weird?” I said to Tama, “We could be anybody! It’s not that there’s anything anybody could steal, but that’s not the point.” I could wax rhapsody over the hours we spent unlocking gates and pushing through doors in the eerie, hallowed grounds, but that’s not my point either. My point is that’s Ireland for you: a stranger offering directions without being asked, Lily handing over the keys like an afterthought, and Tama and I trolling the grounds of sacred space when nobody else was around. But suddenly a German couple appeared as we were on our way back up the lane. They looked at us wide eyed and queried, “What is this place?”
“It’s a 7th century monastery,” I said, “here, take the keys and slip them through that door when you’re through.”
(For pictures, see https://www.facebook.com/clairefullertonauthor)
Dancing to an Irish Reel
by Claire Fullerton
Genre: Romantic Fiction
Publisher: Vinspire Publishing Date of Publication: March 3, 2015
Number of pages: 220 Word Count: 63,000
Cover Artist: Elaina Lee for the Muse Designs
When twenty-five year old Hailey Crossan leaves her job in Los Angeles’ music business, she takes a trip to the west coast of Ireland where she’s so enchanted, she decides to stay. Walking into the Galway Music Center, she’s offered a job in a budding business alongside three locals, with whom she becomes the best of friends.
Unexpectedly, in what now seems like fate, Hailey meets Liam Hennessey, an astoundingly handsome, regionally famous Irish traditional musician. Liam, who has never been in love before, is so unbalanced at the prospect of love that he won’t come closer, nor completely go away.
In this rich, layered, tug-of-war along the road to love in rural Ireland, Hailey is surrounded by vibrant characters that help her navigate Ireland’s soulful culture and idiosyncratic ways as she tries to decode her growing relationship with the enigmatic Liam.
A whirlwind foray through the west of Ireland, Hailey comes to Ireland as a fish out of water, but soon ingratiates herself to a land with more soul than any place imaginable.
There’s an energy that hangs between strangers even in a crowd. Call it interest, or attraction, or the knowledge of things to come. It is awareness, and I was aware to the exclusion of all activity around me that Liam Hennessey was watching me. He was sitting at the corner of the bar by himself, and because I could feel his gaze upon me like an electrical current, I froze. I did not move an inch because I sensed I didn’t have to, that something would come about with little prompting from me. I don’t know how I knew this, but I was right, it came about within the hour. It began as a series of introductions to people near Liam, and drew itself closer until Liam was introduced to me.
Right before Leigh left, claiming she had to get up early the next day to drive to Cork, Kieran pointed out that the Irish traditional musicians playing in the corner were the father and older brother of the lad sitting at the end of the bar.
“That’s Liam Hennessey at the bar there,” Kieran gestured to my right. “He’s the best box player in Connemara – even in the whole of Ireland, many say. His family is long in Connemara; they’re all players, so. That’s Sean Liam, his da, and his brother Anthony there on the guitar.” Kieran seemed proud to know the facts. He next took my arm and led me straight to Liam.
“I’ve the pleasure of knowing this American here, her name is Hailey,” Kieran announced to Liam.
I had an uneasy feeling. It’s one thing to suspect you’ll cross paths with someone again, and quite another to be fully prepared when it actually happens. For some unknown reason, I kept thinking it was strange to see Liam this far out in the country from Galway, but then again, what did I know? I didn’t know anything about him.
Liam looked at me with large dark eyes and smiled brightly. He was different than I had imagined: he was friendlier, more candid. I assumed because he looked so dark and mysterious, there would be a personality to match. I assumed he would be reserved, aloof, perhaps arrogant in an artistic sort of way. I was paying close attention, and there was none of that about Liam. In seconds, I realized he was a nice guy. I moved a step to my right as an older man approached the bar.
“Would ye give us a hand there,” the man said to Liam, and for the next few minutes, Liam handed pints over his head to a group of men too far from the bar’s edge to grab the glasses themselves. Just then, Kieran said something that set off a chain of events and put the rest of the night in motion.
“Liam, will you watch Hailey for me, I’m off to join the sessiun.” With that, Kieran produced a harmonica from his shirt pocket and walked off to join the musicians in the corner.
I stood at the bar and waited for the next thing to happen. The world seemed to operate in slow motion. All the noise in the room subsided, and the only thing I knew was I was looking directly at Liam Hennessey. I searched his face for imperfections. I had never before seen such beauty in the face of a man. I hoped my thoughts didn’t show on my face. He was so good looking, I wondered why other people in the room weren’t staring at him, then I realized most of Hughes’ patrons knew him and were probably used to the way he looked. I was reticent, unsure of how to speak to Liam, unfamiliar with how provincial he may or may not have been. Words tend to get in the way in moments like this, but they lay in wait just the same.
“You’re an American, yah?” he asked in that way the Irish have of answering their own question. “I’ve been to America,” he said.
“Where in America?” I encouraged.
“Boston, New York, Chicago. My cousins live in Chicago. I even went all the way to Niagara Falls.”
“Believe it or not, I’ve never been to Niagara Falls. What’s it like?”
“Not much, mind you, it’s a nice enough place, but ten minutes after I saw the falls, I was asking where I could get a nice cup of tea.”
“I imagine it would take a lot to be impressed after living here,” I said.
“I’d never want to live anywhere else. Everything you could ever want is here in Connemara.”
And it is, I thought. Connemara has a sense of peace I’ve never felt before.
“Are you long in Ireland?” he asked.
“I live here,” I said. “I live in Inverin.”
“Ah, so you’re just up the road. Me too.”
At 27-years-old, Liam lived with his parents in the house in which he grew up.He was a world-class Irish traditional musician that traveled often to places like Germany, Austria and New Zealand. He was in demand as a player in touring bands because he was a master at playing the button accordion. As such, he was more than a musician: he was the bearer of a torch that represented the history of an old culture. He brought the language of Irish music to regions that otherwise would have never been enlightened.
Being an Irish traditional musician is a feat not easily arrived at. Rather, it is a feat painstakingly achieved. Most of the tunes in a traditional player’s repertoire have been memorized through listening and repeated execution, as opposed to memorization by reading musical scores. Traditional music has been passed down through generational lines, and with Liam’s family, there had been no interruption. His father was a player, and the world in which Liam grew up was one of constant exposure to traditional music as if it were a language. I came to realize much later that Liam’s first language was music, his second language was Irish, and his third was English.
“So, you must be another American looking for their roots, then,” Liam stated.
If that was a question, then it’s a fair one, I thought.
“Actually, I’m working at the Galway Music Center,” I said, then I followed with my poetry aspirations, hoping to impress upon him I was not just passing through.
About the Author:
Claire Fullerton is the author of Paranormal Mystery, A Portal in Time. She is an award winning essayist, a contributor to numerous magazines (including “Southern Writers Magazine) a former newspaper columnist and a four time contributor to the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book series.
She hails from Memphis, TN. and now lives in Malibu, CA where she is working on her third novel.
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