The Irish Rambling House  

The Rick is thatched the fields are bare
Long nights are here again. The year was fine, but now 'tis time To hear the ballad men. Boul in, boul in and take a chair Admission here is free. You're welcome to the rambling house To hear the Seanchai*

If you are anywhere near my age (apart from being on the verge of the free travel), the above might ring a bell. It was the prologue to Radio Eireann's "Rambling House," a programme in which Ceoltoiri Cuilinn, Sean O 'Se, Arthur O 'Sullivan, Eamon Kelly et al. re-enacted the Rambling Houses of old through singing, music, and story telling.

At one time nearly every district in rural Ireland had a Rambling House, usually the home of a small farmer where the locals would gather on a winter's night. Under the watchful eye of the man of the house each visitor exercised his talent, by singing, dancing, storytelling, lilting or playing an instrument.

These arts have not diminished. They are still with us, and better than ever. And no better man to roundup and assemble the gifted, and reproduce the essence of the Rambling houses of his boyhood, than Lyreacrompane man Joe Harrington.

You remember when Joe was Mayor of Limerick?

Apart from putting Bill Clinton wide to the finer points of the battle of the Little Big Horn, he imparted whispered advice to him as he mounted the rostrum. I know what it was, but my lips are sealed. But it stood Clinton in good stead; he survived didn't he? (and come to think of it I think Bush should have had a word with the Lyreacrompane man as well). Shortly after the president-coaching occasion Joe travelled his adopted Limerick, Cork, Clare, Tipperary and his native Kerry and convened a concert group of 30 of the best traditional performers from the five counties.

The first Irish Rambling House concert was staged in Limerick's University Concert Hall in March 1999. The 1000 seat venue was packed to the doors and in March 2000 The Ramblers once again filled the hall, as the opening event of Limerick's biggest festival - The Millennium Civic Week. And in April they embarked on an English tour, playing to packed houses in Manchester, Haringey, Birmingham and Leeds. More recently they have delighted capacity crowds in Adare, Knockaderry and Rathkeale. Every minute of the English Tour was filmed and is available on video "The Irish Rambling House Tour of Britain." It can be had for £15 (including P&P) from ramblinghouse@eircom.net

Manager of the tour group, Kay O' Leary, claims the success of the concerts lies in the use of informal but professional stage presentation. Informal it may be and professional it certainly is. And when the aggregation of flair and dedication is co-ordinated on stage by Fear-an-Ti,(Man of the House) Paddy McAuliffe and Bean-a-Ti, (Woman of the House) Peggy Sweeney the result is astonishing. Kay says, "The set, with its open fire, takes the audience instantly back to how it was in the days of long ago and they quickly feel at one with the cast in the Rambling House kitchen." This was endorsed by one exile, in Manchester, who said, "It would bring you back, no matter how far you're gone." The authenticity of the set would bring a smile to the face of John Millington Synge. The crane, pot-racks and tallogue are straight out of the Celtic Twilight.

And the brillauns (poor articles of furniture) and general atmosphere, produced by accuracy in every detail, transports you to an era when:

On the white wall flickered the spluttering lamp
And lit the shadowy kitchen, The sanded floor, The girls by the painted dresser....... These on the settle, those on the table; the turf Sent up faint smoke and faint in the chimney light From the frost-fed stars trembled and died ....the girls wide-eyed Their loose hair flying, Danced to the shuttle of lilted music weaving
Into the measure the light and heavy foot.

The age spread of the cast encompasses at least three generations, from a 12 year old to the 81 year old Grandad of the Irish Rambling House, Paddy Faley. And when the Bean-a-Ti stands up from the fireside to sing, it only takes a slight stretch of the imagination to smell the turf-smoke off her clothes. Her rendition of "'Round The Old Fashioned Fire Long Ago" would take even the most insensitive back in time. (Peggy Sweeney's "The Songs of Sean McCarthy" is available, on video, CD and cassette >from www.kerrymusic.com.

In October 2000 The Irish Rambling House completed another very successful tour of Britain and they were all ready to go with another one last March but due to the foot-and-mouth outbreak it was cancelled.

And in October 2001 they hit the road again for another tour of Britain. They played to packed houses in The Albert Hall, Bolton, The Irish World Heritage Centre, Manchester, The Galtymore, London , Saint Francis Social Club, Coventry, Saint Michael's Centre, Liverpool.

And in 2002 they are planning to bring their talants to the good old U.S. of A

Don't miss it. It is guaranteed to bring you back... ...no matter how far you're gone!

[Mattie Lennon]