The Clonmel Set
Benny is subtle. Stray notes skip in and out of aural focus like fleeting shafts of light on a driven avenue. Only gradually do you become aware of a pattern as he moves off the lower register and challenges the bar’s steadfast din. Next to him a guitarist, ear askance, catches the key and marks the beaten track.
Pat strolls into this, still lazy path, all dark curled bonhomie. Tree-limbs and gnarled fingers belie a tender deftness of touch on bow and bridge. A couple of banjos loiter with intent, indolently picking, impatient for the inevitable onslaught. Conlon’s flute is comfortably mellow in this quiet Bluehill glade. A long-necked heretic purrs easily in the background. Bodhrans and bones hibernate, awaiting the call.
It comes with a yelp from Pat, a slam from Benny. Lightning fingers accelerate over invisible black keys as he leads the gallop through the foothills. Pat takes up the chase, his Moses all benign smiles and guttural urgings. He leads his people across gurgling pools; guides them through magical fairy groves; drives them up hill and down dale. Now his bow angles across his cheek, its top end doing a mad St. Vitas dance, hoppin’, leppin’, trippin’, slidin’ over imagined river rocks. Then in the high ground, it is erect, plunging, lunging, forcing, demanding. Around him, Benny piles triplet on gilded triplet, leaps and bounds, draws and pushes, pushes and draws, tingling fingers cascading over pliant keys. The guitarist’s easy strum races into frenetic, frenzied slashings, a devarnished, abstract patch above his fret the victim of a deranged plectrum. The flute scurries in and out, goaded by the surrounding swirling, whirling madness. Banjos, free at last from restricting melody, race hither and thither, grace notes bounding off grace notes, driving, diving, delving, thrusting. Bodhrans and bones, frolicsome scamps, explore, explode, subside, rattle in exuberance. Electric renegade, no longer purring, growls, barks, snarls resentment.
The bar, thrashed, abandons its chattering nonsense and submits to the pagan music’s adrenalin howl, carried on the churning wave to a crazed crescendo.
Suddenly… violently…on the up… the set ends.
by Mike Gallagher (Ireland), Author
Stick on Stone