29th February, 2014.
Did you miss me, Dear Readers?
I apologise for my absence; the pages of the South Belfast Herald and Post must have seemed drab and uninspiring without the benefit of my gimlet-eyed observations and keen wit. But suffer no longer: I have returned at last. I will let you into a little secret, and I hope that once it has been discovered you will be gracious enough to forgive me. The truth is I have been in the care of the ministering angels at Belfast City Hospital. What a wonderful job they do, despite being assailed by shrinking budgets and demanding managers! One is tempted to recall the feats of that heroine of medicine, Florence Nightingale, performing miracles on the lost fields of the Crimea. But I wax lyrical; no doubt you are concerned as to the state of my health. Fear not, dear readers, it is not a serious problem; when a man accumulates a certain quantity of years it is not uncommon for him to experience problems with his ‘waterworks.’ Though I may be exceptional in many cases, as you are assuredly aware, this is not one of them. Unfortunate as this may be, the matter has now been dealt with, and I am now sleeping much better, as is Herself.
Talking of the Waterworks reminds me of a story which was related to me by a friend who lives contagious to the North of our fine city. She is devoted to her mutt, a beast of uncertain lineage and advanced years, and walks it every day in the park. One day they were close to the old reservoir from which the park gets its name, where the dog was, as usual, running about as best as its poor old legs would carry it. A youth, who was walking nearby fell to playing with the dog, throwing a stick for it to fetch. The animal was clearly enjoying the game until the young man launched the stick into the water. Being eager to please, the unfortunate hound jumped in after the stick in an attempt to retrieve it. But its old legs were unable to cope with the added weight of the branch, and it got into difficulties, at one point disappearing below the surface. The youth immediately raised the alarm, but my friend was too far away to be of any assistance. The young man, it transpires, was unable to swim. The situation looked bleak. However, a passing stranger speedily cast off his overcoat and plunged into the deep water. He brought the mutt back to the grass and to my friend’s disbelief gave it mouth to mouth resuscitation. His timely intervention undoubtedly saved the dog’s life. My friend, who had feared the worst, was most grateful to the kind stranger, and thanked him profusely. Intrigued by his actions in saving the dog, she asked him if he was a vet. The man answered in a strong German accent, Vet? Look! I am completely soaking!
This shaggy dog story is no more than an introduction to another extract from the notebooks of our favourite German, the gnädige Herr Wankel. In this extract he writes of his experiences in the beautiful county of Donegal:
Belfast, 21. June 1989.
I have heard much about the county of Donegal and its music, so I was wery happy to visit this summer. Donegal is remote, and quite different in many ways to other parts of the island as I have discovered, but is has also strong connections with other places. Many of the Belfast children come to the region to speak Irisch on vacation, and this is a connection that many of them keep up throughout their lives as they get old. I was told to my surprise when in the informal pub sessions in Belfast and I heard a jerky kind of melodie that it was from Donegal. To my poor ear it sounds like the Scottish music, but they tell me wery firmly that it is different. But there is also a big link between Scotland and Donegal with the migrating farming workers, so my suspicions may be justifiable.
It might be possible that the links between Scotland und Donegal go back to the early civilisations. N.B. must investigate the possibility that the natives of Donegal are descended from the PICTS: viz: when the Irisch invade Scotland in the early times, the Picts escape to Donegal on boats. It is undeniable that their way of speaking English in Donegal is different to everywhere else (e.g. ‘fodka,’ = ‘vodka’), and I am told that this is true for Gaelic as well. But how could the Pictisch descent ever be proved? Genetic testing might be useful here if we could find examples of the pict’s DNA. In any case, it is certain in my mind that there are strong links with Scotland (N.B. Tweed clothing also).
There is much of interest in this isolated part of Ireland:
- Music (natürlich!) – this is the land of the vio fiddle.
- Countryside – beautiful scenery, wery rugged and mountainous but not big ones like Alps. Not good for skiing ski. Beaches are uninhabited and wery nice. No need to reserve a good place like the Frensch and Spanisch beaches. But no sun, either. Mein Gott, the rain.
In this county you will rarely hear other instruments than the fiddle, wherever you go. This is because they hold one man in such awe and reverence he is like a god to them. I have yet to complete my research into this man, Jonathan Doherty, who they call informally ‘Johnny.’ Sadly I did not manage to meet him before his death and thus I have no field recordings. I would have many questions to ask him, but I must do the work I can now, and try to talk with people who knew him well. Initial findings suggest that he was wery progressive: E.g. he would take a gentle air (‘Coolin’) and transform it into a rousing march. Also his experiments with different tunings of the fiddle survive today. It is said by outsiders who do not know this secret that Donegal fiddlers do not bother mit tuning the fiddle properly but AH HA – you are wrong! It is the legacy of this great viol fiddler. I was privileged to hear some groß sessions with many fiddlers all playing together, and this is a musical experience that I will never forget. Such intricacy when they all play the jerky tunes they call ‘highlands!’ Perhaps this is why there are so few other instruments in Donegal – the music is too ‘fiddly’(!), and the special tuning and bowing techniques impossible to achieve.
I have been told that there is a great fiddler from Gaoth Dobhair called Hiudaí McMenamin, who has become an international master of the classical violin. It is wery strange that I have never heard of him, but I must try and find out more about this. N.B. check to see if there are recordings of him playing Irisch airs, and find out if he uses the J Doherty tuning or the A440 hz.
I was wery excited to learn that only in Donegal survives the old dances, and that one of them was called the Germans. But when I saw it I think they made a joke because it was nothing like the Schuhplattler or any dance I know from my country. This was something of a disappointment, but I was interested to see the Mazurka danced with vigour. Alas, I am too old now for such romantische pastimes, and must sit and watch.
– Research Picts / language / genetics.
– Follow up on recordings of the McMenamin and compare with Doherty: tunes / tuning.