“Tiocfaidh an samhradh agus fasfaidh an fhear
Tiocfaidh an duilliar ghlasar bharr na gcraobh”
“Summer will come and the grass will spring
And the trees will bring forth their foliage green”
As I write this in the last week of January 2014, the New York area, and indeed much of the United States is in a deep Arctic freeze, with snow and bitterly cold temperatures and winds that cut right through even the warmest clothing. That makes people long for some warmer weather, green grass and for the trees and flowers to bloom. Which brings to mind the traditional Irish song quoted above, Tiocfaidh An Samhradh, Summer Will Come, which certainly does the job transporting you to a warmer place in your mind on a bitterly cold day. The origins of the song are from one of my favorite places on earth, and it is a place to which I have strong family ties to. .
County Donegal in Ireland holds a very special place in my heart. My mom was born and raised in Donegal and once encountered; the landscape and the people stay with you. I have been to Ireland several times, but truth be told, other than some day trips outside Dublin, the only place I have really spent time in and become familiar with in Ireland is Donegal, especially the area near Cill Charthaigh, better known as Kilcar, where my mom grew up. Some day I want to explore more of Ireland but having so much family around in Donegal, there never seemed to be much of a point in doing so. Being there never feels like a burden, but rather a treat. It is often described as wild and timeless, the presence of the Atlantic Ocean never far amidst the sparse landscape and rugged hills. Though the usual modern intrusions are there now, it still feels unique and ancient somehow. The photographs I am using here have been taken on different trips there over the years. The wonder of Donegal and Ireland in general is that there are so many places where one can take the same photograph they took 30 years ago and have it look unchanged save for changes in photo technology.
Another thing that has remained a constant in Donegal over the years is traditional music. Donegal is one of the areas in Ireland that has a strong Gaeltacht presence (meaning an Irish speaking region). That has helped keep Donegal music firmly grounded and to me for well over 25 years now there has been no better Irish traditional group than Altan, whose roots lie in Donegal. Going over the history of Altan for this edition, I began by looking at their origins, which started with an album by a young couple in 1983, the same year that I went to Ireland for the first time. It was called Ceol Aduaidh by Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh on fiddle and vocals, and Frankie Kennedy on flute. Frankie Kennedy came from Belfast, and Mairead came from Gweedore, further up in Donegal than Kilcar, but also in a Gaeltacht area. A follow up album by the two in 1987 was called Altan, and shortly after, that became the name of the group.