In the autumn of 2019 my wife Anna and I moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Feeling essentially priced out of sustainable adult existence in Ireland, we moved to Anna’s hometown to try our hand here.
We could not have foreseen the year in store: Covid-19, the murder of George Floyd, unrest on the streets of our neighbourhood, the drawn-out fall of the Trump Administration. Job hunting, house moves, renovations, and the day-to-day work of building a new life played out in this unique and heightened context.
Snowlands – Danny Diamond
Now as the year ends and we find some much-appreciated stability, I find myself listening to RnaG almost every day, trying to revive my Irish after years of neglect. The connection to our community at home, kept strong via regular calls, and the prospect of some day returning on a different footing are the key drivers for us to build a life, at least for now, in the US.
Having planned and cancelled five trips home in the course of 2020, we now hope to visit Ireland next summer at the earliest. I’m a little scared to return after almost two years and see first-hand the change that happens in your home place when you’ve been gone. But I’m confident my work as a traditional/folk musician will help maintain a living link to life back home.
With what turned out to be my last touring income at the tail end of 2019, I bought a guitar. I was working as a fiddle player but had a growing background interest in singing and writing songs. I had been writing since childhood but never had the confidence to bring any of it out in public. With the support of an Arts Council bursary and a residency in the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris, just before leaving for the US, I began to make some of this work public for the first time.
Last New Year’s Eve, Anna and I were feeling lost between our old home and our new not-yet-home. We were broke and didn’t know how to mark the occasion, though the first New Year in our new home felt like it should be marked. Anna’s brother, Fin, suggested we all go “Up North” to the shore of Lake Superior for a few days, in a cabin belonging to a relative that we could use for free. Minnesotans go “up North” at almost every occasion- it’s like the mass exodus from Dublin to Wicklow/Wexford and the West all rolled into one.
We went and it was beautiful: wild woodlands, wolf prints in the deep snow; hearing moose calling in the distance, and looking out over the frozen Great Lake from the cliffs behind the house. In the mornings when we woke with the dawn, each day we saw deer eating berries from shrubs in the yard, only a couple of feet from us.
After sitting with the memory of this trip for a while, the song emerged. This is the first time I have played guitar in public, and it’s only a rough demo recorded in the living room of our apartment. But I feel it’s a good fit for the time of year and the theme of To Be Irish at Christmas. As 2021 progresses I plan to officially release more of this music under the name Black Mountain Loney.
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