A Visit to an Irish 'Rambling House' Even as Ireland benefits from a booming high-tech economy, many are taking time to keep the past alive. The rural tradition of "rambling houses," where people gather for entertainment and fellowship, has been revived in County Kerry and elsewhere.
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A Visit to an Irish 'Rambling House'

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A Visit to an Irish 'Rambling House'

A Visit to an Irish 'Rambling House'

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Every year since the mid '70s, I've visited family and friends in Ireland. My husband and I got married there in 2004. His family is from County Kerry, mine from Conamara in County Galway. In these decades, Ireland has, of course, changed so much. It's one of the richest countries in Europe, much of that wealth attributable to a technology boom in the 1990s. Ireland is the Celtic tiger now. People immigrate to Ireland. The Irish aren't forced to immigrate. My aunt Ellie Lyden, who will turn 100 in May, says Ireland's changing, Jacki, so it is. There's no be milking their own cows no more, nor making their own brown bread neither.

A new book called "Re-Imagining Ireland" speaks to that change. Dozens of Irish thinkers consider what the effects have been on Irish politics, culture and traditions. The Irish critic Fintan O'Toole has written a foreword to the book and he says this rapid change does come at a price.

Mr. FINTAN O'TOOLE (Critic): I think Irish people are really conscious of, and anxious about, you know, are we losing our sense of song? Are we losing our slightly hedonistic side, you know, which made the Irish what they are, you know, the ability to have a good party, the ability to...

LYDEN: And the last ones to leave it, I might add.

Mr. O'TOOLE: Yes, indeed. You know, we value those things about ourselves and some of the rest of the world values them about us too. But of course, they're difficult to sustain in, you know, the very high-pressured, structured, industrialized world that we now live now. But my feeling about this is that actually culture's pretty tough. You know, people tend to be a little bit overprotective, it always seems to me, in terms of culture. I mean if a culture is real and rich, then it's real and rich because people want it. And they will find ways to recreate it in different contexts, and that might provide a new kind of energy too.

LYDEN: Fintan, have you ever heard of a rambling house?

Mr. O'TOOLE: I have indeed, yes. I think even somebody from urban Ireland of my generation would know exactly what a rambling house was, you know, the whole notion of country houses which were at the center of the fun, of the culture, of the crack, you know, places where migrant storytellers and musicians and singers would make to that kind of focal point for all of that. And to some extent even of the Dublin of my childhood, even though it was very much a rural tradition, it still existed in an informal sense, even in the sort of suburban, working class area that I would have grown up in. You know, there were certain houses where, you know, people went and that's where the singers would turn up, or the people who were, you know, who'd come up to visit their relatives from other parts of the country and who could play a bit of music. That's where they would end up.

LYDEN: Irish critic Fintan O'Toole. Last year, I was taken to a rambling house while visiting the O'Leary relatives over the holidays. This tradition had all but died out when County Kerry decided to revive it a few years ago. Now, imagine yourself in a bleak bog on a winter night in Kerry. At the end of a twisting, turning farm road called a boreen, we come to a small cottage bejeweled with Christmas lights. Inside the hearth is lit and all are welcome.


Unidentified Man #1: Hello.

LYDEN: Hello. How are you?

Unidentified Man #2: Hello.

Unidentified Woman #1: Hello.

Unidentified Man #3: We're in Brosna, County Kerry, and this is a little village. And we're at the rambling house now.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. JOSIE MCCREESH(ph): I'm Josie McCreesh. I grew up in a rambling house. My father played music and everybody came in all hours of the night and just danced and - as we're doing here now. And it's just lovely, like you don't have alcohol or there's nothing, nothing to bring you here except for the interest in meeting people and music or song or - you get a cup of tea and that's about it.

(Soundbite of crowd)

Ms. MCCREESH: We may get some music and some songs now (unintelligible)

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. MCCREESH: We get great talent. They bring songs we haven't heard for years and music and dance and stories. And they come from three counties - Kerry, Cork and Limerick. And ever second Thursday it's on and all year round, and all are welcome and we thoroughly enjoy it.

Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) Here's a hail to the land that we Irish adore. Here's the hail to the shamrock that grows round our shore. Here's a hail to the calling that on me this land, may she always be happy in Erin's green isle.

(Soundbite of clapping)

LYDEN: The people you heard at the rambling house in Brosna, County Kerry are Josie McCreesh, Donald Cullinane, who also played the fiddle, and Katie Lane(ph). And to see pictures from the rambling house in Brosna, go to our Web site at npr.org.

That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Merry Christmas.

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