From North Carolina to the Green Glens of Antrim


 By Gerry Moran

Ba é buaicphointe na hóiche an bhean a cheol The Green Glens of Antrim i nglór binn álainn agus dh’obair gur phléasc mo chroí Aontramach i lár Chill Choinnigh. Beidh mé ar ais.

I don’t often start a column as Gaeilge. In fact I never have but here’s the thing, and I’ll get back to the Gaeilge in a moment; the night you stand up and sing a song or recite a poem in a public house you never quite know who’s in the audience apart from  tourists and local punters having a pint and enjoying the music and craic. Thing is, you never really know.

Sitting quietly at the bar, sipping a pint, and keeping their own company, there may well be a journalist, or writer, observing things, assessing things, even taking notes. Or there could well be a talent scout in situ who so loves your singing that they approach you at the night’s end, slip you their calling card, saying: “Call me at your convenience.”

Or there may well be a publisher in the house who is so enamoured with your ‘poems’ that he offers you a contract there and then. On the spot. The stuff of dreams of course. Mad dreams.  Crazy dreams. Much more likely is the anonymous journalist sipping a pint, or savouring a G & T, at the bar. Which is exactly what occurred one Monday night recently at the music session in Cleeres Bar (the longest running session in Kilkenny).

The journalist, however, is no longer anonymous, his name is Robert McMillen who writes for The Irish News and gave Kilkenny a full page, wonderful write up – albeit as Gaeilge. Robert was visiting Kilkenny and was so full of praise for our Medieval City that The Irish News gave a full page to Robert’s reportage which won’t do Kilkenny tourism any harm.

After Robert’s wanderings, and meanderings, about Kilkenny he ended his night in Cleeres Bar. Which he thoroughly enjoyed. Which is where that opening sentence above comes from. My opening sentence, his finishing sentence . Here’s more of what Robert wrote about his night in Cleeres: “Finally, we ended up in Cleeres Pub, old fashioned and chock-a-block with visitors and locals singing songs, from a love song in French to Oró Mo Bhádín and a funny song about Aldi and Lidl. And it was lovely to hear the listeners sing, females and males, almost like a choir. There’s nothing as lovely as songs being sung beneath the soft light of a tavern late in the night. But the highlight of the night was the woman with the beautiful sweet voice who sang The Green Glens of Antrim. My Antrim heart almost burst in the middle of Kilkenny. I will be back. (that being my opening sentence above).

Now the lady with the beautiful sweet voice is Vasso. Lundberg from North Carolina, and originally from Greece. I met Vasso and her husband David in Cleeres Bar about seven or eight years ago.  We got on like a house of fire, as they say, and we’ve been friends ever since. Vasso and David are married 45 years. “I think it may work out,” David confided in me that Monday night in Cleeres.

Vasso is one of the loveliest ladies I have ever met and she and David visit Ireland, Kilkenny in particular, regularly. They visit Ireland because of Vasso’s love of Irish songs which she loves to sing. Vasso sings in Cleeres, in The Field and at the Kitchen Session in JB Burke’s. In fact Vasso will sing wherever there’s a music session that hosts an open mic, plus, she sings wonderfully well with a “beautiful, sweet voice” to quote Robert McMillen again.

And here’s what’s strange about it all” Vasso Lundberg has a stack of Irish songs about four inches thick (believe me, I’ve seen that stack) so why she chose The Green Glens of Antrim as apposed to any other song in her repertoire I shall never know – not least because there was an Antrim man, a journalist, in the pub which she was totally unaware of (as we all were).

Coincidence or what? Who knows?

And Robert McMillen, on behalf of Cleeres Pub, and Kilkenny tourism, mile, míle, buíochas.

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