Irish singer/songwriter Joe Kearns is blessed with the gift of song and the gift of gab, and generously shares both with us. From his house near Dublin, he offers witty insights about the culture and pleasures of his beloved Ireland.
-- Find out how to choose the best pubs, and why Dublin’s Trinity College — home of the medieval illustrated Book of Kells -- has a barrel ceiling. We talk of Kilkenny, a remote monastery in the Skellig Islands, the Ring of Kerry, and the Irish beauty of castles, lakes, mountains, and even a coral beach.
-- Travel with Joe to the coolest music spot in Dingle, as we talk of the Celtic language and chat about colorful towns, a picnic atop the Cliffs of Moher, drinking honey Meade at a medieval banquet, and the pleasures of County Galway, the Wild Atlantic Way, and more.
-- Coddle and Barmbrack are probably not what you think (they're classic Irish foods), and I add a memory about Baileys on corn flakes.
-- Joe tells romantic travel stories set under Irish rainbows and "sideways rain."
-- And then, best of all — Joe, a fabulous singer, takes out his guitar and sings a beloved Irish ballad, even using his whistle!
Joe Kearns, now living back home near Dublin, is a world traveler and a gifted singer/songwriter, often accompanied by his wife, Olivia. He loves Ireland, and it shows in his words and music. Facebook page: www.facebook.com/joeandliv Instagram: the_old_cabra_schoolhouse
Podcast host Lea Lane has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine travel books, including Places I Remember, and contributed to dozens of guidebooks. She's @lealane on Twitter and blogs at forbes.com Contact her at placesirememberlealane.com
Please subscribe and leave a quick review! New travel episodes every Tuesday, wherever you listen.
*Transcript edited for clarity.
Lea Lane 0:04
Hi, I'm Lea Lane an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world. In this episode, we'll be talking about some of the delights of Ireland, sites, food and drink, storytelling and music.
Our guest is Joe Kearns, born in Dublin, and now living in the old copper schoolhouse in Kingscourt. Cava. A longtime lover of traditional Irish music and Irish stories, Joe got his start playing guitar and singing in Irish pubs. He's been playing music professionally and traveling all over the world with his lovely wife, Olivia, for the past 15 years. Welcome, Joe.
Joe Kearns 0:58
Hello, how are you?
Lea Lane 1:00
I'm great. Now you're a Dublin boy. So let's start off with Dublin. What are some of the best things about Dublin that we shouldn't miss?
I think I think no matter where you go in Dublin, you're always going to get someone who is not afraid to talk the hind legs off a donkey, you know. You're never gonna meet a shy person in Dublin, they've got what we call ‘the gift of the gab.’I have it, as you know.
Lea Lane 1:32
So where do we go to hear the best gift of gab.
I think whenever I have family or friends coming from America, and they say they have, I think ideally, it's great to have two or three days in Dublin, you don't need a lot of time in Dublin, but two or three days in Dublin and then slowly make your way south and then West. But when you're in Dublin itself. I always say just go to a pub. But if you go to a pub in Dublin, within 30 minutes, you're going to have someone in that pub, a real character who just insists on knowing you and knowing your story. And there'll be a lot of stuff back and forth said and most of it will be true, a lot of stuff will be made up. You know, we're storytellers. And it's kind of we like to exaggerate as much as we can. And we're very, very warm. And that way I think there's a general feeling in Dublin that if you're sat at a table with your friends, and you're all local to that pub, if you see someone who's not normally in the pub, they're a strange face, you know, and you don't know them. It kind of itches at you that you have to get them involved. So you'll talk a little bit low there and then ask them a question.
And by the end of it, everybody knows each other, you know, so my recommendation for Dublin is to just get out and go. If you see two bars or two pubs next to each other, and you see one that's shiny, and brand new. And it's got magnificent art on the walls and it's very bright, and there's glass and cappuccinos everywhere, don't go to that one. Go to the one that looks like it was just on fire. It's the one with the real people with their feet in the ground. Like you know, it's real…
Lea Lane 3:30
The one with a dartboard. Yeah. I agree with you that one of the great delights of Ireland are the people. It's a very special place for that reason, of course. And there's the Book of Kells, which I should mention is in Dublin and in Trinity College, and it's one page a day. It's a medieval book, it's beautiful. Then you go to the pub afterwards, and then come back maybe to see St. Patrick's Cathedral with its beautiful stained glass and it's beautiful floors and then maybe go back to the pub. That sounds like a good beginning.
Many an expert about what you've just seen. So if you go to see the Book of Kells, you'll talk to someone and you'll say I just visited the Book of Kells and they'll give you the history of the Book of Kells but it will be a different history to the next person you know. The next person will give you a completely different history of it. You know the Trinity College is amazing, the library that that's in the long room. It's an amazing place, and it's definitely another highlight that I would recommend people when I think
Lea Lane 4:46
it has 200,000 books I read, and beautiful barrel ceilings and
When it was first built they packed it so much to capacity. The roof originally was flat, it was completely flat there was there was no barrel roof, the barrel roof that's so famous. And it's kind of influenced libraries and movies like Harry Potter and everything else. It's iconic the barrel roof was iconic but that was originally flat. But they filled the place so much with books, they got to capacity of books and they had to eventually build the arc just to stack a few more in the upper level you know? But it's fascinating. Yeah, and as soon as you go in the smell hits you. It's a place of worship of words you know, it's a beautiful place you know.
Lea Lane 5:41
The Irish people love poetry and words and I guess the room reflects that. Yeah. Now you mentioned going west How about some of the pretty cities or towns -- Kilkenny and Cork and that area? What do you recommend?
Yeah, Kilkenny is beautiful. I was actually in Kilkenny. I think would have been December last year, myself and Olivia went to Kilkenny the beginning of December last year. My dates might be wrong. But we were there very, very recently. And it was at a time where there were no tourists. And just because I'm talking completely seasonal. Now I'm not talking about anything else. I'm talking about seasonally, there were no tourists in the typical places like on the East Coast, you wouldn't have as many American tourists at this time of the year, so I wasn't expecting music in Kilkenny on a rainy Tuesday afternoon.
And I said to the taxi man, myself and Olivia got ready when we went out and we said “Look, it's going to be boring. But we'll go out for a drink and whatever, see what happens. And we said that as soon as we got into the taxi, the taxi man said, “Oh, no, the town is alive.” Like you know, it's very busy. And it was just a random Tuesday afternoon, no special occasion. But we went in and it was crammed full of people. And there was a table with musicians and they're all playing and everybody was, you know, young and full of energy and then that pub spilled out. And everybody started making their way to this club. And it was like a blues swing band in the club.
So you had traditional Irish music, and then you had a blues band. And I said to the guy who was out the door that the bouncer the security guy says Is this normal? And he says yeah, absolutely. This is completely normal. The only way the only day this doesn't happen is on Christmas day, he says but every day, you know, it's so in that way, it's a very special, very, very special place.
Kilkenny it's, it's a low bar, you know, right. And I wouldn't go there with a hangover, because it's a beautiful place. And the people are so talented in that town. It's got such a rich history of music. But the girl that was playing the concertina that night, she was she was playing, you know, the constantan. It's like a small accordion. It's an Irish Celtic instrument. And she was playing it so fast that you could see your hands move. And she was younger, let's say she was about 18 years old. And Olivia and myself were having a few drinks. And I was having a few more and a few more. And a few more. And eventually I was like, I'm going to go up and tell her that she's fantastic.
And Olivia was like, No, you might distract her, whatever. So I went up to just to say, “You're very good.” But she began to talk to me saying, “Oh, I can see that you and your wife are really into the music. Are you musicians yourself?” And this is while she's still playing? And I'm thinking how is she keeping the concentration on that level of music and it's just, it's just in her it's as easy as breathing for her.
And you can tell that a lot when you walk around the towns, and that there's a lot of people like that, you know, and it could be that the parents instill the love of the music very, very early. And some people may have just seen it as a bit of a burden that they have to learn another song or go to a competition, but the ones who really stick at it there. It's just part of them. You know, it's a beautiful, beautiful thing. And you will see it if you go and if you if you make your way towards the west, the more make your way towards the west. The more of that style of music you'll see. You know, and Oh, it's beautiful.
Lea Lane 9:54
The whole area is beautiful. The colors of the little towns on the harbors on the west side is yes magnificent and add the music in there. It's super. What about the Ring of Kerry? That's very famous, I think because it's beautiful. But also there are things there that are perhaps not as well known. There are a couple of islands, Skellig islands. One is Skellig Michael, which I remember going to, it's very steep. And we took a boat from Portmagee. And it was very rough waters and, and then we got there. I was kind of seasick. And then we had to climb up 600 steps up to the top of the monastery and I remember I was so nervous, and then the boat was going to leave and I was late and I had to go all the way down on my butt, because it was so scary. And I'll never forget it. But the top of it was a part of what I think Star Wars films because it's such a beautiful monastery up at the very top from the sixth century. And so that's very moving. But there's also Killarney National Park, there are beautiful things there. There's a castle, all kinds of lakes and mountains. And you can take a pony cart. I know that this is one of the areas people love to hike and that's on the Ring of Kerry, Dingle Peninsula. Yeah, I think all is great Dingles full of color, and full of pubs.
Yeah, and a very famous music festival happens there every year called Other Voices. And it's hosted many a big big name: Amy Winehouse before Amy Winehouse passed, she was playing in this small little church. I think it's called St. Kevin's church. I'd say it holds about 60-70 people. But it's streamed into every single bar but like I said, Dingle is the kind of place that you will walk into a bar. And you will see a barman behind the bar. And you will question whether it is a bar or a DIY shop because in the same place that you can buy a pint of Guinness or sit there and have a glass of wine, you can also buy Philips head screws you know, and a saw.
Lea Lane 12:24
it's Irish, it's Irish.
It's character and it's walked into the floorboards. You know, it's,
Lea Lane 12:32
it's fabulous. We
can't get away from it. I
Lea Lane 12:33
I know Dingle is the center of the Irish language. And somebody told me that the mayor at one point was very insistent that all the signs be put in Irish with no translation in English, and everybody was getting lost. And everyone was furious because the tourists couldn't find the place. They had to add the translation. But that was how strongly you felt about keeping the Irish language. That's the center of the movement. And there were writers who lived on an island there. It's very famous where they would write in Irish language. It's now on uninhabited unfortunately, you know that? Yeah,
it's a back and forth thing that that's been talked about quite a bit in Ireland, about whether or not to. It's not just the science, it's also in the schools. When I was younger in school, it was it was mandatory, you know, to learn our scale in the Irish language. And I think a lot of people the vast majority of people you asked “Do they know any words in Irish?” they will be able to give you a few, but not really string a sentence together, you know, and so it's declined in the country, but they still want to hold on to the history of it.
And they still want the kids to, to learn it in the schools, but there's a new movement that's common, where they're more and more adamant to, to give people a choice of whether they want to, to learn it or not. And they're nervous that the language will slip away from the history. And it's interesting, only the day before yesterday, I rang up the National Electric or electricity supplier because we were having troubles here in the house with the electrics. And I called up and the first thing they asked was “Would you like this conversation to be in English or an Irish?” And I was thinking, well, I'll call them back in English, but I'll see how I get along with the Irish and I press the second button and this voice comes on and speaks in Irish about the electricity.
Lea Lane 14:42
What would you say? How would you say something like can you fix my light? How would you say that?
I know what to work on something is over. And I think the Irish for electricity is electricity so you can pick up yeah little bit, and you're kind of, well, I am I'm a little bit embarrassed about the level of Irish that I have -- I have a little bit. And I find that when I'm around someone who speaks it, which isn't that often, you almost have to seek them out. Yeah. But I feel like it comes back a little bit and you can kind of get by with with broken, broken Gaelic is what they say. Yeah. But yeah, it's a part of our history. But I think if someone is going to miss it that much, then they will do it out of the sheer love of it.
You know, I don't I think it's the same with music. If you force someone to sit down at a piano and say play all the scales, you end up having a little bit of a resentment towards the scales. And I think the same thing is with the Irish language, if you tell a child that they have to learn this language, it becomes just another part of schoolwork and it stops becoming something that they should have a genuine pride in. And a genuine love for. So I think if you're going to end up speaking the language, it's something that you will naturally blossom into, and you will find it it's not going anywhere just because it's not on a science essay. You know this is the way to let you know your sticking point.
Lea Lane 16:20
It'll be there. It'll be around with the writers and all that. County Clare has two of the most popular tourist attractions. one is spectacular: The cliffs of Moher. That's about 400 foot high cliffs for about five miles. I think if anyone saw The Princess Bride, the movie there, it's the Cliffs of Insanity in that movie. But what do you think of that? And if you've been many times.
I used to work in County Clare and that was a 10-minute drive away from the Cliffs of Moher so I actually had my 21st party, a picnic on the top of the Cliffs of Moher. Now in your mind, you hear a picnic, you're probably thinking about where like everyone else's idea of a picnic, you know, sunshine, and this was an Irish picnic. It was sideways rain and gale force winds. And it wasn't any ham and cheese sandwiches. It was Guinness, you know, it was kind of like it was at a proper party.
I'm very familiar with it. I've been there a lot. I've been there so much that I've stopped seeing it as a touristy area. I know the little bits. They say it on an Irish person is not part of the touristy kind of way, when you know the secret places to park your car. So there'll be cues to pay five euro to go into the car park to go to visit the Cliffs of Moher, but you'll know a ditch somewhere that you could just park the car and so I'm at that level with the Cliffs of Moher the beautiful. I know there's a woman there
Lea Lane 18:04
Off the Burren, kind of plains, the peat bogs and all yeah.
Do you happen to remember a harp player? As soon as you went in there's a harp player that greets everybody. She has a box little box of CDs she's she's very good and she's often there. And then what I recommend people to do is to actually go on the boats. And that takes you right underneath the cliffs. Yes, because of course you got a better view of the cliffs from the water. You know, if you're on the top of the cliff, you just look out you see the horizon. But yeah, I like it. i There's a strong pride in the place, but there's also a hope that it never becomes too commercialized.
Lea Lane 18:58
Yes. Speaking of that, what do you think about Bunratty castle which is not far away. It's a beautiful 15th century castle but it has a medieval banquet very popular with tourists with music and I've been there. You drink honey mead and what do you think of that that's touristy but it's
Yes, you get into it.
Lea Lane 19:20
I think it's a good introduction but it's, you know, not for everybody.
But see the thing is if one castle here and it's such a privilege to be able to say it but if one Castle doesn't tickle your fancy just head up the road 20 minutes and you'll find something that does, you know. I remember being in the banquet hall and they had to lock someone up for being and the mead was beautiful there as well.
Lea Lane 19:51
Yes, I remember honey mead. There are many medieval buildings, monasteries, castles all along highways. Yeah, what about in Galway? There's a beach there that's made of Coral. Have you ever been to that?
Yeah.The name is slipping though. But it's very
Lea Lane 20:14
Yeah, it's popular on postcards like you know, if you guarantee most people if you look up postcards of Ireland, it's going to show up, you know. It's, an unusual thing. And again, it's amazing the size of this little island, and how drastic the change in each part of it, you know, when you go on the East Coast. And then when you go down to County Cork, and then when you're on Clare, and then if you're up in Donegal and you see the Giants Causeway, there's always just something that's so different, but so dramatic as well. You know,
Lea Lane 20:57
One of the reasons it's so popular is that besides the beautiful storytelling and the people, it is gorgeous, and even the rainbows all over - with the rain, you get rainbows. It's just one of those places
I kind of have to be aware that sometimes it can come across as real like boastful. I'm one of the most patriotic Irish people you'll ever meet in your life. You know that from from seeing me perform. I just I can't stop talking about the place and I feel so lucky to be here. And I have a genuine love for Ireland. You know, I can talk all day about Ireland. And it's amazing. When Olivia first came here and she met my family and we went for a walk and it started to rain. And we live right on the beach just north of Dublin and a huge rainbow came, huge. And Olivia ran into the house and said to my mother and father “Quick quick quick get out get out get out. You have to see this you have to see this.” So my whole family I think of what's going on so we go to the garden and Olivia is pointing out the rainbow. And we're like yeah, no, so yeah, what did they say? Your eyes become used to
Lea Lane 22:36
beauty it's just part of your life which is a beautiful
thing and a sad thing you know what the downside of living in such a beautiful place, that you forget that it's beautiful.
Lea Lane 22:46
Yeah, but you know people call the rain Irish mist. That's the attitude that's so beautiful. Yeah, it's a down thing and a plus thing. So that's the Irish right?
Yeah, it's part of the Irish. And again one of the first times Olivia was here. We went to a hotel in Galway and the hotel was about 45 minute walk away from the center of Galway city because back then we didn't have as much money and we had to go for the cheaper hotels. So we were 45 minutes away from anything famous or anything that she had to see in the city. And it was sideways rain: we have we have different kinds of rain. We have rain that comes down, we have rain that hits the ground comes up when we have sideways rain. I said to Olivia that we're going to go for a walk into the city and for me it was the most romantic thing to be huddled under an umbrella you know with my girl, you know my arm around my girl, with an umbrella and the rain coming in. And that's the idea I had in my head but in reality it was two of us out there like soaked dogs, the umbrella turned inside out her screaming at me saying she's never gonna she'll never live here. No we do we we try and see the positive in it you
Lea Lane 24:09
know Absolutely. One area that I will end with the something that I think is special. It's called the wild Atlantic way. It's County Mayo and Donegal and it's a very less inhabited area I think and less touristy there sheep and peat bogs and white sand beaches and a beautiful lighthouse. And the thing I like about it is you can actually see the Northern Lights. People want to go there all the time now that we know they're traveling the world to see the Northern Lights off to Finland, while you can go to Ireland at certain times of year at the north and actually see the Northern Lights there. So I don't want to not mention that as a different place. It's something that maybe isn't as well known.
The wild Atlantic way. Yeah, it's pushed very, very well by the Irish Tourism Board, they've even started the Ireland's Ancient East. So you have Ireland's Ancient East and you have the Wild Atlantic way. So you have the edges of Ireland have their own thing. And it is beautiful. And you do know when you're in it because the walls become stonewalled. You know, and I know when we've entered because you're driving down a road, and then you'll have to stop because there'll be a farmer who looks like he's never seen anybody in 15 years shepherding sheep across the road, you know, it's kind of it's untouched, and it's beautiful in that way. And it's something to be proud of. And it's looked after as well, it's very much looked after, I don't think it'll ever be affected by too much tourism or anything to do with new buildings going up. It's known that that's untouched, and it should stay that way, you know?
Lea Lane 26:06
Well, I think you know, you've painted a beautiful picture, I would like to talk to you just a little bit about the food of Ireland because we know about Irish Stew and salmon and all these wonderful things. But there are a few things that I think I've looked at it. I'm not sure about them and you might know a lot about them. It's something called call colcannon. Yes. That's a potato. What a potato.
Yes. Yeah, it's
Unknown Speaker 26:37
another form of potato.
Lea Lane 26:39
And then there's something called Boxty. Is that something from the past? Or is that something that you would have?
Unknown Speaker 26:47
It's not around too much now. Yeah it's another one of those. If it's in the cupboard and can be thrown into one pot, kind of do it.
Lea Lane 26:57
And then there's something called coddle. That's a stew. Yeah and that's leftovers. Is that where you go to the pantry and see what you have?
I'd be more familiar with coddle because I'm from Dublin. And I was probably the last Age of a kid that actually experienced coddle. I don't think it's big now.
Lea Lane 27:20
It's just like the name. It's such a wonderful name that I figured, yeah, maybe it's good. Maybe it tastes good.
It tastes nice. It's very comforting. My grandmother's recipe is boiled sausage, which is the most unappetizing thing to look at. You know, it looks like a raw sausage. So it's boiled sausage boiled ham, you would have potatoes boiled down until there was absolutely no remnants of flavor or vitamins or anything. Then it's all mixed into a big soup. And you either got a good bowl or a bad bowl. So if you were looking to get the ladle with the meat and sausages, it was great, but if it weren't, you just had some runny potatoes.
Lea Lane 28:05
I think I'll pass. I like the name better than the way it sounds. How about Barm Brack, another thing I've heard about. Yeah,
we're right in the season of it. It's a Halloween thing. Olivia loves it. It can be toasted.
Lea Lane 28:24
It's like a fruitcake, right?
It's a fruitcake, but there's always a ring. There's a ring hidden in the bottom. And whoever finds the ring in their slice is said to have good luck and possibly marry in the following year.
Lea Lane 28:40
I heard if you have a rag in there, it's bad luck. Or if you had a stick in there, it would be quarreling soon. Sounds interesting. I don't know if I
I'm actually looking at one now we bought two days ago and she just she digs the ring out and leaves it you know, so
Lea Lane 29:04
that's not nice.
I have eaten the rest of it, though.
Lea Lane 29:10
Well, we've talked a little bit about Guinness. I have a story about Bailey's. When I first went to Ireland in the 1980s Bailey's Irish Cream had not yet come to America. And I had tasted it first in Ireland. Oh my goodness, that was delicious. And I told someone and as an example of the beautiful hospitality, every time I went anywhere afterwards, my guide had Bailey’s for me even for breakfast on the cornflakes. I had Bailey’s cornflakes. It was a great discovery.
But you had a great day.
Lea Lane 29:44
I had a wonderful week full of Bailey's and Jamison.
you're starting off. You're starting off with Bailey's and cornflakes.
Lea Lane 29:55
I recommend it. Would you be so kind As to give us a song that's memorable to you about Ireland. And
Yeah, so I'm going to do a song called Raglan road. It's considered one of the most iconic ballads in Ireland. It is written by Patrick covenant and Patrick covenant actually asked a hero of mine called Luke Kelly from the Dubliners to sing this song to turn the poem into a song. And Luke Kelly has the most iconic version of this and it's considered one of the most beloved ballads. You can explain a good Irish song when you can explain it in one sentence. It's about a man who loves a woman he sees on the street you know that's all. Yeah, I'll do it for you. Thank you.
(Sings Ragland Road)
Lea Lane 35:32
Thank you Joe Kearns. That was beautiful. Thank you for sharing your love of Ireland. We feel it very much. We'll be looking for you around the world and in Ireland.
Thanks, it's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you very, very much.
Lea Lane 35:55
Thanks for sharing travel memories with us. My book places I Remember is available on Amazon and in bookstores: in print and Kindle, and I read the audio version. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. Until next time, join us wherever in the world we're going.