Music is founded on the harmony between Heaven and Earth, on the concord between obscurity and brightness.
The ancient lighthouse of Clare Island sits on the highest point of the island, the perimeter of its walls coincides exactly with the edge of a cliff on which the ocean breaks. As you approach, you feel a strange sense of vertigo, like when divers stand on the edge of the diving board and you wonder how they are able to keep calm and retain their balance whilst looking down. Yet, the lighthouse at Clare Island is very solid, surrounded by large white walls which reflect the sun as it parts the clouds and lights all it touches, like a solitary spotlight waiting for its audience. Those who have reached the summit will confirm that it’s a journey made in silence, broken only by the sound of flowing water, the wind blowing and the hooves of the startled sheep.
Cast your mind back to the climb up there and you cannot help but put a soundtrack to the mental images, indefinable, but very much there: a melody composed of emotions, rather than notes, a powerful music that crescendos as you reach the highest point in the lighthouse. "Music is the only thing that unites the abstract and the concrete," claimed Antonin Artaud. And Clare Island settles in the soul like the music before the music, like the concrete about to become abstract, only to return to concrete again one day. It must be due to places like Clare Island that music is so important in Mayo County because its first composer is Nature, as it conducts the flow of notes the water carries and breaks on to the rocks, chanting the rhythm of the shadows of the clouds cast by the sun and the wind as it hastens or calms, so powerful as to be capable of causing the sky to release the rain.
Music is in Mayo’s make up and it’s not only sound but is also visual, tactile; it’s the abstract music of nature that gives it substance. It belongs as much to those who make it as to those who listen. If you happen to spend an evening in Matt Molloy's in Westport, you'll notice how whoever plays is the key element in a perfect geometrical energy. The musicians are at the centre of the room, but there are no stages. People crowd around them, close enough to touch: they aren’t spectators but sounding boards, vehicles of a music that comes from the player and is amplified in the listener, like a concentric circle produced by a stone as it hits the water. And, just like in nature, everything happens in a commotion only just apparent, because in reality, every element performs its assigned role in full spontaneity.
The music of Mayo is more than "traditional", it is an inherited trait, instinctive. It doesn’t age because it isn’t rooted in the present, it’s an essence with which people are born: it isn’t influenced nor created by them, it is them, like having blue eyes or red hair, unchanged in time and passed down through the generations. Like the light of the lighthouse on the top of an island, that returns again and again, always the same and yet never the same.