Jeff Shucard

It was on a fine March day that my friend Henry showed up at my place on Cleggan Bay on his ancient Matchless motorbike in his postman’s vest and dark goggles and hair flying and I made him up a bed in the little room that held the enormous hot water contraption that built up just enough steam for a weekly soak in the tub. Each spring for the past few years Henry and I would set off on a busking tour up and down the west coast from Killybegs to Cork in my little Ford Anglia van. Henry was known far and wide as a true musicianer, a gentle, loving soul of the great traveller tradition. And so it was that we were sitting in Oliver Coyne’s one evening shortly thereafter planning our journey when we were invited to perform for the opening of Murray’s bar on Boffin Island, population: two hundred weatherbeaten souls. Henry was from Galway and lived on a trawler he had won from a Norwegian fisherman in a poker game in the back room of Molly’s and many was the riotous night I staggered out of the Cellar pub or Molly’s, arm in arm with Henry, to crash in the galley. It was a rough kip to be sure, but then again I loved to wake up there to the smell of coffee brewing and to step out onto the deck, breathe in the tide and look out over Galway Bay to the islands beyond. There was no job to go to, no bills to pay, just the day offering itself up to us. Henry’s idea was to go salmon fishing and make some money, but I don’t think the boat ever left the Claddagh. Piece by piece, he sold off bits of the boat—gear, mast, engine, screw, winch—for cash, to keep himself in porter. He didn’t have a telephone and I didn’t have one either, nor did I know anyone who did. To make a phone call I would have to go to the phone box down in the village, crank the handle and speak to Mrs. Moyard, who ran the local switchboard. But then again, who would I call? Occasionally the postman would leave me a message: please ring so and so. He was a lovely man with a beautiful daughter named Mary and he rode a bicycle with his official hat on and he once brought me a letter that was addressed simply: Jeff, County Galway, Ireland. I still have it somewhere. So, given the lack of communication infrastructure at that time out in the wilds of North Connemara, it was a fortuitous thing that Henry and I were in Oliver Coyne’s pub that particular evening when Evan Burke, a native of Boffin, happened in and found Henry and me in the back room and of course we accepted the offer to celebrate the grand opening of Murray’s pub. On the arranged day we drove down to the jetty in Cleggan, and Henry and I climbed on board the mail boat to Boffin Island with our guitars, fiddles and mandolins, and tooted off. You could clearly see Boffin out there. Not so big as you couldn’t walk around it. We landed at the Boffin quay early in the evening and we were met by a welcoming committee who took us directly to the new pub, right there in the little harbour village. It seemed like the entire population was already crowded into the premises and a cheer went up as we entered and we were directed to sit in the far corner of the room so we might have the celebrants before us. We took out our guitars and fiddles and mandolins and immediately began playing our repertoire of traditional Irish fiddle tunes, blues and ragtime pieces from the turn of the century. We played everything we knew and then some we didn’t know and then the whole thing over again. By that point it mattered little what we did as the entire affair was alight with good cheer and raucous benevolence. The islanders rose unsteadily to their feet and sang plaintive songs of the sorrows of lost love and emigration, followed by ribald ballads of tinkers and milkmaids, goings-on behind the hedgerows. Pennywhistle and spoons players joined us in a circle of ancient druidic magic. Mothers with children, toothless elders and all in between joined in. It was one of the great piss-ups of all time. As the night began to edge closer to day, children came by bearing cheese sandwiches and clean drawers for them that shat themselves. As you most likely know from personal experience, a serious, prolonged session of drink has its peaks and valleys, requires an athlete’s stamina, pacing, courage and fortitude, and at some precise point, when the sugar levels in the bloodstream take on a spiritual aspect, life is imbued with a soft golden hue and all men of all races and creeds and all the creatures of the earth both great and small and all the birds of the air become your brothers and sisters. This is known in Ireland as beatitude. It was at such a moment that I excused myself and staggered outside. It was just dawn, the first rays of light breaking across the darkness. Awash in porter and without sufficient ballast, I made my way somehow to a promontory covered in a blanket of green, with a flock of sheep upon it. The sea below was crashing against the rocks and sending up a delicious mist of salt spray. Across the sea the dawning was like an enormous curtain parting over the grand stage of the planet. I was overcome by such majestic beauty and I fell to my knees weeping for the joy of it all. The sheep, obviously mistaking me for a saint, gathered around and began bleating for mercy.

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Jeff Shucard

Jeff Shucard was born in Paterson, New Jersey. He attended the Minneapolis School of Art and Franconia College. After a decade of foreign travel, he settled in Vancouver for twenty years and worked in education and music. Now he lives in Portugal.


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