Guided along a spiral path

Our Saturday in Dublin dawned without a hint of the magic about to unfold.

LW and I made coffee, ate our Dunnes store breakfast of bread, cheese, and “easy peelers” at our Airbnb, and planned our day. We had already enjoyed an afternoon plus a day in Dublin. We’re not city people. That was enough.

Our Leap passes gave us unlimited travel on Dublin’s brilliant transit system and we had tickets for a play that night in Dún Laoghaire (pronounced Dun Leary), a suburb to the south, so we decided to ride the LUAS to the end of the line and then take the DART back along the coast to Howth, north of Dublin. There, we’d explore the cliffs, have lunch, and return to Dún Laoghaire for dinner and the play.

I was wearing my magic triple spiral earrings as we left the Airbnb and bumped into our host. When we outlined our plan for the day, Clive told us it’s something of a Dublin tradition to spend Saturday afternoons walking on Dún Laoghaire’s East Pier eating ice cream cones.

Did someone say ice cream?

Quick change in plan.

Fishing from the pier is another Dún Laoghaire tradition. The day was perfect for both.

After walking out to the lighthouse at the end of the pier and back, LW and I explore the strand. Like a spiral magnet, the logo of the Irish Design Gallery pulls me to its door.

The door is locked.

A note taped onto it explains: We’re at the book launch at the library next door—back in an hour.

The invitation could not have been more clear.

Five minutes later, we’re in the children’s area of dlr Lexicon, Dún Laoghaire’s new library and cultural centre. Huge banks of windows look onto the harbour, and the space is crowded with adults and kids on bean bags and modular furniture. As it turns out, the book being launched is People on the Pier, which grew from a social media project akin to Humans of New York.

And we’ve just missed it.

But then the host introduces Susan McKeown.

Instantly it’s obvious that Susan is the reason we were drawn to this event.

She stands in front of the tall bank of windows, an arresting, dark-haired figure silhouetted in a sun-drenched space. From our perch at the back of the room, more clearly than Susan we see what lies beyond her—the Irish Sea and the festive scene on the pier we had just left—families, dogs, tourists, fishers, ice cream cones.

Unleashing what has been called “the most strikingly original” voice in Celtic music, Susan sings a stirring account of the people who built the pier in the 1800s. It’s a graphic reminder that the structures we use, take for granted, and enjoy often came at a huge human cost.

Grammy-award-winning Susan McKeown (pronounce it McYone) is 2018 musician-in-residence at Lexicon library. The project has given her “free rein to talk to people and explore the books.” Having always been interested in the history of a place, what drew her in, she says, were women’s voices: They are “what’s hardest to unearth.” For Susan, there is “much to be gained from amplifying those hidden voices.”

“Holy Heart”—the next song she performed—gives voice to the hidden story of Moya Llewelyn Davies.

I wanted to take Susan’s music home with me, so I approached her and asked if she had CDs for sale. She had forgotten to bring some with her, so I gave her 20 euros and my mailing address.

“Which album would you like?” she asked. She has many to choose from!

I wanted the one with the songs she had just performed.

They’re too new, she said. She hasn’t recorded them yet.

But then she emailed me a sneak peak of “Holy Heart.” (I hope you’ll treat yourself and watch.)

In her email, Susan wished us a good trip home to “wild western Canada.” (She almost moved to Nelson once.)

It was wonderful meeting you at the library on Saturday and thanks for your interest in my music. I know it was one of those meetings that was no accident.

I know it, too.

A click on the link she included to her New York nonprofit, the Cuala Foundation, confirmed it:

The spirals had been guiding me all day!

Even more than her wonderful music and a memory to cherish, what Susan gave me that day, and what I’ve carried home with me, is affirmation that small stories count.

This winter as I complete the draft of my Cedarvale history, my own small stories, I’ll hold her words in my heart:

As an artist, be yourself. Do the work you were born to do.

8 Responses to “Guided along a spiral path”

  1. carin

    What wonderful magic!

    (And can only imagine, and envy, the experience of hearing that voice in that setting…) Thank you for introducing us to her music.

    • commatologist

      Carin, based on the little I know about your musical tastes (Patti Smith, Laura Smith – I only just noticed the recurrence of Smiths as I typed that!) I think you would like Susan McKeown’s. Her songs tell such great stories.

    • commatologist

      It was such an amazing experience to walk the pier and then to be looking out through those big windows at it hearing Susan’s story of the people who built it. I can’t wait until she records her next album so I can hear it again!

  2. Joan Conway

    ‘As an artist, be yourself. Do the work you were born to do.’ That pretty much sums it all up in life. Powerful

  3. Diana Z

    Very special. It inspires me to use that triple spiral in my next hooked rug! ?


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