Dana and Michael got up early each morning during the Baton Rouge Currach Building Project. But this day was different. It was the morning after the project. Instead of the familiar sights and sounds of the boat building workshop, the two barefoot explorers walked out of the hotel and onto the soft white sands of Perdido Key to greet the new day.
The sky was just beginning to turn pink when Dana announced she was going to meditate. Michael had learned to accommodate her sudden meditative urges. But this morning he felt annoyed. He wanted to explore the beach and watch the sun come up with her. She wanted to sit on the sand, with her eyes closed and meditate. And that’s exactly what she did.
Michael walked along the shoreline feeling a bit forlorn. He looked back at Dana as the first rays of sunlight revealed two bottle-nose dolphins swimming inside a clear green breaker, right in front of her. He yelled at her to open her eyes, but the breeze blew his shouts away.
The two dolphins either heard his shouts or saw him jumping and waving his arms. The next moment they were right in front of him. He reached down, picked up a small clam shell, held it between his thumbs the way Jonathan had taught him to do with an acorn cap, and sent an extremely loud, high-pitched whistle out to the dolphins. To his surprise and delight, they whistled back.
After a minute or so the two dolphins swam away. Michael, however, continued to whistle with different clam shells he found on the beach. Maybe the dolphins would return? As he scanned the surf he began to wonder what other types of shells the skill would work with, and what other kinds of animals might respond to their sounds.
Dana stood up and waved at him. He ran to her, like a kid with a new toy, and yelled “Listen to this!” He made an ear ringing whistle sound with a small clam shell. Dana winced and covered her ears with her hands. She tried to make a whistle sound with the clam shell, but couldn’t get it to work. Then it was time for breakfast.
Michael thought a lot about the two dolphins appearing in front of Dana that morning. He knew that dolphin sensibilities are different than humans. If the dolphins hadn’t appeared, he never would have picked up a small clam shell and discovered it can be used as a whistle. All of his future discoveries, concerning the relationships between seashell spirals and music, began with this one event. And he never got angry with Dana again, whenever she needed or wanted to meditate.
The Celtic Society of Louisiana threw a mighty party for the members of the Baton Rouge Currach Building Project. It began New Year’s Day and ended St. Patrick’s Day night.
Project members included Pat, a master boat builder from Ireland (yellow shirt); Mike, his assistant, who was also from Ireland (white shirt); Dana, project videographer and photographer; Michael, Pat and Mike’s apprentice and project scribe (brown checkered shirt) and all the members of the Celtic Society of Louisiana, who gave stellar meaning to the phrase “Southern Hospitality”.
Whirlwinds of Celtic Society activities surrounded the builders 24/7 such as: Mardis Gras preparations and events; daily culinary extravaganzas showcasing the finest in Louisiana cuisine; weekly bag pipe lessons; athletic demonstrations; charity events; band practice; Gaelic language classes; poker games and Irish Wolf Hound training sessions.
The ‘boys’, as Pat and Mike were affectionately called by Celtic Society members, built five, 23′ long, three seat racing currachs (pronounced ‘cur rocks’) and four, 25′ long, four seat racing naomhogs (pronounced ‘knee volgs’), following strict North American Currach Association (NACA) guidelines. The boats were to be used in NACA races by their new owners upon completion.
A seemingly endless parade of visitors offered heartfelt support and encouragement to the team of builders, as they handily transformed tons of raw materials into nine elegant and graceful Irish racing canoes. They worked from seven in the morning until ten or eleven each night, for seventy five consecutive days. In addition to building the boats, they also made 71 oars. Each craft carries an extra oar, in case one breaks during a race.
By the end of the project the team was exhausted. Michael bought Dana a five dollar raffle ticket at the St. Patrick’s Day farewell party for Pat and Mike. She won the grand prize: a four day-three night vacation for two at a five star resort on Perdido Key, Florida. The next morning, amid tears of thanks and gratitude for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the team disbanded. Pat and Mike flew home to Ireland. Dana and Michael drove to Florida and checked into the seaside resort for a well deserved rest.
Michael’s job ended abruptly within a week after returning to Pennsylvania. He telephoned Mike in Massachusetts. Mike gave him Johnny’s number after a short conversation about his quest to find a boat builder willing to teach him how to build a traditional Irish canoe.
Johnny said he was too old to build currachs anymore. However, Johnny knew an Irishman in New Orleans that was organizing a currach building project scheduled to begin in early January, or in about three months. He gave Michael Danny’s number and wished him luck.
Danny was a very busy person. He owned a pub in the French Quarter of New Orleans, had numerous side businesses and performed regularly as a musician in venues throughout the South and other parts of the world. He was bringing one of Ireland’s top master boat builder to New Orleans to build a fleet of authentic Irish racing canoes.
Michael left many messages on Danny’s answering machine. They played phone tag as time ticked away. Near the end of October Michael decided to take matters into his own hands. He drove to New Orleans and sat in Danny’s pub for two days until Danny walked up to him and said in an Irish brogue, “Hi. I’m Danny O’Flaherty. Please come with me to my office. We can talk there in private.”
By the end of their hour long conversation Danny telephoned Pat in Ireland. They spoke together in Gaelic. Danny asked Pat if Michael could be his assistant to help speed the project along. They anticipated the project would take approximately two months to build nine traditional Irish racing canoes. Pat agreed. He would need all the help he could get.
Danny asked Michael if he would kindly make a documentary movie of the project and write a currach building manual, in return for the privilege of learning the ancient craft. He explained that the tradition of currach building was in danger of being lost in Ireland. Modern boaters wanted faster vehicles, made in factories, out of fiberglass, epoxy and metal.
He gladly agreed to the conditions. Danny told him the project would begin January 3rd, in Baton Rouge, at the headquarters of the Celtic Society of Louisiana. He gave Michael contact numbers and said he’d call Steve, the Society’s president, and let him know to expect him. Michael was prepared to live in a tent for two months, if necessary.
Michael knew how to sketch, write and use basic carpentry tools. He also knew that Dana was a skilled photographer and wanted to be a videographer. He didn’t know if she would be able to join him on this adventure, but he hoped so. He called her that evening.
Their reunion was everything Michael had hoped it would be. Dana thought it would be fun to explore the greater Boston area with him, so they took a road trip. Their first destination was Salem, MA.
Tall ships, anchored in Salem Harbor, caught Michael’s attention immediately. It was late afternoon and the harbor’s tourist office was closed for the day. They read a note taped to the inside of the door’s window. It said: small boat builder’s monthly meeting tonight. Auditorium. 7 pm.
At the end of the meeting Michael stood up and introduced himself to the boating enthusiasts. He asked if anyone there knew how to build Irish canoes called ‘currachs’. No one did, but then an old man said, “I know a man who built one. His name’s Ed and his workshop’s next to the lighthouse in Hull.”. Michael asked Dana, “Where’s Hull?’ She smiled and squeezed his hand. This was his first lead.
Michael drove to Hull early on a dark and rainy Saturday morning and found Ed. He introduced himself and asked him if he knew how to build Irish currachs. Ed said he’d show him the boats he built after finishing his Saturday morning English long boat rowing lessons. He asked Michael if he wanted to row with the group. Michael agreed, even though he had absolutely no interest in English long boats.
Three hours later, while drying off in the workshop, Michael listened as Ed explained how he had found the plans for a currach in Wooden Boat magazine. He told Michael that if he could find the magazine he ought to be able to build one also. Michael had never built a wooden boat before. He didn’t know how to read boat building plans either. He wanted to learn to build a traditional currach from a master boat builder. He thanked Ed for his time.
As he was leaving the workshop Ed said, “I know of a man, named Mike, who knows a currach builder from Ireland named Johnny. They used to work together at the Boston Globe. I don’t think he builds currachs anymore though. He must be quite old now. Here’s Mike’s telephone number. You’ll have to talk with Mike first to talk with Johnny. Good luck.”
A thin ray of hope brightened Michael’s spirit. He had to return to Pennsylvania the next day for work. And he wanted to visit Dana again, as soon as possible.
Jonathan was fourteen years old the day he, his uncle Mike and dog, Tipper, visited the Arrow Cave. It was late summer, the time of year when the hardwood trees begin to seed the forest floor with next year’s promise of new growth. They stood close together, facing the cave’s jagged mouth. Tipper sniffed at the cool, dank air and stepped cautiously into it’s maw.
Jonathan wanted nothing to do with cave exploring that day so he reached down, picked something up off the ground and said “Hey uncle Mike, do you know how to do this?” He brought both fists to his mouth and made one of the loudest, high-pitched whistles his uncle had ever heard.
Wild turkeys flew into the tree tops. Deer bounded down the hillside, with Tipper in hot pursuit. Jonathan grinned at his uncle, who was looking at him with eyes full of wonder. Uncle Mike whistled for Tipper, using his fingers. When she returned he turned to Jonathan and said “How did you do that?” Jonathan held an acorn cap in his upturned palm. “Want to learn?” he asked his uncle. “You bet I do” he replied.
Jonathan felt proud to be able to teach his uncle Mike something new. His uncle had taken he and his sister on many camping, canoeing, river rafting, rock climbing and other outdoor adventures, since coming to live with them a couple of years ago. He thought his uncle knew just about everything there was to know about the outdoors.
A friend had shown Jonathan how to whistle with an acorn cap just the day before. The friend’s father had taught his son two days earlier. The father had learned it from a buddy during the Vietnam War. The skill has been passed from person to person, down through the ages, until Jonathan taught his uncle Mike how to do it. This simple gift of knowledge began a series of events destined to alter the history of Music.