A 1981 Summer in County Mayo

by Bob Stepno

Updating an old hard drive in January 2019, I came across the library scan of my 1983 Wesleyan University master’s thesis, “An Samradh in Eirinn, Beginner’s Welcome,” about the 1981 summer I spent with Irish culture students who learned bits of language, music, dance and more under the auspices of New York City’s Irish Arts Center, living and studying at Corraun House, at the mouth of Clew Bay in County Mayo, Ireland.

My thesis included photographs I took during the summer — archivally processed black and white 8 1/2 x 11 full-page prints bound into the thesis for the university’s library. The scans below are twice removed — optical scans of a copy of the photo-duplicated thesis done by a library book-scanner. The double- processing gives them a solarized rather charming old-fashioned look, I think. It was a charming, old-fashioned summer.

The George, a fine local pub, was attached to the back corner of the house (out of sight in this front profile, but you can see it in the background behind the currach in the rowing photo). I played the mandolin and, if pressed, sang a song or two in weekend music sessions there. Self-conscious about singing Irish songs solo in an American accent, I leaned on compositions by Steve Goodman, John Prine, and maybe risked Jimmie Rodgers’ “Mother the Queen of My Heart” when it seemed to fit the mood.

Corraun House 1981

Currach at Corraun House 1981

John Hoban in The George at Corraun House, 1981

Seisiun singing at The George, Summer 1981

Footnote: I don’t remember the name of the local man with the long dark hair on the left in that picture, who was singing to the group. I do remember that some weeks he did a strong version of “The Rocks of Bawn,” but I think that on this occasion he was singing a different lament, John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” for some of the New Yorkers who were going home the next day.

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