Chapter 2: The Uaimh Bhinn
reland is a hilly country. Certainly I was in better shape in 1993, not to mention younger; but even then keeping up with Rua proved no easy task. He was a rabbit, after all, plus he knew exactly where he was going, and I could lay claim to neither. He bounded from high point to high point in the moonlight; thankfully I was able to make out his loinnir from some distance, so with no small effort I could tell where he was heading…in general, anyway.
Ten, twenty, thirty minutes…I’m really not sure, running, walking, twisting, turning through the Irish countryside. Sometimes we were in wooded areas, sometimes in the clear. Only once did I look behind me to see if Aoife was with us, and of course she was, no more than a few paces behind me looking for all the world like she couldn’t understand why I didn’t move faster. I was winded and still more than a little tipsy, but I doubled my efforts trying to keep up with Rua.
It was pointless though, and now with the hindsight of years I realize just how ridiculous it truly was, trying to catch up with a rabbit running at night through terrain I knew nothing of. It really was only the dread of Aoife’s condescending scowl that kept me at it, but then there came the terrifying moment when I realized I no longer could make out Rua or his loinnir. I stopped, chest heaving, beginning to think I was the stupidest man alive: not only had I been attempting to keep up with a leaping, talking, Irish rabbit; now I was hopelessly lost in the middle of the night thousands of miles from home. I collapsed, sitting on a stone about the size and shape of an upside-down water pail.
Aoife moved closer, sat, and flipped her tail with disgusted accusation.
“That’s it, then?” she growled softly. “That’s all you’ve got?”
I looked away, trying to catch my breath. “I don’t even see him anymore. I have no idea where I am or where I’m going.”
Aoife said nothing and once more I couldn’t tell if her eyes were open or shut. I dropped my head and shook it slowly, feeling a little desperate. It was clear Aoife was going to be of no help. I had never felt quite so abandoned.
It surprised me to hear her voice. “Earlier Rua encouraged you to see by looking; now you must hear by listening.”
I looked up at her and her eyes were open impossibly wide, the moonlight causing them to burn with a fiery green: they were deep glowing pools that plunged down forever. She said nothing more and I knew she wouldn’t. I took a deep breath and lifted my head. I closed my eyes.
At first I heard nothing but the usual night sounds and a bit of breeze. My
first reaction was to open my eyes, stand up, and try to make my way back to the
last road we’d crossed; but I didn’t. Instead I kept my eyes shut, took another
breath and quieted myself
,; quieted the fear, quieted the knowledge that
I was lost, quieted it all…
The breeze again, soft and cordial, moved against my skin; but now it seemed different somehow. Now it seemed to carry a soft smell with it that I hadn’t noticed earlier, something gentle and fragrant, something almost living, like the perfect warm smell of a horse’s nose or the breath of a new puppy. But it was more than that: it also seemed like the smell from a grandmother’s kitchen, not so much of food, but of welcome and peace. And the smell had a…well, a sound.
As I sat feeling the breeze on my lips and face I could hear its fragrance and smell its sound and it all wrapped about me in the glorious Irish night and I could tell it all came from a certain direction, not too far away. I opened my eyes, knowing exactly which way to go.
Aoife was already standing as I lifted myself from the rock.
“Ready?” I asked.
“Of course,” she huffed, a trifle offended. “I am always ready!” And with that, we set off in the direction I knew to be true.
Within minutes we had crossed a great field and entered a gathering of trees and as I passed through them the tips of their branches tickled and caressed my face in a teasing, not unpleasant way. The moonlight could barely cut through the canopy and had moved so far across the sky that it was little help in the first place, but the smells and sounds were now so distinct to me that it didn’t really matter. We were close, very close.
We found ourselves on a path winding through the wood, no more than three feet
wide and well-trampled. It led down at a slight angle and became very smooth
and it obviously was leading to the source of the sound, which now had become
more like music than anything else
,: music with a distinct beat and a
rich, warm aroma. The high notes had sharp, crisp nuances of chilly spring wine
and the low notes pounded out the abundance of a thousand musky Celtic
cauldrons. This music was alive in every conceivable way.
Now I could make out a circle of light at the end of the path and I quickened my step. All I sensed emanated from the circle and soon I could make out that it was an opening, an entranceway, as if to a cave or cavern. Music, light, smells, life- all were pouring from the entrance.
I tossed one quick look over my shoulder to see that Aoife was right at my heels and then burst into a quick sprint to the entrance. Just as I arrived the music suddenly careened to an incredible crescendo and then stopped dead on one giant note followed by uproarious applause. I looked in upon what seemed to be a good-sized concert hall built into a cave, a stage at one end with musicians – three of them – with their amplification and sound gear and instruments, and then a large area for the audience, mostly seated around tables strewn with mugs of stout in varying degrees of fullness. Some stood, some hooted and hollered, some remained in their seats knocking on the tables wildly; others were gathered at the other end of the enormous room, a bar running its full length. All were shouting approval at the stage, punctuated with occasional shrieking whistles, and one of the musicians, the bass player as I recall, was thanking the audience and promising to return after a “short break”. I was in a rock club built inside a cave deep in the pitch-black Irish countryside.
“Watcha t’ink?” I heard a familiar voice yell over the crowd’s noise. I looked down to see Rua standing upright and clutching an enormous mug of beer.
“You kind of got away from me,” I said petulantly.
“Ah, I knew ye’d find it,” he chuckled rabbit-like and sipping from his beer. “After all, she was wit’ you,” and gestured at Aoife with a toasting move. She squeezed her eyes tight in acknowledgement.
“Truth to tell,” she purred, “He found it all by himself.” I smiled.
“Is t’at a fact?” Rua laughed again. “Maybe t’ere’s some Irish in you after all, Mr. Marchand!”
“Maybe,” I said. “What is this place?”
“Ah,” Rua replied in something of a conspiratorial tone, “T’is is The Uaimh Bhinn, the melodious cave! The finest music hall in all of Ireland!” Then he hoisted up his mug and drained it in salute.
“Really?” I replied, looking out over the crowd.
It was only then that I noticed that among the patrons were very few humans;
indeed, almost the entire bunch was species other than human. I saw many
more rabbits and hares; but there were also numerous dogs and cats, badgers and
otters, deer great and small. There were chickens and wild birds, foxes and
antelope; several tables looked more like enormous aquariums and they teemed
with turtles and fish. At one table three greyhounds were arguing and snarling
at a group of thick grey squirrels at the table next to them. A goat with the
longest, most beautiful golden fleece I’d ever seen was working her way through
the customers, serving mugs of beer and boiled eggs and huge delicious-looking
scones. Half a dozen sheep were winding their way through the melee as one
bright spray-painted colors on their backs.
Now and then I’d see a group or two of humans, but we were in the minority by far. This was the most inclusive gathering of creatures I’d ever seen, and – at least for the most part – it was peaceful enough, though rowdy all the same.
Rua, Aoife, and I wandered a bit further into the cave and the beautiful goat was moving close to us.
“Daimhin, m’dear!” Rua called to her. “T’is way, darlin’.”
She caught his eye and bobbed her head in greeting, then deftly moved through the crowd to where we were standing, the serving tray balanced perfectly on her back. Rua reached as high as he possibly could, placing his empty mug on the tray and seizing a full one.
“Mr. Marchand?” he asked, nodding toward the tray.
“Oh, no thanks, Rua,” I said, tugging at my pockets. “I’m afraid I’m tapped out at the moment.”
“Well, t’en,” Rua laughed in his rough rabbit laugh, “The Uaimh Bhinn couldn’t be t’e more perfect place for ya. Yer money’s no good here at all!” And with that he drained off that mug and exchanged it for a third.
“I see!” I smiled and chose a sloshing great mug from the goat’s back. “Go raibh maith agat, Daimhin!”
She dipped her head at me. “Ta’ failte romhat,” she replied in a lovely goat tone, moving back into the crowd.
Aoife had disappeared during the exchange, but as I tilted up the mug I saw her perched on an outcropping in the stone wall not far from us. Rua saw her too.
“Ah,” he said, “My lovely has found us a table. Come along, t’en!” and he took three quick hops toward Aoife’s perch.
Sure enough, just below her was an empty table soaked with spilled beer and broken egg shells but still offering three seats with a good view of the stage. Rua and I placed our mugs on the table and sat. Aoife jumped from her perch and landed flawlessly in the third chair.
“This all right?” she asked, one eyebrow arched as if she had posed the most absurd question in the world.
“Indeed, indeed it is!” Rua shouted. In mid swallow I tilted my mug toward her in agreement. The crowd was getting noisier and there were scatterings of applause and shouts here and there. I looked toward the stage, maybe some eighty feet or so from us, and could see that the band was beginning to resume their places.
“Ah, Mr. Marchand,” Rua said low and with great importance, “Now yer in for quite a treat.”
For her part, Aoife offered her usual silent, tight-eyed agreement.
I’ve heard a lot of music performed live- concerts in venues of all sizes; but I simply wasn’t prepared for what I was about to hear. And that’s saying a great deal, since my experiences since leaving The Middle House should’ve prepared me for almost anything.
The group assembled on stage had only three members…humans, at that. Electric guitar, bass, and drums- the classic power trio. There was a hodgepodge of huge speaker cabinets behind them; the drummer was set up on a platform rising a couple of feet from the stage. The three of them exchanged glances and the guitarist hopped up and down a couple of times then shouted, “Two! Three! Four!” and began cranking out a guitar riff that soared above the audience and pierced every corner of The Uaimh Bhinn. The drums exploded and suddenly the three of them were perfectly executing a classic blues rhythm.
The guitar player moved to his microphone-
My blues condition was blowing fiery red
Like someone ripped out my heart and dropped in somebody else’s instead
The blood in my temples rolled and boiled
The sheets on my bed were soaked and spoiled
And it’s a terrible thing when you find yourself in love
The drums and bass didn’t sound like separate instruments: it was impossible to tell where one stopped and the other began. The drummer’s movements were so fluid, he and his drum kit moving together through an intricately choreographed tarantella of tempo. The bass player released a spectrum of thunderstorm-powerful peels, forming a foundation that anchored the band firmly, but still allowed them to soar. And after the second verse the guitar player tore into a solo that sounded like he was the angriest creature on the face of the planet; his guitar screamed and cajoled and wept and pled for mercy, finally surrendering up shards of pure minor-scale rage.
I was enrapt.
The song ended and without missing a beat the drummer slapped his snare once and they tore into a cover of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground. The guitarist pumped the funky wah-chords and growled the verses, the drummer and bass player weaving a solid mesh behind him. At the end of the tune they modulated up and again delivered a fiery onslaught of instrumental improvisation. The crowd went wild; actually, the crowd was wild.
What followed was a mix of original tunes and classic covers spanning a bizarre
gamut of artists that had probably never been assembled in one setlist before,
yet the band somehow made them all work, giving them their own distinct
branding. After maybe six or seven tunes Rua nudged me and again asked, “So,
Without taking my eyes from the stage I answered with a question.
“Who are these guys, and why are they playing in front of a bunch of forest creatures inside an Irish cave?”
“Well, first of all,” Rua answered, sounding a bit peeved, “t’ese ‘forest creatures’ as you called t’em, can comprise some of the finest audiences in the world. Any musician will tell you t’at. And as for who t’ey are and why t’ey’re here, the band is called Red Rabbit and t’ey’ve come back to pay us a bit of a visit.”
“Red Rabbit?” I said. “Odd name. And what do you mean, visit?”
“T’ey’re yanks, like yerself.” Rua returned. “T’ey’re only in Ireland for a brief spell.”
The thought that the three musicians onstage were American and that they were only briefly visiting seemed to make the entire scene even more surreal; but – then – the whole night since leaving The Middle House had been surreal: little could happen at this point that could change that.
The band wailed through several more tunes and Daimhin wandered past twice more and Rua and I traded our empty mugs for foamy full ones. On one trip she even provided Aoife with a small saucer of warm milk, provided by a cooperative Moiled cow a few tables over.
After a while I said to Rua, “It was just seems so odd to find them here.”
Rua replied, “Who’s t’at, t’en? Oh, the Rabbit, y’mean.” Then, “Wouldcha like to meet ‘em? I know ‘em pretty well.”
The thought of talking with someone from home seemed particularly welcome after the events of the evening, so I said, “Well, sure, if you don’t think I’ll be a bother.”
“Not at all,” Rua laughed. “T’e boys’ll be happy to speak witcha. I’ll fetch ‘em soon as t’ey wrap up.”
I settled back in my chair and the three of us – the talking glowing rabbit, the aloof singing cat, and I, the unlikely American listening to an unlikely American rock band in what couldn’t have been a more unlikely setting – enjoyed the remainder of the band’s final set. The audience coaxed them into a three-tune encore, and my curiosity grew about these performers, channeling music into the deep, dark Irish night.
Chapter 3 - Music, South American & Irish