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The green country of Ireland is home to many traditions and treasures that have been recognized throughout the world: music, literature, history, art…and ghosts.

Among the many eerie legends and myths of the island are the stories of the Banshee and the Coach-a-Bower, or Death Coach. Some of the places that claim actual hauntings are The Dublin Hellfire Club on Montpelier Hill, a site of black masses and sacrifices; The Black Death Hospital of Roscre, where victims of the plague whisper from their graves; and Charleville Castle, a dreadful, death-filled place complete with dungeon.

Many famous horror writers claim Ireland as their home, including Sheridan Le Fanu, (author of “Carmilla”, “Green Tea” and “Uncle Silas”), Caitlín R. Kiernan, Darren O'Shaughnessy, Edward Plunkett, and the creator of one of the most famous horror icons in history: Bram Stoker, author of “Dracula”. And perhaps their greatest contribution sailed to America with the Irish immigrants when they brought the Festival of Samhein, which became Halloween.


From my last visit to the Emerald Isle - Skyrne Castle, in County Meath

 

So what better way to celebrate the upcoming St. Patrick's Day holiday than with some glorious Celtic tunes and a ghost story or three? Irish music has always had a somber and melancholy shading under the gaiety, and storytelling is a fine and welcome tradition celebrated in pubs, theaters, sitting rooms, and any place that a good crowd gathers for company and comfort against the cold March evenings. And on Saturday, March 14 th , at Muddy's Hot Cup in Arcata , CA , that is exactly how we spent a chill Winter's night, made even more like the Old Country with the steady, drizzling rain outside.

My friends in Scatter The Mud, a justifiably celebrated local Celtic band, and I had shared the stage the year previously, to a completely packed house. This year the crowd was just slightly smaller (perhaps the damp night kept many indoors) and we didn't have any children, as we'd had last year. No matter. Spirits were high (no pun intended, honestly), and the music and company was grand.


The Mud-Scatterers - from left, Michael, Rachel, Alan and Seabury!

Scatter The Mud consists of 4 very talented performers: my good friend and fellow North Coast Storyteller Seabury Gould on Irish bouzouki, vocals, guitar and flute; Michael Pearce on fiddle and uilleann pipes; Alan Morden on mandolin, guitar, vocals and bodhran; and Rachel Hatchimonji on fiddle. Alas, in another stroke of ill-fortune, Rachel was feeling under the weather, and wasn't able to join us. So it was strictly a Boys Night Out as far as the entertainment was concerned, and we shouldered on in a gentlemanly manner…

 

I told some of my very favorite Irish Ghost Stories, including a new tale of the Death Coach mentioned above, as well as the tale of the lawyer who made a particularly clever bargain against the Devil, all hinged on the memory of his assistant. And of course, no Irish evening would be complete without a telling of The Leprechaun Vampire . (I thought one poor women in the front row would have a stroke before the story was finished, so hard was she trying to hold in her laughter.

We also repeated an experiment we performed last year. As many may know, Seabury and I have performed many times together, and he has become quite adept at accompanying my tales on guitar and flute, knowing when I will be dropping to a whisper or thundering on full-voiced. One of the stories in my repertoire is the account of the two sisters, one dark and one fair, and both in love with the same man. The dark one drowns the fair one in the river, and when her body is washed ashore, a sinister carver-man makes a fiddle out of her bones and hair, and the instrument plays magically on its own to accuse her sibling. (The tale has been turned into many a ballad, most particularly “The Bonny Swans”, recorded memorably by Loreena McKennitt.)

Mr. Gould knows another musical version of the tale called “The Wind And Rain” , and as I spun the story he played the song quietly under my words. When the story drew to a close, Seabury signaled the rest of the group, and they all began to play the song while Seabury lead the audience in singing along. It was a very effective interlude.

The closing of the performance was equally moving. I told the tale of the good wife who meets a ghost on the village bridge, and the sad and terrible secret she learns that night. As I finished, the band began to play their final number, “The Parting Glass” , evocative of the tale and the evening. As we sang on, the audience joined us for each chorus, and a fine celebration was drawn to a close.

 

There were many other musical highlights that evening. Alan sang a mournful, powerful and poetic ballad of “The January Man” , Michael played the Irish ( uilleann) Pipes and had everyone clapping along, and Seabury, the others and I harmonized on the Richard Shindell song "On a Sea of Fleur de Lis ", which doubles as a gorgeous Halloween tune of a wishful witch.

It was, as the Gentry would say, a fine soft night, and as I bid them all goodnight with a Celtic blessing, “From Ghoulies and Ghosties and Long-Legged Beasties and Things That Go Bump In The Night…Good Lord deliver us!”, we wish our audience and Muddy's very gracious and hard-working staff a fine St. Patrick's Day…until next year!

 

Edgar Allan Poe needs no introduction to true aficionados of the macabre. Actually, he needs no introduction to anyone even slightly familiar with classic American literature.

Let's back up again…Edgar Allen Poe probably needs no introduction period . He is one of those names – William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain – that is simply known and recognized , even by those who have never read a single word of his prose or poetry, if that is possible. And just as remarkable, his body of work and the titles of his most famous tales – “The Raven” , “The Tell-Tale Heart” , “The Pit And The Pendulum” , “The Murders In The Rue Morgue” and “The Fall Of The House Of Usher” – are also as well known as he.

And because he chose mostly to work in that shadowy, phantasmagorical genre that we've come to know as Horror, Dark Fantasy and Fantastic Literature, Mr. Poe may well be the greatest and best known Horror Writer in history. And for someone with such a reputation, attention must be paid!

On Saturday, March 18 th , at Old Town Coffee & Chocolate in Eureka , CA, the SF Club of Humboldt did just that.


The Birthday Boy himself - not looking a day over 180!

 


A remarkable illustration of one of my favorite Poe tales, “A Cask Of Amontillado ”. The artist is unknown; if anyone recognizes him or her, please write to let me know.
This year marks Mr. Poe's 200 th birthday anniversary, having been born in 1809. And although his proper date of birth is January 19, the SF Club of Humboldt (an organization dedicated to the written and filmed expressions of Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy) decided to set aside April as the month of commemoration, with reading s of some of his best works, door prizes, and raven-shaped cookies for all the revelers in attendance.

And I was graciously invited to be a part of it.

And so on a fine Saturday evening I joined my fellow readers Amy Berkowitz (an on-air personality from the local radio station KHUM) and Justin (a gentleman whose last name I did not get, I apologize for the oversight) joined with the other SF Club members and customers and had a marvelous time. Club member Heidi Lampietti was our lovely and attentive hostess, and member Dennis Mello gave a brief biographical presentation on the life of Mr. Poe, as well as organizing the Trivia Contest later during the event. (And a very difficult contest it was, too; towards the end even I plaintively asked to use one of my Lifelines, or at least Buy a Vowel…)

And the stories…

 

Justin began with one of my favorite Poe pieces, “A Cask Of Amontillado , a story of vengeance served cold in the catacombs of Italy , and did very well by it. Ms. Berkowitz recited one of his most famous tales, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, an examination of madness, guilt and haunting after violent death, and the crowd responded enthusiastically. I went between them, reading one of my favorite stories, “The Masque Of The Red Death”, Poe's exploration of apathy and inhumanity during pestilence, with a growing sense of dread and inevitability. Those words also described my final reading, Poe's most famous work, “The Raven”. The audience seemed genuinely engrossed as I spun out the plight of the hapless narrator bewitched by an intruder whose only phrase, “Nevermore!” played on his ever increasing sense of menace and despair, and I was rewarded with a very appreciative round of applause.

We also had three door prizes to give out: a complete volume of Mr. Poe's stories and poems, and action figure of Edgar Allen Poe himself, and a new set of the Post Office's commemorative stamps! After sampling some more raven cookies and chocolates, we bid a fond toast to Mr. Poe, wishing him a very happy birthday!

A big Thank You to the staff of Old Town Coffee & Chocolates, The SF Club of Humboldt, and all our guests. I'll see you all again next year for 201!

 


© 2008 Patient Creatures Ltd.