Joe Jencks

Joe's Notes

10-15-07 Finally Here in Ireland! (Pics and words)

101507 Finally Here in Ireland Pics and words

I took this picture today just north of the Cliffs of Moher. Holy cow! It's really pretty here. Wish you were all here with me. I love the image of the spray from the wave dancing up in the air as it smacks into the rock.

Additional Images, Sunset in O'Hare Airport in Chicago... waitng for the flight.

Next, a very sleep deprived Joe at the ruins of an old church that is now a cemetary. It contains the graves of numerous victims of "The Great Hunger" as they call it here... the Famine. More on that in days to come.

Last, The old church.

Day One...

So I am on the plane and headed for Ireland. Wow. I am also really tired. I want to be fresh for the experience, but that is not the reality of my life. I am exhausted from weeks of heavy out put. I have been traveling and performing and I am really drained. This day, protracted as it is with a trans-Atlantic flight will mark a first for me. It will be the first time I have been in three countries in one day. Technically, it is two days, but as I will not have been to bed in between it is one very LONG day. It seems somehow metaphoric. I come to Ireland, as a weary man seeks his home at the end of a long day.
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For so many, coming to Ireland is about all the sights they will see, all the things that they will do Its a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For some it is a vacation and a form of entertainment, a spectacle to behold and then on to the next.

But, for me going to Ireland is about going home. Yes I am a stranger. Yes I am ignorant of many aspects of Irish history and culture. But it is my other home. I am a citizen ship in a nation that now calls me to come home. I know that it will change me too.

Granddad (Felix) Kilbride came over to the US in 1914. And, for those of you who have my CD, What Kind of Brother, you may have noticed that there is a fiddle tune on the CD called Felix Kilbrides March. It is part of the song We Cry Out, It honors the self same man. And my attempt to capture some of the spirit I feel coming down through the years from him to me.

The Clan as it were, left Ireland for various reasons and over the course for several years. But in the end they mostly all came to America. Great-Granddad was a tailor and a banker. The banking part had something to do with the family leaving. He illegally appropriated a large sum of cash from the bank, on the order of 2,000 pounds. In 1914 that was serious money! He went to jail, and several of the children went to America to start to make their way. Sometime after that, on a time line that is unknown to me, three of the children, returned to Ireland to make arrangements to get their father out of Jail. They were allowed to take him, as long as they took him out of Ireland. Great Granddad Felix had two choices, jail or America. Easy choice I suspect.

My own Granddad Felix made his way to Chicago, where he also became a banker. He married my Grandmother Ellen Shurr, and they had three kids. My Uncle Bob, my Aunt Ann, and my mother Kathleen in that order. My grandmother was among the VERY first female accountants in the state of Illinois. She was a kind of feminist and a terminally pragmatic woman. My mother got both of those traits in spades.

This last May, I went for the second time to the Kerrville Folk Festival in Kerrville, TX. I wanted the experience of leaving the culture I know and entering a different world. I was stagnant in creativity, spirit and emotion. And, a manifest symptom of the malaise, I really dragged my feet getting there. Afraid of the change I was trying to welcome into my life. A lot like driving with the parking break on! I was apprehensive of what it might mean for me. I felt like I was about to set in motion events that would have a real impact on my life. I was excited to go, but I knew it would change me. And it did. I met a new musical partner, Helena Nash. I wrote two new songs, I conceived an album, and I made a lot of new friends there. I lost a lot of sleep, gained a lot of vision, Fell in love with humanity again, and found my muse again. I left with a renewed sense of purpose. I left with the feeling that I was again in love with my life as a musician. And more than that I was in love with music again.

That love led to making the newest record, The Candle And The Flame, which led to promoting that record to radio, which led to landing 3 songs in the top ten and having the whole album ranked as #2 on the US folk charts. All because I went to Kerrville, Texas and cleaned out the closets of my mind and heart.

But tonight I travel across this vast ocean in a few hours a journey that used to be really perilous and take weeks. I am struck by the fact that I do not feel like I am going to a strange land. Texas seems weirder to me than Ireland. (No offense to Texans, but you all do live in a foreign country) Tonight, I am going to a place where I intend to put down roots. Perhaps buy a house someday? Maybe raise a family? It feels like a first date of an arranged marriage. There seems to be some certain inevitability to my relationship with Ireland. I am not setting something in motion I am well into the journey that started long ago, and I am hanging on for the ride.

I did not fit in with my peers as a child. I had a few friends, but I loved things that made me really not cool even with them at times. I loved to sing, something that will earn any boy the name fag. I loved to eat my vegetables. I liked to sit and think. I hated violence, and I liked to play with sewing and cooking. I was a very earnest boy. I was very trusting, and I did not understand most peoples jokes. Sarcasm and other sorts of humor were frequently elusive to me. I was overwhelmed by the busyness of life. I wanted to go to the place where I did not have to be doing all the time. I wanted to go to the place where simply being was enough.
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My grandma Kilbrides house was like that. It was a place where I could feel safe. Being the youngest of a big family, I often found my own house to be really loud and chaotic. And my parents and siblings were so busy with their own life that I often felt lost and wanting for companionship. Grandma was getting on in years, and we both wanted to take life at a similar pace. We were good company to each other. She died when I was eight, and I really missed her.

Grandma Kilbride was actually German and Alsatian and grew up in Milwaukee. But she married my granddad Felix, from County Kildare. And they lived much of their lives in the greater Chicago area. Granddad made it home to Athy, County Kildare only once. It was a few months before he died, which was well before I was born. I never knew him save through stories my mother told me. But in a way, I did come to know him enough anyway to realize that I would have liked my Granddad very much and found him to be marvelous company.

While my Grandmas house was a refuge for me I always found her demeanor to be a bit stern and distant, I assumed my whole life that that was just part of the Kilbride way. That it was a part of who we are as a people. But then I met my Cousin Terry Kilbride in Detroit a few years ago. He was very jovial, optimistic and light of heart. A couple of years after that, I went to a Kilbride Family Reunion in Detroit. I met about 45 cousins of various forms. And none of them had that heaviness of spirit I associated with Grandma Kilbride. A light went on in my head. I realized that my grandmother had had a tough life in some ways.

To begin with, she grew up in Milwaukee and was of German extraction at a time when Germans were not well liked in this country. In addition, her solemnity could also be attributed to a really tough family upbringing. Her mother was institutionalized for mental illness, and eventually died in the institution. Grandma Kilbride raised her younger sister, and took care of her father who worked, as he was able to support the family. Grandma Kilbride, as I understand it, was forced to take on the responsibilities of a grown woman at a young age. Eventually she had to go out into the world and start to earn a living younger than most. Eventually Grandmas sister also was institutionalized and committed suicide. And Grandma took on raising her sisters son as well as her own three children. Then later in life she buried her husband, too young. As I look on it now, from 35 years old I think she had a lot of reasons to be VERY solemn. And yet she laughed and was good company to be sure. But reserved in her joy. Guarded.

But when I met the Kilbride Clan in Detroit, I realized that I was seeing a different side to the family, a lineage that had not been shaped by so much tragedy. I felt like I was experiencing a slightly more IRISH side of the family.

My own father Edward Jencks died when I was 19, and my mother died when I was 24. I never knew my Grandpa Jencks either, as he died when I was three. I have one very gentle memory of the man, and my Grandma Jencks died less than a year before my dad. Weather my reflections are right or wrong factual or mythological in interpretation all of this sets up the framework for my trip to Ireland. I have lost my roots. I have my siblings and they are SO very important to me. They are my anchors in this world. But that is not enough.
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I go to Ireland as a man seeking that place I always wanted as a boy. That place where I fit in, the place where people have time to spend being not just doing. Time to play music and visit and have a pint and not be in such a damned hurry. I want Ireland to be the place where I can finally be a human being not just a human doing. Then maybe I can bring the lesson back to the states with me and remember how to be that person all the time!

I have chosen a life a touring performer and a songwriter or perhaps it chose me. But regardless, we Americans always have to be doing something it seems. We are always up to something, and feel guilty about it if we are sitting still. I decided a long time ago that if I had to be busy, if I had to work, if I had to be a human doing, it would be on my own terms. So I became a self employed musician. The best sort of human doing I know of is making great music. And yet I STILL yearn to be a human being.

Many people come to Ireland with so many frozen needs. They have yearnings from their past and present, frozen solid in emotional ice. Needs and desires and longings sealed in time like a Wooly Mammoth stuck in a glacier. I want very much NOT to be that way in the next 18 days. I want very much to be open to experiencing Ireland as it is not as I want it to be. But no matter how I may try to be neutral I doubt I can do so. I am predisposed to loving Ireland and the Irish people. They are my people. Foibles and all I am one of them. I am a citizen of two nations. One has been my home for 35 years. And one is the home I have ever imagined I should have been born to.

Illusions are attractive. And I want to have my eyes wide open. But I also want to give myself permission to passionately love what I thought was Irish, as I learn to love what IS Irish. And, in so doing, unite these two separated-at-birth halves of my own soul.

I am sure the Irish will disappoint me in some way every fantasy has a price. But I am also sure that by the end of the next 18 days in Ireland I will LOVE the Irish and also myself in a new way a more real way. In the way of a human being who has a sense of where he comes from. I find it hard to know where I want to go in my life lacking a full understanding of where I come from. If nothing else, I look forward to having more of that perspective by the time I return to the states on Halloween.

So The grand adventure begins. By the time this is posted to the web site, I will be in Ireland. I will be figuring out how to deal in Euros, and how to drive on the other side of the road. I will be learning how to read the facial expressions and mannerism of a people that are my people, and yet strangers too. May at least a few of them not be so strange to me by the end of the month, and may even one or two become as family.

What Ive noticed so far

There is a REALLY big Shamrock on the airplane. The upholstery and the attire of the staff on the plane are both very VERY green. Coach feels a bit more luxurious here and all the staff have charming accents. The Ginger Ale comes in cute little cans that list everything in metric and look like that were made solid enough to withstand reentry into earths atmosphere from Low Earth Orbit.

The Safety Video featured this goofy little Wallace and Grommit looking dude with bug eyes. He demonstrated in the animation, how to put your head between your legs (so you can kiss your ass goodbye) in case of an emergency landing. I laughed out loud. He looked so ridiculous and had such a hilarious facial expression.

This is the nicest airplane I have ever been on, and the staff are amazingly cordial and professional. I just had the best airplane meal I have ever had. Beef that tasted like beef, peas and carrots that were only slightly over cooked, potatoes that were perfect, and I had to let my meal cool down before I ate it. It was actually hot.
The dont just sell little bottles of spirits; they will sell you a 1/2 liter on the plane for 10 Euro. (Dont drink it all at once, or you wont enjoy your first day in Ireland. Though a wee dram does wonders for jet lag.)

We have multiple entertainment choices, which I hope to ignore as I intend to sleep when I am done writing here. But how cool. We can play video games from our seats, choose between multiple video presentations and films, and have a wide selection of audio options, including one channel that is all FOLK MUSIC! Imagine United or Delta in the US dedicating a channel to FOLK! I feel so validated! Yeah!!!

Suffice it to say, I am so far enamored of the experience of European and specifically Irish travel. More soon my friends And thanks as always for your encouragement and support, especially the 10 folks from the Joe Jencks Fan List who are coming on this trip with me. I will write more about them tomorrow, and in the days to come.

My deep and abiding thanks and love to Lynn for her support, encouragement, and for wading through 2 years of correspondence with the Irish Government to verify my lineage and help me get citizenship. Love you Lynn.

In Joy and Fatigue

•Joe Jencks

(On Aer Lingus  somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean)