lizEvery other year on my annual tour of Scotland I divert for a couple of days to Ireland. Specifically we drive up the beautiful Northeast coastal route to the Giant’s Causeway and thence to Ballyeamon Barn.

The barn is located in one of the stunning Antrim Glens that radiate back from the coast, and is attached to the home of Liz Weir. Liz is a highly regarded, internationally famous professional storyteller. She purchased a run-down farm house and steadings with help from the European Union some 20 years ago, and has worked hard to turn it into a comfortable hostel-cum-performance space where she provides hospitality to walkers, tourists, and storytelling and traditional music enthusiasts, among others.

We first got to know her when my wife introduced me to the world of storytelling; Liz had booked her for one of the festivals she ran, and they got on like a house afire. Liz subsequently attended our wedding in Auchtermuchty, Scotland and we’ve been working with each other off and on ever since, from Belfast to Dublin and across to the States, including my Scottish tour going to Liz’s storytelling barn on even years.

Which brings me neatly to why I have the greatest regard for Liz.

She is a brave woman! She involved herself in the Irish peace process when bombs and shootings were the order of the day, when it would have been easy to say (as the recently ennobled Australian Director of the Edinburgh International Arts Festival did) “we need to keep politics out of the arts.”

Liz worked both sides of the conflict with her particular branch of the arts to bring them together, using music and stories to raise awareness of a common humanity and shared values. In the process, of course, the vested interests on each side had her on both their hit-lists. Liz’s agenda wasn’t non-political – not by a long chalk. Her political message? This has gone on too long and there are bad folks on both sides who are taking everyone for a ride. Enough is enough!

So Liz is one of my real living heroes and we could do with a lot more like her.

If you would like to meet her and spend time with her I can offer you two opportunities – she will be appearing at a house-concert here at the bookstore this coming Monday (Sep. 9th) at 7 pm ($8/$5unwaged). Or can join my 2015 tour at the end of June and experience the the hospitality of Ballyeamon Barn.

Slainte Mhath Liz Weir and lang may yir lum reek!

Hame, Sweet Hame…

Jack’s back! And so is his weekly Wednesday blog post.

East, West, hame’s best! (That’s “home” fer those amang ye wha’ cannae speak Scots.)

Ah, but which hame?

Avid readers will know that I take a group of Scotophiles over to the old country every June. This year was the sixth such trip and it was as enjoyable as ever – a lovely group of seven folk (should have been eight but one had to call off at the last minute for health reasons). We were carried all round Scotland and the North East corner of Ireland in the trusty seventeen seat bus driven by our equally trusty driver and co-guide Colin Stuart, meeting such talented and interesting people as Liz Weir, Pete Clark, Jock Duncan, Doli McLennan, Robin Morton and Alison Kinnaird. (Look ’em up; you’ll be glad you did!)

I always go a few days early to stay with Colin just outside my hometown, Dunfermline, but every year when I drive through the place I find they’ve added another roundabout and another couple of traffic lights – it’s a complete nightmare. Buildings that were much loved landmarks have disappeared. In other words, it’s not my home any more.

Meanwhile, back in Big Stone Gap, Wendy waits quietly until I depart before organizing all our friends into a work-crew and completely re-organizing the bookstore. I get hints via email and blog posts, but it never really prepares me. I may not come back to new roundabouts and traffic lights, but shelves have danced ’round about to new positions, she does a lot of traffic with yard sales, chairs have descended the stairs, and half our furniture is waiting patiently in the basement until I complete the work down there.

In other words, it’s not my home any more….

But you see what I said there? I mentioned friends – on both sides of the Atlantic. Ah – now friends are a lot more important than roundabouts, traffic lights, buildings and furniture. So I still have two hames, in the East and the West, and will have as long as I have friends there.

Then there’s that special friend who waits ’til I’ve gone before re-organizing the bookstore. Wherever she is, is truly hame!