When Rudy Maxa Came to Donegal

Selected Blog from the Returning to Wonder Series – 2012 to 2017

I got quite the surprise when I got a call from the Irish Tourist Board’s head office in Dublin to ask if I could show US veteran broadcaster, Rudy Maxa, presenter of ‘Rudy Maxa’s World Travels’, around Donegal for two days. Instinctively, I jumped at the chance. We were joined on our road trip by his partner and producer, Ana Scofield. The three of us seemed to hit it off right away, even though I pulled up to collect them from outside the 5 Star Lough Eske Castle Hotel in my ‘vintage’ Peugeot 305. It was clear to me that Rudy and Ana were genuine travelers, who both understood how much the journey is every bit as important as the destination.

We weaved our way over and through the Donegal Highlands as we listened to music like Clannad and Altán and Radio na Gaeltachta, (the local Irish language station) on my car radio. I talked about the landscape, people, stories, folklore, culture, and climate, which all combine to make Donegal such a wild, unpredictable and special place to live. We drank fresh water from a mountain well and gazed up at a double rainbow near Glenveagh National Park, as the sun exploded in a fiery blaze of gold and yellows from behind a shower cloud.

The next day we set off for Slieve League along the Wild Atlantic Way, passing by the picturesque fishing port town of Killybegs along the way. From near the highest sea-cliffs in Western Europe, I pointed out parts of Fermanagh, Leitrim and the monolithic Ben Bulben mountain in Co Sligo and Nephin Mountain in distant Mayo. The shower clouds cleared and Donegal was showing off to my guests.

During our travels I got a call from a member of our local walking group, inviting me to tell some stories at a house céilí. When I explained I was with guests, we were all invited! Later that night, I collected Rudy and Ana from Lough Eske Castle and brought them along a maze of darkened county roads, until we found the céilí house. A lively muster of senior singers, musicians, reciters and dancers had already gathered and we were warmly welcomed inside by our host Sean Travers.

A lavish buffet was spread out on two tables for a supper feast but first there was the matter of good fun and entertainment. Rudy and Ana soon found themselves swinging around the kitchen floor for a mixture of Barn Dances and Waltzes. A man and woman performed the clap dance and then got me wondering that perhaps life doesn’t really begin until 60, as I watched them swing their legs with increasing speed over a long sweeping brush, which they used to perform an old Scots-Irish folk dance.

Before we left, a group of ladies sang a beautiful Irish blessing and I could see my two guests were moved to tears. Rudy was then given a customary dram of whiskey by the ‘fear an tí’ Sean Travers, known in Donegal as deoch an dorais, or a drink for the road!

A bright crescent moon accompanied my drive home that night and my heart was glad. I realised my part in Rudy and Ana’s ‘journey in wonder’ through Donegal. They got to experience an authentic tradition of house céilís in Ireland, where people gathered to entertain themselves as active participants and gained from the company and interaction. I made a wish that my generation won’t let this tradition pass into local history books as it is a deep connection with countless generations before us.

I was about to say my farewells to Rudy and Ana upon leaving them safely back at Lough Eske Castle. Rudy Maxa then announced, “Keith, its too early for goodbyes, I want you to be my storyteller interviewee for tomorrow’s live broadcast.” The next day. Rudy did a live radio broadcast from Solis Lough Eske Castle Hotel to over 126 syndicated public radio stations across the United States, and your truly did two live interviews with stories and poems!!