An Ichabod Abroad: An insight of Tony’s learnings in Ireland

Tony Silvestri plays tunes of Father Kelly in Concertina. The presentation was held in the International House on Sept.22

Tony Silvestri, a history professor at Washburn University, went on a sweet sabbatical trip to the west of Ireland this summer. From driving a Clio on the wrong side of the Irish streets to playing Irish Trad music with perfect buoyancy, Silvestri has enriched himself as well as the students he came back to with his learnings and experiences.

On Thursday, Sept. 22, the International House hosted a Brown Bag International Lecture, where Silvestri presented his insights regarding the interplay of the myths and realities surrounding Ireland and the role Irish Trad music has played in creating, challenging and perpetuating those myths. With tunes of Father Kelly in an English concertina and the song “Flower of Sweet Strabane” Silvestri gave a lively presentation of his experiences which he said would take him years to internalize.

Silvestri started his trip along the cold sites of Ireland like Doolin, Donegal and eventually Skellig, where “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was shot. Witnessing the Viking and medieval era from the sites in Limerick to 21st century economic revival sites, Silvestri says that once you get off the easy roads that buses can go, you find a clearer sense of the ‘real Ireland.’

“As a musician, poet, singer and storyteller, experiencing the ambiance of being in an Irish pub and singing Irish music was very invaluable and eye opening to me,” Silvestri said. He also praised the way Irish folk play music.
“The delicate, nuanced and effortless musical experiences show the musician’s communion with one another. They play with ornamentation with variations in chording which creates a more buoyant environment.” Silverstri said.

To learn the methods of trad music, Silvestri enrolled in a week-long festival where he took classes from master players. He learned and incorporated slower playing, ornamentation, contact with fellow players and variations in his playing. In the process he met great flute player and whistler Christy Barry, who Silvestri refers to with utmost respect and appreciation.

With conversations including the elements of trad music to the disparities he faced between the myths and realities of his experiences, Silvestri describes the dichotomies he had to work through.

“I was not prepared to witness the reality of romanticized victimhood that Irish Americans buy into because of the long history of oppression. The west of Ireland seemed almost filled with ruined houses, famined cottages, derelict places, torn down churches; evidence of a vibrant culture destroyed by the centuries of English-British invasion,” Silvestri said.

Tony expressed his dejection towards the slow motion death of such vibrant culture because of the perpetuated policies over all these centuries. He said that the policies resulted in the death of Irish music, harp, tradition, language and economy from which Ireland is still not recovering.

Dan Brachman, an audit student at Washburn University and Marianne Brachman also attended the presentation.

“Tony Silvestri’s presentation was especially priceless to me since I am of Irish descent generations back.” Dan Brachman said. “His travel slides were stunning in not only the legendary geography but the day-to-day life he captured of village and pub life. The people, the smiles, the hospitality and the love of sharing everything came through so beautifully in his photos.”

Tony presented the complex history and stories of this great country with great sensitivity, joyfulness and pure delight. He concluded his learnings by offering invitations to join his lessons in the Kaw Valley Public House where he hosts music sessions every Sunday. The next session will be on Oct. 2.

Edited by: Alijah McCracken, Simran Shrestha