“Ken, you need to go into this shop. There is an amazing woman you need to meet; she would make a great portrait subject.” Admittedly I don’t always listen to Kathie, but this time I did, and how glad I am that I did. Shortly before dinnertime in Dingle, Ireland after quite a busy day of exploring, shopping and photographing, we discovered a person and a place that continues to make us smile. This half-hour visit remains a highlight of our recent Celtic sojourn. “Mazz” was a great find.
The shop itself is no more than twelve feet by twelve feet. Four people make for a crowd, and that’s while standing. Each of three walls are covered from ceiling to floor with Vinyl, CD, and amazingly, Cassette collections of music — Irish music, local music, all created by local and independent musicians. Some were recorded right in the shop itself, and a video found here shows a session in action.
The shop proprietor, Mazz O’Flaherty is a central and longtime matriarch of a lively Dingle music scene. She is described by some as “Mazz on the throne.” While her best preforming days may now be behind her, her connections with the next generation of musicians flow wide and run deep. Upon entering the shop the visitor is immediately greeted (best to say, engaged) through a combination of raucous humour and genuine interest. She brags that in her shop there are not six degrees or separation but more likely two. A sign on the wall reads: “local musicians and friends (and their friends) are our friends.” Even this Canadian found himself in animated and friendly conversation after only a couple of minutes. Other friends who signed notes posted on the wall include Bono, Donovan, The Chieftains, and Bob Dylan. Another sign reads: “Be kind to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.”
A 2014 review on Trip Advisor reads: “This delightful shop is owned by Mazz O’Flaherty, who is also a singer, musician, and artist. Several different types of music are offered for sale, but traditional Irish is given pride of place. The shop stocks many CDs by local bands and solo artists, many of which are not available elsewhere. In recent years, the shop has taken on an almost mythical status among serious Irish musicians, whom the owner proudly supports.” A number of sessions have been recorded right in the shop, most using a single microphone directly into a compact digital recorder — no fancy studio equipment here. Sessions can be heard and seen here. We also purchased the CD Fare Thee Well – Sessions from the Shop which entertained us while driving for many days and now enlivens our memory back at home.
One final aspect of our visit is worth mentioning. Invisible to me though noticed early on by Kathie is that Mazz is now almost totally blind. The shop runs on trust. If you want to purchase something you simply tell her what you want and you pay her accordingly. If you need help finding something she knows where various items are in the store, but you must locate them. If you want to hear something on the boom box you need to describe to her what she is holding in her hand. Sight challenges will not deter her from doing what she loves, in promoting the music she loves, performed and recorded by those musicians she loves.
Kathie explained to her that I also live with sight challenges (I am legally blind), and that when conditions are right, that I ride a bicycle. Well . . . that got her going! “How can you ride a bike?” She devoted a considerable amount of time (and volume) to exploring this theme, even with other customers. “He says that he can ride a bike but he can’t see – how can he do that?” This lively conversation could have continued for an hour or so, but I was getting hungry. Even as we left the store, she joined us outside, still incredulous about my cycling, as she struggled to compare our own experiences of blindness.
After hugs, farewells — and a promise to mention to any and all about the Dingle Lifeboat Fundraiser — we each moved on with our day, separately, though with a smile. For me, the moment was and remains enchanted. She needed no blarney stone to enable and inspire a gift of gab, where language and conversation took friend and stranger alike on a marvellous adventure, in music, in love, and in life.
If you watch the video linked above, make sure you watch through to the end where she sings a duet with a grand-daughter. Look at the twinkle in the young girl’s Irish eyes — they are not only smiling; they are singing.