Ail Fionn origins
the three cathedrals visible from the Korenmarkt, Gent

In August 1991, Matthew was exploring the city of G(h)ent in Flanders, having just arrived for a period of mathematical research there. In the Korenmarkt, where three mighty cathedrals stand adjacent, he found a group of young people busking. He was struck by how little they seemed concerned by money-making (letting kids come up and play on their instruments, etc.), and how much fun they were having. It turned out that this was the first time they had ever busked. Compelled to stop for a chat, he was handed an old guitar and encouraged to join in.

Several lasting friendships emerged from this meeting. Three years later, having moved to Gent, Matthew was living in a house with three of the buskers - Alan, Greet and Inge. He and Inge began playing spacey, improvised guitar duets, and were surprised by the ease with which this improvisation appeared to happen.

Inge had played classical guitar for many years as a child, but had almost no knowledge of any other music. Matthew had a vast knowledge of an eclectic range of musics, but only a basic, intuitive grasp on the guitar.

Having travelled around Britain and Western Europe a bit with rucksacks and guitars, and having enountered the 'tribadelic eco-protest' music scene in England (typified by The Spacegoats), they got a couple of second-hand mandolins. Inge took to hers very quickly, while Matthew moved on to the saz, a Turkish seven-stringed instrument, having found one for about £40 in a tweedehandsbeurs (second-hand market) in Ghent's Citadelpark.

Their saz-and-mandolin sound quickly took shape, and the next five years were spent as travelling musicians in England, Wales, Ireland, Cornwall, Spain, France, Belgium, and Latin America. On Lammas (1st August) in 1995, they were cycling through the village of Elphin in Co. Roscommon (Eire), en route to a small Rainbow Gathering in Donegal. The Irish name is "Ail Fionn". There's a "cathedral" there (a small, ruined, church with a "throne"), stories of St. Patrick and miracles associated with the adjacent standing stone. Inge touched the stone, and there was a sudden, intense downpour of rain, almost out of nowhere. They started to use the name "Ail Fionn" after that, when people needed a name to call them.

bicycles in front on Alton Barnes White Horse

cycling to Avebury one summer - Alton Barnes White Horse in the background

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