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February 8, 2023

Peter Hurley: Happy birthday Mos Pupaza!

It was always easy to remember the birthday of Petru Godja “Mos Pupaza”. It’s today, the 17th of March, Saint Patrick’s Day. He might call me a dozen times during the year, but on his birthday I would call him. Today, I’ll also call and I ‘ll speak to his wife, and maybe his daughter and his son-in-law, and we’ll laugh about how great Mos Pupaza was but Mrs Pupaza will probably cry a little. Because old Mos Pupaza died suddenly and peacefully, without any warning, on the 3rd of January 2016, at the age of 80, “si tare mult il lipsesc”, we all miss him a lot.

A “mos” is a dear old wise man, a term of endearment and respect.

A “pupaza” is a hoopie, a marshland bird characterised by its high-pitched whistle. When Romanians are telling a funny true story, you’ll sometimes hear them say a lovely phrase, just before the punchline, “…si colacul peste pupaza…”, which literally means “…and as impossible as it  seems, to top it all off, in the same way that you’d find it hard to believe me if I told you that I tossed an inflatable life-saving-ring (colac) into the pond and it landed “plonk” exactly over the head of an unsuspecting hoopie (pupaza) …”.

And I suppose inspired by this lovely expression – “colacul peste pupaza” – Mos Pupaza got his nickname. His friends bestowed on him a wonderfully expressive positive honour when he was a young man, reflecting the fact that you could always expect Pupaza to share his wisdom shrouded in a lovely, entertaining and generous story.

At his funeral we received the confirmation: a true peasant leader had passed away. One of the last of the Mohicans. A man who loved and respected his family, his friends, his neighbours and his community. A man who was loved and respected by them. Pupaza built his own house in the garden of his father from whom he learned his craft. His daughter’s husband, Petru, built their house in Pupaza’s garden, heroically learned the old man’s craft and is now the leader of a four-man team that continues to create monumental authentic Maramures wooden gates and “troite” (roadside wooden crosses) in Pupaza’s workshop.

Throughout his career, Pupaza’s door was open for any young man from the village to work with him, to learn the art of carpentry and wood scultpure. Dozens of young men from Valea Stejarului were his apprentices and most of them today are very well paid carpenters working on major construction projects in Dublin, Bruxelles, London, thanks in no small part to their time spent with Mos Pupaza.

At his funeral, I remembered a story from Ireland. In late 1972, a great piper died unexpectedly. At his funeral his friends proposed a statue in the village. Then one man said: “Not a statue. Willie wouldn’t want that. He’d want us to do something to keep the tradition alive. Let’s start a summer school for the tradition, to ensure this great gift is passed on to the next generation.” The Willie Clancy Summer School was born in the summer of 1973.

In 2009, I first visited the school’s co-founder, Muiris O’Rochain, and I remember him saying almost fiercely: “Everyone thinks we’ve a festival going on here. Well, this is NOT a festival! It’s a serious pedagogical exercise. But when 1.000 people of all ages come together to enjoy learning traditional Irish music and dance, and by the way, half of them aren’t even Irish, well, of course there’s a great party every evening.”

The 43-year legacy of the Willie Clancy Summer School is synonymous with the revival of interest in Irish traditional music, synonymous with the revival of Ireland.

I went back to the village of Milltown Malbay in 2011, with Romanian musicologist and traditional musician Grigore Lese and we followed the Willie Clancy Summer School from start to finish. Later that summer, Harry Hughes, the co-founder of the school generously made the return trip to Maramures during “The Long Road” festival to see for himself what it was that had got me so crazy about Rural Romania. He still cherishes that extraordinary experience.

And now, today, on the old dear man’s birthday, here in Bucharest’s legendary Nine O’Clock Newspaper, the family and friends of Petru Godja “Mos Pupaza”, are proud to announce that the first edition of the “Mos Pupaza Summer School” of living village traditions will take place in his home village, Valea Stejarului, literally, the Valley of the Oaks, in Maramures County from the 15th to the 21st of August 2016, with the blessing, advice and support of the Willie Clancy Summer School, in Milltown Malbay, County Clare, Ireland.

Happy birthday, Pupaza!


For 7 years Irishman Peter Hurley has been promoting the authentic village culture of Romania, and especially that of Maramures, including the organisation of an annual village festival called “Drumul Lung spre Cimitirul Vesel” / “the Long Road to the Merry Cemetery”.

He can be contacted on facebook: peter damian hurley; email: peterhurley68@gmail.com; website: www.traditia.ro

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