Tour gets underway!
After consider able planning by a small but enthusiastic committee, the band found itself at the Jury’s Inn in Dublin. The meal for tonight was planned a short walk away at a typical Irish establishment called ‘The Arlington‘, where we were treated to a sumptuous meal, a three piece Irish Band, as well as Irish dancing.
It was a great start to the tour. However, most of the troupe decided to turn in early, feeling somewhat tired and jet-lagged after their long flight.
Saturday July 11th
With most players still weary from their journey, they welcomed a free day in Dublin, some choosing Temple Bar, others taking an Open Bus ride. Everyone was excited to be here, and looked forward to the tour.
Sunday July 12th
Eager to get started, we headed off for the Guinness factory, where we played two sets, then all enjoyed a tour of the factory and a welcome glass of Guinness at the end. There was not much time to rest, though, as we had another booking in the beautiful St Stephen’s Green. After travelling what seemed like ages to go just a short distance, we arrived and quickly set up for our second gig for the day. Unfortunately we’d only played a couple of pieces when the heavens opened and our audience scurried for cover.
Monday-Tuesday July 13th/14th
After a busy day we all looked forward to another free day in Dublin. That evening a rehearsal and social was planned with the St Georges Band in a church close to the centre of Dublin, and within easy reach of our accommodation. It was an interesting exercise for all of us, and we recognised a lot of the pieces in their folder.
Next morning we had to be packed and ready to leave early after our hearty Irish breakfast. We were headed for the Abbeyleix Manor Hotel, in Abbeyleix. On the way we stopped to visit Newbridge Silver where there were many interesting things to look at. Further on, we were treated to a guided tour of the National Horse Stud, a beautiful and most interesting place.
Our playout in Abbeyleix was for the Lions Club in a local church. An inspection of the venue meant a rather drastic change to the band’s usual arrangement, as well as removal of a few pews. However the concert was very successful, and the crowd called for more. We were also treated to a performance of a local gospel choir.
Wednesday July 15th
Our first stop after leaving Abbeyleix was Killkenny Castle, where we were booked in for a self-guided tour, after which we wandered either around the grounds or down to the little village. The Rock of Cashel was next, an old rocky fortress at the top of a hill, and the ancient seat of the Kings of Munster – an impressive structure, still, and we listened intently as our tour guide explained its usage and history.
After leaving Cashel, we travelled on to Cork, the Republic’s second largest city, where we were to spend the next four nights.
Thursday July 16th
Everyone looked forward to spending a few days in Cork, with lots to do. It was great to have a free day and evening to explore this lovely city on the banks of the River Lee many of us opting for a city tour in an open top bus. A traditional evening of Irish dancing was on offer, just a short walk away, and most of the troupe decided to participate.
Friday July 17th
Today’s journey was to take us to the small fishing village of Kinsale where we were booked for a performance as part of ‘Sounds on the Square‘ during the Kinsale Arts Festival. After a leisurely start we were able to wander around the cobbled walkways, take a boat trip, or hop on a train out to Charles’ Fort.
Evening descended, and the time for our performance approached. For the second time this tour we were presented with a setup challenge -a tiny stage and 35 musicians with large, heavy instruments to accommodate. However, we squashed ourselves into that space, and once again were met with a small but appreciative audience – not to mention a couple of tam o’ shantered lads over the fence!
Saturday July 18th
Today’s performance was a playout in the main street of Cork: The Grand Parade. No setup problems, here – the Grand Parade is a beautiful wide boulevarde. However, as we found almost every day in Ireland, it was bound to rain at some part of the day usually when we were playing. We persevered for a while, but as the music and players got wetter and wetter, we eventually had to call a halt.
Another event happening in Cork that day was an annual mile-long swim down the River Lee. As we knew there would be plenty of people there to entertain, we made our way over to the finishing point and set up to play. How annoying it was that 3 pieces into our program and we had to abandon once again because of the rain!
Following our two abandoned gigs, we had the rest of the day and evening free, some of us coming back to this very spot to enjoy dinner by the River Lee.
Sunday July 19th
Today we leave Cork and head for Limerick, the Republic’s third largest city. However, there’s some stunning countryside to be seen on the way.
First stop is the lovely stately home of Muckross House, built in 1843 by Henry Arthur Herbert. We enjoyed a guided tour of the house, which sums up the lifestyle of the landed gentry in Victorian times. Outside are beautifully manicured gardens and views of the Killarney National Park.
After the tour, wandering around the grounds, lunching, and of course making the obligatory stop at the gift shop, we travelled through Killarney and up through the beautiful National Park. Photo opportunities abounded and we also met some of the friendly locals (horses).
Moving on from this beautiful area, we headed for Limerick. Along the way we were informed that there would be a Limerick competition after dinner tonight. The coach went quiet, but the brain waves were palpable as we all tried to put our most memorable moments to verse. A short distance from Limerick is the lovely little town of Adare, where we stopped for refreshments and a stroll around the town.
Our accommodation in Limerick was a little out of the town centre. were to leave in the morning, some were keen to go walkabout to see they could of the town. The most prominent feature is the imposing John’s Castle, overlooking the Shannon River.
That night, the limericks flowed as fluidly as the wine and Guinness. With each reading, the room erupted raucous laughter, at times more due to the telling than the actual contents. The winning entry was, rather rudely directed towards our fearless leader, and not suitable for publication!
Monday July 20th
It was only a short 14.5 km drive northeast from Limerick to Bunratty Castle. We arrived around 9:30 for a guided tour of the castle and a leisurely stroll around the adjoining folk park depicting Irish village life around the turn of the century, with typical farmhouses, village street and shops. There was plenty to see, do, and of course, BUY! On good advice from Mark we went across the road to the Woollen Mills for a bite to eat where the bus was waiting for us to continue our journey.
Leaving Bunratty behind us we began our journey in the direction of Galway. The countryside gradually changed from flat, green and lush to barren and rocky – typical of many an Irish movie location shot. This took us through the Burren, a vast plateau of limestone hills.
One of Ireland’s most well known landscapes, the towering Cliffs of Moher rise sheer out of the Atlantic to a height of nearly 213m. The walkways were well maintained, allowing us to skirt across the top of the cliffs in both directions. There was even a cart for Olga to ride up to see the view.
The Cliffs were a very popular tourist attraction, as evidenced by the large carpark brimming with cars and coaches in a separate area. The shops and information centre were curiously built right into the side of the cliff. All too soon it was time to go, and the coach pulled away from the Cliffs with Barbi in hot pursuit!
It was late in the day when we arrived at the Westwood House Hotel in Galway, tired and weary of our day’s journey. Our accommodation was again, first rate, and we were treated to an outstanding three course meal, followed by a demonstration (with participation!) of Irish Coffee making.
Tuesday, 21st July
We piled onto the bus early for our trip into the centre of Galway. Parking was likely to be a problem, but we knew that the school grounds across the road might be available as it was school holidays. Our conductor was anxious to inspect the venue and hold a short rehearsal/ sound check before the lunchtime crowds arrived for the concert, which was in support of a local AIDS charity.
Into the church we trooped with our gear, but it wasn’t long before we all, one by one, stopped to gaze up in awe at the beauty of this, the largest medieval parish church in Ireland still in constant use. Built around 1320, it is said that the church inspired Christopher Columbus, who worshiped here in 1477. After setting up, we quickly took our places and played a warm-up piece to check the acoustics. What happened when we finished took us all by complete surprise, as the note on which we finished echoed for about five seconds.
When the concert finally started, the audience had built to a sizeable crowd, many of whom had come into the church after hearing us rehearse. Our first set was followed by a performance by the local school, helped out by a few of our own players. By the end of the concert, Rae had the crowd in the palm of his hand, calling for more. It was a most enjoyable afternoon for both players and audience, alike, and the organisers were more than pleased with the amount raised for their charity.
Buoyed by the concert, we packed up and dispersed to enjoy a pleasant afternoon on the streets of Galway, with plenty to see in easy walking distance from the church, a dominant feature of the city centre. A light afternoon shower did nothing to dampen our enthusiasm. Besides, it was something we had grown to expect in this country!
Late in the afternoon, we made our way to the quay near the Spanish Arch, where the coach was waiting to transport us back to the hotel. The Spanish Arch is one of the city’s most famous landmarks, built to protect cargoes of wine and brandy from Iberia. In a small cafe amongst the network of narrow streets, several of us stopped for refreshments while awaiting the coach. A piano in the bar beckoned, and Jack dazzled us all with an array of classics and popular tunes.
Wednesday 22nd July
Next morning we left Galway bound for our last playing venue at Kingscourt. Our planned stop along the way was at the ancient monastery of Clonmacnoise, founded in 545 AD by St Ciaran. The monastery grew into a prominent religious city, the ruins of which are a popular tourist attraction.
From Clonmacnoise, it was a long drive to Kingscourt, with only a short comfort stop along the way, and it was late in the day when we arrived. Again, the first stop was to examine the venue for tonight’s concert, and, as before, we were set the challenge of fitting onto a tiny stage. Rae again had to put on his thinking cap to work out where the players could possibly fit onto the stage.
Once the decision was made, we headed for Cabra Castle, our grand accommodation for the evening. Dusk was falling, and we were anxious to freshen up, have a look at our surroundings, and have dinner before making our way back to the hall for our concert.
What an incredible place – the hotel rooms spread throughout the place amongst a network of passageways and staircases. Mark’s room was like a presidential suite. Several band members had their accomodation in what was the old stables.
The evening meal was outstanding, and the service also superb. However, we were a bit rushed due to our playing commitment, which was rather a pity on our last night! We set off for the short drive to a local community hall for our last playout. It was a joint concert with the local St Mary’s Band, who we owed quite a lot to. They had very kindly loaned us several of the larger instruments for us to play on the tour.
Saint Mary’s Band started the evening’s entertainment. We then squeezed onto the stage. Dennis played his solo – Over the Rainbow, wonderfully well, as usual, and even Rae got into the act with a euphonium solo – Softly as I leave you. With the audience participating enthusiastically in the Can Can and Mexican Wave, we were urged to do an encore, Rae selecting the beautiful Hine e Hine.
A joint performance ended the night, and everyone came off the stage buzzing. We were then treated with a good old Irish supper before being bussed back to our Castle for the night!
The following morning, Bill had already left early to catch the ferry before most of us woke. We sadly ate breakfast before making our way back to Dublin to make our farewells and disperse in our various directions.
Congratulations to all those involved in both the planning and participation in the tour. It was a wonderful bunch of people to go away with, and I’m sure we’ll all look forward to the next one.