So for those of you that don’t know, I sing in a Choir. The Cuesta College North County Chorus, to be exact. Under the direction of Cassandra Tarantino, last year (that is to say, 2010) the Chorus had loaded up on a plane with spirits high, taxied out on to the Philadelphia runway and were promptly told that we would not, in fact, be going to Ireland due to a very unkind interjection by a Volcano. Cursing and spitting at the powers that be, we (there were 40 or more of us, all vocalists so you can imagine the colorful language) resigned to fly back home after an… interesting.. night in a Philadelphian hotel. My mother and I, who had taken two weeks off of work in order to continue after the tour to England, landed in San Francisco airport and promptly got on a plane to Mexico. The pictures can be found in the Gallery, and though we had a great time it wasn’t Ireland. When we returned home, we caught wind of mad plotting. *Bleep* the volcano, they shouted. We would go in 2011, no force of nature will stop us. It had, after all, been a dream of our fearless director, to take her flock to the Emerald Isle, and Lord knows you can not stop a force like Cassandra.
We landed in Dublin on May 22, 2011.
That? That right there is the inside of Dublin Airport. The news said that the volcano had tried to prevent us from making it again. Bleep the volcano indeed. It wasn’t all fun and games of course, there were days dedicated to music. We are a choir, after all. And not only did we have the incredible experience that is performing pieces inside of beautiful and ancient cathedrals, but travelling with us from Bakersfield California was the renowned director Dr. Ron Kean. You see, he wrote 3 pieces of music that we were to perform. He took 3 poems by W.B. Yeats and set them to music (Brown Penny, The Song of Wandering Aengus, and He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven.) These pieces had never been performed outside of the United States, so it was our extreme honor to not only be the first group to perform them abroad, but also to perform them in Sligo, the town where Yeats was inspired to write and which he considered his home.
So if you have a free moment, care to journey through Ireland as seen by a Mutt? Of course you do.
**The Slideshow things seem to be kinda finicky. Press “Play Again” and you’ll be able to watch the slideshow if it’s ended before you made it to the page. Press “View Full Album” and it’ll take you to another screen where you can click on the images individually and also see them full size.
To start, after we landed in Dublin we learned something fun and interesting. Our President, Mr. Obama, had fallowed us to Ireland. So everywhere we looked were the yellow jackets of the Guarda, and steel temporary fencing directing traffic.
Also notice the languages on the sign. You got your English, and you got Irish Gaelic. It was refreshing to see signs in not Spanish.
That round building up there is where Obama was to give his speech. We were leaving the city as he arrived to the plaza, and he skipped out early to avoid the volcano (you’ll notice that Iceland seems to really have a problem with us.) The bus had to stop there because of the gated off area, which meant that the tour group had to *gasp* walk about thirty yards to Trinity College where they store the Book of Kells.
The Book of Kells is a right ancient (Around the year 800 a.d.) book that has phenomenal artwork, demonstrating to a T the Celtic knot-work and art of the time. Also in that building is the Long Room, a massive, old and well preserved library. The smell of old books was overwhelming, and any literary nut like me should make a point to go and see it.
After seeing the Book, we traveled to the Guinness Storehouse.
Now, for those of you that don’t know, Guinness is one of God’s Gifts to Man, so I was rightly stoked to be attending such a place. Located in Dublin, the Storehouse is where the original St James Brewery stood, and is a museum of sorts. At the top is a Gravity Bar, where you can look through the 360 degrees of window out over the city. Also, free pint.
Guinness is kind of a big deal. It tastes like something that no man should drink, it’s alcoholic and is about the color and consistency of tar. Which is all the correct ingredients to make something that is more than a little great. Now, the place it is made is less like a factory and more like a city. Ive worked for wineries that rank among the largest in the US. Ive also been to wineries that are far larger. But I have never seen a operation like St. James. Take a look:
Yes, it has it’s own railway system.
Dublin is a pretty amazing place. I really fell in love with the city, and didn’t want to leave.
Now it was in Dublin that I went to my first ever Irish Pub (like, an actual pub in Ireland, we have “Irish Pubs” around my home town, but they really arn’t the same.) O’Donaghues was the name, he had currency glued to the wall and live music.
People with instruments would just join in, some would leave, the music never stopped. Standing room only, the whole place is about as big as my tiny apartment. I live for traditional Irish Music, so as far as things to do going to a pub with real music was pretty high on the list. I think I spent a total of five nights in an Irish Pub listening to live music. Out of 8 total nights.
The next day I got to see my first real Cathedral. St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. I decided that my house, when I’m obscenely wealthy, will just be a copy of this building.
Oh, and there is stained glass everywhere. In every Cathedral and Church, beautiful stained glass. It was made worse by the fact that I often work with glass, and know that these works can’t be reproduced. I loved just staring at the back-lit tapestries.
After an Impromptu concert in the middle of that grand cathedral (one which reduced many a choir member to tears. It was emotional, here we were in the middle of the beautiful place, finally having made it to Ireland singing our ‘signature’ song) we made way to the ancient settlement of Clonmacnoise.
Let me start by saying that I love ancient ruins. I love old buildings, and I love giant masonry structures. The ‘newer’ buildings date back to the twelfth century. The older ones, including the High Crosses (High Crosses are kind of a thing in Ireland) date back to the 800s. The river seen in the pictures is the River Shannon.
Next we arrived in Sligo. The stomping ground of a one W.B. Yeats.
Here we had our first concert, as well as a tour of the lake where the Lake Isle of Innisfree resides. But before the concert, the first evening there I was to visit a fantastic pub, where our fearless directer whipped out here flute and joined in with the band. There was dancing, and we were invited back the next evening for a special gathering of musicians.
That Right There? Our fearless leader bringing down the house.
Some pictures of Lough Gill, The Castle on Lough Gill, Sligo and a Severed Pigs Head. We passed a butcher shop near the church we were singing in, and were greeted by a man that was very proud to show off his pigs head. “Yer makes a shtew out of it, or cooks up the ears for startin”
Singing at the church was more than a little special. This was Yeats home town, after all. It was our first performance outside of California (really, outside of the small county of San Luis Obispo) and we had a decent audience that showed up to see us (this only happened once.) Ron Kean stepped in to direct the pieces he wrote.
The writer of the pieces we performed directed our choir, in the home town of the poet from whom the lyrics came, on it’s first international performance. And then we were invited to tea and cakes, where we were made to suffer through even more egoflation when everyone talked about how well we did. So yah, Sligo was kind of awesome.
Also, speaking of Mr. Yeats.
Outside the church where he is buried, the lyrics to the song we sang titled Only My Dreams.
The humble grave of W.B. Yeats and his wife, George.
While in Sligo, we stopped at the Tobernalt Holy Well. Here, water bubbled from the ground, and it’s something of a sanctuary, the end point of a pilgrimage. It’s also amazingly beautiful.
Next stop, Donegal. We only spent a short amount of time here, and mostly to see Donegal Castle.
Of course, we also had lunch. The best food I had on the trip came from this town. From this pub:
And what exactly does one eat at The Old Castle (for it was across the street from the old castle) Bar and Restaurant?
Thats Bangers and Mash (Mid Right) Irish Stew (Near Right) Fish N Chips (Near Left and Far Right) and Mushroom quiche (Far Left). And of course, Tea and Beer. Food and friends is really what the choir is about, and that was reflected on the tour. No, really, the chorus has it’s own cookbook for sale.
After lunch we headed to the next hotel, located in the town of Derry. Or LondonDerry. Don’t ask, the explanation takes hours. There is more history here in this town than the entire state of California possesses. Our tour-guide (Who I haven’t mentioned until this point, but her name is Pauline and she was awesome. I owe her a case of California wine) described the conflict between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as a puzzle with no edges. Each time you get a piece, you just realize that the puzzle is bigger.
I guess I should take a sec to explain something to all you that don’t know. Ireland as we think of it is really two separate entities. There is the Republic of Ireland, who’s capital is Dublin, and is a country. Then there is Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK. Now, there were a lot of folks (Still Are) that don’t really like this whole split apart thing. They were at war with each other until 1998, and the scars are still wide open. Now, there is more to this story than I could possibly write about. Do your own research if it interests you, or visit Derry.
This is where Bloody Sunday occurred. You may have heard the U2 song, but on January 30 of 1972, 14 unarmed protesters lost their lives at the hands of British soldiers.
In 1969 the words “You are now entering Free Derry” appeared in the Bogside.
And painted on various buildings are Murals depicting events during the times. Painted by the Bogside Artists (Click that link, even if your disinclined to click nothing else) whom I had the pleasure of meeting, and who enforced the very real notion that this was not ancient history. Go visit the Peoples Gallery if your a modern history buff. Really, do it now.
Derry/Londonderry itself is a decent sized city, with about 4 malls. The inner city is surrounded by a wall that is lined with cannons. Like I said, more history than I could even begin to tell you all about.
After Derry we took a quick stop at the Old Bushmills Distillery. They have been around for a while (1608) and make some damn fine whiskey (I really only bought 2 things in Ireland. A bottle of Paddy’s Whiskey, because it’s damn good and you can’t get it in the States, and a bottle of Bushmills’ 400th anniversary 1608 Whiskey) Although, I’ve spent my entire working career in and out of Wineries, and it turns out that it’s not much different. Standing in the barrel storeroom the smell of oak barrels took me right back home.
At the end of the tour you were given a ticket to redeem for a shot of anything they produced. It was early morning and lots of people didn’t want whiskey for brunch, so I ended up tasting the whole gambit on the fact that I was willing to drink for the cause. I didn’t much care for the cheaper Original, and though the Black Bush was better, I would still have preferred Jameson’s or Paddy’s. The 12 year old, aged in Sherry Casks, was pretty good and was only available in this spot. The 16 and the 21 year aged were pretty similar, or at least by that time I thought they were. Not really my style, but quite spectacular. The one I bought on the fact that it was the best damn whiskey Ive had, the Bushmills 1608 – A special 400th Anniversary whiskey. Again, only available from the Whiskey Shop at the distillery.
After Whiskey there was a nice stop on the coast. The bus stops, and you get out beside the ocean where there are some neat shore cliffs and a path leading away from the parking lot. And your like, oh, this is pretty, a nice place to visit for sure, but I don’t see what the big deal is. So you start walking down the path and BAM, crazy rocks.
The picture of black rocks with the green patch, the green is Seaweed. Now, seaweed isn’t very spectacular in and of itself, even if it is Irish seaweed. However, there is a small audition only aspect of the larger choir, of which I am part of. Called Frolich, the twelve strong group set about to perform more challenging pieces of music, one of which was Dulaman. Dulaman means seaweed, and as the entire piece was in Gaelic, I thought it fitting that I take a picture of Irish Seaweed (aka, Dulaman.)
This is also where I took what is probably my favorite picture:
And after that, we sat in traffic for about 3 hours.
Finally we arrived in Belfast. Belfast is a neat town, home to Queens University it’s every bit a college town. Myself and four friends broke away from the group to visit the M Club, where we danced until the wee hours of the evening, ear drums ringing and eyes blind thanks to the loud live DJs and Strobes and Lasers. It was like a good rave, only without the drugs. Belfast also has a lot to see, with some of the most stunning architecture out of anywhere I went.
The Dry Dock where the RMS Titanic was built:
St Anne’s Cathedral, where we sang our second concert. Notice the low ceilings making for terrible acoustics.
And of course, Belfast is not without history. It was made the Capital of Northern Ireland, which as you may gather is like painting a bull’s eye on it. Belfast saw some of the worst parts of “The Troubles.”
Within the city are “Peace Walls” Massive walls that were meant to segregate parties of people. Today, they are covered in Graffiti.
Some of it is really neat, the man in the hat is one of my favorites. But it is not without being, well, more than a little politically charged. Notice the color of the pillars in this next picture, and how not Orange and Green they are.
After the second night in Belfast (man that club was awesome) we left Armagh. Armagh is a neat little town, very compact and overshadowed by two massive Cathedrals.
We sang in one, our final concert held in St Patrick’s Cathedral (Church of Ireland.) A church that has been destroyed and rebuilt 17 times. The sound was great despite that.
St. Patrick’s CoI also had my favorite piece of stained glass:
We also visited the other St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh. The St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral. Now this has the distinction of being one of the newest buildings we toured. It was started almost 50 whole years after the Deceleration of Independence. It is also absolutely massive. Notice the people and how high they stand in comparison to the statue.
Also, do note the woman in the hat. That right there is our fearless leader, Cassandra. Also pictured, to the left of the frame, My Dearest Mother, a soprano. To the right of the frame, Marnie, who is an alto, and the Famed Dr. Kean. He’s the aforementioned writer/director. In the background of that shot, notice the other Cathedral, and the entire town between the two. Ok, now look at this pic and remember the scale from the last one.
Tiny, right? They even have huge stained glass pieces.
It was in Armagh that we spent our final evening. We celebrated the trip accordingly, with new York Style Pizza.
Actually, the pizza wasn’t very New York style at all, they probably don’t have many pizza aficionados there. Fortunately there was still time to do things properly.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this little photo excursion. I did put a bit of work into it, so comments are appreciated. If you want to browse through the pictures, included some that I decided not to include in this post, click here. You can also click on any of the “View All” buttons, which will take you to a gallery of the pictures in the mini slideshows. Thank you all so much.