“VAE Ireland Tour Highlights” by Jeanine McElwain (alto)

Every day of this tour held several peak moments for me.  Some of the most memorable were:

  • From the bus windows, marveling at the impossibly narrow road with no shoulder, flanked by tall bushes up to the very edge.  Each lane of traffic looked like a bike path, and yet we would squeak by large vehicles passing in the opposite direction just inches from our windows.
  • On the grounds of Ashford Castle, gasping in awe as two trained hawks with bells on their legs swooped down from the trees on either side of me, and turning quickly to see Kay duck as their wingtips nearly brushed her, on their way back to the falconry master’s glove.
  • Waiting in LONG lines at a concert venue for a tiny water closet that served the entire cathedral.
  • In St. Peter’s Church in Bandon:  enjoying the Irish Garda (police force) men’s choir performing Anuna’s arrangement of “Dulaman” with the great tenor solo; singing our David Mooney version of “Dulaman” with a local mixed chorus and then joining them on “Irish Blessing” as we all processed to the back of the church; and afterward, meeting Ann, the Irish concert coordinator, and her husband Adrian, who expressed his gratitude for the Irish-Americans who had helped preserve Celtic music during the mass emigration years and eventually returned it to the homeland.
  • At a scenic overlook on the Ring of Kerry drive, running into a German couple who were still raving about our informal noon concert at Kylemore Abbey two days earlier.
  • Seeing the entire city of Kilkenny festooned with yellow-and-black banners in honor of their heroic hurling team, which had just narrowly lost to Galway in a national tournament.
  • Singing in a tiny, 6th century stone church where we presented Tracia with a pendant gift, and being deeply touched by her husband Doug’s emotional breakdown – a  weepy moment for many of us.
  • Hiking alongside the lakes and up the steep paths of Glendalough with botanist Dave as he examined arboreal features and pointed out colorful mushrooms I surely would have missed.
  • Returning to our Dublin hotel from an excellent Indian restaurant, along insanely busy streets in the pouring rain, and marveling at the fearless cycling commuters whizzing around corners in EXTREMELY narrow bike lanes as double-decker buses flanked their right shoulders.
  • Meeting Dr. David Mooney, Dublin music professor and arranger of our “Dulaman” piece, at our noon concert in St. Patrick’s cathedral, who sought us out from an announcement in the local paper and gave us the highest possible praise by saying he had heard few American choirs as accomplished as ours !  (He even complimented us on our Gaelic !!)
  • After our final dinner in Dublin, roasting Tracia and our phenomenal bus driver Denis with hilarious sendups of our songs, thanks to the clever lyrics of Laura, Katie & Liese.
  • And lastly, visiting a “Goilin” — a kind of folklore preservation club that meets weekly to keep traditional Irish ballads alive. Our small Davis group sat mesmerized in the crowded meeting room as club members took turns singing haunting, tragic or humorous tunes, in either English or Gaelic.  Each soloist plaintively poured out numerous verses while the others joined in on the refrain, which we managed to pick up after a few repetitions.  Soon Ray and Doug offered songs of their own, and then the club asked for one or two of our performance pieces.  Since we had sufficient voice parts, Tracia was only too happy to oblige with “Jericho” and “Dulaman” — and the cheers were deafening!  One member later told me the local singers were in fine form – he could tell they had “turned it up a notch” just because of our presence!

Well, if meeting Dr. Mooney was the “icing on the cake” of our grand tour, the Goilin club was the “cherry on top” !

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