October 20, 2017

On Tour with the Chorus of East Providence

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101 checked bags, over 150 pieces of assorted carry-on luggage, more than 1500 sheets of music, 60 Chorus of East Providence members, and 44 invited groupies (myself included) all boarded an Aer Lingus flight last month at Logan Airport to begin the trip of a lifetime. After much planning, and many fundraisers, the Chorus was on its way to Ireland for its first ever concert tour.

Two years ago, the Chorus, a community based choral group founded in 2007, was invited to participate in a concert tour arranged by Music Celebrations International. Entitled “The American Song”, the tour was organized to share some of the music of America with the people of Ireland by performing at several different venues across the country.

After a thankfully uneventful flight “across the pond”, the plane touched down at Shannon Airport, 16 miles west of Limerick, early in the morning of July 12. Sleepy eyed (Ireland is five hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast), we collected our luggage and boarded our coaches to begin our day.

With a quick refueling stop for breakfast, or in east coast time a midnight snack, we headed off to the breath-taking Cliffs of Moher. Rising up to 702 feet above the Atlantic Ocean in County Clare, the spectacular cliffs are one of the most visited tourist sites in all of Ireland.

From there we descended on the busy seaside town of Lahinch for some lunch. Lahinch has recently become a mecca for surfers in Ireland; indeed, on this day the shoreline was filled with dozens of children lined up to take surfing lessons. It is also a popular ‘holiday’ destination for the Irish. Think Narragansett meets Ireland.

For this stop, our timing was perfect. Some of us were able to catch a performance by a group of teenagers playing Irish music on traditional instruments. Part of Music Generation Clare, Ireland’s music education program that is funded in part by the Irish group U2, they set up by the sea wall to the delight of an appreciative audience.

Before making our way to our hotel for the next two nights, we stopped in Adare, which bills itself as the prettiest little village in all of Ireland. From quaint thatched cottages to the peaceful Adare Village Park, the town lives up to its reputation.

After being awake for over 36 hours straight, the site of our hotel was most welcome indeed.

The second day of the trip was also the first scheduled concert performance by the Chorus, but not before visiting Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. The imposing medieval castle, built in 1425, was full of authentic furnishings, tapestries and art from the period. It so inspired the Chorus that they staged an impromptu concert in the Main Guard Hall, on the second floor of the castle, singing “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning”, a traditional gospel blues song.

The main event was later that evening, when the Chorus, under the direction of Beth Armstrong and accompanied by Rena Anthony, performed their full concert at the 154-year-old Redemptorist Church, Mount St. Alphonsus, in Limerick. The concert was also streamed live, giving family and friends back home a chance to be hear the Chorus perform in this acoustically amazing venue.

The next day it was on to Killarney, for an evening performance at yet another beautiful Irish church, St. Mary’s Church of the Sloes., but not before stopping for a horse and wagon ride through Killarney National Park – one of the highlights of the trip. Traveling through the forest this way gave all a chance to slow the pace of the trip down and take in the sweet smells of the countryside.

After a stroll along the downtown district for some lunch and shopping, we boarded the coach once again to transport the group to Muckross Gardens, also located in the park.

We arrived at the second of the four hotels of our stay, with the Chorus having time for a quick change prior to rehearsal and the evening’s concert.

The next morning, we were off to the much-anticipated Blarney Castle and Stone. The sacred stone, located up over 100 narrow, winding steps at the top of the Castle, is another of the must-see sights in Ireland. According to legend, the gift of eloquence was the reward for the hardy who waited in the long line to ascend the stairs and kiss the stone.

All through-out the trip we followed the back roads in Ireland to get to our various destinations, allowing us to pass acre after lush, patchwork acre, of green. According to our tour guide, Ireland has twice as many sheep as people. Everywhere you looked you could see cows and sheep grazing on this emerald isle, most with their bellies to the ground. Old wives’ tales say that when a cow is laying down, rain is in the forecast. But for this entire trip we experienced hardly a drop. More than once we heard the Irish exclaim that their summer is usually only one day, and that surely, we were touched by the luck of the Irish on this trip for we experienced mostly sunshine.

Day Six brought us to Kilkenny, where we toured the 13th century castle and town before heading to what would be the final concert stop of this whirlwind tour – St. Canice’s Cathedral. In conjunction with the Kilkenny Gospel Choir, the Chorus delighted the largest audience yet with songs from both sides of the Atlantic.
With the concerts behind us, it was time for a couple of full days of touring. We were on our way to our final destination Dublin, via the beautiful ‘valley of the two lakes‘ Glendalough, and the Wicklow Mountains. Glendalough is known for its spectacular scenery, rich history, archaeology and abundant wildlife. It is also home to one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. This early Christian monastic settlement was founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin, Glendalough bills itself as a remarkable place that will still your mind, inspire your heart and fill your soul.

Arriving in Dublin, our first stop was the beautiful Trinity College to see the Book of Kels, which dates back to 800 AD, and the spectacular Trinity College Library.

The final full day of the trip began with a coach tour of the city’s O’Connell Street, the Customs House and the Old Parliament building, and Phoenix Park. Those who wanted to toured the Guinness Storehouse, another of the most popular destinations in Ireland.

On our last evening in Ireland, we were treated to a full Irish dinner and an evening of music by the Merry Ploughboys, a traditional Irish music band, at their own Irish Pub in Dublin.

As their final act, and as a fitting tribute to our host country, the Chorus surprised the audience and the band by singing along with the band to the Irish national anthem – in Irish!

The touring over, it was back to our hotel for one final time to pack. An early morning departure to the airport was on the agenda.

Nine exciting but exhausting days after we began this journey, we arrived back safely to the U.S.

Home never looked so good.

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