Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Keeping Traditional Music alive

Traditional Irish Music is known the world over, played with just one instrument or with a variety, it conjures up images of fast pace dancing, jumping and swinging or indeed slow mournful times.
Trad music is distinct, you will recognise it's air, reels, jigs anywhere, tourist flock to Templebar and the West of Ireland to sit and listen, learn the dance and even a few bars of a song or lament. Although every county has their own unique music and sounds, none are as famous or varied as our Traditional Irish Music.


I was talking to International Trad band Dervish recently, together for years they have built up a reputation across Ireland which has made them massive all over the world.
I asked them about the future of traditional music, is it dying out?
“The future of traditional music is in very safe hand” they reassured me as they explained about the enormous talent of the Irish youth population and the enthusiasm them have for the music.
But I am still dubious about it's future though.
Of course children play, sing and dance, they excel at it – Traditional Music Summer Schools all over the county are evident of this.
But as children grow older, reach teenage years and move into young adulthood – will their enthusiasm for the music fade?
Tin Whistle and music book
I played a tin whistle as a child, I also played the key board, did Irish dancing, played football, camoige, karate, etc... I grew out of all these things, it didn't matter that “I had a natural air” or that “I had inherited the beat” after a while I outgrew it.
Now I quite like traditional music, I can hear my Irish heritage and culture in the notes, especially the fast paced pieces, I also enjoy the songs, linger on their lyrics, but this is not the norm. The idea of listening to trad music for ten minutes amongst my friends would leave me standing alone after being fired looks like daggers.
Irish people in their 20s and 30s don't have time for slow laments, or indeed the energy for fast jigs.
Of course there are many in this age bracket who play an instrument are part of a trad band, dance or sing – but the majority who don't take part in the trad scene, getting them interested to listening to it is very difficult.
The young and old are keeping Trad alive in Ireland, but abroad it is a very different scene. Young people with any connection to Ireland (or even an Irish bar) flock to hear the music, learn a few steps and even a song.

Trad music session

Maybe this could be the one positive out of our mass emigration, maybe away from home, our fine young adults will have a renewed interest in their native music. Maybe the lively airs and sad notes of the music will remind them of the hills and valleys, the deep rivers and lakes and the heritage.
But then the question is can we keep Trad alive until they return home?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Ancient Secrets and mysteries remain at Newgrange

500 years older than the pyramids of Giza and erected over a millennium before Stonehenge, 
Newgrange in The Boyne Valley, Co Meath is as monumental, mysterious and magnificent as you will find.

Entrance to Newgrange passage (c) fifiheavey

Nestled amongst the best green pastures and rolling hills of Ireland, Newgrange lay hidden for four centuries. And even now, excavated, unearthed and world recognised it still holds ancient secrets, the biggest one being it's exact purpose.

It is referred to as a passage tomb, but really an Ancient Temple would suit it more. Remains of dead bodies were found inside, but we still do not know if this was in fact a burial chamber. All over the country we have burial chambers of different sizes and patterns, but Newgrange is different. It is bigger, it was better built, it took decades of hard work and it has a special relationship with the sun and the Winter Solstice.
Celtic mythology named Newgrange as the home of the greatest of the Celtic Gods.

Without any definite knowledge or facts, I feel Newgrange was a place of worship, a location chosen for its astrological, spiritual, religious and ceremonial importance. It is sacred.

Newgrange ancient burial site (c) fifiheavey
Embarrassingly, I took my first visit to Newgrange a few weeks ago. I took the trip alone, and am glad I did, as it gave me time and silence to reflect upon this structure of epic proportions. From the impressive Brú na Bóinne visitor centre I took the tour bus to the ancient site. (Which I had passed before when a friend and I got lost going to Slane!)
Roof Box where the sun enters the tomb
(c) fifiheavey
The group was split in two, as the passage is small inside. The time
out gave me the space to take a good look around the circular mound, and grasp the stunning views from the site. The entrance (reconstructed with stone from the site) is spectacular with a 12” triple spiral engraving stone marking the opening.

Of course the most special aspect of Newgrange is the illumination of the passage and centre by the sun on Winter Solstice, December 21. I put my name down for the lottery, to be able to see the Winter Solstice and I invite you all to do the same here.
To the farmers of the New Stone Age, this was an important day, it was their New Year, it marked the end of a most probable bitter Winter and the prospect of brighter days ahead.

Newgrange has been accessible since 1699, when a landowner discovered it when searching for stones, some marked their visit with graffiti which is sad, but to see people dating their visit in the 1700 and 1800s is still pretty special.
I cannot recommend a visit enough, to tourists, to historians, to those with a day spare, or even a few hours.
There is a reason Ireland is renowned for its spiritual beauty, for its ancient wisdom and
mysterious charm – feel it, touch it and see it at Newgrange.

Constructed in 3,200 BC: Newgrange (c) fifiheavey

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Wedding

I like to review hotels, B&Bs, events and destinations, but this week I want to take a big step and review a wedding.
This wedding was no ordinary wedding where usually dinner is the best part, people groan through the speeches and save the dancing until 2am, this was an American Irish Wedding.
It brought together the best traditions of both cultures to make it a mega event which will be impossible to top in this century.

The celebrations began a week before the wedding (or at the engagement two years ago – depends on your point of view) the groom, his best men and friends headed for a top secret weekend to Amsterdam while the ladies brought Dublin to a standstill – and that was just with with their Guinness drinking.

I was delighted to be in the wedding party as I was doing a reading (nailed it) and so as per American tradition got invited to Rehearsal Dinner. It was such a lovely event held at the beautiful Creevy Pier Hotel, Ballyshannon. The dinner was full of heart felt thank yous to close friends and family, some gift were exchanged, a meal consumed and a few drinks ...

Could we submerge this tradition into Irish weddings?
We had some of these...
No way in hell – firstly getting the immediate wedding party, let alone friends and family away from the bar the night before a wedding would prove impossible. Also the speeches are directed to the people who have most helped you along in life, they are meant to be emotive – that would be pretty flat here. As a nation we do insult much better than flattery.

On July 8, the sun shone down on the wedding party as Rory (my giant cousin) and his beautiful lady Megan exchanged their vows, and throughout the day those up above tied down the rain gods and let the sun angels free on Co Donegal, lighting up the sky and allowing us to walk slowly and majestically instead of running frantically.

The destination of the reception was the grand Great Northern Hotel, Bundoran. The location, service and atmosphere was top notch. The food was exquisite – Oysters, New England Chowder and instead of the usual “beef or salmon” request we were rewarded with Beef, Salmon and Lobster for the main course with a delicious selection of treats for desert.
Although I felt I would see that oyster return up the same way later on that night, it did not and within a few hours after some dancing we were ready for some evening snacks which included fish and chips, battered sausages (yum) and burgers. Oh and there were sweets!

No it wasn't just the food that made the wedding, it also was not the ALL DAY OPEN BAR (although boy did it help) that made the occasion so memorable, it was of course the people.
The bride and groom were the party leaders, they danced and jumped, smiled and posed and drank and we all followed suit.

Megan & Rory (c)fifiheavey

Unusually the best men and bridesmaids along with the stunning bride and groom each did a party piece as they were applauded to their seats at the reception, this took confidence (which was in abundance) and really set the tone for the day.

Although many say you can't beat an Irish wedding, it was the yanks (I know the Red Sox fans won't like that) who really brought the fun to Fundoran. Not for them, sitting in the corner until five to two before unleashing the dance moves. They were up and at em after the first dance.
Everyone mixed so well (the alcohol helped there) and within an hour the handsome American hunks were fighting over dancing with my granny, there was Irish dancing, RnB moves and of course some dirty dancing.

The end of that magical night did not mean the end of the celebrations because Saturday they were up and out ready for more.

I don't think a wedding reception inside the Guinness Storehouse or even Disneyland would top this wedding, and why would we want to? The day was just a small tribute to the amazing newly married couple and to their friends and family who each brought their own flair to The Wedding.

This was the real Royal Wedding, no heirs or graces just some fun loving Americans, drinking loving Irish and one hell of a party.

Brilliant, awesome - legendary!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Twelfth

Today is July 12, this date has been a pretty big deal for a long time, like since the Battle of the Boyne 1690. The Protestant King William of Orange won this battle against Catholic King James II. He won lots of battles, but this one from the late 17th Century really stuck with us.

As is usual with battles some people took one side over the other, and despite truce and treaties and the dawning of the day the battle lines are still pretty well drawn in the sand.
I grew up in the Republic of Ireland on the border of Northern Ireland, no matter where I am in the world I will remember July 12th as a day of “trouble.” If it was just one day of trouble we could all deal with it, but no it starts about a few weeks before the big day and depending on the success of the day (which is in itself hard to distinguish) it could continue for much longer.
There are many reasons for this, there is, as you can tell a pretty long history to it too, generations of opinion. But it really boils down to a battle that was won by the Protestants over the Catholics back in 1690 but is still replayed each year.  Marching is a large part of it, but so is the route.

Of course it should be a day of celebration, it should actually be a day for families to get together and enjoy, a day that should be marketed around the world as a tourist must. Instead it is the opposite, a large part of the population from Northern Ireland feel compelled to flee for a while, tourists are made aware it is not safe to travel to NI and well the rest of us hold our breaths, and wait … for the Trouble.

The problem with the day is that it is exclusive, exclusive to Orange Order members and Protestants and Presbyterians. St Patrick’s Day is a feast of a Catholic Saint but religions all over the world and even those here in Ireland mix and celebrate the day. But the Twelfth is exclusive, and full of controversy.
As it is based largely in Ulster, it could attract large tourist numbers in an era when Northern Ireland is flourishing, but sadly it marks a backward leap in Northern Ireland’s progressive steps.

Where do we go from here – quite literally what is the best route to take?

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Childhood holiday re-visited

I am packing my bucket and spade!

I have been off work this week - recovering from a fun hen party and preparing for a pretty big wedding and my mini Summer holiday!
This weekend I will re-live family fun circa 1990s with a trip to Bundoran, Co Donegal. Oh the happy memories of sun burn, rain, sand between my toes and getting sick on the amusements!
This Friday, July 8 my cousin and his delightful girlfriend will get hitched in a beautiful church in Ballyshannon before hot trotting it to the Great Northern Hotel, Bundoran for some full on celebrating. What makes the wedding special  (aside from the couple of course) is that it is an American wedding in Ireland. Both Bride and Groom are American but because of family connections (like me) and their love of the olde country they have decided to merge 70 of their US family and friends with those of us with Irish passports to celebrate their happy nuptials.
I am so excited, at first I was disappointed to hear I would be making the trip to Bundoran instead of Boston, but now I couldn't be more in the zone. Not only will the wedding be beautiful (I have seen the Bride's veil - so I know) the setting and location spectacular (come on weather hold on for us) but the crowd should be fun and the atmosphere ecstatic.

Who does not love the bumping cars?!

Along with all that, this weekend also sees the annual migration of people from Northern Ireland to the South as we edge closer to the 12th of July. Bundoran has always been the ideal spot to escape prospective troubles so I am expecting the town to be crammed full and ready to party.
As I will be reading at the wedding ceremony, me and my boyfriend have been invited to rehearsal dinner, the night before the wedding. This American tradition is something new to me, so I can't wait for the experience.
I will let you all know how the American Irish traditions merge and also about my adventures in the 90s number one holiday destination in my next post. Lets hope it lives up to my edited memories.
There will be surfing - both crowd and water!!


What are your childhood holiday memories?