Posted by: mdmusingsie | May 7, 2017

Athlone Castle

On my way to Galway recently I stopped to visit Athlone Castle.  I had visited this castle once before, however; only the stone outer structures were available for viewing. Since then I had heard that renovations had taken place and was looking forward to see what had been done.

Unfortunately, my expectations far exceeded the results.  Instead of a restoration of a medieval castle, there’s a modern glass and steel extension tacked onto the monolithic structure that serves as the launching point for a 21st century museum experience.

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Museum building pre-extension

The exhibit starts with the history of the settlement of Athlone and moves along chronologically with the primary focus of the museum being the Siege of Athlone in 1691 where the Jacobites (James VII followers) fought with the Williamites (William of Orange’s army).  While the Jacobites held for quite some time, eventually they were beaten opening up everything west of the Shannon River to conquest.

As a museum it has interesting information with a large emphasis on interactive exhibits which are perfect for children.  However, I found many of the wall plaques difficult to read as the type-face was so small.  You had to be so close to the plaque to read it that had there been a group of people trying to read the same information, there would be a queue.  A proper information plaque should be readable from several people back.

The upper level of the round tour in the center of the courtyard is used as a 360-degree theatre to show a short movie about the Siege of Athlone.  The lower level hold a series of glass cases with artifacts; however, the lighting was poor and cast glare on the glass making photos difficult to take.

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As mentioned, the museum must have been designed primarily to appeal to children with the number of interactive plaques, push buttons, as well as period-type clothing for dress-up.  Outside there were more games and photo boards (where you stick your head out to have your photo taken with a body of a knight or such), as well as a giant chess set.

What I found most lacking was any reconstruction that showed what a typical castle room would have looked like – not a single one was on view.  Everything was so clinical and modern that, for me, it clashed with the massive stone structures that make up the fortress.

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I admit to being a hopeless romantic when it comes to castles – it wasn’t all damsels in long flowing gowns and pointy hats waiting around for a knight in shining armour to rescue them.  It was a time of no plumbing, infrequent bathing, no refrigeration and very little means of food preservation, which makes camping look like a five-star holiday.  However, I like my fantasy and when I visit a castle, I consider it my opportunity to step into that fantasy for a little while.  My visit to Athlone Castle left me wanting, in that regard.

The other thing that really struck me about the glass and steel extension to the museum was the fact that if any person were to purchase a castle ruin or other listed building (one that has been designated of having historical significance) in Ireland, you are required to restore it to within an inch of its original look and construction – employing specialist masons at extreme costs.  Yet the local government can tack on a modern extension to a castle without a second thought. Perhaps it’s that dichotomy that left me feeling let down by the so-called reconstruction.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | April 15, 2017

Eggstravaganza 2017

It’s time for the annual eggstravaganza.  After last year I wasn’t sure I would find anything new and exciting enough but it appears the chocolatiers aren’t resting on their laurels.

My first new find was from Lindt.  Most of you will be familiar with the dark, milk, and white chocolate bunnies.  This year there’s a hazelnut version.  Looking forward to tucking in to that one!

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The next surprise was a large truffle egg with a shiny copper coating (edible, of course), courtesy of Tesco.

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Before you start jumping up and down at the thought of a truffle egg that large, it’s still primarily hollow; however inside the chocolate shell is a layer of soft truffle.  I did sample this little gem, having cracked it open to show the inside, and it is yummy!  The only drawback was the copper coating comes off easily on your hands and needs to be washed off.

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Truffle egg interior

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The pièce de résistance for 2017 is what I call the Conehead egg, brought to you by Marks and Spencer.  They call it a teardrop, but it reminded me of the Coneheads movie from the early 1990’s.  It came with an assortment of filled truffles.

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Conehead Egg

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Conehead egg with mini truffles at the bottom

I hope you enjoyed this year’s installment of eggstravaganza.  Have a blessed Easter.

 

(Note:  I receive no sponsorship for these products – just wanted you to know where I bought them in case you want to run to the store for any after Easter bargains.)

Posted by: mdmusingsie | April 10, 2017

The Wonders of Spring

The days are getting longer and the trees and flowers are awakening from their slumber.  Unlike some of us who may not be at our shiny best when we wake up, nature shouts her joy at the return of the sun by sprouting seas of daffodils to remind us of the absent sun.  Trees are full of white and pink blossoms.  All this color and beauty can’t but bring a smile to your face.

A number of roundabouts near where I live are completely full of daffodil blossoms.  Even the grass median strips this year are a magical combination of daffodils and tulips as far as the eye can see.

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The bunny rabbits are out in the corporate park near Xerox and PayPal.

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Bunnies in the corporate park

Even the dandelions seem cheerful as they bring color to the land.  They may be a nemesis in the garden but actually have a number of healing properties.

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Go out and enjoy the lengthening sun, thank the crocus, daffodils, tulips and trees for their magnificent colors and the delight they bring.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | January 30, 2017

Temple Bar Trad Fest – cuid a dó

Last night’s concert was similar to the previous with a mix of new and old (for me anyway).  Na Mooney’s is part Irish (Na = The) and part Anglicized (Mooney) name of the O’Maonaigh family from Gaoth Dobhair (Gweedore), Donegal.

If you’re not immediately familiar with the name but have been reading my blog for a while you will have heard of Altan and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh – one of the queens of Irish traditional music.  With her sister Anna, brother Gearóid and his son Ciarán, they form the heart of this traditional music family.  But it doesn’t stop there.   Extended family were included as well including Mairéad’s young daughter Nia and Ciarán’s wife Caitlín Nic Gabhann, along with honorary member Manus Lunny who co-produced their recent CD.

Mairéad and Ciarán took the lead, introducing the majority of the tunes and having some entertaining banter.  Both Anna, who said “I don’t speak” and Nia who just shook her head when asked to make a few remarks before their respective tunes, were happy to take a background seat to the festivities.  While most of the jokes were by and between Mairéad and her nephew, Caitlín got in a dig of her own when she mentioned marrying into the clan – “the things you have to do to get a gig these days.”

The night was full of a mixture of newly composed tunes and custom arrangements of traditional numbers.  Nia, still young, is definitely coming into her own as a musician with both vocals and fiddle – no great surprise, given her mother’s extensive talent (and father, Dermot Byrne’s too).

Despite no one taking up Mairéad’s invitation to dance in the aisles, the group had a brilliant time on stage and there was plenty of toe tapping in the audience.  Speaking of toe tapping, having gone from never hearing of it to two concerts in a row, Caitlín added a bit of that foot percussion to several tunes as well as a full blown dance.  When you can play another instrument, in her case, concertina, and tap out an alternate rhythm with your feet, that’s quite an accomplishment.  Maith Thú to her and Emmanuelle Le Blanc.  This makes walking and chewing gum look like child’s play.

There’s a nice article about the Mooney family here if you’re interested.  I now have 2 new CDs to add to my collection!

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Opening the show was another talented Gweedore musician named Emma Ní Fhíoruisce. The woman is what, in the industry, they would call a belter; she has a strong and powerful voice but can also master the subtleties.  Another emerging talent from the musically steeped region of Donegal.

I had my good camera so here’s a few photos of St. Michan’s church – creeping towards 1000 years old (first church on the site was in 1095).  (Despite having a 15mp camera on my phone, it doesn’t take that great of photos, unless you’re just viewing them on the phone – they certainly don’t scale.)

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St. Michan’s Church organ (rear or church)

You can see some damage from damp in the upper corners of the front of the church, but it looks much better than last year. Hopefully the funds from these concerts are going towards restoration efforts.

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St. Michan’s Church

As a side comment on concert goers in general, it continues to surprise me that people arrive at a venue with festival seating (no assigned seats) and although they see a hundred or more people already seated, they head to the front looking for empty seats, as if the rest of us further back hadn’t thought to check.  Humans certainly are an interesting species to observe.

 

 

Posted by: mdmusingsie | January 28, 2017

Temple Bar Trad Fest 2017 – cuid a haon

There was so much great music at this year’s Temple Bar Trad Fest, the hardest part was choosing which concerts to attend.  Sadly, too many were on the same day at the same time and choices had to be made. I mostly stuck with the tried and true, but with a twist and a splash into the wonderful unknown.

My first concert was with Crannua or New Root in English, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.  It was the creation of a new root from existing well-established musical trees.

Dubliner John Doyle and Ashley Davis, who hails from across the pond in the Midwestern State of Kansas, have been co-writing songs for quite some time. Moya Brennan and Cormac DeBarra have recorded several CDs and performed around the world.  Bring them together, along with Cormac’s brother Éamonn DeBarra and they created a fusion of powerhouses.

John Doyle is a veritable magician on the guitar and it was hard to believe, as Cormac pointed out, that this was John’s first Trad Fest performance!

There are a lot of similarities between Irish traditional music and American folk, so the blending of the two had a very natural feel.  With all that talent on stage, the expectations were high and they didn’t disappoint.

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A trio called Vishtèn that hailed from Prince Edward and Magdalen Islands off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, brought a bouncing blend of Acadian and Celtic influences that fit in perfectly with the festival. It was toe tapping tunes in abundance, and it wasn’t just the audience tapping their feet.

Vishtèn introduced me to a new musical form called foot percussion.  One tune had sisters Emmanuelle and Pastelle LeBlanc using just their feet to tap out the notes.  Somewhat similar to Irish dance but in a seated position.

The other member of the trio was a fiery French Canadian fiddle player called Pascal Miousse.  All three contributed to vocals with Pastelle alternating between accordion, piano and mandolin while Emmanuelle played whistles, bodhrán, mandolin and jaw harp. Despite their lyrics being primarily in French Canadian, which I know even less of than I do Irish, I’m looking forward to revisiting their bright and bouncy music from my purchase of their most recent CD.

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Posted by: mdmusingsie | December 31, 2016

What a Year!

It has certainly been a strange year around the globe.  More than the usual number of celebrities have taken leave of this world.  Between Brexit and Donald Trump’s surprise election, logic seems to have flown the coop and I’ve come to think of Terry Goodkind’s  Wizard Rules as more than just bits of wit and whimsy thrown into a fantasy series.

Wizard’s First Rule seems to have been the guiding force in both Brexit and the US election.  People will believe what they’re told if it’s what they want to hear, regardless of the truth of the matter.  In a world where we have such a wealth of factual information at our fingertips 24 x 7, people will still believe a lie if that lie makes them feel better.  Along with that abundance of information comes a fair chunk of misinformation as well, so you have to be discerning.  You have to want the truth and go looking for the truth – it won’t always show up on your doorstep of come over your radio and television waves.

For those of a Christian persuasion, the bible states “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  However, as Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men so deftly expressed, not everyone can handle the truth.  My motto over the last number of years has become, ‘the truth, however painful, is still the truth.’  We must accept the pain of some truths without letting it overwhelm us.  (I want to make it clear that I am in no way advocating Christianity or any religion, for that matter.  They all contain elements of truth, and many, despite their perceived differences; have the exact same elements of truth.  I consider myself areligious, it was merely the sentiment that I was after.  Truth is what I advocate.)

Consider adding Wizard’s Fifth Rule as an essential part of making a decision in any political campaign, business deal, partnership or even friendship – look at the deeds rather than words – when they conflict, the truth is in the deeds.

To also quote John Lennon from Mind Games – “Love is the answer.”  When I try to create something without love it fails. For example, a simple task like baking banana bread ended with two batches in the compost heap because I was annoyed at something (that was ultimately out of my control) the whole time I was preparing it. Another attempt with a calmer mind and intention of love resulted in two perfect loaves. Intentions matter.  We are all here sharing one planet (with the keyword being sharing).

I recently watched the children’s movie Frozen for the first time, which teaches us that keeping secrets can cause terrible distress, anxiety, fear, and uncertainty; and that love conquers all.

The past is cast in concrete – we only have the present and future to mold.  I’ve been busy this year raising my vibration to walk a path of light, through meditation, the healing arts, nature, and music (the universal language). I’m far from perfect, but work to improve on a daily basis. I hope you will look to 2017 to raise your vibration as well – search for and embrace truth, practice random acts of kindness (for others as well as yourself), put love into everything you do, and bring more light into a world that seems poised on a potentially dark precipice.  Each of us is a pebble and if enough of us cast ourselves into the pond, we have the power to change the world (for the better, I hope).

Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh!

Posted by: mdmusingsie | December 18, 2016

Decking Dublin

It’s time for the annual installment of Dublin window shopping and decorations.  Henry Street received new decorations this year, replacing the wreaths.  Oddly, in my opinion anyway, they felt the need to include ‘Dublin one’ (aka Dublin 1) in the signage.  For those who may not know, before Ireland received zip codes (Eircodes) last year, only Dublin had the equivalent of zip codes, dividing the county in to Dublin 1 to 24 starting with the north of the River Liffey part of the City Centre being Dublin 1 and south of the Liffey Dublin 2.  (In case you’re really interested, here’s a link to a map.)

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Henry Street (at O’Connell)

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New Henry Street Decor

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Old Henry Street Decor

Arnotts did a stellar job this year with its storybook theme which was interactive.  In some of the pictures you can see a hand print to the right and/or left of the window.  When pressed they would trigger additional lights or animation of the scene.

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While Arnotts stepped it up a notch, the Brown Thomas windows, which still take the cake for décor, took it down a notch by adding triangular signs in some of the displays announcing their sales.  In my humble opinion, it does detract from the traditional class and style they normally exude.

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Even Marks and Spencer made an attempt at a non-commercial display.  Maybe they’ll start to compete a bit more in the holiday window themes, especially this store across from Brown Thomas on Grafton Street.

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Marks & Spencer

It’s not easy taking photos of the windows with all of the glare.  I need to come up with a time of day when it’s not so annoying, though I have tried morning, evening, sunny and rainy days.  Maybe a fancy SLR camera would do the trick, but that’s way down on my Santa wish list.  Hope they bring you some joy, anyway.

 

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Nollaig Shona Daoibh! (or Happy Christmas to ye!)

 

 

Posted by: mdmusingsie | October 21, 2016

Ardgillan Castle

Even the best laid plans can come up with a hitch.  And so it was went I set out to visit Ardgillan castle.

Located just outside Skerries the castle/manor house is located among nearly 200 acres of beautiful parks, gardens, and woodlands.  It also has its own private beach on the Irish Sea.

As I went to inquire about a tour, I discovered the castle was closed for tours due to preparations for spooky Halloween tours that would start the following day.  Another castle I’ll have to go back and visit when I can see the inside.  I did catch one odd hallway that didn’t appear to lead anywhere – there were no doorways or stairways at the end.  Maybe there had been a room and it was walled up?  Let your imagination wander…

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Stairway to hallway to nowhere?

 

The main house was built in 1738 by Reverend Robert Taylor and the east and west wings were added in the late 1800’s.  That’s about all the history I could get off the website. When I return I can get the guide to see if I can find out more.

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I did have a walk around the building and into the rose garden.  Despite being late October, there was still a selection of roses blooming.  I’m sure it’s even more spectacular in summer when the whole garden is in full bloom.  There’s also a walled garden, but it looked like they were doing quite a bit clearing out in preparation for new plantings.

 

The grounds are lovely and there are lots of walking trails.  I saw quite a few groups out for either a leisurely stroll or a more focused workout.  They are just starting a Fairy Tree Trail complete with maps and guides and more than a few fairy houses.  If the children tire of running around on the lawns and trails, there’s also a playground.

 

It appears that they have lots of different events besides the Spooky Halloween tour.  There’s a Santa’s Grotto, Fairy Parties, Afternoon Teas, and you can even book your own special event.

So enjoy the photos for now and I’ll try and get back in spring when I can get a proper tour and find out more.

 

Posted by: mdmusingsie | September 27, 2016

Culture Night 2016

Dublin Bus was on strike for Culture Night this year, which dampened any chance of going into the city centre to check out the myriad of opportunities this annual event has to offer.  Despite having a car, parking in the city is über expensive and I avoid it at all costs (pun intended).

However, all was not lost.  Because I have a car I could attend an event that might not be as accessible by bus.  I decided on Swords Castle as it was easy to get to and wasn’t booked out like some of my other choices.

Although it’s called a castle, it technically wasn’t one, though it has the looks with a portcullis entry, curtain wall enclosure and several tower houses.  It was actually the Archbishop of Dublin’s residence and administrative centre. It was built around 1200 though some parts appear to be both earlier and later construction.

Of habitable space, only the Constable’s tower, chapel and chamber block (adjoining the chapel) are currently accessible, whilst other buildings are in varying stages of ruin around a central courtyard.  They are still in the process of excavations and believe there may have been other buildings inside.

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During normal operations, you can visit the Constable’s tower and chamber block, but it being Culture Night, only the Chapel was open as they were having talks about the property at regular intervals.  I’ll have to go back some day and see the rest.

The Chapel was reconstructed starting around 1995 when the timber roof was put up.  The carved heads in the corbels are meant to represent the people working there at the time.  In traditional times, they would either represent masons or, in this case, probably patrons of the church.  One of them gave me the willies when I was editing the photos. That matched the oppressive energy I felt in the chapel, though whether that was from things that might have gone on there or the graveyard it appears to be built upon is open to interpretation.

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Floor tiles discovered during excavation were also reconstructed and bear a strong resemblance to those at Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin.

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reconstructed chapel floor

During the summer they had archaeology days where the public could come along and work with the archaeologists, likely to sift through rubble that was dug up and clean pieces of artifacts found.  Work will continue on archaeological and reconstructive efforts for years to come.

According to the leaflet, the income from the farming estates around Swords produced roughly half of the Archbishop’s annual income.  In today’s currency, it is compared to 6 million Euro.  Seems to me I read about some vow of poverty at some point, somewhere.  That obviously did not apply here as they also found fragments of jugs from fine French wine.  I suspect his eminence did not dispense that at mass and was probably not partaking of the local poitín, either.

Curtain walls may have kept out the local riffraff at the time, but today, they employ more modern methods like razor wire and closed circuit cameras.

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Curtain wall and backside of Constable’s Tower (cctv cameras at top)

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Back side of Constable’s Tower

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Curtain wall – look close to see the razor wire atop

Posted by: mdmusingsie | September 23, 2016

Harp Summer School

As you many know, I started learning to play the Medieval Irish harp nearly two years ago.  How I actually got started was from reading about the annual Historical Harp Society Summer School and a taster workshop they held for anyone wanting to try the Medieval harp.  I couldn’t make it to Kilkenny, but emailed them to see if they were considering any taster workshops in Dublin.   Siobhán Armstrong emailed me back to say they hadn’t planned any additional workshops but she would give me a half price lesson in Dublin to see if I liked it. This summer I finally plucked up the courage to attend the Summer School in Kilkenny.

It was not without some trepidation, mind you, as I’ve only played my harp for Siobhán and one friend so far, so the thought of playing in front of other (far more talented, my inner critic was quick to point out) people was a daunting prospect.

This year’s program was held for the first time at St. Kieran’s College in Kilkenny.  A lot of education institutions in Ireland are called Colleges but they’re really the equivalent of American High Schools.  St. Kieran’s also hosts an extension program from National University of Ireland at Maynooth.  The college offered more space for the harp school as well as some newly built dorm-like accommodations where many of us students stayed.

I’ve been in the typical American dorm (for only a night here and there – could never have stayed any length of time in one) and this is similar but on a smaller scale. Some rooms have their own en-suite (shower, no bath) whilst other bedrooms have to share facilities.  I was able to get one of the en-suites (age does have its privileges).  I believe all the rooms had single beds.  The house had around 15 bedrooms along with two lounge areas and two kitchens.  The students must live on frozen fish fingers and frozen pizzas as the freezer was three times the size of the refrigerator.  Meals weren’t included so many of us took advantage of the facilities, though we did go into town for dinners most nights.

Coming back from dinner the second night I thought about kids being sent to boarding school and how lonely a place like that could be.  Some children might enjoy getting away from their families and being able to just hang about with kids their age, whilst others likely spent long hours wishing they were home.

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Students from Ireland, England, Wales, Cornwall, France, Brittany, United States, and Poland attended this years’ school.  They’ve had attendees from as far away as Japan in the past.  With the variety of students came a variety of harps.  Some were small harps that you can hold in your lap, known as Jerpoint or travel harps, up to the large Downhill, Mullaghmast, and Rose Mooney harps. Most of the student harps are plain, without any adornment, but others were highly decorative. Bernard Flinois from Brittany had a gorgeously decorated harp and not only did he kindly explained the symbolism strewn throughout the decorations, but he actually did all the carving himself!  So much talent in such a small group of people.

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Bernard’s Harp

I was placed in the advanced class as Siobhán thought I would be bored to tears in the beginner’s class.  It certainly took me out of my comfort zone.  The morning tuning session was the first challenge because I still need to use the electronic tuner to make sure I get the right note and it was busy picking up bits and pieces of everyone else’s notes in the room.  Someday I’m hoping to be able to tune by ear.

The classes weren’t quite as intimidating as I imagined.  No one was singled out to play, except when we were doing special fingering and the instructor walked around to make sure everyone was doing it correctly.  Most people were too busy doing their own practicing to take notice of anyone else.  Although I became lost more than a few times and overwhelmed on a handful of occasions, it did push me to broaden my skill set.

It’s wasn’t just practice, practice, practice all day long, there were lectures in the afternoon by other Irish musicians including piper Ronan Browne, sean nós singer Róisín Elsafty, and piper and sean nós singer Éamonn Ó Bróithe.  There were also two concerts, one a public concert at the Chapter House at St. Mary’s Cathedral featuring Siobhán Armstrong, Ann Heyman, and Éamonn Ó Bróithe, and a smaller recital at St. Keiran’s with Siobhán and Róisín Elsafty.

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Chapter House, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny

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Fireplace in Chapter House at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny – several types of marble

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Clock in Chapter House at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny

This year they were focusing on the 200 year anniversary of the death of medieval harper Arthur O’ Neill.  Much of what survives today from ancient tunes was through the work of Edward Bunting and his writing down of tunes played by O’Neill and others.  Coincidentally, it’s also the anniversary of the death of Charlotte Milligan Fox (though 100 years later).  Although Edward Bunting published many of the tunes he captures, it was Charlotte who, almost by accident, came across a relative of Bunting who still had a number of his original manuscripts.  They not only record the music that was being played, but often had tips and hints about how the harpers played including fingering and tuning.  Charlotte Milligan Fox published in a book called the Annals of the Irish Harpers which includes not only material from Bunting but also the memoirs of Arthur O’Neill which are quite entertaining.

Another of our talks was by scholar and harpist Karen Loomis who spoke about how she accidentally (or by providence like Charlotte) discovered that the British Library had a copy of one of Bunting’s published books that was full of his own corrections and annotations.  How many other interesting bits of history are stored in the dusty archives of museums around the world?

Throughout the 5 days, the talk was over nails or no nails – fingernails that is.  There is evidence both ways between harpers and during different time periods.  Simon Chadwick, one of the instructors, had cut off his fingernails as part of a research project and had been baiting Siobhán to do the same.  She wasn’t too keen on the idea, nor am I.  One of the reasons I like the medieval harp is I can play with fingernails – something you can’t do on a guitar or fiddle, or at least not very well.

One thing I found particularly interesting during the harp school was that there were two ancient harp makers in the course – and both were women!  One, Violaine Alfaric, hails from Brittany, and the other Natalie Surina, who isn’t an Irish native but has chosen to live and ply her trade here.  Natalie showed off a ‘first draft’ of the Rose Mooney harp, which was commissioned by the Historical Harp Society through a grant from Music Network (míle buíochas).

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Simon Chadwich with Mullaghmast harp, Natalie Surina with Rose Mooney harp in progress, Music Network representative and Siobhan Armstrong with Rose Mooney Harp, take 1

If I’m not going on about swans, I’m on about harps (and music in general), plus the odd castle.  What can I say?  Advice for writers is to write what you know and love, so there we have it!

(PS – my GPS couldn’t find 200+ year old St. Kieran’s College – had to switch to Google Maps once I reached Kilkenny – aint tech grand!)

 

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