Tuesday, August 14, 2007

More photos online!

All of the photos taken by Sandy Brown are now online at http://picasaweb.google.com/pgcireland.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Oh, I see. The arms stay down at your sides.

Today was an exciting final day in Ireland! We began with an early morning and loaded the coaches to head for Galway. Originally, we were scheduled to make our way approximately four hours to Kylemore Abbey, stay for an hour, and then make our way back to the hotel. Our positively brilliant tour managers realized this would not have been the best way to end our Irish adventure, and they quickly devised an amazing alternative trek that allowed us to see one more historically important Irish city and to experience what most consider to be the most amazing part of the Irish landscape—the Burren, here in County Clare.

In Galway, the girls were given a chance to see where the Claddagh ring originated, as well as get in one short impromptu performance (mostly for themselves, but with quite a few passersby who opted to stay rather than pass by) in the Church of Saint Nicholas. Yes, that Saint Nicholas. The church predates this discovery of America, and, indeed, Christopher Columbus trod on the very same stones and prayed at that very church about a decade before making his voyage to the Western Hemisphere.

After the performance, we had one final opportunity to shop, on Quay Street, a pedestrianized street filled with shops selling locally made wares and touristy chotchkes. A few of the girls (well, precisely two) were even brave enough to pony up to McDounal’s and order the fish and chips for lunch. (Incidentally, they were delicious.) Once we had spent a considerable amount of time in Galway, we returned to the coaches and made our way back toward Ennistymon by way of the Burren.

The Burren is a “protected landscape” (we might call it a preservation area) that offers truly stunning vistas and valleys, with the most beautiful incarnations of the “rolling Irish countryside” you’ve been seeing in the photos all week. In the midst of the Burren, we stopped in two places—a seaside “rest stop” with beautiful ocean views, and the 5,800-year old Poulnabrone Portal Tomb. For many of us, the tomb was the single oldest man-made structure we had ever seen. Suffice it to say, the Burren was an exhilarating part of the tour and really gave us a sense of the majesty of the natural Irish nation.

After the Burren, we returned back to the hotel and prepared for our goodbye banquet. The final meal featured all the PGC Touring traditions you might expect: final Secret Singer gift exchanges, thank you’s and, of course, the much anticipated Paper Plate Awards. This year, a group also put together a retrospective song to the tune of Seasons of Love. As a special bonus, we were also treated to a performance by local traditional Irish musicians and a group of four traditional Irish dancers—Mary, Siobhán (I’ll give you this one, it’s pronounced “Shevonne”), Ian, and Tara. The dancers were all children or teenagers, ranging from Tara at about age 7 to Siobhán at about age 17. They performed lots of reels, jigs, and other types of traditional Irish dances, and then taught the girls to do a group number—giving encouraging suggestions like “keep your arms down!” as needed. After the interactive opportunity, the girls sang their version of the Irish blessing to the appreciative dancers and musicians. It was an amazing evening and a great finish to our Irish adventure.

Some pictures from today are up at http://picasaweb.google.com/pgcireland. Once we return to the States, I’ll be uploading the full complement of pictures that I took and the pictures that chaperone-photographer Sandy Brown took so you can download your favorites or get them printed.

Stay tuned to the blog on Tuesday evening or Wednesday to find out the details of the massive photo upload. This blog will stay online as long as blogspot allows, and the pictures will be online as long as Google allows, so feel free to return any time to relive the magic.

We get up very early tomorrow (actually it's today by the time I'm posting this), and the girls can’t wait to see you and give you their own personal stories and share their own pictures.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

What's that mooing sound?

This morning, after our full Irish breakfast, we checked out of the Imperial Hotel in Cork and made our way to Buttevant (no matter how you’re pronouncing it, I can almost guarantee you’re not doing it correctly). (Incidentally, Buttevant claims to be the location of the first steeplechase horse race, sometime in the mid-1700’s.) Once in Buttevant, we pulled up to St. Mary’s Church, the site of the final formal performance of the tour. The touring choir sang from the choir loft of the magnificent church to the crowd gathered for the Sunday mass, the largest audience of the tour to date.

After the mass and the post-mass brief performance, we retired to the Hazel Tree Inn, just outside of Buttevant where we were treated to delicious sandwiches and tea (and, in some cases, Coca-Cola in glass bottles). Lunch today was provided by the choir of St. Mary’s, and some of the St. Mary’s choir members attended the luncheon and chatted with the girls.

After lunch, we continued to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. Bunratty is a still-standing castle, similar to Kilkenny and in much better shape than Blarney’s Castle. Around the castle, the heritage foundation has preserved and presented medieval-era structures (houses and commercial establishments), that are all still heated by burning pete (where that would be appropriate). It was kind of like a much-older Colonial Williamsburg, except the structures were moved to the folk park from all over Ireland, rather than being an entire original city restored. One medieval-era farm house from Shannon was moved from that city and reconstructed in the folk park to make way for the runway from which our return flight to the U.S. will depart.

You might be thinking that this was an incredibly full day. And you would be right. But we weren’t finished yet. We continued on in County Clare through some of the most beautiful parts of Ireland to the Cliffs of Moher. At eight kilometers wide and some 217 meters high, the cliffs were an impressive, awe-inspiring sight to see, and fortunately for us, the sky was blue and partly cloudy with nary a rain drop to be felt.

After taking a ton of pictures at the Cliffs of Moher, we departed for our hotel—the Falls Hotel in Ennistymon. (Again, don’t worry. Unless you’re Irish, you’re not pronouncing it correctly.) The hotel is, indeed, situated next to cascades in the River Fergus. It’s quite a luxurious accommodation—one of the best hotels we’ve had in Ireland—but you can tell we’ve reached the countryside when our accompanist Shawn notices some cattle meandering through the parking lot. (No, really. At first, he thought it might be a fire alarm. But when he went to the window, he saw fifteen cows weaving through the cars.)

Tomorrow we have a full day planned, but it promises to be a great one. We’ll be making our way up to the city of Galway and then touring through more of the beautiful County Clare.

Some pictures from today are online now at http://picasaweb.google.com/pgcireland (We apologize that there are fewer pictures than usual, but Internet here in Ennistymon is pay-by-the-minute.. ouch!)

Saturday, July 7, 2007

It's not exactly shaped like a star, but it is shaped like a turtle.

This is Patrick. Patrick was our docent at Charles Fort in Kinsale, the southernmost port town in Ireland. Patrick was extremely knowledgeable and had a distinct, engaging manner that made the tales of the centuries-old stronghold come alive and really resonate for the choir. Charles Fort, you see, was built by the British in the style of the “Star-Shape” forts, which were strategically important because outside attackers could always be fired upon from two or more angles, based on the locations of the parapets. The crossfire made laying siege to one of these forts particularly difficult. But when your chorister returns home, you may hear less about the strategic advantages of building a fort in a star shape than you hear about Patrick (he's so dreamy).

After spending some quality time with Patrick on a walking tour of the grounds and surviving structures of Charles Fort, we were treated by our tour managers Liz and Dominic to some ice cream and a picnic lunch. After lunch, we made our way into the town of Kinsale proper, and St. Multose’s Church where we gave our Saturday night concert.

The touring choir had a lot of quality time in St. Multose’s Church, a Church of Ireland that pre-dates the ruins of Cashel you saw in pictures a few days ago. The vicar of the Church asked the girls whether they thought the ruins of Cashel were older, and he informed us that many people think the St. Multose’s church is younger than the ruins of Cashel because St. Multose’s still has its roof. He also let us know that the most recent addition—the “new wing” the church—was completed in 1521.

After a productive rehearsal at St. Multose’s, we walked through Kinsale to a restaurant for dinner. Kinsale is unofficially known as the “culinary capital of Ireland,” and dinner tonight did not disappoint. After the meal, we returned to the Church to perform our concert, which occurred simultaneously with the commencement of Kinsale’s Arts Week. It was a great experience in a wonderful venue!

Tonight, tour manager Dominic let me know that the Benefit Concert at Dun Laoghaire a few evenings ago raised over €1,500 for the Maritime Museum. At this evening's concert, St. Multose’s was collecting voluntary donations for the establishment of a daycare center in the town of Kinsale. We hope they raised a decent amount as well!

Tomorrow we leave the Imperial Hotel in Cork and make our way towards Ennistymon. On the way, the touring choir will perform at St. Mary’s Catholic Church as part of their Sunday mass in an after-mass impromptu concert. We’re also doing more sightseeing along the western shore of the Emerald Isle.

Twenty-five pictures from today are online now at http://picasaweb.google.com/pgcireland

Since we leave our hotel tonight, we’re not 100% certain of the ease of Internet access for the next few days. Again, we’ll try to update at the very least once daily.

We hope you’ve been enjoying the blog and the pictures.. Feel free to leave a comment to let us know you’re reading!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Great. Now, we've ALL got the gift of gab.

This is Dr. Spratt. Dr. Spratt is the dean of the Cork School of Music here in Corcaigh (that’s the Irish Gaelic spelling of the city). Today, the touring choir worked in a 2½ hour workshop (or “master class”) with Dr. Spratt rehearsing “The Time is Drawing Nigh,” a new work by David Wallace (a famous composer here in the British Isles). The touring choir will present the World Premiere of this piece at the concert on Saturday.

After the master class, we headed off towards Blarney. Yes, that Blarney. Home of Blarney Castle and the world famous Blarney Stone. We climbed to the top of the Castle through the ever narrower spiral staircase and emerged at the top of the battlements, where many of us opted to kiss the Blarney stone to get the gift of gab. (By the way, Kissing the Blarney Stone is one of the Travel Channel’s official list of the 99 things to do before you die. Check.)

Once we all returned from the castle, we returned to our coaches and made our way to Cobh (pronounced “Cove”), which is an important port town. It was, in fact, the point of departure for the large majority of the Irish emigrants from the era of the famine (as well as before and after). It was also the last port of call of the Titanic before she met her watery end. At Cobh, we visited the town’s official Heritage Centre which has a small museum exhibit explaining the Irish emigration, the famine, and the heyday of the famous ship lines such as White Star and Cunard. It was extremely interesting for many of us who had visited Ellis Island (the ending point of the passage) to see Cobh—where so many Irish emigrants began their journey toward America.

After Cobh, we returned to the Imperial Hotel in Cork where we had dinner. Our tour managers, Liz and Dominic, organized an hilarious limerick writing competition where style counted as much as the rhyme. Needless to say, the room was riotous with laughter.

Today, everyone exchanged the second Secret Singer gift and the recipients are all one clue closer to discovering the identity of their Secret Singer.

A few photos from today are online now at http://picasaweb.google.com/pgcireland

It's a long, long way to Tipperary... (so we stopped in Kilkenny)

A Big Day! I’m writing from the Imperial Hotel in Cork, our new home for the next few days. We started out early this morning and drove approximately two hours out of Dublin and through rolling Irish countryside to Kilkenny, where the touring choir gave a lunchtime concert at St. Canice’s Cathedral.

St. Canice’s—“the second longest cathedral in Ireland”—was constructed at least as early as the 13th Century and retains all of its gothic medieval charm. Many, many generations of the Butler family (the local nobles) were treated to the concert from their individual apartments in the crypt of the cathedral. Joining them in the audience were about fifty (living) locals from the town of Kilkenny.

After visiting and performing in the cathedral, we visited Kilkenny Castle, the home of the Butlers when they were alive. The Castle was initially built in 1213 as a fortification, on the site of an early wooden fort. The Butler family bought the castle in 1391 and their family lived there until 1935. Throughout the family’s history, many alterations and redecorations of the castle were undertaken. In 1967, the family sold the castle to the Irish government for the symbolic sum of £50. The castle is currently under restoration to appear largely as it did in the final chapters of the family’s residence: as a palatial estate in the Victorian style.

We hopped back in our coaches and continued on our way toward Cork. Along the route, we stopped briefly in Cashel, Ireland (in County Tipperary) at a roadside restaurant called the Rock House, which lies just in the shadow of "the Rock of Cashel"--a ruined medieval cathedral, and where we enjoyed delicious scones and muffins.

When we arrived in Cork, we came right here to the hotel and had our first meal in the city. Tomorrow, the touring choir participates in a master class workshop with Dr. Geoffrey Spatt, of the Cork School of Music.

A picture blitz from Day Four is online at http://picasaweb.google.com/pgcireland

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Good morning

We're just about to check out of the Gresham Hotel, Dublin. A big travel day today as we head towards Cork with stops for a lunchtime concert and sightseeing in Kilkenny.

We're not sure what the Internet situation is going to be at our new hotel (it was great here at the Gresham), but we'll try to update at least once a day for the next few days.

A great concert last night -- that turned out to be a benefit concert raising funds for the Dun Laoghaire ("dun leary", remember?) Maritime Museum: quite a worthy local cause. We were in Dun Laoghaire for about six hours and we've already given back to the community!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Day Three Photo Blitz

Tons of pictures from Day 3's tour of Dublin and the rehearsals and concerts in Dun Laoghaire are online now at http://picasaweb.google.com/pgcireland

Tomorrow we check out of the Gresham Hotel in Dublin and make our way toward Cork.

More details later...

Bus tour of Dublin.. off to Dun Laoghaire

This is Patricia. She was our on-coach tour guide of Dublin this morning. We hopped off the coaches to see St. Patricks' Cathedral (where Jonathan Swift was dean) and the Book of Kells (written circa 800) at Trinity College, among other things.

Those of us on the coaches also listened on the radio to those who sang to promote tonight's concert. The promo spot went perfectly!

We're off to rehearsal at Dun Laoghaire (prounced "dun leery") for our first concert tonight.

More later...

Pictures updated

New pictures from Days 1 and 2 are online at http://picasaweb.google.com/pgcireland ...

We're off to start our Day in Dublin.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Good night!

Tomorrow is our first concert in Dun Laoghaire. We tour around Dublin tomorrow morning, but we've been given a special opportunity to promote the Dun Laoghaire concert live on a local Dublin radio station tomorrow morning.

More details once it happens!


It's just about 3:45 Ireland Time (GMT) as I write this, and 10:45 on the East Coast of the United States. The Touring Choir, staff, and parent chaperones have just checked in and are beginning to settle at the Gresham Hotel on Upper O'Connell Street in Dublin.

We arrived early this morning... very early... on Continental Flight 22 from Newark. The flight was uneventful and as we landed the lead flight attendant gave the choir a special welcome to Ireland. At the airport, we met our tour managers, Dominic who is with Clans Batchelder and Elpus on "Coach A" (as we know, we're riding on deluxe "coaches," not merely "busses"), and Liz who is with Clans Brown, McGinley, and Salamone on "Coach B."

We loaded our coaches and went from the airport through downtown Dublin on our way to the Powerscourt House & Gardens, with a quick coffee and pastry stop at a shop called Avoca. Powerscourt House is an historic castle site in a strategically advatangeous location on the road to Dublin. It eventually became a noble family's estate; around the manor grew a large series of beautiful gardens. The grounds contain a statuary, an Italian Garden, a Rose Garden, a Japanese Garden, several ponds, a free-standing castle tower, and Pet Cemetary(!) wherein lies a cow whose headstone proclaims she gave over 100,000 litres of milk. The interior of the historic house went through a tragic fire in the 1970's, and only one large room has been restored to its former glory.

We explored the house and grounds of the estate for much of the afternoon and had lunch in Powerscourt House. We then loaded up the coaches and made our way to the Gresham Hotel, Dublin, our overnight home for the next few days.

We're about to leave on our way to a walking tour of the area in Dublin immediately surrounding our hotel.

Pictures from yesterday's plane ride and today's adventures are online. Check them out (and any pictures we manage to upload) at: http://picasaweb.google.com/pgcireland

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Follow along!

Follow the Tour Itinerary on this Google Map of the locations on the PGC 2007 Ireland Tour.