Thursday, May 10, 2018

Madrigals Tour to Ireland: May 8-17, 2018

Hello and welcome to the SMWC Choirs blog! I am Dr. Tracy Richardson, Chair of the Department of Music and Theatre, and guest blogger. I will do my best to post photos and keep you apprised of our journey through the emerald isle! 

The Madrigals are on a wonderful trip to Ireland! Actually, it is the “Madrigals+”. The choir comprises students who are in Madrigals, Chorale, and Woods Vocal Ensemble as well as some alumnae. Why Ireland (you might ask)? Associate Professor and Director of Choirs, Michael Boswell, chose Ireland as the destination for the 2018 choir tour to celebrate the 60thyear of the founding of the Madrigals by Sister Marie Brendan Harvey who was half Irish; in fact, her mother was born in Kinsale, one of the areas we will visit on this tour.

Pre-Tour: May 6-7, Ireland Camp

“Ireland Camp” was a time for the choir to have some intense rehearsal times together and to learn about Irish culture! We had a wonderful and entertaining seminar presented by Sr. Jan Craven on Celtic Spirituality, History, and Culture. We learned that Celtic people were originally spread throughout much of Europe and into present day Turkey. Centuries ago the Romans pushed them further and further west until they landed on the island we now know as Ireland. 

Celtic Spirituality includes believing God is everywhere... within and all around us. There is a deep sense of social justice. They value being “relational” over being “rational”. There is an importance placed on "intentional uselessness," or “wasting time with God” because we are human “beings” instead of human “doings” (meant to be content with being instead of always busying ourselves with doing). 

(We also learned that Sr. Jan may just have another career ahead of her…one as a stand-up comedienne!)

There is also a deep connection between the foundress of our college, St. Mother Theodore Guerin, and Celtic culture. Mother Theodore was born in the French province of Brittany, on the west coast of France. This is an area where many Celts settled instead of making the “jump” across the ocean to Ireland when they were pushed westward. In addition, many of the Sisters of Providence over the 178 year history of SMWC were Irish.

The Sisters of Providence gave us a blessing for our trip, led by Sr. Dawn Tomaszewski, General Superior. The blessing was held in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and began with a song called “The Deer’s Cry: I Arise” followed by a quiet reflection. Sr. Dawn invited us to think of a gift we would like to receive and what we would like to offer while on the trip. Then several Sisters in attendance raised their hands and read words of blessing , wishing us safe travels, good voices, and light hearts.

Monday, May 8, 2018

We boarded the bus at noon; about 20 campus and community members were there to see us off. SMWC President, Dr. Dottie King, gathered the travelers around her and offered a blessing and prayer for our safe travels, and prayed that we might have a positive impact on those we meet. When we got settled on the bus, Dr. John McIntrye boarded long enough for us to sing the piece he arranged specifically for this tour (Be Thou My Vision).  

We headed on our way north to Chicago. We were briefly separated during check in; after half our group got through, the person working the counter took a break! The rest of the group had to wait 40 minutes to check in. This is most certainly NOT our last event on this trip where we will need to demonstrate patience!

We had a lovely 6.5 hr flight to Dublin and once there waited in the customs line for about 1.5 hrs. We saw a tower as we walked to our bus (God is love) that told us we were in the right place!

Tuesday, May 9

By the time we met our tour guide, Seamus O’Shea, we were like zombies. But Seamus and Greg (bus driver) got us safely to our first destination, Glendalough (GLEN-da-lock) meaning Valley of the two lakes. What a beautiful and sacred place. Even though it was raining quite heavily during our visit to this ancient monastery we enjoyed every minute. It was founded in the 5thc by St. Kevin. Many people came to the monastery to seek refuge; once a through the stone archway, they were safe from persecution. 

Legend has it that the original landowner, St. Lawrence O’Toole had a pet goose that was sick. St. Kevin said “If I help it recover, you have to give me all the land it flies over.” O’Toole agreed; St. Kevin talked to the goose and then it flew the entire length of the valley. St. Kevin had his land.

The round tower is a structure that now appears in other countries but originated in Ireland. It is a free standing tower that served many purposes including bell tower, place to hide valuables from intruders, and “signpost” so people could find the monastery.

St. Kevin’s church is a beautiful stone structure with a steep stone roof. It dates to the 11thc.
There are several Celtic crosses on site, including one that has been moved into the visitors’ center, the Market Cross.

We then ate a beautiful lunch, arranged by Seamus, at a little place called Wicklow Heather  (in County Wicklow). The interior was very quaint and the walls were lined with books. Our dining room was called The Writers’ Room. 

Next we took a 4 hour drive to County Cork, to the city of Cork, where we FINALLY got to check into a hotel, the Ambassador. It is a lovely old hotel that was originally….
We had a beautiful dinner at the hotel, and then turned in…our first sleep (in a bed) for sometime…in fact we had been up and traveling about 36 hours!

Thursday, May 10

Today we set off to the town of Cobh ("Cove") to visit the  Heritage Center. This is the port from which many Irish emigrated. It is also the last port of the Titanic (1912) and in 1915 the Lusitania was sunk by German U-Boat off the coast. The heritage center gave us information about all these events.

From there we drove to Kinsale, a beautiful harbor town. Kinsale was the birthplace of Sr. Marie Brendan Harvey's mother. The houses and shops were very colorful.

We had a guided walking tour around the town and gave an impromptu "concert" (actually just one song, but it was the Ring Song) to another group of tourists...we were on one side of the street and they were on the other. We saw St. John the Baptist church with a lovely organ inside, then went to Black's Brewery for a tour and tasting...very delicious!

After a few hours to explore, we then gave our concert at St. Maltose, where we had a very nice audience who seemed to truly appreciate our connection to their fair city. The city councilman gave some nice remarks on behalf of the city.

Friday, May 11

We left Cork in pouring rain and drove to Killarney to see the Muckross house. "Muck" means wild boar and "ross" means woodlands. It is a grand estate with beautiful gardens. Its claim to fame is that in August 1861 Queen Victoria stayed there for 2 nights. However, the owners (the Herberts) had prepared for her visit for 6 years, making many renovations so her stay would be suitable.

The sun returned and we drove to Castle Ross which dates to the 15th century. We took a boat tour of Lough Lein (Lake of Learning)  and learned more about the history of the area. The scenery was magnificent, with the lake set at the foot of beautiful, lush green mountains.

After we walked around the castle grounds we headed to the  Hotel Castle Ross to freshen up and prepare for mass at St. Mary's Cathedral. After mass the choirs gave a brief recital then returned to the hotel for dinner.

The view from the hotel was astonishing. The sunset over the lake and mountains caused everyone to be in awe. We took a LOT of photos!

Saturday, May 12

Our morning began with the view of a herd of native deer (about 40) grazing just outside the dining room!

We were blessed with another beautiful sunny day today as we drove from Killarney to the Cliffs of Moher (MO-her). We stopped on the way to buy lunch to eat when we arrived. The view was breathtaking. The cliffs run for about 4 miles along the coast and rise to a height of 705 feet above the Atlantic. Again this was a scenic masterpiece that we enjoyed immensely.

We then took a very long drive to Westport where we stopped at the Town Hall Theatre in Westport for a quick rehearsal, then on to our hotel. After dinner we returned to the theatre for the performance.

The SMWC choir was on the program along with the Classical Covies, which includes Anne Marie Gibbons (mezzo soprano), Hugh Francis (tenor), Aoife O'Sullivan (piano), Gerard McNally (piano), and Patrick Early (violin). It was a wonderful concert and the choir was very warmly received by the audience. At the end we all sang Danny Boy and You'll Never Walk Alone with the audience, followed by a standing ovation. No photos were allowed during the concert so we took a nice group shot afterwards.

Sunday, May 13 (Mother's Day)

We left Westport for Galway. The driver took us by Galway Bay which was truly amazing. Ed Sheehan is performing in town (they call it "Ed Fest" because he does 3 nights in a row!) so the city is bustling.

We went inside Galway Cathedral to see where we would sing later and it was overwhelmingly beautiful. In addition to being enormous, the interior includes various colors of marble including the green marble of Connemara.

The cathedral was built in 1965 and sits on the grounds of the old jail. JFK visited here in 1963 just before his just a few months before he was killed; there is a mosaic in the church of him praying.

We had a couple of hours to eat and shop. It was a very busy shopping area, with many performers on the streets; Irish dancers, musicians, and lots of people (including kids as young as about 8) busking for a few Euros by singing Ed Sheeran songs.

We sang during the mass; the acoustics were lovely and we were received very warmly. As we left the cathedral we entered our bus and began a very quick drive back to Westport for dinner We were once again entertained by our guide and driver, Seamus and Greg, and by the limericks written by those on the bus (Seamus challenged us so the creativity is flowing!).

Monday, May 14

Today we drove to the ancient monastery Clonmacnoise. It was founded in 548 by St. Ciaran at the "crossroads of Ireland", the intersection of the River Shannon (north/south) and a ridge that was a main east/west path for travelers at that time. Clonmacnoise became a center for religion, trade, arts, and politics.

There are several beautiful high crosses at the site, although they have been moved indoors for protection from the elements; replicas now sit in place of the originals. This was a beautiful site to visit.

Next we went to Maynooth College. the city of Maynooth was founded by the FitzGeralds who were Welsh but over time they "became more Irish than the Irish." The grounds are amazing, with a yew tree in the front that is over 800 years old. 

 There are several connections between this College and SMWC. The "newer" of the halls was built in 1840s. Also the chapel, which was added a bit later, had many fleurs des lit in the marble alongside the shamrocks. We sang some pieces which were stunning in this space. There was no audience (other than parents who are traveling with the group) but it was special to all of us.

We continued to Dublin and checked in the Clayton Hotel... this is our last hotel!

Tuesday May 15

Today we drove to a sacred site, the Newgrange tomb in the Boyne (Boine) Valley. This was a burial mound built 3200 BC, pre-pyramids. It is perfectly aligned so that on the winter solstice the sun enters the tomb on the east side, travels across the floor, and into the inner chamber. We were able to go in and see a simulation.

People wonder and speculate about why ancient people built these sites (several more exist close by and others across Ireland). One theory is that when the sunlight exited the tomb (after 17 minutes) it took the souls of all the dead who had been interred there over the previous year to the other world.

It is amazing this is still standing. The signature symbols on the stones inside and outside are the 3 spirals, and triangles.

We then went to the Hill of Slane, another ancient site where St. Patrick lit a fire at Easter which eventually won him the respect of King Laoire. While there we sang Dr. John McIntyre's arrangement of "Slane", a traditional Irish hymn, known to us as "Be Thou My Vision". It was an amazing experience to stand in a circle in the ruins of a church in Ireland and sing this beautiful piece. It felt like the song was meant to be sung here.

We continued back to Dublin and visited the Kilmainham Gaol (jail). Many people, including children, were imprisoned here over the years. Most recently it was used to house and execute 14 Irishmen and Irishwomen who attempted to assert their independence from Great Britain in 1916 in the Easter Monday uprising.

Finally we ended our day with a run from the bus to St. Teresa's church to sing for mass; we arrived at 5:26 for the 6:00 mass...whew! It was a lovely church and the music sounded heavenly. We stayed after and the madrigals sang two more pieces near the alter in a circle. They were in a place in the church that caused the sound to ring throughout the room; it was stunning.

Wednesday, May 16

We took a driving tour of Dublin on this last full day of our trip. We then went to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells, an early manuscript containing the gospels. Next stop was St. Patrick's Cathedral where we performed a mid-day concert.

Many people stopped to enjoy the music, including a group from Chicago that we had met in the airport last week as we were preparing to leave. In addition one of our SMWC alums, Sondra Blake Maher, now lives near Dublin and she came to the concert and took some photos for us as well. It was wonderful to connect with her!

This was an emotional performance for us; it was the last performance of our tour and also the last performance for our seniors (Devyn Burns, Allison Payonk, and Shannon Sonderman).

We had free time to see sights in Dublin in the afternoon. Then we met at the bus and went to the Merry Ploughboy, an old pub that is owned and operated by Dublin musicians. We had a wonderful dinner followed by traditional Irish folk songs, sugarcoated by the Merry Ploughboys. They played bass, guitar, Irish mandolin, banjo, tin whistle, and uilleann (elbow) pipes. The group was wonderful and had us singing along to tunes such as The One Road and It's a Long Way to Tipperary. A group of Irish step dancers followed and they were incredible.

Back on the bus with our driver (Greg) and guide (Seamus) a few more songs were sung as we headed back for our last sleep in Ireland. We will miss the antics of these two; they kept us laughing all week long!

Thursday May 17

We boarded the bus at 7:30am for our long trek home. We arrived back at St. Mary-of-the-Woods at about 8:00pm (1:00am in Ireland, but who's counting??). 

This was a wonderful trip that deepened friendships and opened our eyes to another culture.  Through our music I think we made a good impression on the people of Ireland, and I know they made a good impression on us. 

We all decided this was not our last trip to this  beautiful Emerald Isle. We feel like we left a piece of our hearts there and will go back some day! Until then!!