This is being posted about a month and a half after our return. Given my usual pace of reportage, that's not half bad.
Food, Personal Stuff, TMI
Given my eating disorder and adherence to the Paleo template to manage it, my biggest concerns ahead of the trip were fears of not beating able to avoid my alcoholic foods (gluten, grain, recreational sugar, cheese) or my binge-eating behaviors around food. I brought my own food for all plain trips, including a large salad on the return flight and was not afraid to ask for what I needed at fancy restaurants. I sent back one burger that arrived with cheese, but had no problems with getting bunless burgers or substituting mash for chips. I generally don’t eat white potatoes, but I was in Ireland, and I made my personal line in the sand that I would eat mashed potatoes. At home I don’t use dairy beyond Kerrygold butter, but in the EU, I knew I’d be getting better milk and hey I was in Ireland.
Whenever we were passing through countryside either in a bus or car, it was just a joy to see the cows out in the pasture, knowing they were being well-treated to produce great milk or meat, rather than the CAFO situation so prevalent in the US.
I had a minor meltdown in advance of our “tourist day.” I was told that lunch would be provided, but I was envisioning being handed a paper bag containing a sandwich and a cookie. I was so stressed about this that I ended up buying sliced meat and bringing that and some fruit from the breakfast service at the hotel. Naturally this turned out to be complete unnecessary as our lunch occurred at a sit down restaurant and I was able to order a lovely pork burger (sans bun) with mash (instead of chips.) The orange did come in handy though as this was one of the few places that wasn’t able to put together a dessert of fresh fruit for me.
Breakfasts in general were a treat. The hotel in Dublin gave us a buffet breakfast as one of our amenities, which began my love affair with Irish Tea. In the past a buffet of any kind was a one-way ticket to binge city. In this case, I was generally using the “one plate” rule, plus an additional bowl of fruit. This buffet separated out the elements of the traditional Irish breakfast and also offered some smoked fish, along with the usual stuff that would not be making an appearance on my one plate. Their outstanding feature in terms of the breakfast menu was that the honey was served in an actual honeycomb. Amazing. Also being in Ireland, there was plenty of fresh Irish butter, rather than nasty margarine, which I won’t touch. And yes, I do put butter in my tea. At home it’s butter, coconut oil and honey blended in. On holiday, I just had to put the butter and honey in and stir. Along with the distinctive tannin profile of the Irish tea, it was exactly the kick to keep me moving and yet somehow tranquil.
At the hotel in Ennis, I was able to order the Full Irish, but omit the puddings and sausage in order to avoid gluten/grains. That and fruit, plus my soul-invigorating tea/honey/butter mélange was perfect and essentially replaced my breakfast and lunch at home.
My standard breakfast was the full Irish (sans sausage/puddings) and a bowl of fruit compote, plus a pot of that arse-kicking Irish tea, to which I added butter and honey.
We ate our first dinner at the Town HalI Bistro in the hotel. I ordered the lamb shank, but had to specify that I did not want the courgette fritters that came with it because of the breading. This led to some slight confusion, because they were happy to bring me potatoes…but those were covered with a cheese sauce. The waitress got very fixated on my desire to avoid gluten, but missed the idea that I also don’t eat grains, cheese or sugar. I was able to get a fruit plate for dessert. The steamed veggies were MEH, but the lamb shanks was another piece of perfect “low and slow” cooked meat and the sweet potato was stupendous.
We ate two lunches at Lana, a restaurant on O’connell Street, featuring “Asian Street Food.” Both times I had the Lamb Rendang. Super good and moderately hot. Basically a Lamb Curry with potatoes. It took some effort to convince them I didn’t want ANY rice or noodles of any kind, but even without them, it was a good hearty meal.
Two Carvery meals.Basically the Irish equivalent of the Las Vegas two dollar prime rib. Both times I had roast beef, potatoes, veggies and lots of butter. NO GRAVY. One at the Old Ground and one at the Temple Gate Hotel. I also had the cabbage at the Temple Gate hotel, which was delicious.
One dinner at the Auburn Lodge-Pork Medallians, potatoes, veggies. Fancy restaurant, but the food was kind of MEH!
The Dining Room. Basically another carvery type meal, only no line. Really good potatoes.
One dinner at the weirdly empty, oddly fusion restaurant called Coco. Pretty much the only meal in Ennis that was not accompanied by Irish Music. The soundtrack was sort of Asian Space Music. My burger was pretty good, although on a second thought the mushrooms and onions were PROBABLY stir-fried in soy sauce or something else sugar-intensive that I normally wouldn’t eat. If you’re in Ennis and looking for something a little different:
And there was a little café we ate at once. My burger there was decent, although I had to send it back to have unwanted cheese removed. The name eludes me at the moment. Something in Irish about Friendship? It was a nice lunch.
On our last afternoon/evening in Dublin, I went a bit crazy looking for something Paleo/Abstinent to eat on the plane ride home. I ended up buying a rather large salad to which my husband said, “You’re going to take that on the plane?” To which I said, “Just watch me,” and I did.
I did everything possible to stay sane because I’m generally not known for doing this on vacation.
1. I emailed my food to my food buddy either just before I ate it (in other words, after my order was in, but the food hadn’t arrived yet) or as soon after eating it as possible. I wrote down every morsel. If I nibbled it, I scribbled it. I know this strikes some people as being as compulsive as the binging itself, but for me, I need accountability. A single bite that stays a secret is a doorway to a binge. I also left daily voicemails for my sponsor, keeping her updated on my emotional well-being.
I’d been researching OA meetings in Ennis and discovered there was one on Sunday night and intended to go on both the Sundays we would be in Ennis. While I was attempting to figure out how to get to the meeting location, I managed to get in touch with a local meeting contact, which was a blessing and possibly divine providence. It turned out that due to the street closures to traffic for the duration of the Fleadh, the group conscience had been to move the meeting. So I ended up taking a bus to Cruisheen. If you think Ennis is small…see Cruisheen. But I did it, somewhat terrified that I’d end up in the middle of nowhere with no way to get back to Ennis and not even in the right place for the meeting. None of which happened. I was in the right place. There was a meeting. I got a ride home. I ended up not getting back to the meeting in Ennis/Cruisheen on the second Sunday because that was the night of the Cèilidh band competition, which is considered the climax of the competition portion of the Fleadh, and which we’d purchased tickets for weeks before we left for Ireland. I tried a few ways to weasel out, but Hubby really wanted me to be there, so I weaseled out of the OA meeting and went to the competition.
I then ended up going to an OA meeting in Dublin on the Monday night we were there, although honestly, if I’d been able to find Karaoke, I would have done that instead. My one big disappointment was lack of Karaoke on the trip. I knew it wouldn’t be happening in Ennis, but was hoping for something in Dublin. They have it, just not on Mondays. (The only thing would have been a rented room and that is not my jam.)
The meeting on Monday night was a bit of “going to any lengths” since the cab took a lot longer and was a bit more expensive than anticipated. Oh well.
I filled in on program by going to AA meetings, which took place in the Friary Hall. This turned out to be less than 10 minutes from the hotel AND only a few steps away from the Ennis Yoga Studio.
Prior to the trip, I’d been super stressed about the possibility of not being able to practice yoga while on holiday. I’d tracked down the Ennis Yoga Studio and made contact with the owner. They were not going to operating their regular scheduled during the Fleadh, but were planning to have “pop-up” classes. The first one was on the Saturday that we arrived in Ennis, but took place while we were on the bus from Dublin. The next one was scheduled for Tuesday. In the mean time I bought a mat to practice in the hotel room AND investigated various Youtube videos.
When I showed up on Tuesday, I met the lovely Margaret Hennessey. She taught a 90 minute class with a focus on sustained asanas, breathing and relaxation that was exactly what I needed. Best of all she said that if there was enough interest, she would teach a morning class throughout the week of the Fleadh and the interest was definitely there. So I got Yoga AND 12 Step meetings throughout a week where I would otherwise have been in danger of getting lost in my own crazy. Just to add to the feeling of my own little world within the Fleadh, there’s a great little coffee shop next to the Ennis Yoga Studio called Bia Agus Caife, which translates to Food and Coffee and is definitely what it says on the tin. To add to my “mini San Francisco” feeling, Bia Agus Caife is owned by a gentleman named Ed from Concord, California. The closest thing I had to a deliberate “cheat” on the trip was an absolutely delicious Chai Latte with Almond Milk that I had there.
So with yoga, and 12 Step Meetings and time to myself to do those thing, without feeling like I was taking away from “couple time,” I was able to have the vacation I needed so that Hubby could have the one that he wanted.
This is the first trip I can remember where I didn’t restrict or binge or start doing one and ended up in the depths of the other. For this I am truly grateful…also for this, I worked my ass off. I was able to come home and try on my “barometer” pants and get right into them.
More important, I did not have any major meltdowns, temper tantrums, hissy fits or other acting out behavior inspired by food-crazy or self-well. In other words, this may be the first trip of my adult life where I maintained emotional abstinence. I had a few moments of anxiety and stress, but I never lashed out and started acting like a crazy person.
Well ok, a few moments, but all of them resolved fairly quickly and none threatened to turn the trip into an ordeal. Also, very importantly, at no time was I obsessed or even remotely concerned with what might be going on at the Lounge in my absence, a far cry from my days at the Desk of Doom, where every minute away from my desk was a nightmare of anxiety about what I might of done wrong and what kind of shit-storm would be waiting for me upon my return,
I did get VERY PISSY when hubby insisted on having both pizza and a big gooey chocolate thing at a venue that had nothing I could eat when I was sort of between meals anyway. I just got a LOAD of resentment and started sniping about his poor food choices. I do think virtually everything he ate in that “meal” was extremely unhealthy, but my real cause of anger was the resentment of him being able to eat what I either choose not to for health reasons or because they are binge triggers or both.
I freaked out BIG TIME with multiple F-bombs when I realized the period that I thought was over wasn’t, and I was wearing leggings, and bleeding through. We managed to get to a McDonalds and I did have supplies, but I was hyper self-conscious until I was able to get back to the hotel and change clothes.
There was a charming moment when our friend’s girlfriend offered me an Altoid, which I declined on grounds of gratuitous sugar. She then told me flat-out that I had halitosis. I thanked her for sharing, but still declined the mint. Since then I’ve brushed my teeth at least once a day, which to be honest wasn’t always the case before.
Mini meltdown over my own fingers giving me issues trying to send email from my phone. It kept hitting send before I meant to, so I had to keep adding and then it would send AGAIN before I was ready. Clearly I was tired or frustrated or something and shouldn’t have been bother to try and send email right then, but I was desperate to keep in touch with my food buddy and got overly obsessed with sending the email, so I lashed out at my Iphone and my fingers, and my husband when he called me on it. I think I got over that one pretty quickly.
I REALLY didn’t appreciate one moment when Hubby called me out on a certain eating behavior. I’m not saying what I didn’t was gross, but since I’m sensitive about food, it just hurt having someone make a comment about it.
I did become very cognizant of my tendency to eat as though food was going to be taken away from me. I’m still trying to work on this. I know digestion and fat-burning are MUCH more effective when the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged my “fight or flight” style is not conducive at all. Being able to sit down for all meals was nice, but I didn’t eat in the relaxed and leisurely fashion that I could have. I probably need to do some writing and investigate why I eat this way.
Travel/Music/Slightly less TMI
Rookie mistake on the outbound flight. We had intended to come into the airport early, get our boarding passes and spend several hours in the Centurion Lounge prior to departure. However, I had forgotten that Aer Lingus flies exactly one flight per day out of SFO. Our flight wasn’t leaving until 5:30PM and the check-in wouldn’t be open til about three hours prior…and we were there way earlier than that. No boarding pass----no way through security to the Lounge. Not even when I managed to do on-line check in and have the digital boarding passes available. All we could do was set up a very quiet camp in the Reflection Room and wait for Aer Lingus to open a check in window. It was even more frustrating because I was being thwarted by one of the TSA employees I pass every day in my guise as an airport employee with a badge. As a “regular” traveler, I was made to feel like a nobody and the whole experience made me much more cognizant of how frustrated some of our card members might be by the time they get to us.
Once Aer Lingus did open up, we joined the queue. It took about ½ hour, but the ladies in green were all pleasant and efficient, so the line moved pretty quickly. We did eventually get checked in, get our boarding passes issued and get to the Lounge.
It was a pleasure to be able to show off my “office” to my husband, Matt. He enjoyed the food from the gourmet line, getting to experience the brand new menu from Chef Daniel Patterson. He finished off a plate of the chicken, the cauliflower and had extremely high praise for the soup. We then found a place in the main Lounge to relax and charge up all our devices before proceeding to our gate in the International Terminal.
Again, the airline was extremely well run and upon seeing our bulkhead, exit row seats, we breathed a sigh of relief and gratitude that we had sprung for the extra legroom. Of course the downside was being in screaming baby central, and there was definitely some of that along the way. Given my claustrophobia and my husband’s long legs, still worth it for the extra leg-room. (Even though it means having to keep all carry-on luggage in the over-head, especially on the outbound when we were directly opposite the flight attendant in the jump seat who kept a very close eye on us.)
10 hours later…(Please note…I don’t know what our next trip is going to be, but I do know that it needs to be a much shorter flight time.) Arrived at Dublin airport and retrieved luggage, got Euros and bought a much needed Ballygowan sparkling water. I know one should hydrate during air travel, but I loathe using the on-board lavatory so I tend to avoid all liquids, leading to a state of desperate dehydration upon landing.
Cab took us to the hotel, the Westin Dublin, which I had booked using my FHR benefit. I was given the FHR amenities, including the complimentary breakfast (a wonderful buffet), an 85 Euro food credit and late check-out. (Since we had a bus to catch the next day, this wasn’t necessary.) Check in was an absolute breeze, with absolutely no pr and we were soon up in our hotel room, from which we then quickly lit out on a few missions.
One was a visit to Grafton Street, where Hubby was determined to order a replacement wedding ring. He lost his during the famous close encounter with an SUV incident of September 2014, and had decided to replace his original gold band with something a bit more elaborate, incorporating a Celtic design. While he was doing that, I got all touristy with the Phil Lynott statue, handing my phone to a clueless Dutch tourist to take the photo.
Our other destination for the afternoon was Trinity College for a look at the Brian Boru harp. Of course, there’s no way to get into the Long Room where the harp resides, without also paying for a trip to the Book of Kells and the gift-shop. Thus began my quest for a perfect front-zippered hoodie as a memento of the trip. The front-zippered hoodies available in the Trinity College gift-ship were not that nice. Thin fabric and the appliqué went right through and wouldn’t be at all comfortable. I was envisioning a really well-made, comfortable hoodie, comparable to the one I got at Betty’s Beach Café during my last trip to Maui.
I’m sure I should be more impressed with the Book of Kells than I am. I wasn’t on our last trip and I’m still not. The Long Room is true to its name and it’s fun to go down the row busts of the great authors and to take in the sight of ALL THOSE BOOKS. For Hubby, it was mostly about the harp, although that excursion was planned a few months back when he was deeply enthralled with learning to the play the harp. In the months since then, he sort of lost the thread with the harp and became deeply enthralled with learning to play Irish flute. About that, more later.
After we got back from Trinity, Hubby headed across the street to visit Claddagh Records and since I’m such a lousy flyer, I treated myself to a room massage. 85 Euro. Sophie was AMAZING. So good that I fell asleep on the table and had to be woken up so that I could meet Hubby for dinner in the Mint Bar restaurant. (Reminding me of the Mint Karaoke Lounge. I had hopes of doing Karaoke in Dublin on the back end of our trip.)
Our first dinner Ireland was in the Mint Bar restaurant at the Westin Dublin (using our 85 Euro Fine Hotel and Resort credit.) Both of us had the Slow Cooked Irish Beef Cheek with came with Champ Potato, button mushroom, pearl onion and smoked bacon jus and was absolutely incredible. Everything a low and slow cooked piece of meat should be. The potatoes were well-named, and I was able to get a lovely bowl of fresh fruit for dessert while Hubby had the chocolate gooey thing.
You’d think after all that, including my massage, sleep would be imminent. I may have dozed off a bit, but sometime around 1AM, it turned out we were both wide awake. I tried a hot bath and shower…it didn’t help much.
However, we both had alarms set so if sleep came at some point, we were still up in time for the wonderful breakfast buffet and to get ourselves to the bus stop for our trip to Ennis.
If you have any clients, friends, family, or casual acquaintances who are interested in Traditional Irish Music, this is THE PLACE TO BE! However it will take lots of advance planning as the hotels in town will sell out quickly. Air tickets should be purchased several months out. Closest airport to Ennis itself is Shannon, however there are fewer direct flights, especially off the West Coast, so that will probably request a connection. From SFO, there is the once daily nonstop to Dublin, which will then require car, train or bus to Ennis. We had decided on bus travel vs train because there is no direct train from Dublin to Ennis. As busses go, not half bad and no connections of any kind necessary. Getting from one train to another, while carrying all our luggage, including instruments would not have been fun. The bus had a place for baggage and an on-board loo. The ride itself took about four hours and gave us all that lovely country side to look at including the aforementioned cows and sheep. Weather was gorgeous.
Due to the main thoroughfares of Ennis being closed to cars and busses for the Fleadh, we were let off at what turned out to be the main stage area for Fleadh TV and therefore a very quick walk to our hotel AFTER we figured out where we were relative to the hotel. We were assisted by a lovely woman named Siobhan. (You’re not really in Ireland until you’ve talked to a woman named Siobhan.) It turned out that the way to our hotel was through Dunne’s. Dunne’s appears to be the Irish equivalent of Target. In one giant store, there is a full supermarket, clothing store and home goods. As I had expected, if I forgot to pack anything, there would no problem getting it.
Check in was another breeze, followed by the discovery that getting to our room required going both up and down stairs. By this time we were well familiar with the EU procedure of needing to have a room key in the slot by the door in order to turn on the lights in the room.
So let’s talk about MUSIC!
The purpose of our trip was to attend the Fleadh Coehil, or to give it its full name: Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann.
This is the biggest music festival of the year for traditional Irish music. There are music classes, performances, competitions, sessions and general gaiety. Each year a different city in Ireland hosts the event (lately it’s been the same one for two years in a row so a year’s worth of preparation and infrastructure can get a second year’s use) and this year it was Ennis in County Clare for the first time since 1977.
We literally spent a year preparing for this event. My husband is an avid fan of Irish music, both as a listener and participant. I came to the relations from a place of knowing NOTHING about Irish music beyond the worst cliches and stereotypes fostered by “Americanized” Irish music. He introduced me to the Chieftans, Boys of the Lough, Planxty and a slew of other bands and the individual performers. In the last several years, he’s become of stalwart of Irish Music sessions taking place at local pubs like the Chieftan, O’Keefe’s, Ireland’s 32 and the United Irish Cultural Center. His current instrument of choice for sessions is the Mandolin, and this past year, he had an Octave Mandolin custom made.
He’s also flirted with the button accordion, concertina, tin whistle and banjo and fiddle among many other instruments and types of music. (Bluegrass, Zimbabwean, Salsa etc.)
This year he got interested in playing Irish Harp, and bought a few, but what really grabbed his interest was the Irish flute. Next thing I know he’s ordered a flute from Custy’s in Ennis….and furthermore they sent it to him WITHOUT taking the charge off the card until it arrived and he verified that he was happy with it.
It’s still not what I would listen to for my own listening pleasure, but I do have an appreciation, especially of the more uptempo pieces. Love me some Ceilhi Band music.
The original idea was to take a package tour around Ireland where we’d be brought to various pub sessions, HOWEVER none of the tour companies my husband investigated could guarantee that he’d actually be able to sit in rather than just watch. Once we knew that the Fleadh was going to be in Ennis, we (or rather he-this was his dream trip) got on the phone and literally got the best hotel in Ennis to confirm the space a year out, which required over-riding their own reservation system, but was well worth it.
In order to maximize the musical experience, my husband traveled with two instruments. Although he generally uses his custom made Octave Mandolin, that was a little too bulky and valuable to take on the long-haul flight and be schlepping around to various pupsduring the Fleadh. Instead he brought a …….. mandolin to play in the sessions and the Irish flute he had purchased from Custy’s music store in Ennis. They had taken our credit card information, but made the decision NOT to charge for the flute until he’d had the chance to play it and declare himself satisfied.
Custy’s was therefore our first music-related excursion, and that was when we really got the sense of how big the Fleadh is. Music everywhere. Kids busking in front of every store and recordings pouring out at as well. Various semi-impromptu performances breaking out or being staged for Fleadh TV.
The Irish Flute is the most recent addition to the collection and hubby had enrolled in Scoil Éigse, the official summer school organised by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann where Irish people and international students of all ages register for the various instrumental music, singing, dancing and Irish language classes. The school provides workshops, lectures and sessions during Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. It is the flagship event in the Comhaltas Education programme. Scoil Éigse provides a broad-based cultural educational experience for students, their families, other visitors and the general public.
This worked out incredibly well, although it was humbling for him to be in classes with kids around ten years old who could flute rings around him. The best part (IMAO) was giving him a focus during the day during the early part of the Fleadh. It also gave him to Eamon Cotter, one of his fluting heroes, from whom he has now ordered his next flute.
Hubby was concerned about leaving me on my own for so long, but it actually turned out brilliantly, as I was able to keep myself on an even keel during that time with Yoga, thanks to the lovely and delightful Margaret Hennessy at the Ennis Yoga Studio. One thing Hubby and I have learned over 25 years of travel together (starting with our Honeymoon From Hell) is the importance of time away from each other.
Recitals on Tuesday and Wednesday after the classes.
These were lovely, fun and informal, with some major names in Irish music performing brief sets. Hubby was especially excited to see Joanie Madden, seeing as how she basically grew up in the same neighbourhood as he did.
(We skipped the recitals on the first day of classes because Hubby had been under the impression that it would be students performing rather than the instructors.)
Hounds of Ulster-A drum and flute band from Belfast. They played HARD and it was certainly a great show of unity for a Northern Band to come to Ennis and be embraced fully as part of the festival. There were several young boys playing with the group, who I assumed were the sons of older members. One them had a cymbal fall apart just before I think he was supposed to play it, but he recovered like a champ. This band was accompanied by some girls doing Irish Step Dancing. They did not have a lot of space to manoeuvre and I wasn’t sure if they were going to kick the front the row int he face or trip over one of the drum stands in back of them.
One of the best “Bang For Bucks,” (or rather Bangs for Euros) was a 15 Euro ticket to :
The Flanagan Brothers: The Legacy
Commemorating the Golden Era of Irish music in America
Brock McGuire Band
Green Fields of America
At the Racket…….
……and top young banjo talent, which included a lecture by Mick Moloney, Professor of Music and Irish Studies: New York University, on the prolific careers and influence of the Flanagan brothers, featuring recordings and visual images of the day.
The concert was lots of fun, but the talk was GREAT. Really entertaining and informative.
Our friend Carl was competing in two of the competitions which are the “meat” of Fleadh itself. The actual point is f or the best musicians in traditional Irish music coming from all over the world to compete against each other head to head and the winner to actually be declared the “top” player or performer in that category.
The first competition we went to was the Lilting. This is sort of what people who don’t know much about Irish music might immediately think of when it’s mentioned. The sort of “diddley-diddley-di” kind of thing that’s partially parodied in the “Irish Drinking Song” game on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” It can be a really lovely style of music, but I will say a little bit goes a long way. It was interesting to see the variations and performances of several different performers of different approaches, voices, ages etc. I felt bad for those who had to go first, several of whom were clearly being undone by nerves. I was also surprised that some of the listed competitors simply no-showed. Due to a conflicting musical date, we left before the winners were announced. Our friend later reported that he didn’t place, but the ones were we were most impressed with did, including an older woman (apparently in her 80’s) who lilted sitting down, with a very traditional style that involved hand clapping as well.
However the judges made their decisions, at least they were in the position of judging apples and apples, and presumably whoever was assigned to do it was well-versed in the particulars of the form.
Two days later, we attended the “miscellaneous instruments” competition, which was the diametric opposite. Basically a competition of performers playing traditional Irish music on various instruments for which there weren’t enough competitors to warrant their own groups. In other words, our friend was played Hammered Dulcimer against a saxophone player, clarinet, a few guitars, a bag pipe player and maybe some others, which are eluding my memory at the moment.
I can’t imaging how difficult this would be to judge. Apples vs Oranges vs Avocados vs Kiwis vs Durian. Or something. I’m sure its like judging Best In Show and each instrument gets judged by it’s own “confirmation standard,” but with the added difficulty of how well some instruments are or aren’t suited to Irish music. I thought the saxophone player was quite good, but he didn’t place well at all. One of the guitar players came in first. I hadn’t been that impressed, but the musicians in our group definitely were and felt the best man had won.
The last competition we attended was the aforementioned Senior Céilí Band, which took place in a massive temporary structure called the Shannon Aerodrome. At first we were afraid it was actually being held at Shannon Airport, but we did figure out that the structure was being sponsored by the Airport instead. It was POURING rain, the structure was packed to the gills and not terribly well ventilated. Meaning it was hot and humid and the longer the competition went on the harder it got to breath. And the competition went on a really long time. Twenty bands competing and each one plays (I think) three pieces. PLUS, much as I love Ceili band music…it does start to sound pretty repetitive. The bands were all great, of course, and the most popular by applause and cheering was definitely a group from Japan. Honestly though, by the time it was done, I was just exhausted and wanted to get back to the hotel. I was fleadh’ed out!
Of course the real reason we went to Ireland was for my husband to go into pubs in Ennis and be able to play in sessions with Irish musicians. And that he did. It usually took a little wandering around each night to find a pub where a session was in progress, but where there was enough room for him to join and where the vibe indicated that he would be welcome. However every night that he went out to play, he did eventually find a session to join. As much as he enjoyed the other aspects of the Fleadh, I’d guess that the experience of sitting in and being able to keep up with local musicians and those who’d come to the Fleadh from all over the world was incredibly gratifying.
We also got to spend some time with our friend Charlotte, who is currently living in Cork and came to Ennis for the Fleadh. She’s a kickass fiddle player and seeing her and hubby play together in a session was definitely a treat.
A few more take-aways.
I cannot say enough good things about the Old Ground Hotel. Anyone traveling to Ennis should absolutely stay there. It’s location was perfect for all the events of the Fleadh. Everything was completely walkable. Accomodations were lovely. Service was impeccable.
Fun things we did:
The one in Ennis this summer is Mirazozo. This was an extremely relaxing interlude after A VERY LONG WALK from our hotel to Rice College for the enrollment for the Scoil Éigse to the Auburn Lodge, to check out where the Club Eigse would be occurring every night after class, a place for the students to play together, especially those a bit young to hit the pubs for actual sessions. (We attended this one evening. It was pleasant, but I’d imagine the large number of young players and the emphasis on getting them some “air time” probably made it less satisfying for an adult musician.)
We walked there and walked back, by which time the Luminarium provided such a comfortable, peaceful place to chill out, due to the Bouncy Castle effect that we probably overstayed our allotted time and didn’t want to leave. Luckily, we didn’t have any small children throwing themselves against the walls (a very popular passtime in the Luminarium) they let us stay there without interruption. If this thing ever shows up in your town, definitely go.
The Big Tour Day.
First of all, let me recommend James Ryan for any and all private guide/driving you or your Card Members would like to do anywhere in Ireland and most particularly in County Clare. He also has a specialty in doing genealogical research, so if anyone is trying to track down their particular Irish family heritage, he is an amazing resource. He can be contacted via toursbylocals.com
He is full of wit and history and trivia and pop culture references and just an absolute charmer, who tailors his approach and information to whatever the tourists in his car need or want.
Our tour with him had been booked by my husband’s friend Carl, and his girlfriend hadn’t gotten in til late the previous night due to massive travel snafus involving the airlines, so while Hubby and I were breakfasted and ready to GO, we ended up cooling our heels and chatting with James, who was also ready to GO, while we waited and waited and waited. There was some concern as to whether we’d get to a boat in time for a cruise around the Cliffs of Moorer, but James was excellent about NOT putting pressure on us and indicating there were plenty of other things to do.
Our first stop was Lahinch. The previous Sunday night, when I was at the train/bus station waiting for the bus to Crusheen, a car pulled up with surfboards on top. He got out and unlocked a bicycle from a pole and we had a conversation about surfing in Ireland, Donald Trump (the first adjective he used was “despicable”) and the fact that the bicycle had been locked up at the train station for over a week and was still there, unmolested. He mentioned Lahinch as one of the main surfing beaches and this was born out by our visit. We saw surfers and surfer vans aplenty.
From there we went to the Cliffs of Moher themselves. Pretty damn impressive and so were the multitudinous signs indicating the danger of going off the path and presumably off the cliffs themselves. We did enough climbing to get the “ooh” and “aaaah” factor out of the way and then headed to Doolin for a very brief stop. Basically just long enough to say we’d been to Doolin. Very small town, known for a music store and one pub with music. Considered a “must see” for Traditional Irish Music mavens.
Next stop was a ferry boat tour around the Cliffs in the North Atlantic. I’m not generally known for being good on boats, having spend considerable time hanging over the rail in waters from Plymouth to Lahaina. Either my stomach has settled down or the seas were not terribly tumultuous, but I didn’t have that particular problem. What the cruise did have was bugs. The entire thing was overrun by some kind of black flies or midges. There were everywhere and got on everyone. Hair, clothes, face. They weren’t trying to bite us, but it was a big distraction and while the sight of the Cliffs from the water is great, I’d definitely let any potential travellers know about bug situation. I’m not sure if it’s seasonal or not, but somehow I get the feeling it’s just a buggy neck of the water.
Lunch was at The Roadside Tavern in Lisdoonvarna (also home of The Burren Tolkien Society.) The food there was on the heavy side...probably the most massive piece of fish in a fish and chips I’ve ever seen, but I was able to order a bunless version of the pork burger and have mash instead of chips. Luckily I’d brought a piece of fruit as that was not a dessert offering they could accommodate.
Our last stop was the Burren itself. WOAH! It goes on forever and despite the historical interest, I was getting a little tired at this point and didn’t appreciate the majesty as much as I could have. However, for anyone with an interest in history and/or geology, it will be a treasure trove and could be a whole day or even multiple days worth of touring.
Personally I was more interested in James’slew of trivia regarding “Father Ted,” the exteriors of which were filmed in the area.
He was such a gem. There aren’t enough good words. Along with Diedre at the Westin Dublin, the gang at the Old Ground, and Margaret at Ennis Yoga Studio, he really made our trip the Once In A Lifetime experience it was meant to be.
The bus back to Dublin left under a beautiful blue sky and four hours later we were back in Dublin, where we had a smooth check in and the delightful news that we’d be getting another 85 Euro credit for dinner.
We also had the opportunity to spend some time with Deidre Moriarity, the lady responsible for making sure we were able to stay at the Westin Dublin using the FHR program, which is one of the travel benefits I do get from American Express. She was absolutely charming and treated us to spot of tea in the atrium of the Westin. We spent a lovely hour or so relaxing and talking with her which greatly helped in the transition from Fleadh back to life.
Seriously folks, if you get to Dublin…the Westin is the place. (Especially if you have a Platinum American Express card and can get the Fine Hotel and resort amenities.)
A bit of Karaoke to end the adventure would have been truly awesome, but an OA meeting to get my head on straight before the flight home was the next best thing.
Probably just as well, since getting out of Dublin Airport took 5 different queues. Check in, pre-passport control, Irish security, US Security and US passport control, where the gentleman checking out documents looked quite a bit askance at my t-shirt with an OM symbol on it. (You know, the one that looks like a 30? ) He asked what it meant in a way that implied I was swearing fealty to ISIS or at least Shazam. I explained it was a yoga thing and we got through to wait for our flight home.
Not the best 10 hours of my life. No sleep at all, and even with my extra leg room, I just couldn’t get comfortable.
Still and all...we got back to San Francisco safe and sound, luggage came promptly and Uber got us back to home base in a timely fashion.
So yeah. Best trip ever.
But next time...shorter flight and there must be Karaoke.