Céad Míle Fáilte – the traditional Irish welcome. It means “A Hundred Thousand Welcomes”. What could be more welcoming? And what is more – they mean it!
I have been traveling Ireland with college music tours to Europe for many years and it is a never-ending pleasure. Firstly there is that warm, friendly welcome by the most delightful people you could wish to meet. Then there is the glory of the Emerald Isle’s countryside and coastline, their haunting Celtic and Viking past, their heart-breaking history and their much more recent rejuvenation as a prominent member of the European Union. And what about their passion for sport, especially the national games of Gaelic Football and Hurling?
But for me, the greatest glories of all that this exceptional country offers are its literature and music. This tiny country has produced four Nobel Prize winners for literature, and no wonder. There is an inherent passion for language in the Irish psyche exemplified so well amongst its poets, playwrights, authors and lyricists. Just listening to the Irish in conversation is a joy in itself. And the music! Who can keep their feet still listening to the fiddle, the guitar, the folk singers, the bodhran? It is no surprise to me that Ireland is the only country in the world that has a musical instrument as its emblem – the harp. That ancient harp, reputably of the Irish hero Brian Boru, can be seen in all its splendor in the magnificent long room in Dublin’s Trinity College Library.
Imagine the pleasure then in accompanying college music tours on our Encore program through this delightful land. As well as performances in Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, various churches in places like Kinsale, Tralee, or Galway, a music college in Cork, an exquisite little chapel at Kylemore Abbey in the far west in Connemara, and so on, my choirs have burst into song, among others, on top of a hill overlooking Killarney and its glorious surrounding countryside, next to Molly Molone’s statue in Dublin, at Blarney castle and in Mansion House, the home of Dublin’s Lord Mayor. Most memorably of all perhaps was everyone cramming into the tiny, ancient Gallarus Oratory on the Dingle Peninsula, lit only by what little daylight came through its tiny window at one end.
On each of my college music tours we have received those “hundred thousand welcomes” at schools and colleges as well. And what a welcome. The students from both sides of the Atlantic meet like old friends. As a tour manager I have never seen anything like it. On my last tour, as soon as our bus pulled into one school grounds, a large group of their seniors formed a guard of honor of hurling sticks for us to make our entrance. This was followed by a welcome drink and snacks by the students for our visiting choir, then the whole school attended the performance and gave their visitors rapt attention and a vociferous reception. I guarantee that none of us on that tour will ever forget that afternoon’s visit.
If you are interested in college music tours overseas, I rate Ireland at the top of my list. You will certainly feel welcomed!
Have you experienced Ireland’s “hundred thousand welcomes”? Share your story in the comments below.
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