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2003-12 49 hours in Ireland

reviewed by Beate

 

Anything Irish attracts me. Ever since my first visit to Ireland back in 1997, I have been hopelessly addicted to the country and its people. Send me to a travel agency to book a holiday and I will inevitably end up with a flight to Dublin. Likewise, any advertisements which have to do with Ireland draw me irresistibly towards them. Last autumn, I happened to stand in front of one while waiting for the underground. It advertised a concert of the Celtic Tenors and although I had never heard of them before, given they were Irish I decided I had to go! Shame on me but that was all the background I had when I went to the concert in the Frankfurt Alte Oper on November 1. My friend Olivia went along with me, and it took us all of five minutes to get completely fascinated. (Does that sound familiar?) However, had anyone told me that night that we would find ourselves on board of a flight to Dublin not even two months later in order to see the Celtic Tenors in Ireland, I would have had a good laugh.

The idea was born over lunch a few days later. We contemplated how great it would be to see one of the Irish concerts. And wouldn't it be nice to be able to fly over between Christmas and New Year's? Afterwards, we both could not stop thinking about it. The seed was planted&. and about 24 hours later  two weeks after we had been in the Alte Oper  everything was booked and organised.

When we headed for the airport on December 27, I could still not believe I was really doing this. I felt a little bit like Alice in Wonderland (and that feeling stayed with me for the whole trip)! There was so little time.... and so much to do. While planning, we had only known about the Mullingar concert so we had booked accommodation there and arranged for a meeting with friends on Sunday morning in Carrick-on-Shannon. By the time we actually boarded the plane, we had also learnt about the concert in Greystones that very Saturday night, which definitely made our schedule... um... let's say quite interesting. Our flight was only landing at 3pm and despite the new addition to the schedule we had decided to stick with the B&B in Mullingar, because otherwise we wouldn't have been able to make it to Carrick-on-Shannon in time on Sunday. So getting to Greystones would involve a lot of driving and getting to Greystones in time would depend on many things we could not influence at all, like the plane being in time, the rental car being ready, and the traffic being light. In other words.... I assumed the day would have enough potential to drive me nuts!

It really turned out to be a race against the clock. We arrived in Dublin 20 minutes early but the suitcases took their time. And then my heart almost came to a standstill when the guy at the rental car counter told us that we would need to wait at least an hour for the car! We had a confirmed booking, but some cars had obviously not been returned in time, so there was nothing that could be done. I felt the disappointment well up inside  that was it  we just would not make it to Greystones that evening. I really wanted to scream!

Then our Europcar clerk disappeared from the counter for a few minutes, and when he returned, he apologised for the inconvenience, told us he would cancel our booking, and sent us on to Sixt where "they would have a car ready for us without any waiting time". Talk about lucky stars! I don't know how and why this happened, because there were other people waiting at the Europcar desk who had been there longer than us. Maybe we had looked the most devastated? Anyway, we hurried over to Sixt and left the parking lot in a cute little Opel Corsa about half an hour later. We were still okay timewise and the other good news was.... the car had a CD player! And "Ireland's call" had never been more suitable&

Fortunately, traffic was light so getting to Mullingar was no problem. After short stops at the B&B (to check in) and a service station (to get some sandwiches) we were heading back direction Dublin. Now... driving in Ireland is fine for me, unless it involves going into Dublin or its outskirts - because I inevitably get lost there. It can be very amusing  under the aspect "I didn't want to come in the first place but it sure is very nice here!" But with 72 miles to go and only about two hours left, we could not afford to get lost this time. Warm and heartfelt thanks go out to the AA Roadwatch website here: their route planner navigated us safely around and then through some southern parts of Dublin. And into Bray. And there, they waited for us  the roadworks!

The route planner had to admit defeat - "turn left at the next lights" led directly into a Cul de Sac. It was 7.30 but it definitely felt like High Noon! We knew we were close  probably around ten miles from Greystones, if not less. It would probably not have been a problem in daylight, but as it was pitch dark, we could not use the shore line or the mountains for orientation. We could only return to the main road and keep going and I was about to start cursing the non-existence of road signs when a little forlorn sign for Greystones appeared at the next corner. After another nerve-wrecking 20 minutes, we finally parked at the La Touche Hotel at ten to eight.

James had repeatedly talked about low-key gigs and I now understood what he meant. The Hotel has for sure seen better days and the concert was held in the hall normally used for wedding receptions and such, so it only had a very small stage. For the audience, there were round tables that seated ten or twelve people instead of rows and that was a sight which I had not expected at all. But at that very moment, any Hilton on earth could not have looked nicer to me! And we weren't there for the surrounding, after all. It's very hard to guess (the tables were scattered willy-nilly and not all of them were full) but I estimate there was an audience of about 100 people and we were lucky enough to find places at the table in front of the stage. Thanks to the bar in the corner, Olivia put a Guinness in front of me a few minutes later. Bliss. I hate beer back home but I adore Guinness. Oh well. It's Irish, what can I say!

At our table, we met Margaret, who is Irish but lives in Germany, her friend Maeve, and their friend Mary, and we chatted and laughed until the concert started a few minutes later. I did not take any notes the first night, so a detailed song list will only follow later for the Mullingar concert. But of course Greystones had its highlights, too! The boys came out completely clad in black, with Niall directly launching into "Nessun Dorma" - only to be interrupted by a very persistently ringing mobile phone. I have seen this happen before in a theatre in Frankfurt and boy, the actors did not take it well. However, Niall was extremely relaxed about it, waited, and just started over again as if nothing had happened. Respect.

When he was introducing "Caruso" a little later, Matthew and James started whispering, then Matthew walked over to Danny, spoke a few words, and returned to James slowly shaking his head. James looked very unhappy and I guessed something was wrong. "O sole mio" was next and James (and Matthew) started to explain how this was a new arrangement and such, so I realised the problem was there were no "note sheets" for Matthew and Niall. Had I not seen it before, I would never have known that this was not their usual routine, though. They improvised perfectly and it was a little different, but not less funny. And guess what, Niall and Matthew do in fact know their truly difficult parts by heart!

"Phil the Fluter" was the first song after the intermission, with  of course - James in the role of Widow Cafferty. After the dance part, he  pardon me, she  held her back and Niall explained that she had just got a new hip put in. Spontaneously, Margaret from our table held up one of her crutches to the stage and Niall grabbed it without hesitating - but with a very mischievous gleaming in his eyes - and presented it to a quite puzzled James, who hadn't seen it coming but spent the rest of the song leaning on it. It would surely have been worth a picture  but unfortunately photography was not allowed.

By now, surely everybody has read James's column about corpsing? Towards the end of the concert, the tenors announced they would do a couple of Christmas songs, which was greeted by appreciative cheers. "O holy night" was first - and Matthew involuntarily revealed some very interesting news about Christian history! Apologies, Matthew  I know you were really embarrassed when it happened but... this was too good not to be shared!

I don't remember who did the first lines  anyway when it was Matthew's turn  I am laughing again just remembering it - he went: "Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till SHE appeared&.". He tried to correct himself immediately, but it did not work out with the continuing music, so he broke off completely, looked at the audience, and out came the words "Oh my God... Jesus was male!" He looked very embarrassed and it was probably the worst kind of song for something like that to happen. Niall, meaning well (at least I assume he did&..) and jumping to Matthew's side, commented: "Well, nowadays you never know, with all these women priests!" And that was that. James was in fact the only one who managed to remain straight-faced as if nothing had happened, but Matthew had to turn away a few more times because he was still laughing. So were we! They finished the song, somehow, but I didn't get much of that. Neither, I fear, did anybody around me.

It's probably not as funny just reading it, but believe me, it was truly hilarious.... For future reference, it was christened the "Baby Jessica Incident" the following evening. Not by us - the copyright lies with one of the three gentlemen, of course!

Mullingar was covered in snow the next morning. It was not a lot, but it was a very nice sight! We were back on the road by 10.30 am, this time going to Carrick-on-Shannon to meet some friends from Sligo: Olivia and Philip (who own our favourite B&B in Sligo), and Sue and Joost (who run the Donkey Sanctuary in Castlebaldwin). We had lunch and a Christmas present unwrapping session, then Philip took us out on his boat for an hour. It was very nice - we were the only boat out on the Shannon, the weather was fine, and we just had a good time!

Talking about good times&. the next highlight was a shopping stop at Longford's Tesco supermarket but I really cannot go into detail about it because that would involve a description of two people literally dancing along the isles behind their shopping cart. Way too embarrassing! We enjoyed it very much, though, and the result was that my initially almost empty suitcase was a slightly-over-the-weight-limit piece of luggage on the way back!

That evening, when we arrived at the Mullingar Arts Center, we ran right into Petra and Carmen, who had been sitting at the neighbour table during the Greystones concert. A little later, the door opened again and in came Margaret and Maeve. This felt like a family meeting and it seemed we'd known each other forever! I also met Sandra from the fanclub and by pure coincidence, all of us sat close together during the concert so ours was probably the loudest corner. All in all, I'd guess there was an audience of about 150 people in the Mullingar theatre. As I had paper and pen ready, here's the detailed song list now:

The opening song was "Nessun Dorma" (this time without mobile disturbances), followed by "Nella Fantasia" and an a capella version of "Santa Lucia". I had not heard that song for ages but it suddenly brought back childhood memories - I had a children's organ when I was little and Santa Lucia was one of the first songs my mother taught me to play. I had forgotten all about it but this performance brought it back and it really touched me. Unfortunately, the lighting system in the Mullingar theatre prevented James, Matthew and Niall from really seeing the audience, and they could not recognise faces from the stage, so there was not as much "interaction" as the day before and "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" went un-dedicated this time. Next was Niall's "Caruso"  there have been so many descriptions already and they have all been so right  there's nothing I could add here. The performance just grips you and it's an experience on its own. How I wish it was on one of the CDs! James followed with "O sole mio", this time the note sheets were back for Matthew and Niall and Matthew folded his one quite nicely into a paper plane that really flew. Afterwards, Deirdre came onto the stage (sorry but I do not know the title of her first song). She thanked the boys for being her background singers and her warm-up act! Then all of them did a beautiful version of the "Ave" together, before the tenors left the stage for a moment. The night before, Deirdre had done "Song for Ireland"; however, in Mullingar she sang "Somewhere over the rainbow". As we were to learn later, she was suffering from a bad cold and therefore had to change her programme slightly.

The boys came back with "Whiskey in the Jar", "Wild Rover" and "Fionnghuala". That song always leaves me speechless as I can't believe anyone can get through it without having knots in the tongue! The first part of the concert ended with "Caledonia", "The Star of the County Down", and "Remember Me", which is one of my absolute favourites. And a sure one to make me cry too.

For the second part, James, Matthew and Niall came back in their white suits, which I personally liked that a lot better than the black outfits! They started with "Phil the Fluter"  without the crutch this time  and "Spanish Lady". Then it was Matthew's turn with "The Contender", and he took the opportunity to give a little speech, greeting his granny and his parents in the audience, as well as other family members who had come all the way from county Galway. After "The fields of Athenry" it was time for "Ireland's call" and our corner had quite a good time singing, linking our arms, and swaying along! "Danny Boy", in the usual a capella version, was yet again one of my favourites - I have known that song for several years, and for me the tenor's version is the only one that really does it justice.

Much too soon it was time for the Christmas songs, unfortunately a sure signal the concert was coming to an end! "O holy night" (perfect this time) was followed by the English-Irish-German version of "Stille Nacht" that has been on German TV recently. It has always been my favourite Christmas song and it is just so beautiful in the three languages! Deirdre joined the boys for "Winter Wonderland", "So strong", and "Time to say goodbye". The last song of the evening, as on the day before, was "White Christmas" in a co-production with the audience choir.

Towards the end of the concert, Niall had mentioned that they were all suffering from chest infections, so that explained why James had hardly spoken during the concert, and neither - apart from greeting his family - had Matthew. Especially James's voice was really hoarse when we spoke to him afterwards and it must have been quite an effort for him to get through the whole concert. Deirdre had a bad cough, but she joined us for a moment after the concert and introduced us to her Mom, while Matthew later introduced his Dad. It was nice to see how proud he was to have so many members of his family around! The boys did not stay as long as usual, but they made sure that every last autograph request was fulfilled before they left.

There's not much left to tell now  we were completely exhausted the next morning after yet another short night, and also suffered from a very severe case of DACD (short for Day After Concert Depression). Not even a stop at the Liffey Valley Shopping Center on our way to the airport offered ease!

All in all, we had a fantastic and fun-filled time - hard to believe it all happened within only two days. Thanks, guys, for giving us a reason to do this!