Date: July 30-August 9, 2019
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video
Watch this video recapping our 2017 tour, as Debbie Brewin-Wilson sings her song, composed just for the occasion!

 
  Dublin
Trinity College Harp

trinityharp

Clonalis House &
O'Connor-Carolan Harp

thecrane

Collins Barracks, National Museum
Carolan's Harp

carolan's harp

Drumshanbo & Keadue

carolans grave Carolan's Grave in Ballyfarnon

carolan memorial keadue
Carolan Memorial in Keadue

keadue harp
Bogwood Harp in Keadue

Nobber & O'Carolan

harp gate

carolan statue

 


Music Music Music

westport session
Our first harp session in Westport


Grainne & Billy in concert at Westport Town Hall

john carty

John Carty & Francis Gaffney at the Lough Allen in Drumshanbo

lough allen session
Session at the Lough Allen

harp workshop
Harp workshops at the Lough Allen

eleanor shanley
Eleanor Shanley was a special guest who opened the Saturday night concert

Grainne Hambly & William Jackson & Laoise Kelly at the Leitrim Hotel for our Saturday night concert.
laoise kelly

dearbhfail finnegan
Dearbhail Finnegan (above) led the Meath Harp Ensemble in the concert in Nobber (below)

rory dall ensemble
Rory Dall Harp Ensemble (above). Patrick Davey, Mairead Forde, Eilis Lavelle & Grainne Hambly (below)








 



 
 
The Harpers' Escape is produced by You Gotta Have Harp Productions, 11 Country Lane, Voorhees, NJ 08043. Phone: 856-795-7637.
 
 
 

   


Our 2018 tour Group Gathered at Carolan's Statue in Nobber, his birthplace, and then walked to a Special Harp Concert

 
trinityharp Harp Tour of Ireland 2018 Travelog

By Kathy DeAngelo, tour director

malahide castleMost of our 38 #harptour2018 travelers flew into Dublin a day early (some even earlier than that) to get over jet lag before the "official" start of the tour. It was only a 5-mile taxi ride to the Grand Hotel in the seaside town of Malahide, where a cool rain fell sporadically throughout the day. We could recognize each other because we were all wearing our Harp Tour pins! Malahide a lovely little town and quite a few of us did the 10-minute walk up to Malahide Castle and its park. Plenty of flowers everywhere, the old abbey, a wonderful cafe there for lunch and the castle. Welcome to Ireland! We all met up in a lounge in the Grand after dinner for a bit of a meet-and-greet and Dennis and I played a bit of music after folks introduced themselves. Everyone was excited to get the tour started and about 8pm the truly exhausted among us hit the hay early to get a fresh start in the morning. Get your luggage on the bus by 9:30am!

 

 

 

From Dublin to Westport

Long RoomDAY 1: Our first tour stop was at Trinity College in Dublin to see the famed Book of Kells and our first historic harp of the tour, the Trinity College Harp, aka the Brian Boru Harp, which is housed in the gorgeous Long Room, one of the world's most beautiful libraries.The harp was carved from a single block of willow and became the famous Guinness logo in 1862, and subsequently, the national emblem of the newly-declared Irish Free State in 1922. By happenstance there was one of 12 remaining printings of the 1916 Rising's Proclamation in a case as we entered the Long Room, and for many on the tour it was the first of many upcoming lessons in Irish history. The exit from the Long Room drops you into the Gift Shop, where I had to caution everyone not to spend all their money in the very first hour of the tour!

ballintubber abbeyThen we were off westward to head to Westport in County Mayo. Our coach driver and guide Seamus is the king of witty and insightful commentary. We got jokes as well as stories and short history insights as we traveled and gazed out the window at the hills, peat bogs and beautiful scenery. We got off the motorway a few times to stop for lunch and to have a wee break and by late afternoon, we arrived at the historic Ballintubber Abbey and could walk the grounds where St. Patrick had brought Christianity to Ireland in 441 AD. One of the O'Connor kings built the present Abbey in 1216. It was a very peaceful and serene visit. Ballintubber is recognised as the country’s only royal abbey that has been in continuous use for nearly eight centuries. It's also the starting point of the annual pilgrimmage that goes to Croagh Patrick, which we would see later in the tour.

highcrossBack onto to the coach then for the drive to Westport. The Westport Hotel would be our base for 3 nights. It's only a 10-minute walk right into the center of the award-winning Tidy Town with its colorful buildings and flower boxes everywhere! Right behind the hotel was the historic Westport House, ancestral home of the Burkes, and built on the foundation of one of Grace O'Malley's (that's Granuaille, the "Pirate Queen" of Mayo) castles. Our dinner was at the hotel and we had a lovely introductory harp session after dinner with Grainne Hambly and myself trying to coax our shy travelers into playing. It would get easier as the tour went on as folks got to know each other better.

DAY 2: The promise of a full day of pelting rain amended our planned itinerary of walking aound Achill Island and Croagh Patrick. Playing it by ear, Marianne, Seamus and I added a tour of Foxford Mills and moved up the visit to the Museum of Country Life, both great indoor activities. We got a great tour of the Mills and its looms, although all the weavers were on vacation for the week! The gift shop with all of its wools and woven products was absolutely amazing. The cafe was great too. Then it was off to the Museum of Country Life in Castlebar, where we spent another couple of hours in its fascinating exhibits.

foxford millsalice's restaurant

We had tickets for the concert on Achill Island run by the Scoil Acla trad week folks, so we headed up there in the rain, which stopped just in time for us to have dinner at Alice's Restaurant at the bridge onto the Island. The concert at the small church that night was incredible with sets from well-known trad players: fiddler Maeve Donnelly, flute player Emer Mayock, Michael O'Raghallaigh on concertina, and uillean piper Padraig McGovern! Beautiful venue and wonderful concert. It was a foggy drive off the Island back to Westport, which earned Seamus a big round of applause when we reached the hotel.

croagh patrickDAY 3: With the promise of slightly better weather, we headed out in the morning around Clew Bay for Croagh Patrick and the Irish Famine Memorial. We are so lucky to have Seamus as our storyteller and historian to put context around everything we were sightseeing. While the top of Croagh Patrick was shrouded in mist and drizzle, the Memorial was just across the road overlooking Clew Bay. It represents a "coffin" ship, made up of the skeletons of the Famine victims trying to escape the Hunger. It was a stirring sight for everyone. Some folks did manage to walk up to the statue of St. Patrick at the foot of the mountain but we left the barefoot pilgrimmage up the mountain for another year!

We went back to Westport in the drizzle and left folks off to explore the town on their own. Some went back to the hotel and others, armed with umbrellas, set off to find lunch. Our daily dose of music was set for the Westport Town Hall theater, right in the heart of Westport, with a concert by Grainne Hambly & William Jackson and the Music Generation Mayo harp ensemble. The theater was packed and we had front row seats. What a fabulous concert!


famine ship

 

 

 

Going to Drumshanbo

DAY 4: We big adieu to Westport and began to make our way up to Drumshanbo. We had a stop at Clonalis House on our itinerary but since it was on the way, we made a stop at Ireland's national Marian shrine at Knock. The holy pilgrimmage site marks the apparation of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. John, angels and Jesus in 1879, during a time of more upheaval in Ireland.

Clonalis House in Castlerea, County Roscommon was our next stop. The O'Connors were the traditional High Kings of Connacht and the current manor house was built in 1878 following a long history of losing and then regaining their lands from the English. Marguerite O'Conor Nash gave us an amazing tour of place, and although we were not allowed to photograph inside (it's their private residence), she did allow us to take photos of the famous O'Conor-Carolan harp. Click here to see the inside photos shown on their website. Outside, we saw the coronation stone of the O'Conors, that goes back more than 24 generations!

clonalis harpdriving out the gate

Clonalis House, together with Seamus' amazing driving skill in squeezing the coach through the wrought iron gates, was one of the highlights of the tour.

The Clonalis Harp was only our first O'Carolan homage of the day. We left Castlerea and headed north to Ballyfarnon to pay our respects to the Bard at his grave in Kilronan Cemetery, just outside Keadue. We sang Carolan's "Fanny Power" and Dennis played "Loftus Jones" on his tinwhistle. We left one of our Harp Tour pins on his grave stone, as others had left small coins. The bogwood harp sculpture greeted us on getting to Keadue. They take O'Carolan very seriously there. We were there during their O'Carolan festival and some of us would attend the harp competitions the next day.

keadueJust a 10-minute drive from Keadue was the Lough Allen Spa & Resort, which would be our home for 2 nights. It's nestled at the southern point of Lough Allen with stunning views of Sliabh an Iarainn and the Arigna mountains. We had been there on last year's tour. On checking-in, some wasted no time in scheduling spa appointments for the following "day off" from driving or going to the pool! Another fabulous dinner greeted us and with dessert came a concert with one of Ireland's most notable fiddlers, John Carty, who lives in nearby Boyle, accompanied by guitarist Frankie Gaffney. John had played for us last year but most were not familiiar with this icon of Irish trad music and he knocked their socks off. Besides fiddle, he also played tenor guitar and banjo. Though late, we still had a the session with John afterwards too. We would later see John, virtually, at the EPIC Museum in Dublin on the last day of the tour.

DAY 5: Some of us went out to O'Carolan Harp Festival harp competitions on Saturday morning, while others did the spa or explored further afield along the roads and byways around Drumshanbo. Grainne, Laoise and I darted out to visit Alderford House, about 15 minutes away, where O'Carolan's patrons, the MacDermott Roe family lived, and where he died. We headed back for our own harp workshops that afternoon with Billy Jackson and Laoise Kelly, thanks to the harps they brought for us to play!  It was a full day for everybody but it wasn't over!

We headed out in the coach to the town of Leitrim and had our dinner at the scenic Leitrim Marina Hotel. Our concert that night was Grainne and Billy, very familiar to all of us, but many were introduced to the fabulous playing of Laoise Kelly, who had earlier done the workshop. Marianne had invited a special guest, who opened the concert: Irish singer Eleanor Shanley. And this concert, of course, included pieces by O'Carolan--how could it not? Some of the best harp playing ever!

marinaeleanor shanley


 

nanas kitchenOur Stop in Nobber

DAY 6: After a whirlwind 2 days in the Leitrim/Roscommon countryside, we set out Sunday morning for Carolan's birthplace, Nobber, in County Meath. Our coach drove through lake-filled scenery as we headed eastward. Dearbhail Finnegan greeted us as our coach pulled up to the Carolan park in Nobber. We took a group photo (shown at the top of this page) with the Bard and challenged folks to figure out the Carolan tune depicted on the gate surrounding the park. We walked down to Nana's Kitchen and sat down to a hearty lunch of soup, sandwiches, chicken wings and bottomless cups of tea. We had "free" hour after lunch to explore the tiny village, rich in history going back to pre-Christian times. St. John's Old Cemetery next to the church-turned-arts center contained many Carolan graves, which were of great interest to one of our travelers, Maggie Carolan. Dearbhfail and her Meath Harp Ensemble treated us to a wonderful concert in the George Eogan Heritage & Community Centre, formerly St. John's Church.

meath ensembleFollowing the concert we boarded the coach and set off for Belfast and we arrived at the Europa Hotel in the bustling city center before dinner. We had a sumptuous dinner at the hotel, followed by a small session.

 

Belfast, Bunting & Beyond

DAY 7: Our first touring day in Belfast was centered around the important music legacy of Edward Bunting, hired to write down the music of the old harpers at the 1792 Belfast Harp Festival. It became his life's work and his seminal publishing of his collections of Irish music reverberate still today. Monday morning we headed to Queen's University to the Special Collections reading room for an exclusive exhibition of Bunting's original manuscripts, notebooks and other related works mounted just for our group! While half the group was admitted, the other half could wander the adjacent Royal Botanical Gardens or the college campus until it was their turn. Curator Louisa Costelloe and our own Grainne Hambly brought it all to life for us.

Queens has been digitizing the Collection. There is so much that has not been published yet. If you're interested in going through the manuscripts of Bunting and Patrick Lynch, the song collector Bunting hired, click here to access the online collection.

Before going back to the hotel, Seamus took us on a tour of the Shankill and Falls Roads with their "Peace" walls, and gave us the historical background on The Troubles. It was eye-opening for many on the tour who only had US headline-knowledge of that period. Upon getting back to the hotel, which was really only a few blocks away, everyone had the afternoon off to explore Belfast on their own. Belfast City Hall was 3 blocks from the hotel and proved to be a popular destination. The shopping district was also popular.

botanical gardens

bunting concert finaleOur daily dose of music was a history-focused concert held in the Rosemary St. Presbyterian Church, where Edward Bunting had played. The church is Belfast's oldest place of worship, dating back to 1781 and has an unusual oval-shaped interior. The concert featured the Rory Dall Harp Ensemble, Patrick Davey, Mairead Forde & Eilis Lavelle, Grainne Hambly (of course!), and Sheila Armstrong on wire-strung harp. Patrick had dubbed the concert "Belfast, Bunting & Baltimore" and much of the music was, fittingly, from the Bunting Collection. Want to see a video of the concert finale? Click here!

belfast concert group

falls rdMural on the Falls Rd.

shankill rdMural of The Queen on the Shankill Rd

 
   
giants causewayGiants Causeway & Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge

DAY 8: Tuesday was an outdoors "comfy shoes" kind of day as we left Belfast and drove up the Antrim Coast to the World Heritage site, Giants Causeway, created 60 million years ago by volcanic activity. The rock formation is the stuff of Irish legend. The weather mostly cooperated and when the clouds did part you could see Donegal off to the west and the coast of Scotland to the east, just 12 miles away. Stunning. While many folks walked from the Visitor Centre down the stones, Dennis and I opted to take the little shuttle and save our legs for the Rope Bridge trek.

spanish pointcarrick cliff pathIt turned into quite the warm day by the time we arrived at Carrick-a-Rede. Those who elected to do the hike along the cliff path to the rope bridge were dropped off and the coach set off with the rest who opted to go to the nearby Bushmill's Distillery for a more relaxed afternoon whiskey-tasting. The rocky path along the cliff had stunning scenic views and the half-mile walk to the rope bridge seemed a lot longer to me! We adventured across the 66 ft span which hangs 98 ft over the rocks and water below, connecting to the small island. It looked a lot longer from the end point than it was once I was on it. I walked slowly across, trying not to bounce the bridge at all, though the folks in front of me certainly moved a lot more quickly! I wasn't one to stop mid-bridge to snap photos either. We could have been eye-to-eye with the gulls flying around us.

titanic museumTitanic Museum

DAY 9: Our final morning in Belfast was a trip to the Titanic Museum, on the site of the Harland & Wolf shipyard where the famous ship was built and launched. It's a startling structure and meant to represent an iceberg (we all know how that ended for the Titanic!), as tall as the ship was without its stacks. The exhibits were excellent and thoroughly absorbing and it was impossible to see it all in the time we had.

The first few levels focused on the shipbuilding process itself. Some of those jobs were unbelievably grueling and they didn't sugar-coat the toll on the workers. There were plenty of oohs and aahs on the floor with the re-creations of some of the cabins, from first class down to third class,which cost a whole 6 pounds sterling for the journey. Amazing fact I learned: there were no laundry facilities on board so the ship had to carry all the linens necessary for the journey, which included more than 45,000 napkins, tablecloths and bedsheets.

titanic displayfirst classthird class

Displays at the Titanic Museum: the marketing for the White Star Line, the first class cabin and the bunk-beds third class.

 

After having lunch in the museum cafe, we boarded the coach and headed to Dublin for our last 2 nights in Ireland. It wasn't a long trip and Seamus gave us a brief coach tour of Dublin sights en route to the Aishling Hotel on the quay on the River Liffey, just across from the Guinness brewery.

 

on the liffey

Back in Dublin!

epic museumEPIC Museum & the Carolan Harp!

DAY 10: The last day of the tour. It was an epic day at the EPIC Museum, dedicated to the Irish diaspora and their impact on the world. What a fantastic museum--recently voted one of the top 10 museums in Europe. There was so much depth to this fun museum that we could easily have spent the day there (next year!). It's a converted factory down in the Docklands section of Dublin, not far from the Samuel Beckett bridge, and just down the street from the Jeannie Johnston, the famine museum/ship. Very interactive and fun exhibits. I felt like I was in an Irish Tardis--walking through Irish history; what it was like in Ireland throughout history and what made the people emigrate throughout the world.

collins barracksFolks had the rest of the afternoon off to explore the city on their own. Seamus took the long route back to the Aishling, dropping folks off at various interesting sightseeing points. Some places visited: Guinness Storehouse, St. Patrick's Cathedral (no, it's not a Catholic church!), Trinity College, Molly Malone statue and shopping!

We had a last-minute addition to the tour that was put on our agenda right before the Somerset Folk Harp Festival. We could take 20 people on an exclusive visit the historic harps of Ireland, locked away in storage at the National Museum, Collins Barracks, which was just one block away from our hotel! We met up at Barracks and split into 2 groups: one to go to the storage area, the other to visit the 18th century music room in the museum, which included an Egan harp. Then we would switch. What an incredible experience. It was a bit of a walk to the storage building but worth it. Once inside, the vault-like shelf unit was opened to reveal all the harps on the bottom shelf, including O'Carolan's harp and his chair! All of these harps had been taken out of public viewing decades ago and put into this climate-controlled room. Priceless relics of historic harps: the Sirr or O'Neill harp (c. 1700), the Kildare harp (c. 1672), the Mullaghmore harp (c. 1700), the Cloyne harp fragments (c. 1621) and the Cloyne harp reconstruction, the Hollybrook harp (c 1720) and O'Carolan's harp (c.1700) and chair from the MacDermott Roe house.

Following this exciting viewing, we all gathered in the entrance lobby of the Barracks, where Fiachra O'Gaoithin played O'Carolan tunes on a Carolan harp-recreation by Tony Taheny (he's the one who actually got us into the museum).

Below: Carolan's Harp & his Chair were pulled off the shelf for us in the storage room at the Collins Barracks at the National Museum. The other historic harps, long out of public view, were also there for us to photograph.

carolan's harp & chair. historic harps

Below: The 18th century Music Room at the museum featured an Egan harp and a glass harmonica (on the left). Fiachra regaled us with some Carolan tunes in the lobby. music room

fiachra

 

 
   
   

updated 9/12/18