Tour of Ireland: Limerick

1800394_10203303731140718_1493578143_nAnna Nicholl, a first year Geographer and Soprano Choral Scholar, writes about a fantastic few days spent in Limerick as part of the Choir’s tour of Ireland…

After a wonderful time in Dublin, the Choir departed for Limerick where we would stay in a nearby monastery. We certainly left the rain behind us and were greeted by beautiful sunshine in the idyllic setting of Glenstal Abbey. There was little time to soak up the sun, however, as we soon headed to St John’s Cathedral in Limerick to rehearse for an evening concert.

Our evening concert was scheduled as part of the Limerick City of Culture 2014. In addition to performing our own programme, we were fortunate enough to hear the atmospheric plainchant as sung by the Glenstal Abbey School Choir and a couple of uplifting gospel numbers from the University of Limerick BAVAD Gospel Choir. After receiving a double standing ovation from our audience, our very own Director, Mark Williams, was congratulated by the Glenstal Abbey School and presented with a hamper of their delicious chocolates. It was with high spirits, therefore, that we headed to the local pub where the Abbey had kindly arranged a post-concert supper – definitely what we all needed! With our time in Ireland approaching a week, drooping heads and lagging footsteps made their way back to the Abbey Guesthouse in search of a comfortable bed…



Awaking was rather more difficult on our last full day in Ireland. With this said, the idea of getting up for breakfast at 8.15 was made infinitely better by the lure of brandy infused porridge! The morning began with an engaging tour around the grounds of the Abbey, made to look all the more glorious in the sunshine. We were told of the histories of each of the buildings and also shown some fascinating icons, stored underground, and told of their meanings. Our tour finished up in the school and just in time for the students’ morning break – an opportune moment for the request for a rendition of a couple of pieces…


As ever, there was no time for rest as we headed towards our final concert destination of the tour: Limerick University. It was here that we were faced with the challenge of performing to an audience whilst being able to see ourselves in the opposite mirrored wall! Continuing the wonderful hospitality that has been received throughout the week, we were given a roast lunch that even the men amongst the Choir had trouble finishing. Despite this, some managed to save some room for dessert!

One of the monks from Glenstal Abbey, who had an important role in organising our events in Limerick, then took us to both King John’s Castle and St Mary’s Cathedral. The Cathedral was party to a performance of Britten’s Noah’s Flood. Not only were there seats laid out for the orchestra but a stage made to look like Noah’s Ark! This seemed a stark contrast from the bare, medieval stones of the Cathedral but made for a reminder of the modern role of Cathedrals in society.

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Our last evening was a busy one. After attending Vespers (evening prayer) sung by the monks of the Abbey, we joined together with the School Choir in a workshop. The children here were much younger than those at Methody in Belfast and were used to reading plainchant instead of SATB scores. We were therefore thoroughly integrated amongst the boys and took an active role in leading them through the music of one of Tippett’s Negro Spirituals. This was an extremely rewarding experience as by the end, the boys had picked up well the parts that they were assigned to in addition to taking heed of the advice given to them by Mark. Our influence was felt as we heard the boys heading back to their rooms whilst practicing their new found falsetto voices…


The great Irish hospitality continued in great style as the Abbey hosted us in a beautiful room, complete with a grand piano. Although one of our Choral Scholars suggested that the piano should be locked, it wasn’t long before Mark was put under the spotlight by one of the monks who challenged him to a combined improvisation. It was quite something to behold and provided much entertainment with all of the Choir entranced in the skill of both parties. It was then the turn of the two organ scholars who opted for a more relaxing improvisation only to be replaced in favour of ‘Guess the Christmas Carol’! With our knowledge of Christmas carols and hymns exhausted, we headed to bed. Our time in Glenstal Abbey definitely ended with a bang and it was with fond memories that we departed in time to fly home from Cork.


This has been my first tour with the Choir and all three destinations have provided unique experiences, each equally inspiring. Not only have we had an amazing time but the Choir has developed massively as a group and it would be difficult to deny that we, as an ensemble, have improved massively over the course of the tour. It is with excitement, therefore, that I look forward to the challenges of next term’s schedule.


Tour of Ireland: Dublin

maxMax Cockerill, 3rd Year Natural Scientist and Bass Choral Scholar reports on our wonderful time in Dublin this week…

Departing from titanic buildings and dramatic geology formed by the giants of Northern Ireland, we travelled south where we were greeted by the charming, historical city of Dublin. Our first call was Trinity College, where we were given a tour of their library. Few expected the wonder and awe that each of us felt upon entering that room. Books, hundreds of years old, were stacked shelf upon shelf in a room extending into the depths of history. With ancient manuscripts and autographs on display, all members of the choir found something to whet their appetite. Above all this history loomed a great arched ceiling of which perhaps the greatest feature was its polished wooden finish, sheltering the shelves below it.


The evening concert was performed in the college’s ornately decorated common room, following a formal meal similar in grace and furnishings to the colleges of Cambridge. The choir of Trinity College Dublin first performed a short piece to the audience gathered in the common room, followed by Jesus Choir. Both were received gratefully by family of the choir and fellows of the university. We returned to our hotel, a short walk from Trinity College, in the pouring rain but such conditions did not assuage members of the choir from seeking an exciting night out in a pub near the hotel, who found a many-levelled bar, reminiscent of a tree-house, where the night’s revelries unfolded!

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The following morning, silence reigned as the choir slept, healing the wounds received from the previous night…


In the early afternoon we were taken on a tour around the centre of Dublin by Eddie McParland, member of Jesus College Cambridge and Fellow at Trinity College Dublin. The entire history of the city’s current formation unravelled as we walked around. We were treated to a great story of corruption and greed which culminated with a visit to the Guildhall and Castle of Dublin on the river Liffey.


Our second concert, a series of songs and readings hosted by the Teaching Centre in Dublin, was received with rapturous applause from our audience. Again, we were very grateful to Eddie McParland for reading and introducing the concert. His incredible knowledge of the city and its buildings and history had guided us during our time in Dublin and we left the following morning with a deeper understanding of the city.


Tour of Ireland: Belfast

ImageFirst year music student and alto choral scholar Emma Kavanagh reports on the first few days of our Ireland Tour…

We began our tour to Ireland with three days in Belfast, home to two of our choral scholars, at Fisherwick Church, where our Northern Irish hosts provided a warm welcome by means of vast quantities of scones and tea. After our rehearsals we went home to our hosts, where activities varied from Jenga to having my first ever Guinness in the most Irish pub that I have ever visited! Thank you to all those who helped look after us in Belfast – everyone had so much fun and was made to feel so welcome.

The next morning we departed to visit Giant’s Causeway. Our trip was a lovely contrast to our experiences in urban Belfast – our resident geographer, Anna, was particularly overjoyed by the prospect of investigating the rock formations that make up this unique and iconic landmark.

DSC_0012However, a looming grey rain cloud swept alarmingly quickly towards us from the sea, and we all were absolutely drenched and hailed upon! Mark Williams was particularly thrilled by the prospect….

DSC_0016We then returned to Belfast, and gave a concert by candlelight at St. Patrick’s Church on Donegal Street. The audience was treated to a programme that varied from Purcell to Rutter, and the acoustic was wonderful to sing in.

DSC_0100On Sunday morning, we sang Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral, where one of the choir’s many music students, Declan, received his choral training. It was quite unlike any other service that I had ever sung in, and the “obscenely loud” organ was put through its paces by our Senior Organ Scholar, Ben, who played a virtuosic Vierne toccata in the wonderful surroundings of the Cathedral. DSC_0072We were then taken on a bus tour of Belfast, including the Falls and Shankill Roads – even those who had lived in Belfast learned something new! That evening we sang evensong in St. George’s Church. I’ll never forget the chipper vergers who amused us so much before the service that we found ourselves suppressing giggles as we were about to process in! After a beautiful service, we all gathered together with everyone we met in Belfast for a fantastic party.


Our final day in Northern Ireland was certainly rewarding – we led a workshop with the choir of Methodist College, Belfast, of which our other Belfast-residing choral scholar, Syamala, is an alumna. The Choir of Methody made a great sound, and were so engaged in their singing – we were treated to an incredible a capella rendition of the theme from Mission: Impossible, complete with actions (including ‘shooting’ a teacher)!


We were so honoured to sing in Belfast. We hope that we will be able to return soon!