Our Trip Across the Pond

Imagine a land, not so different from our own. A land, where the sheep frolic and the ginger beer flows like a majestic waterfall. Oh, and it rains. A lot. Almost every day. Now imagine it as an island roughly the size of Wisconsin. This land I am talking about is of course the beautiful country of Ireland, which, for 10 days in June, the Franklin High School Band, Choir and Orchestra had the privilege of going on a  musical tour of that greenest of green country. 

They started their journey here, at Franklin High, where they loaded their luggage onto coach buses and headed for O’Hare airport in Chicago. Once there, they all went through security and found their way to their terminal. After everyone was settled in the terminal, it was time to start boarding. After the grueling process of loading the plane with our 40-person group of musicians and chaperones, we eventually settled in and prepared for takeoff. For the students’ flight across the pond, they were treated to some in-flight entertainment. By that I of course mean that almost every one of us watched Deadpool, as it was one of the movies that the flight had.

At about 8:00 AM Dublin time, our group of musicians awoke to the sounds of crying children and the smell of an above-average airplane breakfast. They landed in Dublin, got off the plane, retrieved their luggage and were off to the coach buses. They loaded up the coaches with their instruments and luggage, and were then off to their first stop: The Rock of Cashel.

On the way to the Castle, they had a quick stop for lunch at a rest stop. We was given a couple of different choices for food, and so they went off on their own for  the 45 minutes they were given for lunch.

After lunch, they made their way to the first real stop. The Rock of Cashel is a well-weathered Castle that has a beautiful Cathedral, and an original 12th century cross from when the Castle was still in use, all those centuries ago. To many, the Castle may just seem like some walls, a caved in roof, and some rubble, when in reality, it helps to show some of the ways that Early Irish architecture is very unique. For instance, not all of the windows are level with each other. This is because the Irish believed that only God could make something perfect, so Irish builders built their structures with purposeful flaws that make ancient Irish architecture different than the rest of the world. It also had a interesting fact for us Wisconsinites: The town of Watertown is the home to St. Bernard’s Church, and it’s cornerstone was once a part of the Rock of Cashel, and was sent from Ireland to the US.

After we had fully explored the ruins of the Rock of Cashel, they got back on the coaches to make their way to Cahir Castle in Tipperary. There, we learned more about castle architecture, but this more about how it was used to defend the castle. Cahir Castle had tall walls, but that isn’t the only thing you need to have a fortified castle. We learned about the small slits above the archways, where the defenders would pour hot boiling sand, which would get caught in the attackers’ clothes, and would hurt like you couldn’t believe, leaving the attackers in agony during their fighting.

After this history lesson in home security, we went to their hotel, where they brought their luggage and such into their respective rooms, and waited until it was time for dinner. Once it was time, we crowded into the dining hall of the hotel, and had a delicious Irish meal. After that, we had decided they had staved off jet lag enough, and went to their rooms for a well deserved rest.

At the rooster-crowing hour of 7 AM, the Franklin Musicians awoke to get ready for their first full day in Ireland. At 8, they headed down to the hotel’s dining area, and enjoyed their first true Irish breakfast: Eggs, sausage, rashers (thick bacon) and porridge, as well as Irish tea.

After their fulfilling meal, we got everything they would need for the day (camera, money, good attitude,) and got on the bus for their first stop of the day: Blarney Castle. We were on a pilgrimage to the ever-famous Blarney Stone, which is known to give those who kiss it the “Gift of Gab.” This means that those smooch the stone are able to talk more eloquently, and are more gifted in speech. But the stone is not the only attraction at the Castle. The surrounding area has plenty of things to do and view. For instance, there were winding paths around the Castle, and there was also a poison garden just outside the Castle, which had a myriad of beautiful plants. Outside of the actual castle estate, there was a huge Irish gift shop filled with many different kinds of wool clothing, and even traditional Waterford crystal glassware, such as vases and wine glasses.

After our adventure through Blarney, they loaded up the coaches and headed for their lunch stop: the city of Cork. They had most of the afternoon to explore the city and get lunch, so we divided into groups and scoured the city for food. Cork was one of the only places for those American tourists to find a familiar logo: the golden arches of McDonald’s.

After they ate and shopped around Cork, it was time to head back to the hotel for dinner. They ate their dinner, and then had some free time before departing for St. Multose in Kinsale, a smaller town not too far outside of Cork. This church was where the orchestra was going to play their first performance of the trip, which they did very well. Many people came to watch them play, townsfolk and fellow tourists alike.

After the performance, we went back to their hotel to sleep and ready ourselves for another day in Ireland.

 

Once again. The Franklin Musicians woke early, and made their way to breakfast. They

ate, and made their way back to the city of Cork for a tour of the Cork school of Music, which is one of the

There was a big reason for the musicians to go to this school of music, and that was to

be taught by one of the senior teachers at the school. After the band, choir, and orchestra were each given a lesson in performing, they were given a tour of the school by an old student, who is now a teacher at the school. They were shown the many kinds of classrooms and study rooms, and were shown some of the different recording rooms and how they operated. After the tour was concluded, the band headed back to the main auditorium to set up their instruments for their performance shortly after the tour.

The band played the three pieces they prepared for the trip, and played their hearts out for all of the people that came to see them play. Afterward, we were turned loose in the vast City of Cork once again, and split up to search for the finest (and cheapest) dining in the city. Personally, I stayed with my fellow band mates and went to get the European favorite: Fish and Chips. We ate like kings, feasting on cod and fried potatoes. After that delicious meal, we toured the town some more, and before we knew it, it was time to return to the coaches and head to our next destination: our new hotel in Killarney.

Now we were on their way to their second hotel (my personal favorite) in Killarney.

There might have been a long wait to get our room keys, but it was well worth it. We went to their respective rooms, and unloaded their luggage and prepared for dinner.

After their meal, we gathered in the lobby and were now on their way to St. Mary’s Church, a local church where the choir and orchestra were going to perform that night. We took a short walk to the church, and the orchestra set up their instruments as the choir practiced their music. After a short bit of practicing, the two groups performed their prepared music, and did so very well.

After the performances, we headed back to the hotel to prepare for another exciting day.

 

Twas a very rainy Sunday morning on the fourth day of the trip, and we had a very

exciting day ahead of us. After breakfast, we was going to Daneil O’Conner Memorial Church in Cahirsiveen. The most exciting part about this trip to the massive church was not only the magnificent stained glass portraits, but that the Choir was going to be performing at mass during the church service.

When I say the church was massive, I mean it was about the size of 1 ½ of the main commons. But the size wasn’t the only magnificent part of the Church, as I stated earlier, the stained glass windows were breathtaking, with the Irish lack-of-light-because-it-rains-constantly shining through to give the windows a kind of glow that can only be responded with one word: Wow.

After what seemed like eternity for the choir, the church service began, and Jaime Schlecht, Franklin High School’s very own choir director sang Ave Maria during the beginning of the service, and the choir followed with some of hymns they prepared for the trip.

After the service was over, we got back on to the coaches – in the pouring rain. Once everyone was accounted for, we were now on their way for a scenic trip around the Ring of Kerry, which have some of the best views of Ireland. Well, it would have, if there wasn’t fag as thick as a wool sweater.

We got to see the view from high cliffs and low valleys, and stopped for lunch on a cliffside rest stop. After that, it was straight on through the rest of the Ring of Kerry. They continued on through the winding roads alongside the cliffs, and continued to have very low visibility due to the dense fog. Not so long after the rest stop, they got back to their hotel in KIllarney, and had some free time to explore the city.

People went all throughout the city, and discovered that there was a fun fair in town, with small state fair-esc rides and carnival games. Other people found candy shops, and spent many of their euro on sweets and other treats. In time, it became time for us to head back for their evening meal. They ate, and then it was back to the town for more fun. Eventually, it got late, so everyone headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.

 

Bright and early at 7 AM, we headed down for breakfast and onto the coaches for another day of Ireland. Today they were going to the Bunratty castle and folk park, and then to the Cliffs of Moher, which are famous for being the “Cliffs of Insanity” from the movie The Princess Bride.

In Bunratty, we explored yet another castle, and learned even more history about early-Irish culture. Outside of the castle, there were many representations of the different social classes in early-Ireland. The peasants had small, one room houses with thatch roofs, while the middle and higher class owned far more land and much bigger estates.  Once their tour of the folk park was over, we had lunch there and were then off to their second stop of the day: The Cliffs of Moher.

On the way to the cliffs, we got a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean, which they would get a better sight of once they got to the actual Cliffside. Once there, we were astonished by the sheer height and length. It rises up to 214 meters above the Atlantic, and is almost unnoticeable unless you are standing near it, not 20 meters away from the edge of the cliff, there is a fence that prevents an Irishman’s cows from walking off the cliff. No joke, there were cows not even 50 feet away from the edge. After we had viewed the majesty of the cliffs, (and some had gone to the highest point,) they headed back onto the coach to head to their next hotel in Galway.

On their way to their hotel, they drove through the Burren, a rocky, almost moon-like landscape, and stopped and had a group photo taken with the mountains of rock in the background.

Once they got back to the hotel, they unpacked and got down to the dining area for their evening meal. After their meal, most of us went into the main part of town to see what there was to do for their free time later the next day. Afterward, they went back to the hotel, and rested for another day in Ireland.

 

After a good night’s sleep, we went down to the dining area to have their most important meal of the day, and to prepare ourselves for the day ahead of us. The choir especially had a big day ahead of them, as they had a midday concert at the Gothic Church in Kylemore Abbey. But before that, they were going to Connemara, home to some of the finest marble in the world.

Once we made it to Connemara, they were split up into two groups; one would learn about the marble, and the other would learn about peat, a very common and useful resource in early Irish culture. Peat was a source of fuel for fires, and it’s abundance in Ireland makes it very important in early Irish culture. The marble is abundant as well, and is carved in jewelry due to its gem-like beauty.

After those history lessons, we found ourselves on their way to their next stop: Kylemore Abbey. The abbey is right next to a beautiful landscape, a mountain in back and to the sides of it, a lake in front of it, and green grass as far as the eye can see. The main attraction to the abbey that specific day, however, was the gothic architecture of the buildings there. Everything was very straight, and, unlike most houses in suburban Ireland, the buildings were all gray, black and white. We went through one of the bigger buildings, and learned a lot about the people who had lived there before.

After that building, we went to a much small one, which was the gothic church where the choir was to perform. They practiced a bit and sang their hearts out, for it was their last concert of the trip. Afterward, we got lunch at the gift shop outside the abbey, and headed back to our hotel in Galway. Once there, we had dinner, and then had free time until the end of the day. Some people stayed behind again, and others went into town once more to shop around.

After their shopping spree in Galway, it was time to rest for the day ahead.

 

We woke to the sound of hotel phones on the wednesday morning of the seventh day in Ireland, we had breakfast and said goodbye to Galway, as we headed towards our final destination: Dublin. On our way there, we were going to Clonmacnoise, an ancient Irish religious settlement.

On our way to Clonmacnoise, we saw flocks upon flocks of sheep, and learned that there are 3.58 million sheep in Ireland. Also on the way there, we learned a little about Clonmacnoise and what we were to expect there.

Once we got there, we watched a video on Clonmacnoise, learning more in depth about the history of it and why it came to be. We also saw the original crosses and statues that were moved into the indoor museum to preserve them. Outside, we went all throughout the now ruined settlement, and learned more about each part of it. One particular part, the “Whispering Doorway,” was particularly intriguing. One person stands at one edge of the doorway, another on the other end, and one person whispers into the archway, and the sound echos over to the other person. Almost everyone tried it out and were amazed at it’s results.

After Clonmacnoise, we were on our way to Dublin, and slept most of the way there. Once there, we went to Trinity College, which is known for it’s massive library, but more known for a specific book: the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells, which we had the privilege of seeing, is a centuries-old religious book that has been preserved in the college. So preserved, that we couldn’t take pictures of it! The Library, however, we took many pictures of. It was about 200 feet long, and filled with 200,000 of the library’s oldest books.

After the tour, we were turned loose in Dublin to explore the city for a short while. Afterwards, we went to our new dormitories in Dublin City University, where we would be staying the next day. We had dinner, some free time, and slept in preparation of our last full day in Ireland.

 

In the right early morning sun of the eighth day of Ireland, we had ventured through the

Campus to the dining area, where we had our second to last breakfast in Ireland. We loaded up the coaches, and headed for the city. When we got there, we were given a short tour around the city, and were shown one of the most intersting facts of the trip: there is an odd looking bridge in Dublin that was designed by Santiago Calatrava. You may recognise him as one of the architects that designed the Milwaukee Art Museum.

After the tour, we headed for Christ Church Cathedral, where the orchestra and band would be playing their last performances. They set up, practiced, and then left for a short amount of free time so that the church services could go on. Once they were over, the orchestra and band performed, and did so very well. After the performance, we got back on the coaches, went outside of Trinity College, and were dropped off for our afternoon of free time in Dublin. There were many things to do in Dublin: shopping, eating, museums (traditional and whiskey related), and a lot of candy shops. One in particular had an odd Shaquille O’Neal can of Arizona soda. There was also a Harley Davidson merchandise store as well. Once it was time to leave, we gathered by where we were dropped off, and left for Dublin University.

We had dinner, and some people quenched their thirst with the delicious taste of Shaq-Soda. After dinner, we had more free time, where most of the musicians either went to their common rooms or went outside in the rain to play soccer. After a while, everyone was tired, and we slept for our last night in Ireland.

 

We had to wake up extra early on the final day in Ireland, to make sure all of their belongings were packed in their suitcases, and that they had their passports ready for the loooooong wait at the airport so that they could actually get on the plane and make it back to America.

They made their way down to the dining area, and had their last true Irish meal. Their tour guide, Liam, had given his final goodbye to us, and had told us to make sure everything was packed and ready for the trip back home. Once everyone was ready, they loaded up the busses and headed for the airport.

Once we got to the airport, we headed straight for the bag weighing and to get our tickets. Once that was over, we headed for security, and, after a long while, got through it all and made it to our terminal. We waited and waited, and eventually we started boarding the plane. Once everyone had found their seats and had settled in, we were off towards home again. Well, to be more specific, Chicago.

After the 7 ½ hour flight back, we got our luggage, loaded up the American coaches, and headed back towards the high school. Once there, we said our goodbyes to each other, and had headed home.

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