Friday, August 22, 2014

Sligo Fleadh 2014

Wow! What a week we had in Sligo, Ireland for the Fleadh Cheoil (All Ireland festival/competitions).

This year Haley and I traveled with some very special friends of ours, John and Jackie Kelly. We had originally planned to go to Ireland as a family then learned Newt would need to be moved into his dorm and begin college on the first day of competitions. John and Jackie had already booked in the same B&B (Atlantic Haven B&B) and during a conversation where Jackie was fretting about having to drive in Ireland because John's age prevented him from being able to rent a car, I had a brainstorm and asked if they'd like me to drive and they could accompany us (and be our bodyguards).

My spur of the moment plan worked out perfectly. Haley and I had company and John and Jackie were able to enjoy their trip to Ireland without worrying about transportation.

After a wonderful flight, we arrived in Dublin at 5am (Irish time). We picked up our car and headed across the country to Sligo. We arrived at our B&B around 9am and our wonderful host, Thomas, fed us weary travelers a full Irish breakfast and gave us our rooms. I took a nap while Haley took a shower. After I woke and showered we headed into Sligo city on our own to meet Haley's fiddle teacher, Brian, so Haley could practice. Following the practice, we walked around town and figured out where everything was then drove back to our B&B to pick John and Jackie up for dinner. We had to drive in another direction to meet the Illinois kids for ceili band and grupai practice after dinner. It was late and we were beat by the end of rehearsal so went home and to bed.

Thursday morning, we woke to another great breakfast. We decided to take a short drive about 5 min. north to the beautiful town of Mullaghmore…one of the most beautiful places in Ireland!

Haley with John and Jackie in Mullaghmore.

The beautiful cliffs on the sea drive near Mullaghmore.
From Mullaghmore we drove into Sligo city. John and Jackie went to check out the shops in town while Haley and I met Brian and she practiced for 90 minutes. After her practice we grabbed some soup for lunch and sat to eat on a little stone wall. We ran into a number of friends while sitting. I love that part of the Fleadh…seeing all the people we only see once or twice a year. Haley decided to find the Illinois kids to busk for a little while then we drove with them back to their residence for rehearsal.

Busking in Sligo.

After rehearsal we saw a full double rainbow out over the water and took the moment to catch a picture with Haley's friends, Livia and Emily.

We headed back into town after rehearsal where we met up with the music director from Studio2Stage. Anthony had saved Haley a seat at an awesome session. She played for a couple hours and did not want to leave.

I got an emergency call from home around 11pm because there was a problem with Newt's classes at college and I couldn't hear over the phone with all the noise in the pub so I had to pull Haley out of the session and take the call outside…though there was fiddler who stopped her on her way to me and had her play a couple Sean Maguire tunes with her on the way out. After the phone call, Haley's buddy Alex had arrived so we went with them to a very large "kids" session at a hotel. Alex and Keegan plus some kids from Boston and Haley's friend, Benedict, from Scotland (who we've met through this competition a few years ago) were there. The kids played together until I dragged Haley out after 1am.

This year competitions began on Friday and lasted three days rather than the normal two days. The ceili band and grupai ceoil competitions were on Friday. So all day was spent warming up, waiting to compete, and competing. Between the competitions, I took Haley into town to do a sound check for a concert she was invited to perform in with the legendary Irish groups, Altan and Dervish. We had seen Mairead from Altan in New York while we were at Studio2Stage and she asked if Haley would come up on stage with them for a FleadhLive performance on Irish TV and webcast. The sound check took awhile due to the number of musicians going up on stage. We had to rush a bit to make it back for the grupai competition but we made it with time to spare. The kids did a great job playing together even though they had only had a few rehearsals together. The group was small but mighty. Right after the competition we packed up Haley's fiddle and headed back into town for the concert.

Talk about amazing! The venue had a number of rooms, all full of people standing together in front of stages and the TV show went from room to room so no time was wasted with sound checks and set ups. When we arrived, Haley and I found a hamburger stand to eat then hung out in the backstage area with the other musicians. Haley enjoyed the make-up girl who "did" her hair and makeup for on camera. Altan performed two sets on their own then had Haley and the singer from Dervish, Cathy, on stage for The Sally Gardens. After the song, the rest of Dervish joined them on stage. They performed the Tarbolton Set together, letting Haley take a solo at the beginning of the 2nd tune! Click here for a little video of the performance. Goodness, did she have fun!! The crowd was loud, excited, and appreciative! We left right after the concert so I could get her to bed though we weren't back until almost 12:30am because we had to make our way back to our car and drive the 20 min back to the B&B.

Saturday started on the early side. Haley's solo fiddle competition was at 10am. She went very early in the competition (4th) and she played her tunes perfectly with her usual flare. Unfortunately the judges had other ideas on what they were looking for and she did not place…the risk one assumes in a subjective competition. Over the years, Haley and I have had many discussions concerning the fact that she can only control her performance, not the judging. She was momentarily disappointed/shocked but shrugged, said she was happy with how she played and wouldn't have played any differently, then minutes later was out eating lunch with Emily and Livia joking and laughing. I was so proud of her ability to deal with disappointment. Learning how to not win (graciously) is another benefit of competition.

Immediately after lunch she had to play 1st in the slow air competition. She was not excited to have to play for the same judges but she played her beautiful air like her usual amazing self and ended up with 2nd. After the competitions we ran around to see a couple other competitions and meet up with friends…I liked the newly composed tunes competition (all ages, all instruments, and new tunes…nearly all of which would be neat to hear again). The trio kids did a rehearsal together then we had supper with everyone from home. After supper, we found Haley's friend, David, who we'd met along with his brother, Daniel, at Swannanoa a couple years ago. They played some tunes together with a few other people before they had to move on and allow a concert to be set up in the area.

The Sligo Bound Six in Sligo!!

Haley and David at the Fleadh.
Sunday, Haley's only competition was the Trio Competition with her friends, Alex and Keegan…The Converse Trio. We went into town early so we could watch Alex and Keegan in the Duet competition then the kids warmed up together for the trio. They were awesome together. They smiled at each other and "grooved"…something their trio coach, Patrick, said they needed to do. (While they were in the trio competition, Patrick was busy winning the Over 18 Uillean Pipes Slow Air competition!!) We were  all extremely excited to hear the kids placed 3rd! We went and got their photo together (see the beginning of this post) then we took John and Jackie to dinner and back to our B&B because we wanted to head to Dublin early in the morning.

We woke up really early on Monday. We had a long drive to Dublin then a busy day planned. We drove back to Dublin airport, turned in the rental car, checked into the hotel to drop our bags, then headed into the city on the bus. We had a "reunion" with a few of the people Haley met through Studio2Stage, Michelle, Rachel, and Maurese, at Murphy's Ice Cream Shop. (One of our yearly traditions is ice cream at Murphy's…brown bread ice-cream…Yum!) Jackie and John left us on our own so they could experience Dublin their own way.

We had a really nice visit with the Studio2Stage friends then Maurese showed us how to get to an appointment I had scheduled for Haley to try a new fiddle made by Mick DeHoog. Mick was really nice and the fiddle was lovely….definitely on our list of "maybes"…but we have a bit more shopping to do before Haley makes a final decision. After spending about 90 minutes trying the fiddle, Haley and I did some shopping and went out to dinner at one of our favorite places, Elephant and Castle. We rode back to the hotel after dinner and relaxed before going to bed.

Tuesday morning saw us back at Dublin Airport ready to fly home. Livia and Emily were on the same flight so we had fun waiting. The flight was smooth and the ride home early enough to not hit traffic. Jackie and John were the perfect travel companions. All in all it was a great trip! It was wonderful to see and watch Haley have fun playing tunes with so many friends! She played her best in her competitions, had an awesome performance on Friday night, and came home with a couple medals! She is already planning for next year!

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