Monday, June 14, 2010

Here's what caused all the traffic on the way back to our hotel from Comhaltas last month in Dublin

It was an association football match (we'd call it a soccer game) between Ireland and Paraguay on May 25 at Dublin's RDS sports arena.

The stadium, off Merrion Road in the upscale Dublin 4 area, is part of the Royal Dublin Society complex. Our bus went past just as the game was over and traffic was thickest, and several large groups of fans wearing green-and-orange hats or jerseys crowded onto the bus. Debi and I were seated toward the front of the upper deck, just in front of the steps leading up from the entrance, which made for some pretty remarkable people-watching.

Our visit to Comhaltas, taking a No. 7 city bus from upper O'Connell Street out to Monkstown, was one of the highlights of the trip. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (which means the Society of the Musicians of Ireland in English and is known as Comhaltas - pronounced KALT-us - for short) is located on Belgrave Square in Monkstown, a suburb on Dublin Bay east of the city. We were welcomed graciously, although there weren't any public sessions going on the evening we were there - a Tuesday - and we were able to watch a group of youngsters practicing for summer competitions in the 12-year-old and younger category leading to the all-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil in August. The kids had been playing together once or twice a week since early fall, and they were pretty accomplished. Several fiddles and tin whistles, an accordion or two and a transverse wooden flute ... one boy maybe about 10 played bodhran, who was so good and his rhythms so intricate I fully expect to be hearing his recordings in another 10 years or so.

Father of one of the girls explained how the classes and the summer competitions worked, and introduced us to his daughter as a couple "Americans who have come all this distance to hear you play." She was about 10, and she didn't believe a word of it, of course, but she was equally as gracious as her elders. When the kids wound up, perhaps a dozen adults filtered into the practice hall, which was set up rather like a pub with plenty of chairs in the session room and a pub bar in the room adjacent, where I could order a Club Orange soda and Deb a club soda while we watched. I was told the adults, who played a mixture of fiddles, whistles and accordions with a banjo and a guitar, were mostly trained musicians who wanted to branch out and learn a traditional style of playing, consulted the Comhaltas fakebooks - they have several on offer - in between numbers but put them away as they began to play because they were learning to play by ear.

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