As we have during most of this trip, we rose early to take in breakfast at the hotel before setting off on the days adventure. Since we were staying in town this time, a few of us gathered in the lobby to sit and chat in the extra time we had before our walking tour of town started. While I know a few group members well, many I have never met before, or have only seen briefly at other band events over the years. It was nice to be able to sit and chat with some new faces and finally be able to figure out names I’ve heard along the way. But, we did not come all this way to sit and chat, so before long, we had a tour guide names Jack and we off to see the towns main sites. Jack was a very informative man, with jokes for everyone, and a unique sense of humor. The information he gave us was fun in itself, but they way he delivered it made it even more enjoyable. Jack took us to see the local cathedral, some statues, important city buildings, art and culture areas, and much more, stopping to stare stories and to answer questions as we went.
I got to become a part of history when our guide stopped to tell the story of Dearbhla, a young and beautiful woman of the town, who was married to a rich but cruel man in the early 1100’s. After years of an unhappy marriage, she was taken by Diarmait Mac Murchada, the Kind of Leinster, and began life as his wife. In 1167, the High King of Ireland took Mac Murchada’s kingdom because of his actions toward Dearbhla. During this skirmish, the two fled to England, where they stayed for many years, producing multiple children. When the time came, Diarmait Mac Murchada decided he wanted to take his kingdom back. To do this, he enlisted the military support of the Earl Richard de Clare, the 2nd Earl of Pembroke (nicknamed “Strongbow”), who was in opposition to King Henry II of England. To assure good relations between Mac Murchada and Strongbow, Mac Murchada offered his daughter from a previous wife in marriage. This marriage was the first official political connection between Ireland and England, which has been followed by conflict and bloodshed for a thousand years.
After this story telling, Jack took us over to the farthest side of town to Reginald’s Tower, that was built somewhere around the 1100’s. The name comes from the Viking name Raghnall. In front of the tower was a replica of a viking boat that was most common during the time vikings were settling in Ireland. In the movies and tv shows, these boats to be much larger, but in person they were smaller than I expected. I did not climb the tower because we did not have time but I imagine the view from the top would have been a nice look out over the river. After saying goodbye to Jack the tour guide, we spent a few minutes looking at the tower and boat before heading around the side street to our Waterford Crystal tour.
I have never had a desire for crystal, but today’s experience with Waterford might have just opened my mind a little to the opportunity. The tour consisted of us traveling through the factory with a guide, who explained what each area was and how each fit into the bigger picture of “What is Waterford Crystal?” The rooms were molding, blowing department, quality inspection, hand marking, cutting, sculpting, and engraving. It was fascinating to have up close views of each segment of work. The workers all have to go through 8 years of training: 5 initial years, then after passing their test, they train for an additional 3 years to earn the title of Master. Nearly every worker only works in one segment of the factory, so a cutter stays a cutter, or a blower stays a blower. Only one man, Miroslav Havel, in the history of the company has ever been acclaimed for having mastered all main regions of design: blow, cut, sculpt, paint and engrave, and he designed the Lismore pattern, which became the most popular pattern ever made by Waterford. Each artist we saw made their work seem so easy, it was hard to imagine all the years of training, and how many pieces they must have done to work with such confidence and ease of motion. One of the gentleman I stopped to talk to was working on a crystal piano, and he told me he’d been working there for forty-two years.
The next adventure is was a bit of a tear-jerker for me. I have always been very in tune with strong emotions (probably the Irish blood) and a love of a good story. The afternoon was spent going to the nearby town of New Ross to participate in the Dunbrody Famine Ship experience. This tour has you stepping back in time to the ‘William Graves & Son’ ticket office in New Ross, during a period in Ireland’s history known as the Great Famine. Starting around 1845, a blight attacked the potato crop over the entire country. Over the following 4 years, 1 million people died of starvation and illness, while more than 1 million more emigrated. When the Irish fleeing their homes reached ships like the Dunbrody, the future was uncertain. Many people arrived already starving and sick, with thousands of emigrants dying on board what became known as “famine ships.” The Dunbrody was an exception, possessing a captain with medical knowledge and compassion toward the people he was ferrying to America. Many of his passengers survived that hard six-eight week voyages. While on board, we had a guide that told us the basic history of Ireland at the time, background of the original Dunbrody, and took time to answer as many questions as possible. We also met two women who were reenactors, portraying two fictional characters who would’ve been on the ship. My heart ached hearing the story one of them told of her sick husband and 5 children who were searching for a better life. The second lady ended up revealing that the other’s husband would die later on in the voyage. As a middle class American, it is hard to imagine what it must have been like for these people.
After the ship, we went back to Waterford for dinner and a night out on the town. I ended up eating with two ladies on the trip, Kris and Allyson. I had run into them on some of my other wanderings throughout the week so far, and I found them both to be rather enjoyable, so I asked them if they minded me joining them for the evening. We walked through town for a while, retracing some of the steps we’d taken on our earlier tour, until we arrived back at Reginald’s Tower. Just next to the tower was a restaurant called “The Reg” will a rooftop dining area, so we decided that would be a nice place to eat, with a view of the river while we waited on food. Over the course of our meal, we shared important life information, traveling stories, and quite a few loud laughs. Dinner concluded two hours later and we had gelato on the brain, we took off toward a gelato bar we’d seen outside a restaurant earlier. Scoops in hand, the ladies and I walked back up toward Sal’s Pub where the band was playing again as they had the night before. Tonight’s set had a few different songs and one guest performer…ME! Shawn and I have known each other for years and when we signed up for this trip, I joked with him about how I have always dreamed of singing with them. Low and behold, after a few songs, a couple of the guys pulled me to the corner where they were playing and Shawn asked me to sing Carrickfergus. Now, I have performed so many times, but never that song, never with this group, and never without practicing. Pub performances are not something most classical voice students did. But, with a key change, Tobin’s phone for lyrics, and following Shawn’s lead, I was able to fumble through the first verse and finish the song strong. Luckily, everyone cheered and clapped afterward, so I must have done a decent job. I sang with Father Son and Friends! I guess now I can update my resume to say “International Performer.”
What an experience, and what a day! Every day so far has been wonderful, but this day especially touched my heart and soul and will not be forgotten for many years to come.