By Amy Harn

During their visit to Ireland, the Byron Choir’s first historical stop was the Kylemore Abbey in Connemara. They also held their first concert of the trip there.

    Members of Byron choirs, along with alumni, family, and friends, returned from their Ireland tour on June 9. During the tour, they were able to perform in many beautiful venues inside and out, with the final performance being an exchange concert at the Royal Ireland Academy of Music.

    The tour began at the Gaelic Athletic Association in Dublin where they were introduced to two sports of Irish heritage: the game of hurling and Gaelic football. GAA players of the games put them through drills, teaching the skills of how to dribble, pass, and hit a sliotar ball. They also taught Gaelic football skills, which is very similar to American soccer, but hands are allowed. They finished the afternoon activities with a lunch and a lesson in Irish dancing. While at the GA, they were asked to sing a couple of songs.

    The tour continued to Galway as they checked into their first hotel. As the next day approached, they loaded the tour bus and drove to Connemara to visit the beautiful Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden. They toured the gardens, watching horses and pigs being fed. They then toured the abbey, which was built as a private home in 1868 by a wealthy doctor from London. In 1920, the abbey was purchased by Benedictine nuns and in 1923 they opened a school for girls. It was in operation until 2010. On the grounds of the abbey there is a Gothic church, a wishing stone and mausoleum. It was in the chapel that they held our first concert. The concert was well-attended by guests visiting the abbey. There was lots of exciting applause after each song. After their tour of the abbey, they drove back to Galway and toured the Galway Cathedral, one of the youngest cathedrals in Ireland, being built in the 1960s. Highlights of the cathedral were the beautiful stained glass windows and the pipe organ.

    The next day’s adventure was the Cliffs of Moher. It was such beautiful views from the cliffs. It was very windy on the day they were there, but wind is typical there because the cliffs are by the ocean. At their highest, the cliffs are 702 feet. Their next adventure was visiting a castle. They toured the Bunratty Castle and the folk park around it. The Bunratty Castle was built on a site that was originally a Viking camp in 970. It is the most complete and authentic castle in Ireland. The castle they toured was built in 1425. The buildings in the folk park were brought to the site by taking them apart and reassembling them there. There are 30 buildings set up in a living village and rural setting. After touring that castle, they drove to Knappogue Castle for a medieval banquet. During the banquet, each “country” had a king and queen. Their king was Josh Harris and their queen was Gina Baker. King Josh’s part of the skit involved him testing the meat that was being served for dinner. Of course, the meat was poisoned, and King Josh had to act like he died – all while the town crier continued with the skit. King Josh was brought back to life, and he was able to continue with everyone on the tour. They had another student who was also part of the skit. Lord Jacob Lawver was in trouble with the king. He was caught breaking one of the rules of the castle. (Of course, this was all pre-planned in the skit.) Instead of a physical punishment, the town crier asked him to sing a song. What the town crier didn’t know was that Jacob had an entire choir to help him with his punishment. Jacob started his solo part in the song Tshotsholoza, and the choir joined in to the amazement of the actors and guest attending. The actors wanted the choir to stay and have that be part of their skit every night. They were very appreciative of the fun the students incorporated in their show.

    As the week continued, so did the choir’s performances. On a Wednesday, the choir toured the Blasket Island Center. The Blasket Islands were where people lived up until 1954. The islands are best known for a number of Irish-language writers who vividly described their way of life in their books. In the open air, grassy grounds, the choir performed three songs. Visitors of the Blasket Center stepped out to listen to the performance. They left the Blasket Center and toured the Gallarus Oratory, a chapel on the Dingle Peninsula. It was most likely built in the 10th or 11th century. The group went back to the hotel to prepare for a full-length concert at St. Mary’s Church in Killarney. The choir prepared an hour’s worth of music for this concert. To everyone’s amazement, the church was filled with locals. The sound was amazing when they performed in this 1800s building. Once they were finished performing, no one left – they wanted more. But unfortunately, they had not prepared an encore number.

    The next day brought a drive around the Ring of Kerry and a visit to Kells Sheepdogs. They attended a demonstration of a Border Collie rounding up and sorting the sheep that were running free in the pasture. It was enjoyable and informative. They continued around the Ring of Kerry, stopping at a Inch Beach were the movie “Ryan’s Daughter” was filmed, and also stopping to view the stone ring circle, an early home of a king. Free time, playing cards, and swimming were how they ended the day.

    Two very historic and popular places were on the itinerary for the next day. They ventured up to the top of Blarney Castle, where they were able to kiss the famous Blarney Stone. The Blarney Stone is a block of limestone built into the wall of the castle. According to legend, kissing the stone gives one the “gift of gab.” The stone was set in the castle in 1446. After kissing the stone, they walked through the beautiful gardens around the castle. Then it was off to the Rock of Cashel to view the most impressive collection of medieval buildings in Ireland. Originally the seat of the kings of Munster, Brian Boru was crowned High King in 978. The Hall of the Vicars Choral was built in the 15th century. This was the residence of the vicars appointed to assist in chanting the cathedral services. So, they thought it fitting that they perform a piece in the main hall of this building, to honor those vicars who rehearsed in that space. Again, they had an appreciative audience while performing. To end the evening, they attended dinner and a performance at the Merry Ploughboy. This venue has held group dinners with entertainment for over 30 years. They were entertained by singers who also played instruments, as well as Irish dancers. That evening’s event was loved by all.

    Their final day was a city tour of Dublin with a stop at Christ Church Cathedral. Originally a Viking church, it has been welcoming visitors for over 1,000 years. The self-guided tour led them to find the tomb of Stronghold, a visit to the crypt, the heart of St. Laurence O’Toole, a rare copy of the Magna Carta, and the famous mummified cat and rat. The group then had some free time and went back to the hotel to prepare for their final concert. This concert was held in the Whyte Recital Hall at the Royal Ireland Academy of Music and was performed with the Continuum Youth Choir, Blanaid Murphy directing. They performed a 30 minute set, the Continuum Youth choir also did a 30 minute set, and then they sang “Danny Boy” and “The Star from the County Down” together. Gifts were exchanged and congratulations were shared as the evening came to an end.

    This amazing experience for these students of Byron High School could not have happened without the generous donations given. These sponsors were named in the tour program: All Saints Church Byron, Alpine Chiropractic, Angela Streff Pampered Chef, Arby’s, AVON, Bub’s, Byron Athletic Boosters, Byron Music Boosters, Byron Parent Teacher Association, Byron Park District, Byron Women’s Club, Casey’s, The Cave, Circle K, The Command Post Byron, Costa’s, Crafted by Ali, DeAnne Clay, Dos Amigos, Farrell Holland Gale Funeral Home, Felker’s, GFS, Grandma’s Crafts, Great Harvest Bread Co., Harvard GMC, Hurst Plumbing, Ice Hogs, Kerry Wickler Insurance, Maxson Riverboat and Resturant, Middle Creek Church, Merlin’s, MMA, Nothin Bundt Cakes, Oregon Soap Shoppe, Paintastic, Pepsi, Pirate Mom Soap, Prairie Fire, Prairie Street Brewing, Prairie View Golf, Quixotic Bakery, ReRuns, Rob’s Barbershop, Sam’s, Sky Carp Baseball, Snyder’s, Stormy Girl Creation, Sullivan’s, Sweetbean, United Methodist Church Oregon, Uptown Lanes, Wicked Sweets. They also want to thank those people who bought items as they fundraised – who cannot all be listed by name – but please know all are appreciated as well. Their final thanks go to the Byron Board of Education, Buster Barton, Andy Donaldson, and Ken Franchi. Without their support and approval of the tour, they would not have been able to experience all that they did. Videos of the multiple performances can be found on the Byron Choir YouTube Channel.

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