Saturday, August 8, 2009

Irish Music - (n.b click on photos for a better view)

Hello rockstars, I'd like to quote a famous Australian - Ronald Belford "Bon" Scott (9 July 1946 – 19 February 1980) An Australian rock musician, best known for being the lead singer and lyricist of Australian hard rock band AC/DC from 1974 until his death in 1980. He was born in Kirriemuir, Scotland, and emigrated to Melbourne, with his family in 1952 at the age of six. (*Wikipediea)

He used to sing:

Let there be sound, and there was sound
Let there be light, and there was light
Let there be drums, there was drums
Let there be guitar, there was guitar, ah
Let there be rock!!!

Well the last few weeks in Ireland have been all about music for us!

Although not quite up to the standard of the great ACDC, U2 another well known band with letters in their name, proved to be a good alternative! And as Bon said, there was sound, drums, guitars and more lights than you would see swirling round your head after 5 rounds with iron Mike Tyson, and the same sort of ringing in your ears afterwards.

We scored some expensive, last minute tickets to one of their 3 shows in Dublin's Croke park stadium, the major sporting venue in the Republic. After searching in vain for a reasonably priced hotel in Dublin, that wasn't booked solid for the summer weekend, we settled on university accommodation at Trinity College in Maynooth, which is about 30 mins by train West of the capital.

We hurriedly checked into the beautiful old building then raced to get the train into town to meet Sarah's cousin who she hadn't seen for 17 years! We were half an hour early which meant we had time for a pint before the meeting, and also meant we could have caught a later train and I didn't need to make Sarah get changed in a Maynooth hotel bathroom prior to catching the train! I blame the Irish rail website connection info, not my pedantic need to be on time for everything......(Although there happened to be another lady getting changed in the same hotel bathroom for a wedding, so it's not unheard of to have a bad boyfriend, or of a woman running late.....hmmmm did I really print that last bit)

We met with Tom and Connor, his 'Cute-as-a-button' son, and did a mini tour of Dublin city topped off with a frothy pint in the Temple Bar area. After a nice couple of hours we walked 25 mins to the stadium and settled into the bar for another pint, a glass of wine and our home made ham and salad wraps. We then grabbed another couple of drinks, headed outside (to some better seats than ours), and settled in for a bit of Kaiser chiefs warm up action. They were quite good and got the crowd going pretty well before the main act.

*Stadium filling up / Kaiser Chiefs

These 3 Dublin shows were part of the 360 Degree tour which involves an alien like stage with a 360 degree outer catwalk and gangways that spin between the main stage and the catwalk for the band to walk along. Out of the top of the space craft comes a massive drop down all around screen with all sorts of flash and flashing lights, videos, and various footage and angles of the band. I don't think these Irish boys are short of a quid!

Bono (vocals and guitar), The Edge (guitar, keyboards, and vocals), Adam Clayton (bass guitar), and Larry Mullen, Jr. (drums and percussion) arrived on stage a while later and we retired to our ticketed seats, and the music started.

Two guys from work who went said that this show wasn't as good as previous years here, however we still enjoyed it, and so did the thousands of others that were packed in.

I was hoping they would play a few more older songs and took the opportunity to slip out to the bar during some of the newer songs which I am not so keen on. I'm not sure Sarah knew that I had actually left though!

After playing for about 2 hours and a short 3 song encore we all filed out to the streets of Dublin and went our separate ways. We caught our train back and sat opposite a couple of Irish ladies that surprisingly know a previous head math teacher from the Oman school that Sarah taught at, and had both travelled to Oman recently...small world.

We got a few tips off them for sights around Maynooth for the way home on Sunday and plugged them into the phone so we could remember them. Good thing we did as we went out for a couple more 'Jars' in Maynooth before retiring back to the university like naughty school children. Back in the room we upset the neighbors at about 0400 by pushing the 2 single beds together and carrying on like idiots wandering back and forwards down the hallways to our respective bathrooms. A good night was had by all! (Except maybe the neighbors)

Part 2 - Castlepalooza!

The next weekend, (1st & 2nd Aug - just in case I forget), we traveled to Tullamore, County Offaly, about an hour and a half drive East from Ennis towards Dublin. We booked a 'Couples Treat Yourself' ticket for 2 days of camping, music and frivolity at the Castlepalooza festival at Charleville castle. The ticket promised a set-up tent, premium champagne and chocolates on arrival, proper flushing loos, solar heated hot water showers that would never go cold, good deals on alcohol as none would be allowed to be brought in (3E beer cans, 4.5E pints etc) and great music and a relaxed atmosphere.

The chocolates and the champagne were there on arrival, as was the tent......however the tent was your classic 2 man job, aka a comfortable 1 man tent, the toilets broke down regularly (not surprising for a festival really), the showers never worked and the beer was 5E and 6E respectively! It's lucky that the weather was fantastic, the music equally so and the castle setting and the chilled out crowd made for a mostly great weekend!

*Champagne and chocolate - good stuff

After cramming our gear into our tent, then meeting the neighbors over a plastic cup of champagne, we went for a bit of an explore around the site. It's a fabulous old castle which is half restored and makes a great setting for an intimate 2500 person festival.

There was a main outdoor stage, an undercover indoor stage, and inside the castle was a number of activities throughout the weekend including a day spa, photographer, burlesque dancing classes and other various activities to supplement the music.

We didn't know any of the bands on the line-up, however during the course of the weekend we saw some great Irish rock, folk, punk and some interesting techno type stuff. Also on the bill was traditional music, various international acts (Americans ProjectJennyProjectJan being a favorite), poety readings, a rocky horror show and lots more.

*'So Cow' - Outdoor Stage / Rocky Horror - HMV Stage

*Trad band+dancers / 'Fergus' Simon + 'Paddy' Garfunkel
(with drunken cowboy in foreground!)

After a couple of long musical days, and sleepless musical nights (the HMV tent was shaking the ground until 0400 both nights!), we were more than ready to head home on the Sunday morning. The previous day we had moved the car closer to the castle so we didn't have to shuttle bus the few km's to the muddy car park to reload all our gear thankfully. The beauty of Ireland is that nowhere is too far away, so we were back home in a couple of hours, into the shower and back in bed for a well deserved sleep!

There's just one more thing to be said...........ROCK ON!!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Welcome to Ireland

Forgive me father, and mother, and dedicated followers of good blogging worldwide, for I have slacked!! It's been over 12 months since my last blog, but fear not because I am back!

You may notice that in the picture to the left I am wearing a funny hat and drinking a Guinness which may alert you to the fact that I am now in the not so sunny 'Emerald Isle', or Ireland as the locals like to call it.

After being continually pissed off and stressed out with the working conditions in Oman I decided to follow a few of my ex-ex pat Omani controllers to the greener fields of Ireland and a more professional Air Traffic control organisation (although the local controllers may disagree with that assessment?).

After extricating ourselves from Oman, Sarah and I arrived here in early February and proceeded to get ourselves sorted out.

Thankfully Glenn, a kiwi controller and ex Omani escapee, put us up on arrival which made for a nice easy start to proceedings. He has been the local welcoming committee and halfway house for a lot of the new arrivals here which now number about 10-12 ex-pats from Australia, NZ and a couple from Canada.

We only spent a couple of weeks with Glenn as on our first day of househunting we found a great house to rent right on the edge Ennis, the 'Capital of County Clare'. Ennis is about 20 mins drive north of Shannon and Shannon airport, (Ireland and Europe's most Westerly airport and first ever to have duty free shopping in 1947), where I have taken up a permanent ATC contract.

Next time you see me, possibly or probably not at age 60, I will be saying things like "Your man said", or "I'm Grand", or "Tanks a million", or "Your man here said no bother so it'll be Grand, but tanks a million anyway". Or a not so Richie Benaud classic like "Tree for Tree Turty Tree"!

Our house has recently been rebuilt, albeit a home job, however it's still new inside and a lot different to the standard plans of the many new residential developments that are a real blight on the pretty Irish landscape. Although it wasn't quite ready we jumped at it and moved in as soon as the outside was painted and not yet dry. Although our shipment of 44 boxes and one Jade Pearl Kia Sportage hadn't arrived yet, and we were without TV or internet, we were happy to be in our new place and ready to get started.

I had started work the week before which was going smoothly, although the first week was the calm before the storm! Weeks 2-5 turned out to be ridiculously hard and challenging. At one stage I thought it would be adios Ireland after a few bad days in the simulator. The course they designed for experienced controllers is way over the top and coupled with the fact we were training with 2 Ukranian controllers and one Indian controller made it especially difficult. One of the Ukranians, Andriy, and Indu the Delhi controller were fired after week 3 which, although not nice for them, actually made it a lot better for the 4 of us remaining to complete the training.

To cut a long story short I finished the training college and was ready to start on the real stuff again, that is after I had taken 5 days rec leave and Sarah and I hit the many and varied counties of Ireland for a 5 day tour. (n.b the Kia, our furniture and clothes had now arrived but we were still waiting on a phone line to be installed for the pay TV and internet to be connected!)

Day 1 - Ennis to Clifden (County Galway) via some nice scenic drives.

I'll start by saying that the Irish roads aren't great! Some of them are good, most of them are small, but except for the duel carriageways, they are generally very scenic and well worth the effort.

*The Plaque reads - CONNEMARA
Built in 1999 by Joyces craft shop for no apparent reason. (who said the Irish had no sense of humor?)

We drove North to Galway then West into Galway county proper. You could spend a 'good wee while' in county Galway appreciating it's dramatic beauty. We would later find out that this could be said of most of the West counties. Most of our day was spent in the car driving along the green scenic routes marked on our pilfered budget rent-a-car Irish map.

Our not so pilfered, but borrowed, Irish Lonely Planet (LP) led us to the magnificent Quay House on the edge of Clifden bay. In the old boat masters house, and now 'quirky yet chic hotel', our host Paddy gave us the choice of either the nautical room or the 'Aviary'. We'd like to go back and see the other rooms but you can probably guess which one we chose?

*Stuffed not shaken!

After a Full Irish Breakfast (FIB) in the conservatory we hit the road for Day 2 - County Galway to County Mayo.

Once again, the very scenic roads out of West Galway took us towards Westport via Croagh Patrick, probably Ireland's most important mountain, if mountains can be important. I'll let those of you who are interested google it rather than go in to more detail, needless to say we didn't do a pilgrimage on our knees up to the top. The closest I came to God was when I found a safety pin in the glove box to pin up our broken drivers side sun visor that was drooping over the windscreen and upsetting my view of the countryside.

Another long, but enjoyable, day in the car brought us to Mullaghmore heads and the LP promise of seaweed baths. There was no seaweed baths in our hotel however, Sarah in her "I wanted a seaweed bath and how can you say that the spa pool is closed and being cleaned when we just went up there and saw that it's not and we only want half an hour, and we'd really like a spa (sad puppy dog face)" kind of way, managed to get us a spa bath. Add a quarter bottle of bourbon a great view, some car cooler hummus and celery snacks, and later a chinese dinner as the only customers in an off-season Mullaghmore, it doesn't get much better than that?

Day 3 - Counties Mayo, Sligo and the Wild West of County Donegal.

Dare I say it, another day in the car following the green scenic roads on the there no end to the beauty in this country? Our main choice today was which way to go and working out when we could come back here and see more of the place. I've recently heard that SJP (Sarah Jessica Parker) has a holiday house in Donegal. The popular opinion is that she can bring her kids here and escape from the world.

We didn't see much paparazzi on our travels, a welcome change from our usual daily life, however we did come across a castle or two or 3 or ....... (apparently our home county of Clare has, or had, over 250 castles, can you believe that?)

We struggled to find a hotel for the night in the off season. The Place we stopped at was a good choice as the pub downstairs served a decent dinner and a tasty pint. The best bit was the weekly Ceile (Traditional Irish dance session) in the hall out the back. Sarah didn't exactly drag me in, however she did have to drag me on to the floor for a couple of dances after a long day behind the wheel. We didn't, and still don't, speak Irish like the locals in this Donegal Gaeltacht region do, however we manged to give a good account of ourselves and have a few laughs along the way.

Day 4 - County Donegal (Republic of Ireland) to Derry (Northern Ireland) ....but let's not talk politics here!

Dare I say it, yeah why not, we jumped back in the jade Pearl Kia again and hit the Irish coastline for some more sightseeing. After the Slieve League Cliffs yesterday, the highest cliffs in Europe no less, we decided, or I persuaded Sarah that we should go to Malin Head, the Northermost point in this grand land. We took a couple of photos, and got the local constabulary to take a couple of happy snaps of us.

*If you look carefully you can see EIRE written in whites stones on the coastal point

Apparently the local Guarda (Coppers) do a check of the point as part of their local rounds, they're not just skiving off work like I suggested.

Day 5 - County Derry then home, sweet home, to Clare.

I didn't know that Sunday Bloody Sunday was sung about, and actually happened in Derry (Or Londonderry if you like). I mistakenly thought it occurred in Belfast. As before I won't get into politics here, especially as it's not my place and I don't know enough to have a proper informed opinion. Needless to say though that there's been 'troubles' in the North of Ireland for a good wee while.

We arrived into Derry late, and again Sarah dragged me out. I was dragging her out of the first pub to go home when she spotted the Skiddly Iddly band firing up for a session and thankfully convinced me to stay. For the next few hours I forgot my tired-and-grumpiness, drank a few pints, listened to some good music, had some great craic with Paddy a local artist and resident bar fly. After a good few laughs he invited us to see his latest mural painting in the 'Bogside' the next morning.

*This one is for the local football side. The players were being outlined below.
Paddy said that the bogside has produced the most amount of world class sportsmen per ca pita in the world. Not sure about that but might check it out if I remember.

Before we met Paddy we walked atop the famous walls of the city and learnt heaps about the varied and checkered history of Derry. It makes you wonder about the 150 year celebrations I had as a kid in Australia! I'll leave it for another blog to tell you about my curiosity, bordering on obsession if you ask some, of the many ancient stone wonders in Ireland and the UK!

We left Paddy and his murals and headed back down the heart of Ireland to Ennis. Unfortunately while Sarah was sleeping, and when she was awake for that matter, we didn't pass any stone circles or wedge tombs much to my disappointment.

We arrived back late , threw out the last carrot stick and celery stalk from the cooler, dumped the dirty clothes in the laundry and went to bed.

A good little trip around a great little country.........

I hope you didn't switch off too early and get bored because I may just blog again soon! (especially if the weather holds and we get 5 more days of Ashes test match cricket next week :)

Hope you're all well and happy