Travel Journal: Northern Ireland
One of the most important reasons for choosing to study in Northern Ireland was my interest in Irish Traditional Music. My last day in Ireland, the 19th of December, I woke up late. Almost everyone else had left earlier in the weekend to go home, and many friends were stuck in London Heathrow because of the snow. Despite the fact that I still had a considerable amount of packing to do, I went to an amateur session with my Australian friend Dan on a lark. The level of playing wasn’t very high but the experience still ended up being one of the most memorable of the entire trip.
I had gone to bars like Maddens fairly regularly and heard some amazing traditional playing there. I was always too intimidated because of the high level of playing to try and join in. I did play a couple of sessions with a group of musician friends a couple of times at the oldest bar in Belfast, White’s Tavern. However, the management fired them because they demanded more pay (for the record, I was never even given a free beer). Those guys were quite good and taught me some of my favorite tunes, like “Star of Munster” and “Green Groves of Erin.” But even among these guys, I always felt somewhat on edge because I was so out of my element as a classical violinist. There was no such pressure on the last day among the group of amateur musicians. It was just Dan and me playing for fun with a group of beginners who cared about good tunes and good fun.
I was able to indulge in my interest in Irish music on a weekly basis in the classroom by taking a class called “Form and Structure of Irish Traditional Music” with an American, Professor Martin Dowling (or, as the Music School’s secretary corrected me after the first day of class, “Doctor Dowling.”). This class essentially consisted of Martin playing fiddle for us and giving small lectures about the history and culture of the music. Even when our lectures concerned flutes or bagpipes, he still whipped out his fiddle.
The last day continued to get better. We went to a famous bar called Garrick’s. Dan’s banjo teacher was supposed to be there and had invited him to stop by. We ended up staying into the night, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Martin among the group of musicians. Their playing was some of the best, most seamless live Irish music I had ever heard. Save recordings of Bothy Band and the Chieftains, it was some of the best Irish music I had heard, period.
I rounded off the day by sitting with some close friends at the top of the hill behind our building, listening to jazz, smoking cigars and conversing about life. As I said at the beginning of this journey, I expected the people would be the most memorable part of the study abroad experience. I ended up forming some close friendships, and I got to end my experience in Ireland with some of those people. The last day, then, was a perfect representation of why Ireland was a great study-abroad experience for me. It was filled with great music and great people, not to mention the atmosphere of spontaneity and good craic (good times) that characterized all of my experiences in Northern Ireland.
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