Dublin airport on Saturday 27th October was awash with blue hoodies bearing the legend “Euskadi Camchuairt Cheoil”. After weeks and months of preparation and countless practices, Craobh Phiarais Uí Ghreagain was on its way to Donostia (San Sebastian) in the Basque Country.
A very hard working sub-committee of Fionnuala Ní Cheallaigh, Margaret Mc Cabe, Bríd McGovern and Mick Ó Grálaigh had dealt with flights, accommodation, instrument transport, concerts, sessions, outdoor gigs, insurance, surfing and all the other details that needed to be in place for the trip to go ahead. In addition Mick and Mairéad Ní Ghréagáin had done Trojan work putting together a two hour concert that would showcase traditional Irish music to the people of the Basque Country. From the Basque side the help, support and friendship of Maitena O’Kelly and Inaki Iaskurain (siblings of Kevin O’Kelly) was unbelievable and a big part of the success of the trip.
San Sebastian is a beautiful city built around a large sandy bay and backed by hills. Although we arrived on a cold wet Sunday the weather rapidly improved and before long we were walking, swimming in the sea and enjoying a mini summer. We also enjoyed the wide streets and lovely architecture of the shopping area and the picturesque winding streets of the old town.
But we were there for the music. On the first night our musicians played in two pubs in the town to the wonderment and delight of local clients. People casually walking into the bars stared with initial disbelief at the session in progress, then gathered around the musicians, to listen intently and with great enjoyment. On the bandstand in the middle of town the following day a great crowd gathered to listen to the music and watch the wonderful dancing from Sorcha and Muireann. Barry Stafford’s bodhrán-backed version of “I like to move it move it…” brought the house down. Language difficulties were overcome with the help of Barry Manley, a Corkonian who is well known as the only stand-up comedian in the Basque language. He also still has a ‘cúpla focail’ which he is delighted to use.
We played to a packed school hall of children aged 6 to 12 who clapped in perfect time if a little over enthusiastically and who were delighted to be given the chance to play the bodhran and try out a few steps of ‘The Walls of Limerick’. A chance to meet some local musicians was a great thrill and their tambourine playing a revelation. We met this group again for a final formal concert in the Cultural Centre which raised the roof and got a standing ovation. As well as all the structured events there were of course sessions, sing songs and many vocal cords damaged as we went from place to place on the bus.
Everybody will have a different highlight of the trip. The music was magic, the weather was great, the town was welcoming, safe and beautiful and the behaviour of our branch members was a credit to Craobh Phiarais. They are very fine representatives of all that is best about our culture and country. In the end fun and friendship were what best defined the trip, the everlasting games of cards, the boiled sausages (remember them!!), the chatter in the mothers’ room, the surfing, the blue hoodies all over San Sebastian, impromptu Irish dancing on the hostel balcony, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (you know who you are), swimming in the bay of Biscay, football everywhere, laughter and music. Agur Donostia. Eskerrik asko.