Travel # 13 -- April 2, 2005
Pan Celtic Music Competitions in Tralee

By Bob Corbett

Yesterday's "taste" of the festival had been exciting. After two Groups of Irish dancers had performed, the highlight of yesterday had been a group of 10 Scottish bagpipers. They were awesome. With them, dressed in a different set of Scottish clothes was a young man (mid-20s) and he played a solo bagpipe with a solo woman dancer who did a beautiful slow Highland fling. It was elegant.

This left us very excited about today, since there were to be more morning performances in the city square, followed by the evening dancing final competition. Those we planned to see for sure.

First we took care of our own breakfast from the refrigerator and did quite well, heck, I make a wicked pot of tea! Following Marian's instructions we cleaned up our dishes, but didn't use the dishwasher or such, she didn't want that. Rinse and leave were her instructions.

Then we headed over to the hospital to visit some of the staff who had taken such good care of John and Terri in November. On the woman's ward where Terri had been I didn't recognize a single person. But, many of the people who tended John were there in the intensive care unit and they were very excited I had come by. They wanted to know how John was doing. He had called me just the day before and he had just taken his very first steps since the accident, using a walker. (Now, some 4 weeks after that day of April 2nd, he is walking with crutches, no longer has a wheel chair at all, and in physical therapy is working on walking with just a cane.)

They wanted to talk, but they had so many patients in the IC unit they asked us to come back later, they were on a 12 hour shift anyway. We left then and took the little colorful sole Tralee bus into town. It was hopping already. There were groups in the town square, and it was a sunny sunny modestly warm day. We knew we were in for a great day. And it was spectacular. A group from Wales was first. They had about 15 members of their orchestra and about 20 dancers. They were in full costume that reminded one of pilgrim clothes, especially the men with high stove-pipe like hats, and the women in wide, 18th century style dresses. They did various intricate folk dances. Sally purchased a CD of their music.

Next came a solo bagpiper. He just walked up to the small stage and started playing. Lovely, and group after group after group played. It was awesome. After a while we went back to do some more e-mail and I checked out lots about the areas to the south where we were planning to go in two days (extending our stay in Tralee, but had to wait to see if that was acceptable to Marian when she got back from Dublin). It looked like Paul was right, the areas around Bantry Bay and the Berea Peninsula were indeed remote and under-developed, but look just marvelous. I had actually been there some 20 years ago but didnít remember much about it other than I had loved Bantry. After finding these places on-line, I both e-mail and called some of the other places where we had reservations to be sure the reservations were all cancelled. All worked out well.

In mid-afternoon, after a huge feast at Brewbakers, we headed back out to the hospital and now the staff had some time visiting. The head of the department was there and she is a very lively witty woman. She was the person whom some of you may recall John had dreamed in his morphine dreams he had made the Queen of Ireland. That had now become her nickname and she regaled us with all the hilarious things that happen when patients are on the morphine. It was a lovely visit and a great chance for me to convey John and Terriís appreciation and the appreciation of our whole family for the wonderful loving care they gave John and Terri in those hard days of November.

Back in town we arrived very early at the Grand Hotel Ballroom for the evening's dance competition. There were three categories of competition: Groups doing group folk dance; the solo competitions and finally, groups again, but this was a special competition for the most original dance done on the Celtic folk dance model.

We had arrived early since the competitions had been schedule for 7 PM, but then had been moved to 8 PM since many of the groups had wanted to go to a special 7 PM Catholic mass they were having for the Pope. (Turned out the Pope died during the competition, but they didn't announce that until after the competition was over.)

This was the best dance I'd ever seen live. The first group was from Cork and were a real crowd pleaser, but not judge pleasers and didn't win one of the three prizes. Two groups were Welsh, two from Scotland. Those groups won all three prizes.

The solo competition was incredible. 7 dancers. The Scottish woman we had seen in the square yesterday was first and seemed so great, yet soon we saw the other 6 and she faded quickly, and didn't win a prize. There were two cloggers, one from Cork, two woman dancers each doing the Irish step dancing in imitation of River Dance. They were fast, fiery, flashing and fun, but no prizes there either. A Welsh woman with lightening foot movement and a beautiful graceful dance took the second prize. A male Welsh clogger took third prize. But the Irish got first prize and my oh my was it awesome.

This was an older man, MUCH older than any other dancers. He was from County Connamara. Tall, thin, and he danced a light jig with just a fiddler as accompaniment. His entire dance was done inside a three foot square part of the floor with the most incredible rhythm, speed and grace I'd ever seen in dance. It turned out he was the defending champion and unbeatable. Much later that night at about 1 AM (more about this soon), I talked with him congratulating him and telling him how much his style reminded me of my own tap-dancing Uncle Spider (Ed Corbett). This middle aged man was the only Irish competitor who won a medal in the competition.

The final competition of the evening was for inventive dance. One had to use the tradition music and spirit of Celtic dance, but a new dance had to be created. We really loved the group from Cork who did a dance mimicking a hurley match, complete with two different uniforms for the teams, and dancing with and clashing hurley sticks to the beat of the music. They seemed incredible to us, but won no prize. The Welsh and Scots took that competition as well.

Somehow, I guess since we got there so early, not knowing about the delay for the mass, we got special treatment. The woman who ran the competition came early and was the one who told us of the hour delay. They she came and sat with us a while chatting and when the ticket takers came, she told us we didnít even have to pay. After the competition she introduced us to some of the dancers and finally told us there was going to be a huge party at the Lord Brandon Hotel across town and that we definitely should come. We followed the dancers from Wales in the Pilgrim-like costumes and walked the 10 minutes to the Lord Brandon -- it was already very late.

Well that was a party to end all parties. Here we were in a huge and elegant hotel ballroom. This dance staged by the Scottish delegation was incredible. Hundreds of folks at large round tables surrounding one of the largest dance floors I'd ever seen. I spotted two empty chairs right on the very edge of the dance floor at a table of 8. I asked the folks if we could sit at their table and they welcomed us. On our way in I had stopped at the bar and gotten two double Bushmills whiskeys (as always, no water or ice, just a jar of whiskey) and we were set for a while.

Directly across the large floor in front of us was an area slightly above the dance floor, at least 30 yards away, were fiddlers, pipers, fifers, drummers, accordions, guitarists, mandolins, a keyboard player and even a guy with bag pipes. They played jigs and reels, waltzes and two steps, flings and set dances. However, this wasnít one's ordinary audience. These people sitting around at these tables were the contestants in the whole Celtic festival, music players, dancers and such. Everyone was dancing. Everyone knew and did such incredible steps, moves and forms. The men were all in kilts dozens of patterned tartans and most women in long floor length folk dresses, save the teens and single younger women who were in modern dress including lots of skirts as short as tutus, or jeans that might have been body paint instead of material. Ah, twas heart-warming as was the whiskey.

The dancing was beautiful. We wouldn't have dared onto the floor in that crowd, but at one point the band-leader taught the crowd the Virginia Reel which they didn't know but loved. We could have joined in, but didn't -- a bit shy of that crowd's dancing abilities. Finally, at the end, just after 2 AM, the crowd thinning a bit, they played a rather normal waltz and we danced. But I sure looked odd on that floor in baggy jeans, a bright yellow tee shirt and sandals!!!

This was a marvelous evening. One not easy to forget. We came out, found a cab almost immediately and headed out to Sion Lodge. I was astonished to see long long lines waiting to get into night clubs. Tralee's a swinging place. I'd never seen it at night. I'm just not a night person. Home, tired but excited, we didn't know what tomorrow would hold. It was to be a very unexpected day.


An Addendum from December 2004

After my brother and sister-in-law were hospitalized in November 2003 after their car crash, I hurried over to Tralee where they were in the hospital. I wrote frequent notes home, but did come across this fun note. I add it here as an addemdum to what I've had to say about Tralee.

December 2004

I didn't have time to report to you two fun stories of my very last day in Tralee. The first concerns Mr. Fitzgerald and begins on Saturday. I was in Tralee and walking back out to the hospital. I wanted to see what games were going to be on TV so taht I could at least tell John. He had a TV in his room, but it only got the 4 Tralee-area stations like about 95% of the rest of the region. However, pubs and a few other institutions and some of the more affluent do have cable, and cable is loaded with sports on the weekend.

The pubs vie for customers posting up what games will be shown and times (plus the betting odds as well; they bet on everything). Here I was walking back home and I stopped at a pub window to scan the poster of the 4 games being televised that day. A quite elderly man came up behind me, holding himself up with a very crooked cane. He'd had quite a few glasses of something already, and evidently not too much food since he only had one long visible tooth in the front. He was unkempt (to be very generous) and looked at the schedule with me. Manchester United was playing on the 2 PM game and he commented he was a Manchester City fan. I chided him: "Man City? Oh come on, they can't play on the same field with Man U." He then wanted to talk soccer and we walked slowly. He said I had an accent, was I from England. I said no, USA. He was visibly surprised and said he didn't know there were "football" fans in the U.S., talking of course, of real football, not the American stuff.

I assured him there were and I was among the nuttiest of them all. He wanted to know where I was from and I told him St. Louis. He said he was Fitzgerald and he had folks who had settled in New York, might I know them? I said I was sure there were quite a few Fitzgeralds in New York now, and alas, I didn't really know a one of them. We walked and chatted, but he had his eye on another upcoming pub, and I wanted to get back to the hospital, so we parted, shaking hands.

The next day John and Terri left for the U.S. and I was just eleated,it was Sunday afternoon and I hussled into "downtown" Tralee, only a bit bigger than Tamm and Clayton area. But it was hopping and there was a parade to welcome Santa Claus, and a beautifully dressed boys choir was singing in the town square (I had a phone call from home them and put the phone up to the boys so they could sing to St. Louis as well). It was a marvelous if dark and windy and chilly day.

While walking up the street who is coming down, even more unsteady and unkempt than yesterday but Mr. Fitzgerald. There were truly crowds of people on the streets, and as we came abreast I gave a loud and cheery greeting: "Good afternoon to you Mr. Fitzgerald!" Well he about jumped out of his skin. He hadn't a clue who I was, of course, and I just smiled at him and walked on by. It was delightful. I did, however, miss my best line, which, as is too often the case, on occurred to me a hour later, I should have said, "Good afternoon Mr. Fitzgerald, from all the Fitzgeralds in New York!" Too bad I didn't think of it on the spur of the moment. However, I'll be back in Tralee in March coming, and I don't doubt I might well see and certainly recognize Mr. Fitzgerald then.

After I passed him I decided to check out the Grand Hotel bar for lunch. It is THE place to go on Sunday in Tralee and everyone in town had been telling me what an awesome place it was. So I went in and it was just jammed packed, people waiting all over the place; it would have been an hour or so's wait (which didn't bother me), but the little tables were scrunched together, it was very dark and extremely hot. The food on the tables looked quite good, but I realized, it's just the place to be SEEN, I think the food and place are secondary.

I decided, what the heck, I've eaten almost everyday at Brewbaker's and the food is just delicious. Back I went. As you will recall, I had a bowl of seafood chowder every single day. It was the best buy of all, 4.95 euros. All their dinners, which were huge, were 8.95, so the chowder, which filled me, was great. Everyother day I'd have a Guiness with it, the other days just water.

I'd chatted with folks there and talked food. They were famous for their barbarqued rib plate and that was their most expensive item, 10.95 Euros. This last day I decided to celebrate John's going home, and I'd have the ribs AND a Guiness. The whole works. I met folks I knew and stayed and chatted and the ribs were just marvelous with "mash and veggies" (mashed potatoes, delicious carrots and frozen peas). When it came time to pay (the servers don't collect the money, you go to the bar to pay), the servers had been telling the owner how I came in every day and was even bringing people in with me. He called me and said that since this was my last day, today's meal was on him. Then he winked as said, "But did you have to get the most expensive thing on the menu!?" I had chuckles over that all the way home.

Back to the travel posts list


Bob Corbett