Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Pan Celtic Festival, Carlow 2013

“To promote and strengthen Celtic languages, culture, music, song and sport and to encourage inter-Celtic tourism, trade and commerce, and exchange of information.”

-the aim of Pan Celtic, taken from its constitution

The Pan Celtic idea originated in 1970, and the Pan Celtic symbol was adopted in 1977 following an International competition. The image depicting this symbol surrounded by the national flags of Alba (Scotland), Eire (Ireland), Cymru (Wales), Kernow (Cornwall), Breizh (Brittany), and Mannin (Isle of Man), was developed later the same year. The Pan Celtic Festival (or Féile Pan Cheilteach in Irish Gaelic) is always held the week following Easter, with the very first of these being in Killarney in 1971. Fantastically the birth of the Pan Celtic, as well as the Féile Pan Cheilteach, has given rise to many other festivals either being restarted or created across the aforementioned nations, including the Kana ar Bobal in Brittany and An Cruinneach in the Isle of Man.

The North of Scotland Representation 2013, is possibly the biggest contingent from Alba that the Pan Celtic Festival has witnessed, representing Thurso Pipe Band, Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich and Coilich a Chinn a Tuath (including representatives from Lairg Gaelic Choir).

The bus to Carlow left Thurso at 5.30am prompt on Monday 1st April, with Hugh making a fine steward, and went the long way out of Caithness via Castletown, Wick and Thrumster to pick everyone up. The drinking started at approximately 7am (well, it was Raymond’s birthday!) ……

Through Sutherland, picking up Lairgies along the way, we made good time to a very sunny Inverness airport, where the drinking continued, and by the time we got onto the plane it was a relatively drunk Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich which delighted passengers with a couple of songs! Our illustrious leader didn’t delight the trolley dollies though, by chasing passengers up and down the aisle with his newly acquired feather duster (the less asked about this the better – see picture evidence though! ;-).

Raymond's Birthday Outfit

We landed in a cold, overcast Belfast at about midday, and continued our journey by coach to Carlow, arriving at about 5pm. The serious drinking and singing had started by 6pm.

That evening we went to the Irishmans pub, and sang everything from our Gaelic competition entries to Scots folk songs. Flower of Scotland seemed to particularly impress the locals! After a while we were asked next door, where the room was filled with songs, poems, stories, and a wee bit of theatre … an entirely different atmosphere. It was quiet and respectful, the old folk sang their beautiful songs. Our own Christine, Rebecca, Neil, Sarah, Raymond, as well as the choir, did their turn. It was lovely. Afterwards it was back to Ewings for the obligatory lock-in. So, night one, voices completely ruined, great craic had by all,  precedent established …

On Wednesday we had the 2nd birthday of the week, this time it being that of Mel, who is a soprano. It has to be said that the celebrations were a wee bit more sedate than those witnessed on Monday, but Mel still ended up in a pink feather boa by midnight (just normal every day wear for the Piseagan)!

For most of Wednesday folk did their own thing, although, as with each day of the week, the choir had a wee practice in the Irishmans, which became our local for the duration of the trip (well, during respectable hours anyway). The folk group Ceol Bho Thuath also had a couple of practices during the day in preparation for the Trad competitions in the evening.

On Wednesday night, everyone who is anyone was at the Sevenoaks Hotel to support our very own Cairistiona as well as Alex MacDonald in the solo Trad Singing Competition. Both were invited to attend by the Pan Celtic organisers after winning the ladies and men’s Traditional Gold Medals at last year’s Mòd Nàiseanta Rìoghail 2012 ann an Dun Omhain. We were also supporting Ceol Bho Thuath in the Traditional Folk Group competition, which was made up of Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich members (Raymond Bremner – keyboard, vocals; Ed Boyter – bodhran, vocals; Michael Simpson – guitar, vocals; and Cairistiona Stone, Sarah Sutherland and Rebecca MacDonald – vocals).

Ceol Bho Thuath

Cairistiona and Alex were unlucky in the Trad Solo comp, but they were both fab. Cairistiona sang beautifully and reduced everyone who knew her to tears with her 2nd song entitled ‘Raoir Reubadh an Iolaire’, which is about a young women on the Isle of Lewis, full of hope, and waiting for her love to come home from the war in 1919, only to find him washed up on the shore, after a great storm broke the ship, ‘with no shoes on his feet’. Hauntingly beautiful and tragic. Her first song was entitled Eilean Fraoich and is an anthem to her native Lewis.

Ceol Bho Thuath sang ‘Bi Falbh on Uinneig’ and ‘Alasdair Mhic Cholla Ghasta’. They really contested first place in the Folk Group competition, and certainly appeared to be the firm favourite of the audience, however a gorgeous couple of songs by the last group of the night (one of the Welsh folk groups called Murad Olaf) pipped them to the post. Ceol Bho Thuath had to settle for a very respectable 2nd place.

Thursday was relatively quiet and activity-free for most of us. Folk did their own thing around town and the festival. A definite highlight of the day was the arrival of Atomic Piseag and the associated drams and songs.  Ed celebrated his birthday (the 3rd choir birthday of the trip), we all continued our celebration of being together in Ireland, a great festival, new connections, good times with friends, the laughter and music.

Atomic Piseag

Friday ended up being an extremely busy day. Late morning saw Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich and friends, complete with the newly arrived (and fresher looking) Atomic Piseag contingent, having our last practice in the Irishmans. Some voices were a bit strained by this point due to colds and copious amounts of ……. singing (ahem), but we were sounding not too bad regardless. Practice over, there was just a couple of free hours before we met up at the Irishmans again in order to join the parade with the other nations through Carlow. Thurso Pipe Band were leading the parade so our group filed in proudly behind them, and strode through Carlow with our heads held high and Satires waving! The parade ended with an open air Ceilidh at Town Hall Plaza.

Just enough time for some tea, and then Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich and Coilich a Chinn a Tuath and Atomic Piseag headed to Carlow Cathedral where we had been invited to sing at the Choral Concert. So many beautiful choirs, but I think Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich stole the show with our renditions of Cearcall a Chuain and Maoileas Mor Na Guailne. The acoustics were awesome – wish I could always sing in Kirks and Cathedrals!  You can find Cearcall a Chuain on youtube here. (thanks to Neil Parkin for this)

Ceol Bho Thuath had been invited to play at the Welsh Night, and a contingent from Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich went along for the craic.

Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich

Saturday was the day of the Choral Competitions, and it was always going to be full on, with Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich competing in two competitions, Atomic Piseag in one competition, and Coilich a Chinn a Tuath in one competition. We also had the Scottish Night that evening.

The Choral Competition was held at St Mary’s Academy, and as it was in a big sports hall there were good points and bad points in terms of performing. The acoustics were nowhere near as good as they were in the vaulted ceiling of the Cathedral. It was a great day though, and the throng from Alba came away with the following awards:

Ladies – Atomic Piseag (1st)

Men – Coilich a Chinn a Tuath (1st)

Rural – Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich  (1st)


Happy Conductors and Gaelic Tutors

Atomic Piseag also won the supreme award, being the best choir of the festival, which was amazing!!!

The Scottish Night at the Sevenoaks Hotel was always going to be a fantastic evening of fun, fab singing, and funky ceilidh dancing, but I don’t think any of us realised just how good a night it would be. It was certainly my favourite evening of the whole week.

The highlights of the evening for me included a mental Orcadian Strip the Willow, and Thurso Pipe Band playing in the hall!! The Scots were on good form, and perhaps were in a wee bit of a mischievous mood when the band announced that we were to take our partners for the Orcadian Strip the Willow. ;-) There was a large Welsh representation at our night, and we possibly sent off couples down the line just a wee bitty too close together.  This resulted in folk losing their dancing partner, folk crumpled in a dizzy mess on the floor, folk not knowing where they were meant to go next, and one young Welsh lad, upon finding himself partnerless halfway down the dreel, busting out fantastic dance moves for our amusement……… just a normal Ceilidh then….. ha ha

Thurso Pipe Band playing towards the end of the night was great too. I had to wonder when I was watching them how on earth they managed to play so well, after having more than a few wee drams!

Coilich a Chinn a Tuath

On Sunday we had to endure the 12 hour journey back to Caithness. What a great week. Good craic, and fab singing – what more could you want.

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