Participant Ruth Graham gives the lowdown on her Irish music holiday with OAIM…
If you’re a hesitant traveller like me, there’s always an excuse not to travel….. it’s too far / the transport connections aren’t right/ I hate going anywhere that I don’t know people. However, if I’d been in any doubt before the holiday, they were dispelled very quickly by the culture, fantastic people, great shopping, eccentric locals, wonderful teachers and the music.
Arrival and parking
I arrived in Ennis by car – easily found with sat nav or the directions provided. There’s parking just across the road from the Rowan Tree for 20 minutes for free – enough time to unload and check in. Then it was just a matter of driving a couple of minutes to park the car safely (and for free) in the local hospital car park.
The town itself
My friend and I then strolled around Ennis. A river runs around the town, accentuating its charm, with the beautiful shops, cobbled streets, great restaurants and pubs (all 22 of them!). The quaint and the modern sit side by side in the most comfortable of ways, so it was no surprise to learn the town is inundated with tourists at peak times. We had a hearty lunch in Brogan’s Bar, stoked up with our first pint of Guinness served by the nicest bar staff ever – and then made our leisurely way back to the Rowan Tree in time for dinner.
The accommodation and food
And this was the first surprise of many. The Rowan Tree bills itself as a hostel, and although the rooms are clean and functional as expected (you can share, or have separate accommodation), there was so much more that came as a surprise. The staff are friendlier than a first-class hotel, and the food in the guest dining room was nothing short of gastro-pub excellence – (the presence of the locals in the dining room every night confirmed the quality of the food too).
Meeting the gang
Matthew (one of the organisers of the holidays) joined us for dinner on the first night, doing the introductions and smoothing things along. The party consisted of John, the violin maker who’d journeyed from Minnesota USA, Corinne who came from France, and Ayaki, all the way from Japan! Throw in a large helping of UK fiddle players, and the mix was complete. By the end of the evening –we all knew we were in for a great time.
The days are packed on the course – it’s informal but aims to be of the very best value, with great tutors and lots of learning. It’s obvious the organisers have amazing connections with the music fraternity, and securing Tola Custy as the main instructor was a real coup.
Tola is hard to describe – take the enthusiasm of Graham Norton, throw in a large dollop of eccentricity, years of local knowledge and stories, buckets of humour, a passion for his culture and a genius touch with the fiddle – and you’re there. He loves to play and teach and it was a joy to be there taking it all in.
I’ve been on courses before that touch on lots of tunes, but don’t do anything in-depth. On this one, we had a fantastic mix of learning. We learnt tunes but also technique too. Tola broke down what he was doing into bite-sized pieces, and then showed us how to apply it. With some tunes we played them over and over until we ‘got’ the authentic sound. Then we sped it up – all under his watchful eye. With others, he encouraged us to try the tunes for ourselves, applying our new skills at strategic places in the music. We were never left to flounder, but rather encouraged on at the right place – a great mix of demonstration and trying things for ourselves.
Dinner was a joy, just like the night before. Wonderful choices, great service and relaxed atmosphere – and I love the fact it was all included in the price of the retreat. No embarrassing splitting of the bill at the end of the night! And after dinner – it’s your choice. Some of us broke off to go into town and watch or participate in sessions. Others just went to drink, or relax in their rooms. There’s no shortage of things to do – and with the music being such a feature of Ennis, you’re never more than a 10 minute walk away from some world-class performers. The only hazard is you have to make sure you don’t stay out too late – as the classes begin again around 10 am, and to get the best out of them, you have to be at least half sober!
THE REST OF THE COURSE
The days fell in to a reassuring routine – punctuated by other highlights. We had masterclasses from Adam Shapiro, and the wonderful Liz Kaine, both with their individual styles with so much to show us.
We had several trips out – fantastically organised and put together, and ideally paced throughout the course to give us enough of a break to be keen to get playing again the next day. Our trip out west took us to eat out at Gus O’Connor’s pub in Doolin, and then went on to play in a session at Ennistymon, just down the road. And the Cliffs of Mohr were another highlight – majestic and imposing and impossibly romantic.
Midweek, we enjoyed an in-house concert, where we played a couple of our pieces together, and then sat back and enjoyed the tunes and banter of the teachers as they performed for the next hour or so. The audience were hugely appreciative – the room was packed, and I couldn’t help but think how a concert like that on my home turf, would have cost a small fortune to see. I felt incredibly privileged!
And as soon as it began, it was over. An intensive week of so much fun and laughs and wonderful music – I was genuinely sad to go. I don’t think my playing left an impression on Ennis, but it certainly improved. And like many visitors – musical or otherwise – Ennis left an indelible impression on me. I parted with a renewed enthusiasm and belief in my abilities, and aching sides from all the laughter. Who could possibly ask for more?
- Evening – going out – great sessions
- Day trips – sacred places to the Cliffs of Mohr.
- Saw the home town of Willy Clancy –
- Free time to explore – we chose to go to Galway for the afternoon.
- I came back 10lbs heavier. Brimming with enthusiasm and a longing to return.