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Byron High School

Byron High School Choir - Ireland Tour 2024

Our tour began at the Gaelic Athletic Association in Dublin where we were introduced to two sports of Irish heritage, the game of Hurling and Gaelic Football.  GAA players of the games put us through drills, teaching the skills of how to dribble, pass, and hit a sliotar ball.  They also taught Gaelic Football skills, which is very similar to American Soccer, but hands are allowed.  We finished the afternoon activities with a lunch and a lesson in Irish dancing.  While at the GAA we were asked to sing a couple of songs. 

Our tour continued to Galway and checked into our first hotel.  As the next day approached, we loaded our tour bus and drove to Connemara to visit the beautiful Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden.  We toured the gardens, watched horses and pigs being fed.  We toured the Abbey which was built as a private home in 1868 by a wealthy doctor from London.  In 1920 the Abbey was purchased by Benedictine nuns and in 1923 they opened a school for girls.  It was in operation until 2010.  On the grounds of the Abbey there is a Gothic Church, a wishing stone and mausoleum.  It was in the chapel that we held our first concert.  The concert was well attended by guests visiting the Abbey.   There was lots of exciting applause after each song. After our tour of the Abbey, we drove back to Galway and toured the Galway Cathedral.  One of the youngest cathedrals in Ireland being built in the 1960’s.  Highlights of the Cathedral were the beautiful stained glass windows and the pipe organ. 

The next day’s adventure was the Cliffs of Moher.  Such beautiful views from the cliffs.  It was very windy on the day we were there, but wind is typical there because the cliffs are by the ocean.  At their highest the cliffs are 702 feet. Our next adventure was visiting a castle.  We toured the Bunratty Castle and the folk park around it.  The Bunratty Castle was built on a site that was originally a Viking camp in 970. It is the most complete and authentic castle in Ireland.  The castle we toured was built in 1425. The buildings in the folk park were brought to the site by taking them apart and reassembling them there.  There are 30 buildings set up in a living village and rural setting.  After touring this castle, we drove to Knappogue Castle for a medieval banquet.  During this banquet each “country” had a king and queen.  Our king and queen were Josh Harris and Gina Baker.  King Josh’s part of the skit involved him in testing the meat that was being served for our dinner.  Of course, the meat was poisoned, and King Josh had to act like he died.  All while the town crier continued with the skit.  King Josh was brought back to life, and he was able to continue with us on our tour.  We had another student who was part of the skit.  Lord Jacob Lawver was in trouble with the king.  He was caught breaking one of the rules of the castle.  (Of course, this was all pre-planned in the skit.)  Instead of a physical punishment the town crier asked him to sing a song.  What the town crier didn’t know was that Jacob had an entire choir to help him with his punishment.  Jacob started his solo part in the song Tshotsholoza and the choir joined in.  To the amazement of the actors and guest attending.  The actors wanted the choir to stay and have that be part of their skit every night.  They were very appreciative of the fun the students incorporated in their show.

As the week continued, so did the choir’s performances.  On Wednesday, the choir toured the Blasket Island Center.  The Blasket Islands were where people lived up until 1954.  The islands are best known for a number of Irish language writers who vividly described their way of life in their books.  In the open air, grassy grounds, the choir performed 3 songs.  Visitors of the Blasket Center stepped out of the visitor center and listened to our performance.  We left the Blasket Center and toured the Gallarus Oratory, a chapel on the Dingle Peninsula.  It was most likely built in the 10th or 11th Century.  The group went back to our hotel to prepare for a full-length concert at St. Mary’s Church in Killarney.  The choir prepared an hour worth of music for this concert.  To our amazement, the church was filled with locals.  The sound was amazing performing in this 1800 building.  Once we were finished performing no one left, they wanted more.  Unfortunately, we had not prepared an encore number. 

Our next day was a drive around the Ring of Kerry and a visit to Kells Sheepdogs.  We attended a demonstration of a border collie rounding up and sorting the sheep that were running free in the pasture.  It was enjoyable and informative.  We continued around the Ring of Kerry, stopping at a beach were the movie Ryan’s Daughter was filmed (Inch Beach), and stopping to view the stone ring circle.  An early home of a King. Free time, playing cards, and swimming were how we ended our day.

Two very historic and popular places were on our itinerary for the next day.  We ventured up to the top of Blarney Castle where we were able to kiss the Blarney Stone.  The Blarney Stone is a block of limestone built into the wall of the castle. According to legend, kissing the stone gives one the gift of gab. The stone was set in the castle in 1446.  After kissing the stone, we walked through the beautiful gardens around the castle.  Then off to the Rock of Cashel to view the most impressive collection of medieval buildings in Ireland.  Originally the seat of the kings of Munster, Brian Boru was crowned High King in 978.  The Hall of the Vicars Choral was built in the 15th Century.  This was the residence of the vicars appointed to assist in chanting the cathedral services.  So, we thought it fitting that we perform a piece in the main hall of this building, to honor those vicars who rehearsed in that space. Again, we had an appreciative audience while we performed. To end our evening, we attended dinner and performance at the Merry Ploughboy.  This venue has held group dinners with entertainment for over 30 years.  We were entertained by singers who also played instruments, as well as Irish dancers.  The evening event was loved by all.

Our final day was a city tour of Dublin with a stop at Christ Church Cathedral.  Originally a Viking church it has been welcoming visitors for over 1000 years. Our self guided tour led us to find the tomb of Stronghold, a visit to the crypt, the heart of St. Laurence O’Toole, a rare copy of the Magna Carta, and the famous mummified cat and rat. The group had some free time in Dublin and then we went back to our hotel to prepare for our final concert.  This concert was held in the Whyte Recital Hall at the Royal Ireland Academy of Music and was performed with the Continuum Youth Choir, Blanaid Murphy director.  We performed a 30 minute set, the Continuum Youth choir did a 30 minute set, and then we sang “Danny Boy” and “The Star from the County Down” together.  Gifts were exchanged and congratulations were shared as our evening came to an end. 

This amazing experience for students of Byron High School could not have happened without the generous donations given.  These sponsors were named in our tour program: All Saints Church Byron, Alpine Chiropractic, Angela Streff Pampered Chef, Arby’s, AVON, Bub’s, Byron Athletic Boosters, Byron Music Boosters, Byron Parent Teacher Association, Byron Park District, Byron Women’s Club, Casey’s, The Cave, Circle K, The Command Post Byron, Costa’s, Crafted by Ali, DeAnne Clay, Dos Amigos, Farrell Holland Gale Funeral Home, Felker’s, GFS, Grandma’s Crafts, Great Harvest Bread Co., Harvard GMC, Hurst Plumbing, Ice Hogs, Kerry Wickler Insurance, Maxson Riverboat and Resturant, Middle Creek Church, Merlin’s, MMA, Nothin Bundt Cakes, Oregon Soap Shoppe, Paintastic, Pepsi, Pirate Mom Soap, Prairie Fire, Prairie Street Brewing, Prairie View Golf, Quixotic Bakery, ReRuns, Rob’s Barbershop, Sam’s, Sky Carp Baseball, Snyder’s, Stormy Girl Creation, Sullivan’s, Sweetbean, United Methodist Church Oregon, Uptown Lanes, Wicked Sweets.  We also want to thank those people who bought items as we fundraised who we cannot list by name, but know you are appreciated as well.  Our final thanks go to the Byron Board of Education, Buster Barton, Andy Donaldson, and Ken Franchi.  Without their support and approval of the tour we would not have been able to experience all that we did.  Videos of the multiple performances can be found on the Byron Choir Youtube Channel.