I’m here in Canada with Comhaltas for a tour around a number of cities for the next two weeks. I’ll try to write a few blog posts as we get around with the aim of capturing some of what is happening.

Let me give you some background. I’m here with a group of 15 artists comprising 8 musicians and four dancers. We come from all parts of Ireland and the first time most of us met was during the first practise. In fact, I wasn’t at the first practise as I was out of the country at the time so I didn’t meet the others on the tour until July.

There have been three rehearsals. One in June, The next in July and the final one in October during the weekend before we left Dublin. Each rehearsal lasted an entire weekend. As there have only been three rehearsals, they have been very long and very intense. Each time, we stayed in the Cultúrlann. This is essentially the head office or the base of operations for Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. If you don’t know what Comhaltas is, I suggest you google them. However, to summarise, they are a voluntary group with the goal of promoting Irish culture. This includes but is not limited to Irish music and the Irish language. Staying in the Cultúrlann was itself an experience. It’s an old Georgian building that has been extensively modified to fit the purposes of Comhaltas. Inside, there are various teaching and practise rooms, an auditorium and even a public bar that hosts sessions at any time of the day. In case you start to equate Irish music with the selling of alcohol, nothing could be further from the truth. In act, most sessions were held around the open fire outside the bar area. Children, young adults and older more experienced musicians all had a place and the standard of music was brilliant. If you are around Dunlaoghaire or Munks town I suggest you go in for a few tunes. Sorry. I’ve ventured away from the point. The rehearsals were intensive and very hard work but because of the very friendly and helpful staff, the environment was relaxed and homely. I was dreading spending a weekend away from home. Not because I didn’t want to leave home but mainly because I didn’t want to have to work all weekend after working all week. Fortunately, each rehearsal was a pleasure even though they were very challenging and a lot of hard work. During the second rehearsal but actually my first, we recorded a CD for the tour. This was a huge challenge for me because three hours after practising with the group for the first time, I was thrown into a recording studio with the expectation that I would sit in with the group and put down the tracks there and then. They were very intricate arrangements with precision a high priority so I had a lot to learn and very little time to learn it in. It’s not something I’d like to do again but I’m happy with the result.

The second rehearsal for me but the third for the group took place just before we left for Canada. Saturday for example, we practised for a total of 14 hours with a two hour break. By the end of it we we’re all physically and mentally exhausted. On Sunday, it wasn’t much better, we were up at 8:30AM, had breakfast at 9:00PM, met at 10:00AM, practised until 12:30PM, had a briefing until 2:30PM and then practised again until 5:30PM. Fortunately we had a break until 7:30PM when we attended a reception for VIP guests before we performed at 8:30PM with a break until 11PM. Of course, after performing, we said good bye to our family and friends and then sat down to have a bit of a chat with people from the group. However, we left the Cultúrlann at 3:30 to go to the airport. So, Sunday was never ending.

We got to the airport and checked in without any major issue. However, this is where things got really interesting. We were scheduled to depart at 7:40AM on Monday morning on a flight to London Heathrow. However, due to a reasonably bad storm in Dublin, the flight was delayed by twenty minutes. When we got to England we were also delayed by another 10 minutes because there was an issue with the spot our flight was scheduled to take on the run way. By the time we stopped, it was 9:30. By the time we got through the very busy and large London Heathrow airport, it was 9:45. Our flight to Calgary in Canada was scheduled to depart at 10:15AM but unfortunately, unknown to us, the gate closed on this flight at the very early time of 9:15AM. There was absolutely never any chance we would have made this flight. The result was that we missed it and had no choice but to book on an alternative flight. Unfortunately, this wasn’t as easy as expected. There wasn’t enough free capacity on the flights going to Canada that day so we had to split into three groups.

I was lucky enough to be in group one. We flew from Heathrow to Toronto and then from Toronto to Saskatoon. It took a total of 11 hours flying time with a stop over time of 2 hours but it wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was less than our scheduled travel time for various reasons.

Group three had to fly a few hours later from Heathrow to Vancouver, then Vancouver to Calgary and then from Calgary to Saskatoon. Their total travel time was about 18 hours.

Group three flew from Heathrow to Vancouver and then from Vancouver to Saskatoon. Their travel time was also 18 hours.

Not ideal. In fact, it was one of the worst things that could have happened. However, it could have been worse. In fact, it was! Luggage should have followed us from Dublin however for some reason, it was delayed getting from Dublin to Heathrow so it didn’t get to Saskatoon until Group two and Group three got there at 12:30 local time this morning. We are still waiting for two cases and a harp to arrive.

We met with our host families and finally got some much needed rest at the end of it all.

Today has been quiet so far. We’ve been getting information about tomorrow’s performance, following up on misplaced luggage, learning a little about Canada but more importantly, we’ve been taking it easy after three particularly stressful and tiring days. We are playing at an informal session tonight with some Irish people that have moved to Saskatoon so I’m really looking forward to that. Tomorrow is when things will get serious again with a television appearance, sound checks, a practise and a performance at 7:30PM.