Music and Reviews from Clare, Limerick, Waterford and sometimes further afield

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pilgrms and Priests: Bloomsday at IEC2012

Irish Times photo Alan Betson Sr Gwen of the Discalced Carmelites

The last trip I made to the RDS  in 2010 was a pilgrimage of sorts to see an icon of the pop music world,  Paul McCartney, celebrating his 70 th birthday this week . I was propelled to make the expedition as  it seemed likely to be the last chance  to see the veteran Beatle (although given the proliferation of aging rock stars leaping around on a stage near you, I wouldn't be so sure about that.) At the time I vowed  it would be the last outdoor stadium event I would attend but much in the same spirit and given that thousands of overseas visitors had thought the event worth a trip to our rainy and windswept isle end, I travelled to the last day of the International Eucharistic Congress at the RDS in Dublin. The event held every four years was last held in Ireland in 1932, still in living memory for some.

 A  pricey €35  admitted one to the  days programme of talks, religious  services and exhibitions. First,  the stations of the display stands - nearly all with some sort of ecclesiastical bent. You could thumb through a rack of brightly coloured vestments, plan a pilgrimage holiday,  try out a church organ  and gen up on family planning (the Billings method, naturally!).  Dana and Liam Lawton were pedalling their records and potential postulants could check out the sandal shod Discalced Carmelites among the many stands extolling  religious life.

Abbot Mark  Hederman
Queue was the  key letter of the day. There was no central notice board of the events  but I was advised that whichever event I chose, queuing would be an essential part of the pilgrimage experience. Hall 2B was packed for Mark Hederman’s  Bloomsday talk on Ulysses.   Among the faces in the audience were Patsy McGarry of the Irish Times,  politician Pat Cox and musician Micheal O Suilleabháin.  I met Sr Sarah O Connor recently returned to Kerry from teaching in Peru and Noel Tierney of the Parnell Summer School. The Abbot of Glenstal Abbey gave quite a drole paper outlining liturgical resonances in  Ulysses with references to the tridentine language of the Mass in the iconic novel.  Joyce, we learned, drew parallels between the writing process and the liturgical Eucharist, 'converting the bread of life into something that has a permanent artistic life of its' own'.  Hederman had some interesting insights on word origins and  it seems even erudite monastic types like to use the odd willy joke. In answer to a query about the description of liturgical music in the novel, he had an amusing anecdote of his encounter  with the road rage prone New York cabbie de-stressing with Gregorian chant on the mean streets of the Big Apple. Unfortunately, the speaker had competition from the next hall and the audio overlap was disconcerting for audience but must have been doubly so for him.

Ennis Gospel Choir 
In the  Main Arena the  twin domed choirs with leaders in billowing white robes  were working hard at rousing a rather sodden congregation, Saturday's pilgrims having been unceremoniously baptised in a heavy shower. Although the stewards made an effort to consolidate the attendees in the central area, the dissipation  to the stands was inevitable. The music for the liturgy was a  good mix of chant, old and new settings of psalms, hymns  and featured much contemporary  Irish work.   Although the reluctance of Irish congregations to sing is often commented on , a  fair attempt was made by the crowd at singing the Congress anthem ‘Though We Are  Many’ but we were just too physically dispersed a congregation to create a satisfying sense of communal choral endeavour.  There was a strong sense of communal musical endeavour  however in the RDS Main Hall when Bernard Sexton's specially commissioned  hymn was reprised at the close of the St Agnes’ Community Orchestra  concert in the RDS Hall. The ensemble now after 5 years is  a 130 strong intergenerational ensemble .  School Principal Sr Bernadette Sweeney stated  her simple philosopy of equality of musical opportunity for all regardless of means and 'process being more important than product' . The Ode to Joy from Beethoven 9th symphony never sounded so powerful. Celebrating his 9th opus was singer, James Kilbane . The  Mayo based gospel singer had set up with his guitar outside the Veritas Book Stand and sang some tracks from his recently released album, Gravel and Grace which he tells me is getting a lot of airplay on local radio stations around the country.  

Back in the exhibition hall, I spoke  Sr Magdalena Fitzgibbon and Joe McKenna  about  plans to develope a cultural retreat centre at the magnificent Kylemore Abbey after  a long tradition of post primary education.  Finally, I  viewed an interesting exhibition of memorabilia on the 1932 congress in the RDS Library where I met Joseph Patrick Prunty  born in the year of 1932 .The Archbishop's archivist, (what a  poetic title) Noelle Dowling was busy greeting and signing a special commemorative programme of the 1932 event. 

St Agnes Community Orchestra 

Generally my impression was that Irish parish groups had not arrived by the bus load but in small parties. Call me a cheapskate but in principle, I was somewhat reluctant to pay an entrance fee when the main event is a religious service and I wonder to what extent this aspect influenced the many empty seats plain for all to see at the opening and evident too on the last day. I had sympathy with the sentiments expressed by Theo Hobson in a  Guardian article on the subject  of visiting St Paul's . '..: paying an entrance fee changes the nature of the visit. To pay is to make a tacit statement: that this is primarily a tourist-attraction, that its sacred function is secondary to this'  (In a related precedent, Kilkenny Arts Week in 2010 programmed a Mozart Mass performed in context and resolved this thorny matter  by suggesting a suitable  donation)

 My specific  interest was in the music chosen for the liturgies and I was impressed with the range and quality of the music chosen  over the week. Pat ODonoghue and Tomás Kenny made trojan efforts to marshall a congregational element and it would be good to see this policy carried on in to the parishes
While I can't say it was the most spiritually uplifting experience I've ever had, it was  an  interesting afternoon and while the men were sporting all the best frocks, there was a spirit of bonhomie in the  cross section  of national and international visitors to the capital.

Mr and Mrs Prunty in the Library

Musical Memorabilia 


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