Ireland Vacations – Diary of the Turas Ceoil Johnny Doherty Festival Tour
Our final tour of the 2014 season certainly was one of the highlights of the year. The main item on the tour was the Johnny Doherty Traditional Music and Dance festival in Ardara, Co. Donegal. As usual, our guests were excited at the prospect of experiencing Traditional Irish Music at first hand in one of the most iconic villages in Donegal, renown for it’s warmth, it’s people, it’s scenery and most importantly, it’s music.
Over the course of the tour we had the most amazing weather for the time of the year which added to the experience, but, even on a bad day, the scenery is stunning on this part of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Sliabh League never ceases to take your breath away. A stop off in the Rusty Mackerel Bar in Teelin for ‘refreshments’ where Tony and his staff were only too happy to give our guests an insight into Teelin and the surrounding area. The costal drive from Kilcar to Glencolumcille resulted in alot of stops for photo opportunities as the meandering roads and stunning costal views literally appear at each turn of the corner.
Glengesh Pass is another viewing point that sees the jaws of our guests drop open as the view towards Ardara comes into focus. Another stop here for photos and the guests are saying ‘this can’t get any better’……think again!!
Arranmore Island is Ireland’s second largest populated island. The drive from Ardara to Burtonport to get the ferry takes us along the Wild Atlantic Way northwards. Following the contours of the coast to Dungloe and onto Burtonport will test the batteries on any smart phone or camera as the photo opportunities are plentiful. As we wait on the pier, the important thing I tell my guests is that the visit to Arranmore Island literally starts with the ferry crossing. Lasting approx 15 minutes, it weaves through the small islands before the short hop across open water to what is an enchanting place, almost frozen in time, and what seems like hundreds of miles away from the mainland. We’re greeted as we dock by the old wooden boats of times past, lying up in dry dock. If only they could talk.
Excitement and anticipation is at fever pitch and it doesn’t disappoint. We make our way south around the island, stopping numerous times to photograph and take in the stunning views out to sea, the quaint cottages and the ruins of homes, long since abandoned, that hold the secrets of a time long past. As we climb the narrow winding road to the highest point on the island, we pass the turf bogs, still dug by hand to this day.
Then, like an oasis in the desert, the monument to Beaver Island appears. (Arranmore Island is twinned with Beaver Island on Lake Michigan as islanders settled there around 1851 during famine times). Further on we reach the old lifeboat station, were many tragedies were attended from, and to the lighthouse, where the sight of crashing waves on the sea cliffs is truly magnificiant.
Back around to where we started and it’s time for lunch in Early’s Bar. Jerry and Pat Early and their staff look after our every needs, providing us with a warm welcome, stunning food, and more insight about the island and it’s, often tragic, past. A couple of pints in Phil Bán’s Pub sees us ready for the return ferry journey with an experience never to be forgotten.
Now what can I say about the Johnny Doherty festival? Evening concerts, pub and street sessions, ceilis and set dances. The ultimate traditional music experience.
Friday night is the opening concert in the Beehive Bar. (Our guest’s tickets for all the concerts are included in their Ireland vacations). There’s a session already started in the public bar from early evening and the concert starts at 9pm in the upstairs venue. There are musicians from all over Ireland, Scotland and further afield, playing and singing and the atmosphere is enchanting. It’s a late night with the music continuing into the early hours.
Saturday starts late after the night before and we make our way to Eddie Doherty’s Hand Woven Tweed Workshop. Eddie’s shop is a pleasure to go into as there is a vast array of hand woven goods for sale, but importantly, Eddie is on hand to demonstrate on his loom, the process of how the tweed is made. He always has time for a chat with everyone and his passion and personality is infectious.
A workshop in Ceili or Set Dancing is the perfect way to bring us round, ready for the day ahead. By afternoon the sessions have already started and we ready ourselves for the main evening concert, Cherish The Ladies, in the Nesbitt Arms Hotel.
A packed house is treated to the wonderful tunes and songs of the very talented women and then it’s back to the Beehive Bar to finish off the night in the company of some of Ireland’s finest musicians long into the wee hours.
More dancing workshops on Sunday for the hardy festival goers as, once more, the sound of sessions can be heard coming from almost all the pubs in this wonderful village. The Friel Sisters from Scotland is tonight’s concert and, again, musicians and music lovers alike play, listen, chat and make friends, but most of all, celebrate our wonderful culture like no-one else can.
After another late night, reality sinks in as it’s time to leave this beautiful and culturally rich part of Ireland. Some guests will go home, some move onto other locations but one thing is guaranteed, this part of Donegal will hold a special place in their hearts.
As our final tour of 2014 draws to a close the memories will live on. New friends forever, old friendships re-kindled, our extended musical family continues to grow.
2015 can’t come soon enough.