Ireland Day 1 – Music Tour

We crossed the North Sea from Scotland to Ireland on June 20th. We had typical weather while we were there – cool, cloudy, rainy. However, as I prepare these posts now, there is a major heat wave happening in Europe. In hindsight, I’m happy we went when we did.

Also, my birthday was coming up on June 26th and tour manager Jayne let it me known there would be a celebration.

Colin took us on another scenic route to catch our ferry. I said goodbye to the Highlands and hope to return for more.

Jayne announced that 3 of our group had tested positive for COVID. So they and their partners had to quarantine in Glasgow. Senior Discovery Tours were making arrangements with the Manulife insurer and to fly them to Dublin when their quarantine was over. Although the situation was serious, it was handled well. Jayne instructed that everyone, when in the coach, had to wear a mask. I always sat at the back but complied with the directive.

Curling. Did you know there are only two places in the world where the granite for curling stones are mined? We passed by one of those sources – Ailsa Craig granite. It is a small island that can be seen as we headed from Glasgow to the ferry. The stones used in the Olympics are only made from Ailsa Craig granite. The tight structure of the Ailsa Craig granite prevents erosion. The second source is in Wales because of the limited supply at Ailsa Craig.

The ferry ride was about 2 hours. It was suggested we have lunch on the ferry because we would be going on a music tour when we arrived in Belfast. I found a little table next to a window and mostly read. I did speak with the server who gave me my lunch. She does a 12 hour shift – 4 crossings per day – for a week, then has 7 days off.

Crossing the Irish Sea from Cairnryan, Scotland

Our coach driver, Ian, introduced himself at the ferry exit. He hails from Meath County, north of Dublin. He had a rich, strong voice. We headed to the Deer’s Head pub on North Street to meet with two musicians who would play and describe traditional Irish Music. Another pub in the area, The Elephant, was established in 1880. It had a 5 foot elephant above the door. Bell’s Brewery was established in 1778. The Deer’s Head reestablished the Bell’s Brewery in 2021.

The gentleman on the left was brought in at the last minute as the regular musician was sick. The man on the right did most of the explaining.

A lot of Irish music is played in sessions. This is commonly seen in bars with a group of musicians sitting around a table playing. There is one person who is designated to lead the group. They all know a pre-learned repertoire. You can go anywhere in the world and find these musicians playing. As long as you know the repertoire you can join in. For example, there is a thriving Irish music scene in Tokyo. When it is time to change the direction of the music in the session, everyone looks to the leader. If he/she is ready, they look at each other, then they will change the direction. If not, the leader keeps his head down and they go another 3 rounds of the current tune.

There are many different styles of Irish music. What they played for this session were reels, jigs and slip jigs. He described the rhythm of each in terms of food – rashers, cabbage, sausages – rashers, cabbage, sausages. He had us singing the food as the played in order to understand the rhythm.

He talked a little history. At one point in the past, the Irish Harp music was almost lost. There was a conference in Belfast in 1792 called the Belfast Harpers Assembly. From that meeting, harp music was gathered from all across the country. And the instruction of harp playing was passed on to the next generation.

We left the Deer’s Head and headed to our next pub. On the way we stopped at the Assembly Rooms building where that conference took place. It is in disrepair and is in danger of being torn down for development. Other plans are to convert it to a hotel or music centre.

We reached our final destination – McHughes, the oldest pub in Belfast.

We headed down to the basement where we had the place to ourselves. We were introduced to a young lady who was going to demonstrate Irish dancing. She had been doing Irish dancing since she was 4.

The first set was with soft shoes and I could focus on the movement of her whole body to the music.

However, the next set she put on the tap shoes and just can’t help watching her feet as she makes this incredible percussive sound to go with the music.

Finally, it was my turn. For the end they had a simple dance that they asked for volunteers. I went up along with Linda and Ruth. She shouted out directions so I more or less knew what to do. And in the end, one foot pointed out, as we took our bow.

We headed back to check into our hotel. We were staying at the Jury’s Inn in Belfast. Next door was this large green space with a wrought iron fence going around it. And at the back of the green space was this building. I was curious as it took up a lot of real estate. After checking in, I went back out. There was an historical plaque that explained the history of the area.

Finished in 1814, it was the Royal Belfast Academical Institution – a technical school that occupied 8 acres. Part of the financing was to have rich merchants donate 100 pounds in order to nominate 1 boy to have a free education there. It was both a school and a university. Below is the student accommodation building next to the school.

I was quite pleased to have found the historical plaque and made plans the next morning to explore more of Belfast’s past.


  1. I could the Aisa Craig from my bedroom window, if you took the Belfast Ferry from Cairnryan in Scotland you crossed the North Channel of The Irish Sea.

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