Festive favourites, and a Christmas tree fest


 By Gerry Moran

Do you know what I hate? I hate it when people start a conversation with: “I hate to tell you this but you missed…a great match…show…performance…”. Whatever. Be that as it may but I hate to tell you all that, unless you were in St John’s Priory, the Lantern of Ireland (opposite Langton’s) on Thursday night, December 1, you missed a great concert.

And what made it great? First off it featured our own Patrick Rafter on violin accompanied by Billy O’Brien on piano. Rafter is one of Ireland’s most outstanding musicians and an international award-winning violinist and conductor. Billy O’Brien was the 2020 winner of the Hibernian Orchestra Competition and enjoys an active career as a solo pianist, chamber musician and teacher. Together – a marvellous duo.

What made the evening (a fund raiser for the Butler Gallery) so enjoyable and entertaining was the programme: Festive Favourites — Ave Maria, O Holy Night, Hark the Herald Angel (among others) and, a surprise guest, Patrick’s brother Alexander on the piano who gave us a soulful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Two other factors aided and abetted in making this a wonderful evening: Patrick Rafter’s stage presence. Patrick woos us not just with his magnificent violin playing but with his amiable personality and good humour; to quote his mother, Maura, with whom I was chatting afterwards: “He’s a natural.”

Finally, the icing on this festive Christmas ‘cake’, as it were, was quite simply – timing (the wine and canapés afterwards in the Butler Gallery’s Muse café contributed also). The concert was one hour duration, not too short and most certainly not too long – perfect really, leaving us, the audience, wanting more. Thank you Patrick Rafter, Billy O’Brien, Alexander Rafter and the Butler Gallery for Festive Favourites, forever a favourite with yours truly.

Now, if you weren’t in Saint Canice’s Cathedral last Sunday, December 4, at the Christmas Tree Festival, you really missed out on something special. Christmas trees made from just about anything: egg cartons, CDs, coke cans, boots, to name but a few. And it is nothing short of amazing how creative children can be. I love this festival; indeed I had the pleasure of launching it some years back.

However, it’s not the tree festival itself that made the Sunday afternoon so special. What made it special, ultra special, as far as I was concerned, was the invitation to visit the belfry, an offer taken up by about 30 of us, adults and young alike. How many of you out there have been in the belfry of Saint Canice’s Cathedral? Not too many I’ll wager which is why it was a privilege to climb (or in my case inch) up the limestone, spiral steps (scary, very scary) to learn, to see in practice, how the bell-ringers operate, to hold a bell hammer in one’s hand (just about because of its weight) and to actually ring a bell which I did with great caution as I didn’t want to go skeetering up to the rafters with the rope, easily done, I assure you.

And I learned something of the bells themselves, eight in all, the largest of which weighs more than your average motor car! We later progressed further upwards – more spiral steps to inch up (even more scary) to see, and touch, the bells themselves which were cast on site in the cathedral and were installed in 1674.

And thank you Ian McCullagh for your engaging, informative talk about the bells, and bell-ringers, of Saint Canice’s. And there on the wall I saw a photograph of the late Jim Skuce, a bell-ringer for 60 years, who I worked alongside in Paul’s Drapery throughout my student holidays, Christmas, Easter and summer from UCD.

Ian told us that Bell Hangers from Britain visit every three year to service the bells; he also informed us that they are always on the lookout for bell-ringers.

So, if you’re interested in becoming one. pop down to Saint Canice’s any Friday night; the bell-ringers are there from 8 to 10 p.m. and it takes three months training to learn the skill. Bell-ringing – a resolution perhaps for your New Year’s  list!

PS: To further my enjoyment of the Christmas Tree Festival I’ve just discovered that I won a prize in their raffle!

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