By James Bacon: Heuston station is one of Dublin’s finest stations, and is the main connection to the west and south of Ireland, the Cork train is a sleek modern machine, propelled by a powerful GM locomotive with a streamlined consist of ‘mark iv’ modern 21st century carriages, it awaits us calmly, patiently.
The journey starts with an adventurous element, I am meeting Vanessa May at the train but Vanessa is delayed by a bout of Dublin traffic, and so is now under the kosh for the 11.00am departure. There is a chance that we will miss this train, as time ticks by, I speak to the dispatcher, there are now many Irish Rail staff aware of Vanessa’s predicament – we can get the next one for sure – but everyone appreciates that people like to go on time and in their reserved places.
I am standing next to the dispatcher, the whistle is blown, the 2-minute announcements is long gone and as a timely train operator myself, I know doors close 30 seconds before departure, that time point came quickly and is now past tense with the sharp shrill of the whistle
Flying through the crash barriers Vanessa comes at speed, accompanied by Irish Rail staff assisting, and the dispatcher seeing this makes a reassuring and positive acknowledgement to me and is promptly deploying a ramp, soon Vanessa is on board, doors shoosh close, and the train is moving as soon as we are at our table and designated seats, a bit late but no bother.
We smile in the knowledge that the level of customer care and service here is solidly good and we are on our journey.
As we pass Portlaoise, we interrupt our Dublin 2019 meeting and I briefly chat to Vanessa about the first gunshot of the 1916 Easter Rising, which involved rebels and the railway, just south of Portlaoise station on a railway line that no longer exists, fortunately the countryside is a lush and beautiful sight to see and captures the imagination as well as the heart.
We are on our way to Cork, where we will be meeting other committee members and starting a celebratory weekend, marking the winning of the bid for Dublin 2019, an Irish Worldcon.
Irish Discworld Con is taking place in Cork, and chair Siobhan Greaney has welcomed us to the Cork International Hotel, and there is a Trad Session scheduled for tonight, sponsored by Dublin 2019. The theme here is based around an open weekend at the Unseen University, so there is a lovely selection of swag handed to all members, from a stylish notebook to simple wizards’ hat button badge, it is all nice.
The bar and restaurant are well populated, and Colin Smythe chats with Vanessa and Brian as I type away, relaxing and enjoying a drink, that is a vital part no doubt, and so we are catching up and greeting a variety of Dublin 2019 team members, some of whom are also on staff here. Colin is one of the many guests here, Terry Pratchett’s original publisher and subsequently his agent, Colin has a strong connection to Ireland, his company having specialised in publishing 19th and 20th century Irish literature and criticism and Irish myths and folklore. Indeed, for services to Irish literature Colin received an honorary Doctorate of Laws (LLD) from the University of Dublin in 1998.
The convention sold out at 300 members and the excitement and enthusiasm is palpable at the opening ceremony which is well-filled. A wide variety of cosplay is on display and all members are armed with ‘credits’ that can be awarded for excellent costume, best fake beards, audacious puns and being very helpful.
The opening is rumbatiously great fun and sets a lovely tone, audience engagement, an unruly potential student body here for the open day, and laughter at the jokes of the ‘acting faculty’ along with Siobhan the chair welcoming everyone amongst friends they may not have met yet.
Alcohol, goodwill, energy and volunteers are the key ingredients here, we are informed and I smile. Although the love for Terry, his work and he himself is strong here, and indeed charities have been selected that represent his support and with the mention of the esteemed departed author the room is momentarily solemn. Soon though, channelling the authors propensity for humour and good fun theatrics return on stage to entertain the filled room. With the announcements a lovely mention is made of the Dublin 2019 win, and it is met with a strong cheer, as I sit amongst these fans it’s a phenomenal response to hear.
After the opening ceremony, the Trad session gets started.
The 3 set band are Kevin, John and John, the Arundò trad, and soon they burst into song and music filling the room with traditional Irish sounds. The room is brimful and a variety of instruments are being played, flute, bodhran, uilleann pipes, whistles, guitar and mandolin are used. The bodhran and uilleann pipes are the only indigenous musical instruments, we are told as the lads educate while entertaining.
Jigs, slides and polkas interspace songs, while lyric sheets are available so those that are not au fait can sing along. It goes brilliantly (in my mind anyhow) when “Whiskey in the Jar” comes on and sure I’m at the Dublin table singing me lungs out while I’m enjoying my pint but fortunately I’ve not contaminated the sound too despite my best efforts to slaughter the song.
In desperate need to make good for my dreadfully out-of-tune efforts at accompaniment we fire Brian up into the limelight for a much more polished rendition of “Molly Malone.” Slides and songs, “Wild Rover,” “The Parting Glass,” “Star of County Down,” the audience are loving it and the large semi-circular room is packed and thankfully there’s no bother as more come in to the sounds and find standing space in corners and such, pints or colas in hand and enjoying the music.
John is fierce on the uilleann pipes and talks us through three tunes he will be playing with distinctively different feelings, talking about happy, sad and lullaby music. The first tune has the room in silent in concentration and contemplation, leaning forward in their seats, compelled to listen, this is “Port na púca.” In English this is ‘spirit music’ with two stories about how it came about, the “Ghosts of the Harbour” was the sound the last fiddler who left the Blasket islands heard on his last night there, but it’s also been told that it’s the sound fishermen in traditional curraghs would hear from the humpback whales. John gently ponders aloud to the audience about whether there be truth in either after this and the subsequent songs the eruption of cheers and applause.
More songs and the flute and bodhran are on gently, soon joined by guitar after a while, the pace increasing the room swaying and jigging, followed then by more songs including an incredible rendition of “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash, beautifully done.
This is what I love about cons in Ireland, enjoying the social scene, the good times and having some music and great discussions. Of course, there are the debates and passion and love of fantastic fiction and here the Worldcon is pushing an open door, again applause is in the air as much for the music as for the forthcoming Dublin 2019 which makes one feel warm, optimistic and even excited, although that could be the cider.
A grand day overall. Tomorrow we belt back up to Dublin and will get to Octocon where the celebrations and good times will continue.