It was just a regular Sunday evening when I was on my way to our weekly practice in the Development Office in the village. But from out of absolutely nowhere I received the best news imaginable: The Glens of Antrim Comhaltas, (Comhaltas Ghlinntí Aontroma) had been invited by a man named Fr Gerard Daly to play music for the people of Benalmadena, Spain.
At first I honestly could not believe what I was hearing; this was the once in a lifetime opportunity that we had been working hard, week in week out, every Sunday night for years. I remember thinking to myself that it must be a practical joke or that I wasn’t thinking straight, but it was really true and so we were off to Spain, sunny Spain.
In the very early hours of Friday 15th March, 2019, we left Belfast International Airport and headed to beautiful Malaga. The views of the mountains and the vast, deep blue sea were absolutely breath-taking and in a matter of seconds I found myself captivated by such a stunning part of the world. It didn’t take us long to get settled into the Sunset Beach Hotel where Fr Daly had kindly organised accommodation for us. Once we had unpacked we were scheduled to meet with the elusive Fr Daly: since all arrangements had been made via emails between the Committee and himself we were excited to meet him and find out what was expected of us. Unsurprisingly Fr Daly was a complete gentleman and also quite funny. His accent was very familiar and it turned out that he was a native of Ballyshannon; once arrangements were clarified, inevitably like your typical Irishman the conversation quickly turned into a catch-up about the GAA.
We then had to attend a run-through of our performance and for this Fr Daly led us to a newly refurbished function room in the hotel, which was also to be the venue for the Saturday night concert. We did what we do best and played our hearts out.
In the evening time we ate a beautiful meal in the hotel before heading for an Irish pub, you know pretty standard musician stuff! We walked for no more than about three minutes to the right of the hotel, when we saw it. The Ha’ Penny Bridge Bar stood right in front of us, and we did not hesitate to see what the craic was with the place. We were greeted at the front door by Kate, who owned the place. She was a very pleasant woman, full of chat and made us feel very welcome in her lovely little pub. I believe that the pub was particularly appealing to us as it shared a lot of similarities to a pub that is very familiar to us. The place where we know and love so much, Johnny Joes. We played for hours on end, with pints being pulled at every tune along the way, and very shortly the last orders were upon us. We swore to come back the next evening and soon we left the cosy pub.
The following day was full of practice and fun. Until the concert came about later in the evening, that Saturday we met lots of new people along the way such as a friendly piper known as Lesley who was Argentinian, and three talented musicians from Galway and Clare known as Becky, Orla and Fiona. The concert was such a huge success and everybody had a sensational time. But that night for me was the highlight of the trip. We returned to the Ha’ Penny Bridge where we met a very talented drummer called Johnathon. We played "Till the witching hour was ringing out from the clock” ad so we returned to the hotel again.
The next day we had to play at Mass on St Patrick’s Day, which was absolutely super. It showcased so much talent from the local group and people who had temporarily immigrated for the festival. Fr Daly had also put together a play to teach people about the life of St Patrick, which I feel deserves a mention as not only was it very enjoyable to watch it was also orchestrated by people of all ages.
But sadly Monday morning came around much too quickly, we visited the Ha’ Penny Bridge for the final time to say our goodbyes to Kate and her family and we thanked her for being so kind to us over the duration of our trip. We also presented her with a card that had a picture of Johnny Joes printed on the front as a token of our gratitude to her. We also had to leave the gentleman, that was Fr Daly, behind us but he did not walk away empty handed either as we presented him with a clock of our musical branches’ crest on it. We thanked him so much for having us over and much to our dismay we had to leave beautiful Benalmadena behind us, hoping that one day we would be destined to return.
I would like to thank the Comhaltas Ghlinntí Aontroma for making this whole experience possible. I would like to thank them for all the hard work and effort that they put into helping people of all ages with their music, promoting it and encouraging them to be the best players they can be. Fingers crossed that we continue to work with great people like Kate and Fr Daly who we also owe a lot to, so that the next generation could have the same fantastic and unforgettable opportunities that we have had.
Patrick McAuley, age fifteen and Gráinne McAuley, age twelve.