Probably the most prestigious performance for any musician based in Ireland is to perform at one of President Mary McAleese’s garden parties. Ardee Concert Band were delighted to receive such an invitation and travelled to Arus An Uachtaran in the Phoenix Park on Saturday 12th of July. However nothing prepared them for such a wonderful experience. As with all outdoor events, we are at the mercy of the elements and thankfully it was a beautiful evening, weather-wise. The performance took place in the marquee of all marquees, it held an audience of 500 invited guests and dignitaries. Chandeliers hung from the ceiling and the décor was to say the least stupendous.
The band arrived at 3pm, the first person to welcome the band members was Tommy Gorman, RTE’s Northern Ireland correspondent who was the compere for the evening. Tommy boarded the band bus and travelled up to the marquee with the band members. Then there was a short rehearsal of all the performers after which they were treated to afternoon tea in the Hyde Room of the Arus. The guests were not due to arrive until 5.30pm so the band members had time to stroll around the grounds and tour the house itself. Band Chairman, Austin Nevin even had a tinkle on the Steinway Grand Piano in one of the reception rooms.
As it was the 12th of July, there was a big emphasis on Northern Ireland and the coming together of all cultures to celebrate together especially through the medium of music and performance. There was a Brass Quintet from the Band of the King’s Division, courtesy of the British Army and also a small group from the Irish Army Pipe Band. Other performers from Northern Ireland included the Ballynafeigh School of Irish Dancing, Highland Dancer, Michelle Johnson, Lambeg Drummer, Mark Wilson and Uilleann Piper, Brendan Monaghan. All the performers did individual programmes during the early part of the evening while the guests were strolling around the grounds and having refreshments. The band was conducted by Alan Kelly and their programme of lively and entertaining music went down very well with the large audience. For the main event, everyone was gathered in the marquee where the President and her husband, Dr. Martin McAleese, joined their guests.
Among the large attendance were the American Ambassador, Thomas Foley, the Chief Constable of the PSNI, Sir Hugh Orde, the Gardai Commissioner, Fachtna Murphy, high-ranking personnel from both the British and Irish armies, members of the Chelsea Pensioners, and other dignitaries.
The president welcomed all her guests and spoke very eloquently on our differences. She mentioned the importance of what we have in common and her hopes for our future history. She especially thanked all the performers.
After the President’s speech, each of the acts gave a short performance. The finale of the evening was Ardee Concert Band’s performance of Original Dixieland Concerto which featured musicians Kevin O Brien (tuba), Mark McLoughlin (trombone), Nicky Callan (trumpet), Adam Byrne (tenor sax), Jenny Mc Keever (clarinet) and Paul O Brien (drums). This piece went down very well with the audience and was a contrast to all the previous acts. A bouquet of flowers was presented to the President on behalf of the band by the most senior member, Kevin O’Brien.
When the president left, all the guests and performers received more light refreshments and some of the senior members were offered a glass of wine. The band members made many new acquaintances and chatted to other guests as the president wished. A great day was had by all and one the members will never forget.