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Achill whistle blowers enter the record books


Achill whistle blowers enter record books

Edwin McGreal

They came, they saw and they whistled. A grand total of 1,055 people converged on Keel beach on Achill Island on Saturday afternoon last armed with nothing but their tin whistles and the notes in their heads of one of Ireland’s best known songs.
When they were finished they were nearly certain that they had entered the Guinness Book of Records for a gathering of the greatest number of tin whistle players playing the same tune. All that waits now is official confirmation from Guinness.
The attempt, which was organised as part of the Scoil Acla centenary celebrations for the oldest summer school in Ireland, was graced by the presence of a bride, Aoife Galvin (nee O’Malley) who wed Paul Galvin (no, not the Kerry footballer) the previous day.
This was but one hugely symbolic part of the event according to Aoife’s uncle, prominent Scoil Acla activist John ‘Twin’ McNamara.
The Dawning of the Day was the song chosen for the record attempt and while there is a certain convenience in that selection as it is one of the first songs any student of Irish music will learn - therefore meaning the vast majority of tin whistle players will be familiar with it - there was also a certain symbolism in the song which John ‘Twin’ was keen to highlight.
“The Dawning of the Day in Irish means Fáinne Geal an Lae. In of itself it means nothing but Fáinne Geal an Lae is an aisling - an Irish type of poetry where the poet uses a woman as a metaphor for Ireland. It was used by the bards in Ireland for hundreds of years when Ireland was under the heel from England.
“The bards, when spirits were really down, used this type of poetry - an aisling - as a way of communicating hope without the authorities understanding what the aisling was about. It was like a coded message. And in Fáinne Geal an Lae, they used this beautiful lady which represented Ireland.”
And so, in the Dawning of the Day, this beautiful lady is used as a metaphor for Ireland. When the bard tells the maiden in the third verse how he wants to be with her forever, she tells him to ‘please go away’ because the dawn is coming, it was actually believed to represent Ireland telling England to ‘go away’, because a new dawn was coming.
And the presence of the bride in Aoife Galvin was key too, John McNamara points out. The maiden in the Irish version - Fáinne Geal an Lae - is called ‘an bhrídeog’, literally ‘the bride’.
“The most significant part of the challenge on Saturday was the reenacting of the theme of the aisling and that was what kept the spirit of the people alive in dark times. We had the aisling on Saturday in the form of a real bride.”
And so the 1,055 tin whistlers performed the Dawning of the Day at 12.45pm with Aoife Galvin and her bridesmaids Carole O’Malley and Fionnula Lovelock joining in.
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. My uncle, John Twin McNamara has been talking about it for months,” said Aoife.And chairman of the World Record Attempt Committee, Joe Mulligan, was confident they would enter the Guinness Book of World Records.
“We now have to submit all our photographic and video evidence and testimonials to Guinness for confirmation, but we are confident that we have just set a record that will be very hard to beat. Hard as it may be to believe but all 1,055 musicians played beautifully and sounded absolutely brilliant.”