June's Job of Journeywork
We’ve had another super month of music, travelling and meeting friends and engaging in great discussions that will influence future work.
We started our month in the historic Ballymacscanlon Hotel near Dundalk where we played for the PCHEI Conference being hosted by Dundalk Institute of Technology. We had a lovely evening of music and dancing with our colleagues Francis and Gertie who are a great touchstone for us throughout the academic year.
The following day, Daithí had the great honour of being present for the conferring of an honorary doctorate of Monsignor Pat Ahern at University College Cork. Fr Pat has been a huge influence on Daithí throughout his life – check out ‘The Priest’s Polka’ – and there was a wonderful gathering of friends in Cork for the occasion. We danced in the sunshine in the Quad after the formal ceremonies, during which Fr Pat was praised for his extraordinary work with Siamsa Tíre, the National Folk Theatre of Ireland amongst other achievements. In accepting his doctorate, Pat dedicated it to those who have been on the journey with him and who shared his vision and made it possible. Daithí continues to research the impact of Fr Ahern on the musical heritage of Ireland, presenting two conference papers on the subject this summer.
Back in Louth, we had a wonderful night for the launch of the album on 8 June. The venue was packed to capacity and Nicholas Carolan, Director Emeritus of the Irish Traditional Music Archive did us the great honour of presiding over the launch. The evening began with a performance by the Grúpa Ceoil faoi 12 from Craobh Dhún Dealgan CCÉ. There was also a premiere screening of the documentary The Road to Speyfest about our trip to Scotland last year with a group of students. We were delighted to be joined by so many family and friends for the occasion and you can read more about the event in our earlier blog here.
The link between these artistic outputs and our ongoing work and research was again the theme in Daithí’s presentation for the School of Informatics and Creative Arts ‘Sharing Practice’ day. Using videos from some recent projects and concerts involving students and the wider community, he explored the enormous potential and value for everybody from community engagement by Higher Education Institutions.
We travelled from this to the Annual Plenary of the Society for Musicology in Ireland, held in Queen’s University, Belfast. There was a lovely atmosphere for a broad range of interesting papers. Adèle focused on aspects of the musical life of Charles Villiers Stanford that have been heretofore neglected in her paper that received very positive reaction from the distinguished audience. Daithí focused on music in Tralee, and in particular the legacy of Fr Pat Ahern in the context of church choral music and liturgical pageants. Both papers challenged accepted narratives in music in Ireland during the twentieth century and highlighted both the complexity of and need for further research into these narratives.
Our next job of journeywork took us to Youghal in East Cork where we facilitated workshops for three days with the wonderful young musicians of the Craobh Eochaille branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann based at Brú na Sí. On our first morning, we accompanied the young group to two primary schools in the town where they performed for their peers and encouraged enquiry about the potential to learn, perform and enjoy Irish traditional music, song and dance. That night we performed with them for a group from Kerry at the Quality Hotel at Red Barn beside the sea. On Friday night we were delighted to attend a rehearsal of the Ceolta Sí Seisiún for 2017 and we are looking forward to coming back again later in the summer, enthused by the quality of what we saw.
Over the three days in east Cork we not only taught tunes and songs that were connected with the musical heritage and history of Youghal, we worked on presentation and stage presence and on how to structure a performance. We were delighted to be interviewed for a programme on the local radio statio CRY by some of the teenagers who researched, recorded and presented the programme themselves. Adèle wrote a new piece for the group entitled ‘Lighting Capel Island’, which they premiered with us in concert on the Saturday night. We were delighted to perform a number of selections from A Louth Lilt for the audience and our host Mícheál de Buitléir said a few kind words in relation to the album and the accompanying book.
While in Youghal, we were also delighted to facilitate a symposium on the new Government programme Clár Ildánach Creative Ireland 2017-2022 that focused on the role and potential for Irish traditional music. We had organised a number of speakers and, importantly, were delighted to welcome a large community audience including representatives from a number of branches of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in the county. The first panel consisted of Michael O’Reilly of Creative Ireland and Conor Nelligan, Heritage Officer of Cork County Council who is the co-ordinator of the programme for Cork County. They provided an overview of what the programme is and some initial plans of how it will be rolled out in Cork.
The second panel consisted of Matt Cranitch, Michelle Finnerty, Jessica Cawley and Willie Larkin, who gave various perspectives on their work and the questions and possibilities this presented for Creative Ireland. Matt raised a number of pertinent questions that challenged the plan, calling for further communication with the traditional arts community. Focusing on the first pillar of the programme, Michelle and Jessica highlighted the potential that already exists in the context of early year’s education and creating access for young people to Irish traditional music based on their research and activities. Linking well with technology, Willie demonstrated the potential for the online resource Tradtime to enhance primary school music education and help teachers to develop music in their classrooms.
Maurice Mullen and Adèle Commins provided the final presentations, which highlighted examples of excellence already happening that could become models for the future development of Creative Ireland. Maurice focused on a number of projects supported by the Arts Council DEIS scheme, noting aspects of their success and the value that they provided in relation to their funding. Adèle focused on how Academic Institutions have a role to play in supporting communities across all five pillars of the Creative Ireland plan, highlighting examples of excellence at Dundalk Institute of Technology.
The brainchild of Youghal Comhaltas Chairman Mícheál de Buitléir, the Abair Trad Symposium was an enormous success from a variety of perspectives. By bringing together practitioners, scholars, consultants and the community, a variety of perspectives were brought together that were mutually informing. Speaking near the end, Michael O’Reilly noted how the day was both challenging and rewarding, while many of those present recognised opportunities to work together on projects. We are currently drafting a report on the event and there are calls for further similar events so watch this space…
From Youghal we made our way to Birmingham. Adèle presented a paper on the early stages of the Feis Ceoil movement in Dublin at the Music n Nineteenth Century Britain Conference held at Birmingham City University. Dublin-born composer Charles Villiers Stanford was an eminently important figure in the development of the Feis Ceoil but the significance of his involvement has been undervalued to date and provides interesting insights into both the evolution of the Feis Ceoil movement and ethos and the career of Stanford himself. Drawing on information gleaned from letters and newspapers archives, Adèle’s paper addresses a gap in existing publications and provides the foundations for a forthcoming publication.
While in Birmingham, we also had a launch of A Louth Lilt at the well-known Irish pub The Spotted Dog in Digbeth, hosted by former president of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, Vince Jordan. We had a fantastic session afterwards in the pub which included Vince on piano accordion, his daughter Anna Marie on fiddle, the artist Mike Lancaster on flute (whose portraits of musicians adorned the walls), the ever-energetic Patsy Moloney on flute who had launched his album here a few weeks previously, and many other local figures. As well as members of the South Birmingham branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, some of the organisers of the wonderful Trip to Birmingham festival were present and we hope to make it back for the festival at some point in the future.
While Adèle attended the Birmingham conference, Daithí took an early morning train to York where he presented at the Music Production Education Conference at York St. John University. On a day where there was much discussion about curriculum design and links between second and third level education, Daithí argued for the importance of broadening the student experience beyond narrow definitions of popular music and the potential for the study of traditional music and ethnomusicology within music production programmes. With programme development always ongoing at Dundalk Institute of Technology, the fresh perspectives gained from English colleagues will inform discussions with colleagues at home.
Having completed the academic element of the English trip, on Friday we travelled to Leamington-Spa where we were special guests at a wonderful gathering hosted by the Leamington-Spa branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann at the St Patrick’s Irish club. Musicians John and Carmel Burke were our hosts for the night and we were delighted to play a few tunes from the album for a gathering that included several branches of CCÉ including Nottingham, Luton, South Birmingham and Coventry. We sang ‘The Boys of Barr na Sráide’ for West Limerick man Donal Murphy, chair of the local branch, and there were Louth connections too as fiddle player Fiona was a niece of Joe Needham, husband of the wonderful flute player Peg Needham who played with the Táin Céilí Band and father of Louth musicians Brendan, David, Joseph and Bronagh.
As night spilled into morning, we finished the month as we had started – playing tunes! The following morning we went to Stratford-Upon-Avon, home of William Shakespeare. As we left the faded writing on the old factory walls, whose words were quickly being forgotten, the crowds who flocked to celebrate the words of the seventeenth century poet were a reminder of the longevity of the arts and the precariousness of industry.
We are grateful to all those who showed us tremendous hospitality during the month, many of whom we will cross paths with again in the coming weeks. Whether it was the breakfast Mícheál had waiting for us in Youghal, the huge mug of tea Vince placed in front of us in Birmingham or the lift to the airport from John and Carmel, we are indebted to our friends in music. Music is something that brings people together and something that can be shared everywhere with all different accents, even with a Louth lilt!