School principal Mary Kelly at the opening; Paul Durcan’s face in the crowd and Dr Brendan Flynn; Nicole and Maire from the Clifden Bookshop with Paul Durcan; Bernie and Bill Heaney enjoying the Festival, Community School musicians and dancers and buskers in the town square.
By BILL HEANEY
Pictures by Bill Heaney
All roads led to Connemara at the weekend for the hugely popular 41st Clifden Arts Festival.
Events in Ireland seldom start on time, but in Clifden the first event of the Arts Festival took place at Connemara Community Centre the day before the official opening.
And what a fabulous success it was, with local trio High Time, from Ardmore in South Connemara, combining Irish music, and an intriguing blend of seafarers’ songs and Irish dancing.
The local lads combined modern folk influences to produce a rich sound which brought the packed audience in the Station House Theatre to its feet for encore after encore.
Band members, brothers Conall and Seamus Flaherty and their close neighbour and friend, Ciaran Bolger, played whistles, flute, harp, bodhran, guitars and vocal.
They spiced them all up and blended them together to produce a stirring mixture that delighted the audience, before finishing off with a deft and exhilarating display of Irish dancing by Conall.
Conall said later: ‘It was a fabulous audience. They were terrific and showed their appreciation for everything we did.’
The stage was set then for the official festival opening which was attended by Rural Affairs Minister Sean Kyne, from Moycullen, and opened by Jim Crumlish, CEO of the Galway International Arts Festival.
The Minister was welcomed by the Arts Festival chairman Breandan O’Scannaill and Des Lally, the programme co-ordinator; while artistic director, Dr Brendan Flynn, recounted the history of this now annual event.
Dr Flynn acknowledged the contributions made by so many to the Festival, thanking the many talented local musicians, poets, classical quartets, the RTE orchestra, soloists and traditional singers who took part, including Sean Keane, whose concert in the Station House was a sell-out on Sunday.
Artists, including Brian Maguire, whose exhibition War Changes Its Address: The Aleppo Paintings at the Festival Gallery in Market Street, was one of the major events of the Visual Arts Festival, were praised for their work.
As were the ‘soldiers on the ground’ – the committees, businesses, churches, photographers, sponsors, administrators, box office staff and volunteers.
Especially the volunteers, all of whom had worked so hard to pull together the spectacular programme of events, exhibitions.
Two poets received special mention from Dr Flynn – Paul Durcan, who had turned up at the community school in 1977, the very first year of the festival and read one of his poems to the pupils.
And Durcan’s late lamented friend, the Nobel laureate, Seamus Heaney, a portrait of whom by James Brohan, has been much visited and viewed this week in the Whitethorn Gallery in Main Street, Clifden.
Paul Durcan, who was sponsored by Co Down businessman Bobby Gilmore and his wife Truly – they have a summer home at Ballynahinch – gave a reading from his many collections of poetry, including his latest, Life is a Dream, in the Station House Theatre.
Afterwards Durcan mixed and mingled with the festival audience, sharing stories and signing copies of his many books of poems, which are on sale at The Clifden Bookshop.
Paul Durcan, of whom Carol Ann Duffy, the poet laureate, said ‘to have heard [Paul] read adds another pleasure to the reading of his work … the voice speaks clearly on the page in poems of harrowing intimacy, politics and love’ also received a standing ovation from a large, appreciative audience.
Visitors from across the world turned up in Connemara to attend the Festival and were treated to a fringe treat of buskers and music groups around the town square which was festooned with brightly coloured flags for the events.
The restaurants and pubs have all made this Festival memorable for the visitors with special dishes and entertainment while you eat, Connemara lamb, trout and salmon and a huge variety of locally caught shellfish on the menu.
Dr Flynn, pictured with Dearbhaile Flynn and Paul Durcan, was pleased with the way things were going with the large audiences and better weather than had been forecast and no major hitches.
He said on behalf of the Festival Committee: ‘The Arts in education has been a core part of the Festival since its foundation in 1977.
‘It is an honour to have been so closely involved with the primary and secondary schools in the Connemara area for the past 41 years.
‘The festival is overjoyed with the opening of a state-of-the-art new community school in Clifden earlier this month by Taoiseach Leo Varadakar.
‘We are grateful to all the teaching and school staff past and present who have helped in so many ways to facilitate the artists and performers to visit the schools; without their help and support, this decades long link with the community would not have been possible.
‘We look forward to a continuing vibrant and creative relationship with all the schools in the area.”
Mary Kelly, Principal of Clifden Community School, told the official opening night audience: ‘The Arts in Education is a core part of Clifden Arts Festival. Clifden Community School is proud of its longstanding association with the festival.
‘Thanks to the Arts Festival Schools Programme, our students, as well as the students in the primary schools in the area, have engagement with a multitude of artists, as well as their work.
‘This year, we are pleased to welcome, again, poets, musicians, crafts people, writers, singers and dancers, to our new home. The new school. This Arts Festival is not only of immeasurable educational and cultural significance to our whole school community. It’s also fun. It’s a major event in our calendar.
‘In our school, we nurture an appreciation of the arts, of our culture, our heritage and our language. Therefore, on an occasion such as this, it is very important that I pay particular tribute to the school’s Arts Committee – Nicola Snow, Caitriona O Broin and recently retired, Carmel Hanley – and our Deputy Principal, Mr O Toole.
‘I formally acknowledge their planning and preparation for this year’s event. I pay tribute also Dr Brendan Flynn, ever loyal and supportive of Clifden Community School, and passionate about the Arts in Education and in the Community.
‘I say well done, to Ms Marie Walsh, and the musicians and dancers, who will share their talents with us, and entertain us this evening.
‘And I echo the sentiment expressed in this year’s brochure: We in Clifden Community School look forward to a continuing and vibrant relationship with Clifden Arts Festival, as we follow the inspirational words of Seamus Heaney, which will be inscribed on the Art Work, soon to be installed at the front of the school, The Books Stand Open, and the Gates Unbarred.’
The Grand Parade River of Light spectacular takes place on Saturday night at 7.30pm with a parade right around the town – “The streets of Clifden will flow with light, colour, music and costumes as the procession sails around the town.”
This will be followed by fireworks and Connemara All Stars 10-piece band with full brass section outdoors on the rig from 10.30pm and guests from Europe will will join local musicians to perform classics and original material which will include something for everyone.
Claddaghduff-based wood turner and sculptor Richard West with his mother, Margaret Irwin West, and Mick O’Dea, president of the Royal Hibernian Academy at the Clifden Arts Festival. Mr O’Dea called into Bridge Street gallery to view Home Grown, an exhibition by the West family – Margaret, Katharine, Richard and Manon. Greg Fletcher, an Australian artist and guide based at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, Connemara, is in charge of an exhibition in the Station House Hotel complex and is seen here pointing out a Connemara landscape by Manchester artist Jim Savage and a remarkable picture of a heifer looking at the bones of a washed up whale by Dorothy Cross, one of Ireland’s leading international artists. Pictures by Bill Heaney