Connemara goes en fete for the Clifden Arts Festival

All singing, all dancing, Gloria’s troupe of Mexican dancers plus Claddaghduff-based sculptor Richard West with his mother, Margaret, and Mick O’Dea, president of the Royal Hibernian Academy.

The Mexican ambassador Miguel Malfavon travelled to Connemara for a special event during the fantastically successful Clifden Arts Festival.

He joined Cllr Eileen Mannion to lay a wreath in tribute to the memory of Clifden man John Riley and the San Patricios Battalion in the town square.

The Ambassador and Galway-based Honorary Consul for Mexico, David Niland, gathered together for the ceremony with a colourful troupe of Mexican dancers and musicians and townspeople at the rifle-themed memorial sculpture in Market Square.

Amongst the dancers was Roisin Dineen, the young woman in the yellow dress, whose father is Mexican and mother Irish.

She said: “This makes me very proud of my Mexican and Irish heritage.”

David Niland said: “It is a great honour for us to come here to Clifden to honour John Riley and his battalion by laying this wreath and taking part in this fantastic festival.”

Crowds gathered in the square to watch Gloria and her team of traditional dancers from Mexico, Spain and Vietnam give a memorable display of dancing.

It included the Machete Dance, a dance with long knives and rifles and an amazing display of Aztec dancing with a little Irish dancing thrown in. Senor Malfavon said he was delighted to be in Connemara to see the town where John Riley had come from and pay tribute to his bravery.

The Saint Patrick’s Battalion, formed and led by John Riley, was a unit of 175 to several hundred immigrants and expatriates of European descent who fought as part of the Mexican Army against the United States in the Mexican–American War of 1846–48.

Most of the battalion’s members had deserted or defected from the United States Army. The Battalion served as an artillery unit for much of the war.

They were responsible for the toughest battles encountered by the United States in its invasion of Mexico, with Ulysses S. Grant remarking that “Churubusco proved to be about the severest battle fought in the valley of Mexico”.

Disenfranchised Americans were in the ranks, including escaped slaves from the Southern United States. Only a few members of the Saint Patrick’s Battalion were actual U.S. citizens.

The Mexican interlude came on the last Saturday of the 41st festival, one of the longest-running arts and culture events in Ireland.

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.

The 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.

Rural Affairs Minister Sean Kyne, from Moycullen, Arts Festival chairman Breandan O’Scannaill and Des Lally, the programme co-ordinator; Roisin Dineen, Paul Durcan, Nicole Shanahan, Maire O’Halloran , the Knotted Cord, and top (left to right) Peter Browne, piper, Joe Boske, artist, and Charlie Piggott, accordionist. 

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 up 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: “It was a fabulous audience. They were terrific and showed their appreciation for everything we did.”

The official festival opening was performed by Jim Crumlish, CEO of the Galway International Arts Festival, pictured below with Dr Flynn, with Rural Affairs Minister Sean Kyne, from Moycullen.

The Minister, guests and festival participants were 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.

Flynn and Jim Crumlish and Dr   Brendan Flynn.JPGDr Flynn acknowledged the contributions made by so many to the Festival, thanking the many talented local musicians, poets, classical quartets, soloists and traditional singers who took part, including Sean Keane, whose concert in the Station House was a sell-out. 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, was much visited and viewed 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 house at Ballynahinch – gave an inspired 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.

Visitors from across the world were treated to a fringe festival of buskers and music groups around the town square which was festooned with brightly coloured flags for the events.

Aztec dancer, The Knotted Cord, Mary Kelly, head teacher at the Community School and David Niland, the Hon Consul for Mexico in Galway.

Dr Flynn said: “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 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 as we follow Seamus Heaney’s inspirational words: “The books stand open and the gates unbarred”.

Mary Kelly, Principal of Clifden Community School, said: “The Arts in Education is a core part of Clifden Arts Festival. Clifden Community School is proud of its longstanding association with the festival.

Mexfest 10 Cllr Eileen Mannion and the Mexican ambassador to Ireland Miguel Malfavon“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 were 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.”

Councillor Eileen Mannion and Mexican Ambassador Miguel Malfavon lay a wreath at the San Patricios Memorial.

Mexfest 3

The colourful crowd who gathered for the wreath laying ceremony for John Riley and the San Patricios who fought for Mexico against the United States.

Leave a Reply