By Bill Heaney                                                                                             Pictures by MT Rainey

Top television executive Alan Esslemont will be in Connemara  to officially open the official 45th annual Arts Festival in Clifden Town Hall on Thursday, September 15, at 7:00 pm.

Esslemont was a member of the start-up team for Telegael, the highly successful, pioneering independent audio-visual company in the West of Ireland.

After working in France, Switzerland and the Isle of Skye, he moved to Ireland in 1984 for a teaching position at University College Galway.

Esslemont was born in Braemar in Scotland, where Queen Elizabeth II has her official residence, and holds an MA in French from Edinburgh University and a postgraduate MBA from the Open University in the UK.

Alan was appointed in 1995 to the senior management group of Teilifís na Gaeilge, which launched TnaG in October 1996. He was a founding board member and treasurer of the Irish Film and Television Academy (1997-2000) and played a key role in the successful re-launch of TnaG as TG4 in 1999.

He was appointed Director of Television for TG4 in 2000. Then in December 2007, Alan returned to Scotland to help set up and successfully launch BBC ALBA, the Scots Gaelic television channel, where he was Head of Content for almost nine years.

In 2016, Alan returned to work in Ireland to undertake the chief executive role at TG4 and in 2019, he was elected to the position of Chair of the Celtic Media Festival. TG4 became Ireland’s 6th most watched channel in 2019, its highest-ever audience ranking.

Music and dance with Clifden-based teacher Marie Walsh will provide the entertainment and local people can tune in to Connemara Community Radio ( to listen live.

Festival director Brendan Flynn, left and his deputy Des Lally have, with their hard-working team, put together a truly spectacular programme of events for the festival which, like so many others, was down-sized due to the Covid pandemic.

Festival highlights this year include on Wednesday, September 21 at 7:00 pm in West Connemara Sports and Leisure Centre, Booker Prize-winning author Margaret Atwood in Conversation with Elaine Feeney.

The highly popular, controversial Atwood, whose work has been published in more than 45 countries, is the author of more than 50 books of fiction, poetry, critical essays, and graphic novels.

Burning Questions, a collection of essays from 2004 to 2021, was published in March 2022. Her latest novel, The Testaments, is a co-winner of the 2019 Booker Prize. It is the long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, now a brilliant, award-winning TV series.

Atwood will converse with Elaine Feeney, a writer from Galway who lectures at The National University of Ireland, Galway, where she is a founding member of the Tuam Oral History Project. She has published three poetry collections, including The Radio was Gospel & Rise.

Her debut novel, As You Were, won the 2021 Dalkey Book Festival’s Emerging Writer Prize, Kate O’ Brien Prize, The Society of Authors’ McKitterick Prize, and was shortlisted for Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards and the Rathbones-Folio Prize.

On a lighter, louder and more colourful note, a large audience, again in West Connemara Sports and Leisure Centre on September 17 at 8:00 pm are expected to have a rare opportunity to hear Cherish the Ladies.

Celebrating 37 years of music-making, under the leadership of All-Ireland flute and whistle champion Joanie Madden and named by The Irish Voice newspaper as one of the ‘Top 25 most influential Irish Americans of the past quarter-century’, these ladies create an evening that includes a spectacular blend of virtuoso instrumental talents, beautiful vocals, captivating arrangements and stunning step dancing.

Their continued success as one of the top Celtic groups in the world is due to the ensemble’s ability to take the best of Irish traditional music and dance and put it forth in an immensely entertaining show.

Earlier in the evening of September 17 at 5:00 pm it may be well worthwhile to miss your tea for the appearance of Micheal Longley and Martina Evans in the Station House Theatre.

Michael Longley, right, a long-time lover of Connemara,  has published many books of poetry. His most recent, The Slain Birds, in 2022. In 2001, Longley received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. He has won the Whitbread Prize for Poetry, the Hawthornden Prize and the T.S. Eliot Prize. Michael Longley was appointed a CBE in 2010. From 2007 to 2010, he was Ireland’s Professor of Poetry. In 2017, he received the PEN Pinter Prize. In 2018, he was awarded the inaugural Yakamochi Medal, an international poetry prize from Toyama Prefecture, Japan. He is a Freeman of the city of Belfast.

Martina Evans grew up in County Cork and trained in Dublin as a radiographer before moving to London in 1988. She is the author of twelve books of poetry and prose. Her latest collection is American Mules, winner of the Pigott Poetry Prize for 2022. She is a Royal Literary Fund Advisory Fellow.

This FREE event is not to be missed on Saturday, September 24 at 6:00 pm in Clifden Town Square.

The Mexican-Irish San Patricio Celebration to honour the memory of John Reilly and the San Patricio Battalion will celebrate the shared culture of Ireland and Mexico through music and dance.

Clifden will celebrate Mexican National Day during the annual Arts Festival. Pictures by Bill Heaney

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