Thursday 29 September 2016

A stroke of genius to kick off 1916 celebrations

Music and magic at start of year of events to mark Rising, writes Nicola Anderson

Published 02/01/2016 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaking at the Flag Raising Ceremony at Dublin Castle. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaking at the Flag Raising Ceremony at Dublin Castle. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Sarah Richmond at the Ireland 2016 Peace Proms at the Convention Centre. Photo: Steve Humphreys
President Michael D. Higgins greets members of the public after the Flag Raising Ceremony at the opening of the State Commemorative Programme 2016 at Dublin Castle. Photo: Steve Humphreys
The National Flag, Citizen Army Flag and IRB Flag are raised at the Flag Raising Ceremony. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Sgt Karen Walsh and Sgt Leona Walsh take shelter at Dublin Castle. Photo: Steve Humphreys

An explosion of passion, youthful verve, energy and sheer talent. With a dollop of U2, Horslips, heart-stirring sean nos airs and bodhrans - topped off with bagpipes and the Lambeg drum.

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What better way to kick start the 2016 Commemorations than a diplomatic smorgasbord of Irish music, melding centuries and traditions into something fresh and electric?

It had been Arts Minister Heather Humphrey's own idea to begin the Centenary Programme with a Peace Proms, showcasing the music of the Cross Border Orchestra of Ireland and the 32-County Children's Choir.

It turned out to be a stroke of inclusive and harmonious genius - starting the year off on an uplifting and exciting note.

And crucially, while there were plenty of politicians present, they were sitting in the audience.

No party politics here.

Over 2,000 guests, including Dublin Lord Mayor Criona Ni Dhalaigh, TDs, senators, councillors and a diverse range of other community members, were invited to the New Year's Day event at the National Convention Centre in Dublin.

The Taoiseach had been due to attend but cancelled, while spotted in the crowd were broadcaster Joe Duffy, historian Diarmaid Ferriter and equality activist Eamon Farrell.

In an address before the concert, Minister Humphreys said they had developed a "really exciting programme" for the year ahead - "and the list is still growing," she added.

It has been a time of "enormous creativity and extremely hard work" since the launch last March, the Minister said.

With over 500 young musicians on stage, the sheer energy lifted the roof as conductor Greg Beardsell came on stage and they began with a surprising U2 medley of 'Pride' and 'New Year's Day' - neatly including another very Irish motif with a suggestion of St Patrick's Day marching bands.

There were beautiful solos by tenor Emmet Cahill - who sang Cavan Girl as a special tribute for the Minister, mezzo-soprano Sarah Richmond from Northern Ireland, who sang One World in Harmony, and sopranos Megan Rugy Walsh and Aimee Banks.

There was a playful 'drumoff' between the bodhran and the Lambay drum.

And another between the Uilleann pipes and the bagpipes.

There was Irish dance and there was highland dance, and everything all seemed very natural and very harmonious - belying the century that it has taken to make inclusiveness look this easy.

But the most beautiful musical moment of all was arguably Sibeal Ni Chasaide's haunting and moving rendition of Mise Eire - a new arrangement of Pearse's poem by renowned composer Patrick Cassidy which had audiences nodding to one another in sheer delight.

The pace of the whole night was snappy and high energy and as it finished with a robust 'Ireland's Call', every one was well on song for the rest of the Commemorative programme in the year ahead.

Earlier in the day, the first Commemorative event of 2016 took place at Dublin Castle, with a flag-raising ceremony amid unfortunately heavy rain.

Two minutes before noon - when the Army No 1 Band were due to begin their recital - a sudden gust swept down all their seats and music stands with an deafening clatter, causing a scramble.

A Government official gazed out the window in despair at the downpour, confiding: "It's a nightmare for protocol."

Nobody escaped a soaking - except perhaps the President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina.

Cor na nOg performed 'Danny Boy', followed by an opening prayer.

The President inspected a military Guard of Honour and there was a moving moment as the names of all 78 on the 1916 roll of honour were read aloud, followed by a minute's silence.

Then the flag of the Citizen Army - which flew from the Imperial Hotel during Easter Week 1916 and the flag of the IRB and the tricolour - which were flown from the GPO - were raised before the National Anthem was played.

Amongst those present were EU commissioner Phil Hogan, Sinn Fein President Martin Mc Guinness and Tanaiste Joan Burton - who looked none the worse for her ducking in the floodwaters of Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, the previous day.

Afterwards, 1916 relatives Richard and Monica Comerford - the grandchildren of Philip Clarke of the Irish Citizen Army, killed in the fighting in St Stephen's Green - said they had deeply enjoyed the ceremony.

"It was very well done," said Monica, adding that she very much hopes to be at the GPO for the main event at Easter.

Irish Independent

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