Sunday 19 November 2017

Nationwide: From Ballina bees to Woofle in Wicklow

Celine Naughton takes a countrywide trip to visit those organising events in their counties

Clockwise from above: Performers from Cloria Choir, Bardzo Ladnie Foundation, Elve Choir, Chinese Irish Academy of Dance with Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys T.D., and Miriam O’Callaghan, Joe Duffy, Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh, Bláthnaid Treacy, Keith Walsh and Sean Rocks
Clockwise from above: Performers from Cloria Choir, Bardzo Ladnie Foundation, Elve Choir, Chinese Irish Academy of Dance with Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys T.D., and Miriam O’Callaghan, Joe Duffy, Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh, Bláthnaid Treacy, Keith Walsh and Sean Rocks

Dublin may be making the biggest noise this Monday with its Cruinniú na Cásca extravaganza taking over the capital, but the sound of creativity is set to reverberate nationwide over the Easter weekend.

From bees in Ballina to African drumming in Ballincollig, every county has its own exciting lineup of activities and events celebrating the best of Irish arts and culture.

Mayo will be buzzing today (Easter Saturday) with Bee Creative, a family event taking place in the gardens of the Jackie Clarke Collection in Ballina. Celebrating Ireland's wild bees, it includes creative workshops, displays, music, face-painting, a treasure hunt, music, painting, and Mayo's first 'Bee in Your Bonnet' competition, with music by The Bumblebees. Why the focus on bees?

"We wanted an event that would encompass both arts and heritage," says Austin Vaughan, festival co-ordinator and county librarian. "We need pollinating insects to grow our fruits and vegetables, and the bee is in great danger. If the bee dies, we all die.

"Bumbleance, the only interactive children's ambulance in the world, is our chosen charity, and will be on site to showcase its unique facilities. An ambulance can be a very frightening vehicle for a sick child, and this takes some of the fear out of that experience.

"It's going to be a brilliant day. The only thing we can't control is the weather, but we're lucky that part of the gorgeous old walled garden in the Jackie Clarke Collection is covered, and there's a lovely café, so we expect families from across the county to come and enjoy the day."

If Mayo is hiving all its creative energies into one super occasion, Longford has lined up three very different events, running in separate locations throughout the county.

The festival begins with magical history tours departing from Longford town at 9.30am on Easter Monday, while the afternoon features a family feast of storytelling in Ardagh, home of the Legend of Midir and Etain. The enchantment continues at dusk, with a Ceremony of Light and Music in the ruins of the 12th Century Cistercian Abbey in Abbeyshrule.

"This is the first time the abbey ruins have been illuminated," says co-ordinator Mary Reynolds. "It's going to be a very special evening. The monks will welcome all the guests - we expect up to 500 people to attend - and we'll have performances by local choral groups and singers, musicians and poets, all in this beautiful, historic setting."

Longford is proud of its community spirit which, according to Mary, has strengthened since last year's centenary celebrations.

"What shone through in 2016 was the level of energy, creativity and enthusiasm in our own community," she says. "At first people thought the Easter Rising commemorations would appeal only to certain groups, but what happened was a widespread engagement with our own history.

"We discovered that every parish has something to offer. People engage in small, dedicated groups, one of whom is led by a formidable woman in her eighties, Ursula McGoey. In Abbeyshrule, every single resident, young and old, is involved in the Ceremony of Light and Music.

"Cruinniú na Cásca provides a platform for us all to take pride in our place, and it's not only true of Longford. Wonderful things are happening in small communities throughout Ireland."

Wonderful things are planned for Co Kerry this Monday too, not least a light, art and music event called Lúmina, taking place in the Dingle Brewery Company from 4.00 to 8.00pm.

"Áine Ní Chíobháin is curating this event in conjunction with local schools and performers," says coordinator Kate Kennelly. "It's something that will really capture the imagination, featuring projections, visual arts, music and interactive demonstrations. It's unique and quite beautiful.

"We also celebrate Kerry's vibrant literary tradition with A Walk Along the River Feale, forming part of Listowel Writers Week, one of the biggest writing festivals in the country. It starts at the Seanchaí Centre and along the route, various poets, writers and actors will read from the works of renowned Kerry artists like John B. Keane, Bryan MacMahon and others."

In Tralee there will be storytelling at the Kerry County Museum, and a host of attractions at Siamsa Tíre, including sculpture for children, Bold as Brass interactive workshops introducing kids to musical instruments, and songs, music and entertainment throughout the day. In Muckross Schoolhouse on Monday evening, Jimmy Crowley will give traditional music workshops and singalongs, in which the audience is expected to participate. You have been warned.

In Cavan, Pakistani-born artist Amna Kiran is thrilled to have her exhibition at the Johnston Central Library form an important part of the programme there. The title is 'Safarnama' which means travelogue.

"We are all travelling, within ourselves as well as the physical journey," says Amna, who came to Ireland 17 years ago with her doctor husband and settled in Cavan where their children were born.

"People I have met here have become my family," she says. "They accepted me and made me and my family a part of their lives. I am humbled and overwhelmed to be part of the Cruinniú na Cásca celebrations in this wonderful, open and encouraging community."

While some counties concentrate their efforts on one main event, or focus on a single town, the 'rebel county' is bringing its programme to both city and county. On Monday Cork city will open its historic buildings to the public, with free guided tours and family entertainment. If you've a head for heights, head to the Elizabethan Fort to enjoy some truly stunning views. But the fun doesn't end there.

"We have eight municipal districts in Cork, and we decided to have celebrations in every one," says co-ordinator Conor Nelligan. "There will be over 20 events taking place in total, including a Céilí Mór at 9pm in Ballyvourney, free tours in Youghal, a puppet show and art workshops in Skibbereen, an inaugural pipe band performance in Mallow Castle, and an afternoon of drama and music in Carrigaline.

"In Ballincollig there's a military re-enactment and a talk about how nature inspires creativity, followed by African-style drumming workshops and a reggae concert. It reflects the multi-cultural society we live in."

And if this year's bill sounds like great craic, he's confident that it will lead to even bigger and better things in the future.

"Cruinniú na Cásca gives us a voice that helps us define who we are," says Conor. "May it be with us for a long, long time to come."

Like many of the country's co-ordinators, Eileen Burgess of Donegal is already planning events for next year.

"The danger with starting a programme from scratch at relatively short notice was that it could be spread too thinly, and take from what was already happening," she says. "We decided instead to supplement events that were already in place, making them bigger and better, and extending them from Sunday to Easter Monday, like visits to Glenveagh Castle and gardens.

"We anticipate such a great turnout from locals and visitors alike, the council is looking at ways to facilitate extra parking to meet the demand.

"The fact that RTÉ is leading this initiative gives all of these local events a national profile, and that's good for all of us, in every county."

Irish Independent

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