Baile na bPoc can claim its place as a centre of culture

A fresh breath of life blew over the windswept hills of Baile na bPoc where hundreds of people gathered in a circus tent for five days of music, dance, poetry and theatre.

The event, which started on Friday, was a welcome injection of life in a townland that has seen its population decimated, along with many other parts of rural Ireland. Breánndán Ó Beaglaíóch - who, along with Glen Hansard, brought the Footsbarn Theatre Company's 'Come On Up To The House mini festival to his family's farm in Baile na bPoc - described how his home village once had a population of 235 people. The Famine took away over 100 of them and numbers have continued to decline ever since. Speaking midway through playing a brace of tunes on Sunday night, Breanndán said there were 28 - 30 people in the village when he was a youngster but now only 12 residents remain.

Breánndán and his brother are both the eldest and most sensible of the last of the Baile na bPocians. At least that's what Breánndán claimed as he introduced Séamus to the stage on a night of exquisite music, held under canvas in Cathair Mór or Cathair Bheag - depending on where you're standing in the field that was both the temporary home of the Footsbarn Theatre Company and the cutting edge of what is happening in the folk and trad music scene in Ireland.

And that was what brought Oscar winners Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, as well as the pride of Cúl Aódha led by Peadar Ó Riada to Baile na bPoc. On Sunday night Breanndán's son Cormac, performing the twin roles of main musical attraction and fear a' tí, brought together a collection of Ireland's finest folk musicians, including Ye Vagabonds, Lisa O'Neill and Liam Ó Maonlaí along with contributions from poet Stephen James Smith. All of this was set in a tent that had already hosted Footsbarn Theatre's productions of Shakespeare's 'Bottom's Dream' and their comic drama 'Mingling with Moliere', which was greatly enjoyed as a Sunday matinee.

The complete package, with food, drink and a warm and welcoming atmosphere, the event will settle into local memory amid the fairy tales of Cathair Mór and Cathair Bheag.

But that's only if there are people there to remember it. At the end of the night on Sunday Cormac made a heartfelt plea for help for Irish speakers who want to build homes in their native place but are unable to do so because of the difficulties they encounter in getting planning permission. One such example, he said, was his father Breanndán who has been trying without success since 2008 to secure planning permission for a house on the family's land in Baile na bPoc.