Poets from far and wide celebrate Ballylongfords Kennelly Festival

From left: Pat Kearney, Eileen Kearney and Seamus O’Neill at the Brendan Kennelly Festival in Ballylongford on Thursday night.
From left: Pat Kearney, Eileen Kearney and Seamus O’Neill at the Brendan Kennelly Festival in Ballylongford on Thursday night.

..a quiet, yet lively place, constantly threatened by emigration, committed to football, devoted to talk, fond of the drink, electric with stories, cheri...

By Deirdre Walsh

“.....a quiet, yet lively place, constantly threatened by emigration, committed to football, devoted to talk, fond of the drink, electric with stories, cherishing its characters and always proud of its sporting traditions and achievements.”

This is how poet Brendan Kennelly describes his native Ballylongford, and on Sunday afternoon, his great love for his home place was very much in evidence during a poetry reading at St Oliver’s primary school.

The event was called ‘The Geographical Place — a map of the spirit’ and it was presented by the poet’s brother Paddy Kennelly, as part of the programme of the first ever Brendan Kennelly Summer Festival.

Huge crowds gathered at the school on Sunday afternoon to hear Paddy give an informative and amusing look at Ballylongford, as seen from the perspective of his brother’s poetry.

For a relatively small village, ‘Bally’ as it is affectionately known to the natives, has a fascinating history.

There are all kinds of legends and stories associated with Carrigafoyle Castle, Carrig Island and Lislaughtin Abbey, all of which were mentioned or alluded to several times during Paddy’s lecture.

There was the poem ‘Small Light’, inspired by the story of the servant girl who beytrayed Carrigafoyle Castle to the English; The Island Man, which shows the influence Ballylongford had on the poet, and the haunting poem My dark fathers, which tells how Ballylongford was devastated during the great Famine.

The poem The Thatcher, also read by Paddy, was inspired by a local craftsman whom the young Brendan used to watch as he went about his work.

“I think what Brendan most admired about local craftsmen was the way they took such pride in their work,” said Paddy.

“I hope this bit of a talk has shown people that Brendan still haunts Ballylongford, and Ballylongford still haunts Brendan.”

Despite the dreary weather, Ballylongford was alive with activity on Sunday afternoon.

As well as the crowd which packed St Oliver’s to listen to Paddy, there was another crowd in the local parish hall, admiring an engaging exhibition of photographs depicting Ballylongford long ago.

Other visitors wandered in and out of the local pubs to join in spontaneous music and story telling sessions.

Nearby at Carrigafoyle Castle, several hundred people gathered for the fifth annual O’Connor Kerry Clan gathering.

The afternoon’s programme at the castle included the investing of Danny Houlihan as official clan piper, and the investing of Tommy Frank O’Connor as clan poet. Local man Padraig Ó Conchubhar from Lenamore explained that the clan gathering was initiated some years ago by a number of well-known O’Connors, including Rory O’Connor from Brosna, the former Head of News at RTE, now retired.

Saturday night’s programme of events for the O’Connors included a lecture on wine and a trad session with music provided by Padraig, sisters Emily and Denise Wren and John O’Sullivan. Many O’Connors even travelled from as far away as America to attend the clan gathering and the festival. Mary Kennelly, a member of the organising committee of the festival, said the inaugural event surpassed everyone’s expectations.

“The opening night was incredible. We had about 550 people there and some people even arrived from Dublin by helicopter,” she laughed. “What we couldn’t get over was how well the artist’s exhibitions went. Several artists sold a lot of their work here. And all our workshops were booked out.”

Not bad for the first year of a festival which now looks set to become a firm favourite on the Kerry calendar. What the committee now hope to do is to build a Brendan Kennelly Cultural Centre, which would essentially be for the locals, but would also provide an all-year round facility for visitors.

“The centre is probably three or four years down the road yet, but we’ve got off to an excellent start with the festival.

“A lot of money will need to be collected but we are certainly on the right road,” said Mary Kennelly.









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