“Éire ní hamháin saor ach Gaelach chomh maith.”
“Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart”
Easter 1916 – WB Yeats
Easter 2016 may, in time, come to be seen as one of those major coming-of-age moments in Irish history. Fifty years ago we remembered the events of 1916; twenty-five years ago we tried to forget them; now, one hundred years on, we have learned to look back with a more balance, a more reflective eye.
While Enniscorthy may, over the Easter weekend, have been the centre of operations for all things relating to The Rising, the National Opera House, Wexford was the place to be on Easter Monday evening for what transpired to be one of the highlights on the county’s 1916 commemorative events calendar.
Macalla 1916: A Celebration of Easter 1916 is a new suite of music by acclaimed composer Michael Rooney. This epic work conveys in music, song and story the birth of a nation. Indeed if ever a show could be said to capture the passion, the people, the politics and the consequences of Easter 1916 this is it.
Those tasked with bringing this story to life are the Comhaltas National Folk Orchestra of Ireland. The orchestra is made up of over sixty young traditional and classical musicians. They come from all over the island as well as from Scotland and England. Even before they strike a note the sight of their ordered ranks on stage presents a wonderful image: there, centre-stage, the fiddles, beside them the two pipers, to the left a platoon of harps, behind them the accordions, then the concertinas and so on through battalions of banjos, flutes and fifes, brass and percussion.
Joining the orchestra were All Ireland champion singers Tadhg Maher and Shauna McGarrigle. Narrative duties were provided by former RTE presenter Ciana Campbell and respected actor Diarmuid De Faoite.
This gathering of our brightest and best talent, under the baton of composer and conductor, Michael Rooney, put in a sensational performance in bringing this story to life.
Rooney had twin aims in putting this powerful work together: an echo of the past, a vision for the future. So on the one hand, he reaches right back to the Great Famine and the terrible price paid by the people of this beleaguered island. On the other he presents to us the modern, mature and globally-respected Ireland we have today.
The 1st Movement starts with “An Tírdhreach Loite”, The Blighted Landscape. We are back in the 1840s and the soul-destroying and desolate years of The Great Famine.
We then move, in the 2nd Movement, through the decades that followed when the country rose up in nationalistic fervor and set about re-building a long dormant cultural heritage. The music is upbeat and full of hope.
By the 3rd Movement we are a decade into the 20th Century and the divergence between those who wish to break free from the bonds of British rule and those who will stop at nothing to prevent this happening.
The focus then turns to the so called Great War as men from North and South fight and die in the trenches fighting for a common cause. This is conveyed in the sad strains of Marbhna don Ghlúin Chaillte – Lament for a Lost Generation.
The climax of the suite comes in the 4th Movement as we come to the events of Easter 1916. The music expresses the confusion, the fighting, the men marching to their execution, with the shock and sadness of what has just happened being expressed in Ómós do na Mairbh – Lament for the Dead.
Súil Siar takes a reflective look back at all that has taken place over a few short years, a world where “all is changed, changed utterly”.
The 6th, and final, Movement takes us right up to the present, to the modern, self-confident and re-imagined Ireland we know today. The Suite ends on a lively and joyful note with Athmhuintearas – Reconciliation.
The inclusion of well known songs such as The Bold Fenian Men, Óró ‘Sé do Bheatha Bhaile and The Foggy Dew punctuate the suite in a positive way, familiar, as they are, to most of us. Likewise the use of poems by Pearse, Douglas Hyde, Yeats and others, all eloquently delivered by Diarmuid De Faoite. The projection of images onto the backdrop adds to the overall experience.
Ninty short minutes later the show is over. And, for a moment, a stunned silence fills the auditorium. Not for long, however, as an explosion of rapturous and sustained lets conductor and orchestra know they have scored a bulls-eye! We are rewarded with an encore of the final movement!
Rooney, delighted with the performance and the audience’s reaction to it, said “It was an honour and a privilege for us to bring this suite to the National Opera House”. He praised the World-class acoustics of the O’Reilly Theatre and the staff who, he said, could not have been more helpful or professional. Producer Kieran Hanrahan expressed his gratitude to Wexford Comhaltas for their assistance in making the show the success it was.
Indeed the sterling work being done by all the Comhaltas branches in Co Wexford was acknowledged on the evening with Mayor Ger Carthy presenting each of the Chairpersons with a commemorative plaque.