The Wexford town branch of Comhaltas, Craobh Loch Garman, presented a unique St Patrick’s Weekend event to a packed house at Wexford Arts Centre last Saturday. The Comhaltas Cabaret brought together some of the county’s top traditional musicians, singers and dancers along with poets and storytellers. The evening was about nothing less than showcasing the wealth of traditional arts talent, at all ages, present in our local communities.
At one end of the scale there were children no older than five years old sean nós dancing, with some style, to a hornpipe; at the other there was the venerable Paddy Berry singing his heart out about ‘Paddy the Whale’.
The highlights throughout the evening were many. Aisling Cadogan and Olivia Walsh on harps gave a fine rendition of Aileen Kennedy’s ‘There Is No Night’ and followed up with Ó Carolan’s ‘Sí Beag Sí Mór’.
The six young lads of Skins & Strings played a powerful set of reels (‘Easy Club’ & ‘The Congress’) and jigs (‘The Mouse in the Kitchen’ & ‘The Jug of Brown Ale’).
Alice and James McIntyre (fiddle and guitar) played some more reels – ‘George White’ and ‘Over the Moor to Maggie’.
Barbara Walsh (accordion) and daughter Una (harp) performed a short, but perfectly balanced, set – ‘Strike the Gay Harp’ and ‘Hannah’s Polka’. Multi-talented Una had danced earlier in the evening with her young sean nós dance colleagues.
Julie Walsh Kurylo read a couple of poems by her much lauded late brother John Francis Walsh.
Dance teacher Niamh Page, along with Jim Ryan and Ciara O’Grady, gave a demonstration of the fancy footwork required to cut it on the sean nós dance floor. Ciara was particularly impressive, her feet moving with lightening quick dexterity.
Bi-lingual poet Máire Ní Bhriain has the happy knack of being able to slip effortlessly from Irish to English in the one poem. She loves to work at the interface between both languages, especially latching on to Irish words that we use in everyday dialogue. Her lightness of touch combined with an economy of style and a subtle humour means she gets you on her wavelength every time. She recited four of her own poems at the Arts Centre: Teanga Dhúchais (Mother Tongue); The Bird in the Bush; A Mummer’s Dream and Faoi Cheilt (In Hiding). The latter compares the heron to our native language:
“Bhí sí ann ceart go leor –
an corr réisc,
much like the old language,
on one leg,
faoi cheilt, almost.”
One of the most engaging performances of the evening came from writer, poet, journalist and musician Peter Murphy. Once he steps into the spotlight it’s like he has been plugged in! There is no such thing as a Peter Murphy reading – this is full-on performance art. Peter started with his own ‘Foxhole Prayer’, a narrative poem with punch, and followed up with ‘The Lost Alice’ from his novel ‘Shall We Gather at the River’. He then gave new life to two classics by two great poets: Louis McNeice’s ‘Prayer Before Birth’ and, from Dylan Thomas, ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’.
If Peter Murphy showed just how much music lies hidden in the spoken word, poet Deirdre McGarry took the process a step further. Deirdre was involved in the most interesting collaboration of the evening as specially selected pieces of music were matched with each of her poems. The poem “Brian’s Bodhrán’ was followed by a bodhrán solo courtesy of young Darragh Doyle; ‘Carolan’s Farewell’ was followed by the tune of the same name played, with exceptional poignancy, by Alice and James McIntyre. The final poem ‘The Piper’ led into a beautiful set of tunes from Clonroche uileann piper Éanna Harrington.
“He closed those intense eyes,
and like a shaman he passed beyond our vision
to the ‘other’ place,
where he communed on our behalf
across the weaving-knot centuries,
across the boggy land,
across the famine and the still black lough,
from where he hauled up all our sunken sadness and our pain
till we became ecstatic in our power again.”
(from ‘The Piper’)
Singer, songwriter Fergal O’Hanlon is a folk singer par excellence, his singing bringing to mind both Scottish/Irish troubador Dick Gaughan and English folk hero Sam Lee. Add to this a natural sounding country/bluegrass sensibility and you have a musician working off a very eclectic palette. Fergal sang ‘When a Man’s in Love’, ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsies’ and ‘Madam I’m a Darlin’’. The popular Glynn man, currently working on his debut solo album, was unquestionably one of the musical favourites of the evening.
No less popular with the audience was the uber-talented Amanda Kehoe. Amanda’s sublime singing of ‘Caledonia’ to her own piano accompaniment really hit the spot. Steeped in music both academically and through her very musical family, Amanda is the most natural and versatile of performers. She showed this earlier in the evening with her piano accompaniment to Davy Roche’s fantastic accordion and banjo set. Amanda’s own piano set included, on the one hand, melodious Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin-style reflective pieces and, on the other, a couple of lively barn dances. She then switched to piano accordion and invited Fergal O’Hanlon, and his guitar, to join her for a few tunes.
Audience Participation Prize of the evening, had there been one, would have gone to traditional singer and Craobh Loch Garman Chairman, Matt Murphy, for his rousing ‘Auld Triangle’. This is one of those songs that, notwithstanding its relative simplicity, very quickly separates the singing sheep from the bleating goats. Suffice to say that Matt nailed it!
Before the curtain dropped on a fabulously entertaining evening the Skins and Strings ensemble was joined by sundry musicians for a rousing finale jam.
Not surprisingly the evening ran slightly over time notwithstanding the sterling efforts of Fear an Tí, Padraic Larkin. He kept a strong hand on the tiller throughout and ensured that the whole evening was a seamless, albeit multi-faceted, tapestry of surprises. You can find videos of all the action at https://www.facebook.com/wexfordcomhaltas.
Craobh Loch Garman, with its member organisations, runs seisiúins, céilithe and concerts along with music and dance classes. Find details at http://www.wexfordcomhaltas.ie.