Relishing ravioli and Raftery

John Quinn

John Quinn

Accomplished broadcaster and producer John Quinn reveals that one month on, he is still recovering from the artistic delights of the successful Clarinbridge Arts Festival and pleads that funding for such events are not cut in the post-Budget gloom.

I am recovering from the Clarinbridge Arts Festival. One month on. No jumping to conclusions, please. We’re not talking hangovers here, rather an intoxication with an array of artistic delights from ravioli to Raftery, from red hot blues to red squirrels. Personally, I had to accommodate all of this into a week when I was already committed to a public interview in Cavan with Dervla Murphy, a writing course in Clarinbridge, school visits to Kinvara and west Clare, and the formal opening of Kenny’s new bookshop in Galway. (My mother told me there would be weeks like this.... ) So, I am recovering ...

I forgot to mention that I was also asked to launch the festival. I know what you’re thinking but it did give me an opportunity to quote from an article by Fred Johnston in The Irish Times. (We always aim high in Clarinbridge. ) Writing about culture, he said“Culture is song, the way a workman handles a saw, the manner a field is ploughed or divided, the way a workhorse was bridled a hundred years ago, the steps of a dance. It is about great art and literature, but also about the way you might carve out a wooden clog or produce an amateur watercolour.”

Right on Fred. So, as an expression of culture, it was just as valid for our Festival to feature a talk on the humble jug as to stage a Yeats drama and to go on a red squirrel walk as to feature award-winning cinema. Speaking of which, the Cinemobile paid its first visit to Clarinbridge. Lelia Doolan’s brilliant idea was located in the carpark of the national school. What a thrill for the children – a cinema at their front door! And thrills galore for the adults too. I was one of three males in a packed house, rocking to Mamma Mia’ ..... On Saturday night, however, I was back to see the incredible (nearly said unbelievable ) Pat Shortt give the performance of his life in Garage - for my money, the best Irish film yet.

Clare Griffin of Clarinbridge Antiques also gave a terrific performance in her talk on The Humble Jug – honestly! After ogling the Tobies we could wander down to Jordan’s to hear Michael Kearney read from his new collection Inheritance – and to hear how the Wool-Felting workshop had gone earlier. (We’re a soft touch in Clarinbridge. ) Great reports too of a wonderful recital by Katherina Baker and Rachel McCall in the lovely surroundings of the Church of Ireland, Ardrahan.

Claire’s Tearooms – one of the many treasures of Clarinbridge (the Strawberry Roulade is to die for. I know. I am probably well on the way, but what a way to go! ) On the Wednesday, it is the venue for an afternoon tea reading ( we are nothing if not refined in Clarinbridge ) by Hedy Gibbons-Lynott and John Quinn (not him again ).

Fortunately it’s a sunny afternoon as the audience spills out onto the patio, but the real stars are the women from the local writing group who read their own work, followed closely by Claire’s mini-scones with clotted cream. Can we last the pace? There’s another severe test on Thursday in Ristorante Dai Romani when our genial host Salvatore hosts a ‘Taste of Italy’. More than one hundred willing (Recession – what Recession? ) tuck into the pasta and pollo, while Vincenzo serenades us with his guitar. A truly artistic experience...

Meanwhile, back in Paddy Burke’s back room, the local drama group enchants us with Yeats’ verse-play The Land of Heart’s Desire. Sian Murphy is especially enchanting as the Fairy Child. Such a wealth of local talent. On the Friday, blues band Johnny Whitehill and the Real Deal storm into town and on successive nights blast their way up the street from Paddy Burke’s, through Sherry’s to Jordan’s. The Bridge is rocking now. It’s Saturday. Hold it steady, now. Nearly there. To the Parish Hall for an illustrated lecture on contemporary art by Michaela Kutaya, followed by Liz Mannion’s mulled wine and finger-food. Get an early night because you’ll need all your stamina for tomorrow, the final day of the Festival. The early birds (10am ) will catch the Red Squirrel talk/walk with Dr Colm Lawton in the walled garden of Kilcornan House and while there, they will marvel at the brilliant mosaic (16ft x 4ft ) created on the wall by the Kilcornan residents. Back to the Festival Mass and then off to Reilg n bhFili in Killeeneen to celebrate Raftery in his own place. In brilliant sunshine, the children of Killeeneen N.S. entertain us with music and the poetry of Raftery. There’s a very special atmosphere in this place and poet Terry McDonagh (from Raftery’s home place in Mayo ) and fiddler Kevin Rohan add to it with their own words and music. We pop into Killeeneen school to view the students’ remarkable research into every aspect of Raftery’s life. A perfect afternoon concludes in Raftery’s Rest, Kilcolgan (where else? ) for tea, sandwiches (stamina! Stamina! ) and more music and poetry from Kevin and Terry.

On the last lap now. Back to the church, not for a holy hour but for the true Benediction of a gala concert by Maigh Seola, a wonderfully gifted group of musicians who bring their own vibrant interpretation to the traditional songs of Connacht. Brid Dooley has a voice that would charm the birds from the trees. Bring Maigh Seola back please – soon! I’ve done it! I’m still standing – and so is Johnny Whitehill, shaking Jordan’s to the very foundations.

Clarinbridge Arts Festival is only in its infancy (this was number four ) but it’s growing. As I write, the post-Budget gloom has descended and one newspaper headline tells us that big bad Brian’s chopping of funding to the Arts Council will threaten the future of many arts festivals. Wrong, wrong, wrong, Brian. Now, more than ever, we need arts festivals – especially little local ones like ours. How else will we retain our sanity?

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