Category Archives: Music

The John Hewitt Society Summer School 2018 – An Unforgettable Cultural Experience!

It was my honour to have been awarded a full Bursary by the John Hewitt Society and my privilege to attend their prestigious Summer School in late July 2018.


Situated in the Georgian surroundings of picturesque Armagh town, the Summer School takes place in the state-of-the-art venue of The Marketplace Theatre.


I have used words like incredible, transformative, inspiring, engaging and amazing to describe the week’s enticing and immersive cultural timetable but in reality the Summer School is all that and more.

The thoughtfully designed schedule ensures that none of the individual events overlap. Days began at 9.45 am and there were at least five daily hour-long sessions outside of the creative writing workshops and at least one evening event.

In an attempt to give you a flavour of how the week progressed I have summed up most of the lectures, interviews and events that I attended. But some of you may not want to read all of this so I have clearly headed each session which will enable you to

  1. Skim through this and choose to read the ones that interest you.
  2. Read the whole thing (it is long!)
  3. At least scroll down to the paragraph about the Radio Drama Workshop and read on from there,
  4. Leave now and never talk of this again.


Opening Address

This year’s Summer School’s opening address was delivered by Dr. Martin Manseragh, former Fianna Fáil T.D. and former Minister for Finance and the Arts. His fascinating talk shedding illumination on the complexities behind ‘simple’ political messages, spanning recent centuries, North and South of the border.


Fiction: Patrick Gale


Next up was an interview with author Patrick Gale who gave us insights into his writing process,
“Writing and reading are part of the same process.”
On character versus plot,
“Plot arises when you bring two characters together”
Answering a question about ‘wasted writing’,
“No creativity is wasted, you go down a path, and even if it is not used, you are enriched by the journey.”
I enjoyed this quote in particular,
“The whole fiction writing process is hugely therapeutic.”
He read and drew from his 2018 novel ‘Take Nothing With You’ during his interview.


Fiction and Photography – Travelling in a Strange Land: David Park & Sonya Whitefield


The evening discussion was with author David Park about his novel ‘Travelling in a Strange Land’ with photographs by Sonya Whitefield who, unfortunately, could not take part in the interview. Throughout the discussion we were given an understanding of the depth and spirituality of David Park, as a person and a writer, when he talked about his views of creativity,
“There is something redemptive and transcendent in art.”
“There are instinctive subconscious things in creativity.”
Also in his memories of the great snowfall of 1966,
“Never before and never after have I felt the weight of the universe.”
On his collaboration with Sonya Whitefield,
“The book is a finished item in itself but the photographs give it a different life.”
“There should be more opportunities for different art-forms to collaborate.”

Park read extracts from ‘Travelling in a Strange Land’

This lecture was followed by an exhibition of Sonya Whitefield’s thoughtfully taken photographs.



On Monday evening we were treated to beautiful poetry readings by Imtiaz Dharker and Michael Longley.

I woke up on the Tuesday feeling that I had already been there for a week and was ready for more of the same.


John Hewitt and the Irish at Coventry

The morning sessions began with Ciaran Davis’ lecture on John Hewitt’s time as Director of the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in post war Coventry (1957 -1972) and the difference in motivation behind his move (a secure job and a willingness to leave Belfast) in contrast to the many Irish people who were forced to see work in the city.

Hewitt’s vision was to help to regenerate the city and he felt that “A better society could be created by focussing on the local” and he brought in works by Stanley spencer and J.S.L. Lowry. While he was successful at first, ultimately, his vision was not supported by grant giving city officials.


Fiction – Liz Nugent


We were treated to an interview with the always entertaining, generous and modest author Liz Nugent whose third book ‘Skin Deep’ was published earlier in 2018. Nugent answers gave advice to new and emerging writers.
“The first piece I wrote that was broadcast was for Sunday Miscellany about a pair of gloves (15 minutes). You can start out with something small.”
She explained how the characters from her short story ‘Alice’ “…wouldn’t leave me alone…” and evolved into her first book ‘Unravelling Oliver’.
Answering a question about her dislikeable characters she quipped “I aim to disturb.” She followed this by talking about ‘Skin Deep’,
“As a writer I thought it would be interesting to explore a character who doesn’t care at all


Politics – Facing Change: The Identity Perspective 

Tuesday’s post workshops session was a talk by Dr. Nabeel Goheer, Assistant Secretary General at the Commonwealth Secretariat, on the current state of flux we are experiencing in the world and what this means to our global Identities.
“All of the cooperations we started building up since the Second World War are now being questioned.”
With 6.5 Million people being displaced by conflict identity has come back on a global level as a topic. He outlined the meaning of a global citizen as anyone who has enough wealth to invest a percentage of it into global issues or globally recognisable individuals who have the best values and can reach a worldwide audience.


Tuesday evening’s performance was a charming and quirky musical collection by Ulaid and Duke Special.



Politics – ‘Cross Border Studies’ 

Wednesday started with an interesting lecture on ‘Cross Border Studies’ with Professor Arthur Aughey, Emeritus Professor of Politics at Ulster University. He used the example of the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the tangle of borders which were carved in Europe to demonstrate how,
“Frontiers are lines on a map but they are also a force of political ideologies.”
He went on to say that “One of the great objectives of the EU has been to remove the borders and the threats of the invasions of 1914-18 and 1939-45”
Issues in the Northern Ireland conflict was dominated by borders, terrorism and political identity and Professor Aughey recalled us that in 2017 Seamus Heaney suggested that the world had become a big Ulster.


Mary O’Donnell


Mary O’Donnell, novelist, short story writer and poet, was the next author interview I attended. She was so interesting to listen to that I forgot to take many notes but I came away with a couple of gems.
“If something isn’t working in poetry I ask myself if this will work in fiction.”
One of O’Donnell’s general tips about being a writer,
“You need to be in good health and you need to be living a selfish lifestyle to be a writer and that is not possible for everyone.”

Panel – Writing and Refugees 

The guest that stood out for me from the *Writing and Refugees* panel was the multi-talented Annie Waithira, who made the most unforgettable entrance and then served us food for thought with some choice statements.
“If you cannot hear our stories then you will never be able to get to know us.”
“Dear Ireland, why have you forgotten the immigrant?”
To steal from the John Hewitt Society twitter account
“She represents the absent voice in many contemporary debates: the refugee woman.”
Waithira explained that not every immigrant is on the same journey.
“Just because we came on the same boat does not mean we are of the same situation.”

This panel was followed by the opening of an exhibition “Daily Lives: Asylum Seekers in Italy and Ireland” by Mariusz Smiejek.

Music and Dance – Edges of Light

Our evening’s entertainment on Wednesday was “Edges of Light” collaboration between Irish Dance legend Colin Dunne, fiddler Tola Custy, harpist Maeve Gilchrist, and uilleann piper David Power.
An energetic and very entertaining musical and dance interpretation of the time in 1916 when Ireland was 25 minutes and 12 seconds behind the UK and so to coordinate Ireland with GMT the time went back only 35 minutes that October (but not everybody stuck to the rule).

Towards the end of the week I was working on my workshop exercise (more about that later) and so didn’t get to as many of the events as I would have liked.


“Challenging the Two Traditions: Women, Memory and Literature.” 

Writer and PhD researcher at Ulster University, Eli Davies, investigated the Northern Ireland conflict through the lens of the women involved and the upheaval paramilitary activities had on marriages and relationships in literature about the period,
“During the conflict the home was politicised.”
“The female figure is portrayed as queen, victim, peacemaker, but often used in service of the bigger male narrative.”
“Nell McCafferty pinpoints the mundane duties that the conflict affected as opposed to the macro issues.”
In Deirdre Madden’s ‘One by One in the Darkness’. Davies points out that  “The house becomes a person or a character in itself.”


Fiction – Sheila Llewellyn


The next interview was with author Sheila Llewellyn which centred about her debut novel ‘Walking Wounded’, which deals with how post-traumatic stress disorder was suffered and treated after the Second World War. The book has been praised by, among others, Pat Barker.
Llewellyn mentions that “the generation of writers who came after grew up with the narrative of the second World War.”
On research she said that “It satisfies my inner historian, I love doing the research but I have to hold myself back.”
While researching PTSD she came across recordings of soldiers recounting their experiences “You can hear them struggling to control the memories.”
One of her pre-war book loving characters returns with revulsion of literature because “Books lie because writers write a happy ending and life isn’t like that.”
Llewellyn says that a challenge that writers face is to portray some characters with as much integrity as possible while not liking them. 


Northern Ireland Political Collection at Linen Hall Library


The next lecture was a visually centred lecture from Belfast’s Linen Hall Library on the topic of the Northern Ireland Political Collection.
The library is most famous for its local and Irish collections.
Sometime in 1969, Jimmy Vitty, then Librarian of the Linen Hall Library, was handed a civil rights leaflet in a Belfast city centre bar. He kept it. Since then the Library has sought to collect all printed material relating to the ‘Troubles’.
The Political Collection is the only one of its kind that began collecting before a conflict was started.
In 1972 the collection almost shut down under the Special Powers Act which banned dealings with any anti-Government literature.
A former librarian of Linen Hall quipped that the Political Collection has “Something to offend everyone.”
The library has various individual collections as well, for example, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Archive, Northern Ireland Women’s Movement and more. As well as that they hold a Troubled Images Project which comprises of 16 volumes of press clippings from the early 1970s to 1994,
The digitalisation of the Political Collection is currently underway.


Fiction – Michael Hughes


The last event I attended was an interview with author Michael Hughes, whose most recent book “Country” is set during the Northern Irish conflict using the structure of Homer’s ‘Iliad’.  Hughes says said that he chose this approach because
“The Iliad took place among a small group of people who all know each other’s family history. A similar set up here in the Northern Ireland conflict”
He explained another reason for using the Iliad’s structure
“If you are writing about the conflict you will either to fictionalise or dramatise accounts of real people which isn’t fair to them.”


Creative Workshops

Throughout the week there was a choice of seven different creative workshops to attend, ‘Getting Started’ with Nessa O’Mahoney,’ Poetry’ with David Wheatley, ‘Poetry’ with Siobhán Campbell, ‘Short Story’ with Mary O’Donnell, ‘Fiction’ with Bernie McGill, ‘Memoir’ with Ferdia McKenna and the workshop that I opted for was ‘Radio Drama’ with Eoin McNamee.


Radio Drama Workshop

Eoin McNamee proved to be an excellent facilitator and on our first session he sent us out to the winding streets of Armagh with the quest of returning with a snippet of colloquial conversation. He then guided each of us to expand these snippets gradually into a short radio drama. The feedback he gave to the individual students acted as mini tutorials in the nuances of writing for radio for everybody at the workshop.


Creative Showcase

At 4.00 pm on Friday the Creative Writing Showcase took place. At least three people from each workshop read out their work. It was a shared pleasure to listen to the wealth of talent and promise from the bursary students chosen to read.

Thursday and Friday evening’s theatrical performances were a double bill from the remarkably astonishing mind and bodies (so to speak) of Mikel Murfi, “The Man In The Woman’s Shoes” and “I Hear You and Rejoice”. If you haven’t seen Murfi’s one man shows yet I urge you to rectify that. These two presentations were such a perfect way to finish off this culture laden week.

But it was not over yet. We all strolled down to the Armagh Centre for a fun open mic night.

During the week I met an eclectic range of people who fast became a strong foundation on which to grow a new creative family and it was their company that turned the cultural experience into an unforgettable adventure.

I woke up on Saturday morning in the charming and quirky Charlemont Arms Hotel with the feeling that I had been back to the best parts of university for a week – the pleasure of learning without the pressure of exams.

I came away with the feeling that I wanted to work towards something astounding but if I don’t manage that I’m definitely aiming higher than before.

If you have an interest in encountering culture I advise you to attend in 2019, see you there.

Finally I have to send many, many thanks the John Hewitt Society for awarding me this incredible opportunity and putting together an unforgettable week and to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs who kindly funded the ROI bursary students.

Hollywood Rhapsody at Dublin’s National Concert Hall

Performed by The RTE Concert Orchestra with their New Principal Conductor John Wilson

Tickets courtesy of my generous Mum while all clips are of Conductor John Wilson & his own orchestra, not the RTE Concert orchestra!

I’ll listen to classical pieces on the radio or even on CD but I would rarely be drawn to a full classical recital… unless, of course, it had something to do with the movies.

I was lucky enough to be invited to Hollywood Rhapsody at the National Concert Hall on the first night of John Wilson tenure as Principal Conductor with the RTE Concert Orchestra (though they have performed together many times in the past).

There is something special about watching the orchestra file onto the stage and take their seats. The members chat to each other and their instruments do the same producing a lively jostle of sociable sounding strings, winds, all percussive and discursive.

Conductor John Wilson arrives and the orchestra bursts into one of the most familiar of studio intros written by Alfred Newman for 20th Century Fox. (since 1979 the fanfare’s association with Star Wars is etched into my memory).

The second piece is also from Newman is called “Street Scene” from How To Marry A Millionaire. Apart from the title I have no recollection of the film but when I hear the familiar piece of music I am transported to a black and white suburban America of the 1940s/50s. I check the programme and see that the piece of music was used repeatedly for about two decades. If you have watched a handful of movies from the era you’ll recognise it as well. (even the first few bars).

There is no sign that this is John Wilson’s first night as conductor conductor and RTE Concert Orchestra play like the are old friends that they are.

They break into Bronislau Kaper’s “Confetti” from Forever Darling whose playfulness reminds me of the 1960s television series Bewitched, after a quick IMDB search (after the recital of course) I find that he did not compose that but he did compose more than half a dozen scores with which I am familiar

David Raskin’s “Laura Suite” is again another piece of music that grew more famous than the film from which it originated. Wilson and his Orchestra handle it beautifully.

The unmistakable composition “Suite for Strings” by Bernard Hermann for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho has the entire film flashing before my eyes, the score for the shower scene has the string section jabbing the air like a bunch of the titular Psychos.

For the purpose of Citizen Kane “Salambo’s Aria” was performed badly, we were not so unlucky as Wilson explains, really, it wouldn’t be fair. He and the orchestra accompanied by  Venera Gimadieva‘s beautiful soprano voice through the melancholic taste of opera.

We were then treated to Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s March, Love theme, The Fight, Victory and Epilogue from The Adventures of Robin Hood which moves descriptively through each phase.

Wilson & Co. launched into Jerome Moross’s Main Title from The Big Country which seems to conjour up any western from that time. (Here is it preceded by the aforementioned 20 Century Fox Fanfare).

Before the break Max Steiner’s Suite from Casablanca had me sipping whiskey in Rick’s, shopping in the Bazaar while I nervously waited for my letters of transit.

Wilson apologised for the length of next section, a  Medley of Move songs from the 1950s, it was a time when hits had suddenly become a viable money spinner. So even thought he was right about the length of this section, he was also tight to include them with the scores.

We listened to both Matthew Ford and Anna-Jane Casey‘s renditions of songs from An Affair to Remember, Something’s Gotta Give, Young At Heart, It’s MagicThe Tender Trap, My Foolish Heart, Three Coins in a Fountain, Love is a Many splendoured Thing, The Caddy and The Man Who Knew Too Much.

The only complete stranger to me was the next score by Franz Waxman for A Place in the Sun but after I had experienced the moody and alluring taster it is now firmly on my to-see list.

Wilson, the orchestra and their wonderful sound effects skills brought the audience back to child hood with the plate smashing fun of Scott Bradley’s Tom and Jerry score.

And finally we trudged to the end accompanied by the score by Miklos Roza of Ben Hur’s exhausting trek through the desert, the difference here is that we, the audience arrive, at our destination fulfilled and revitalised.

Thank you John Wilson.

Thank you RTE Concert Orchestra.

Thank you National Concert Hall.

Thank you Mum.

You can see their next film related night here – That’s Entertainment.

West Side Story at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre

Thanks to a tweet from writer Sarah Webb I voted in the Bookshop of the Year competition and a month later received a call to say that I had won tickets to West Side Story, I hardly remembered there being a prize for entering so it was altogether very pleasant phone call.

If you haven’t been to the relatively new theatre (opened in March 2010) designed by Daniel Libeskind and situated in Dublin’s Grand Canal Square I would urge a visit. It was my first time in the building so I arrived early to lap up the atmosphere.

From the outside it looks this impressive.


But there is a different type of  impressiveness from the inside looking out and especially at night. The glass front rises up at various different angles and is criss-crossed with white beams which gave me the impression of being at the bottom of the bow of a glass boat. The modestly lit waters of Grand Canal Dock silently lapping in front helps to secure this image. Red lights that flicker and dance upward on angled columns which protrude out of the angular plaza between the entrance and the water gave me a sense of haphazard pilot lights guiding us into hazardous waters. Overall I was left with a peculiarly satisfying nautical feeling. But once you enter the auditorium it has the all classic feel of being inside a traditional theatre albeit bigger than any other in the Ireland.


I shall leave the architect’s son behind as the curtain rises and we are transported to New York’s West Side in the 1960s where two gangs are preparing to square off to claim dominance over their meagre slice of territory. The Story begins.

This musical reminds me that I have not seen a professional production with standards higher than teenagers in love for a very long time. The gangs almost glide across each other’s paths like professional ice skaters, Joey McKneely’s choreography is sublime. he mixes ballet, swing, salsa and probably a handful of other dancing styles styles I can’t identify as the gangs and players face off with each other.

The singing, especially from the two leads playing Tony & Maria are literally top notch. Massive fire escapes of New York flank either side of the stage and move in and out on their invisible axis when the scene demanded. Colourful to brilliant white costumes adorn the players who perform exquisite moves under such technical use of lighting that suits the moods and tone of the individual scenes.


Familiar tunes “America”, “Maria”, “Tonight”, “I Feel Pretty”, floated over and invigorate the audience, while “Officer Krupke” provides the welcome light relief from the tragic modern re-working of Rome & Juliet and all at a dizzyingly breakneck speed.

If you can keep up with it follow the international tour dates here.

For more about what is on at The Bord Gais Energy Theatre click here.

“Othered Voices” Dublin 2013: Music and Poetry

I jumped at an opportunity to join an audience at one of the “Othered Voices” events as part of Dublin’s Tradfest in January 2013. It promised to be a representation of marginalised groups’ artistic interpretations of contemporary Dublin.


Othered Voices was organised by Dublin Counsillor, writer and poet Mannix Flynn.

I had been at a poetry recital last year where some established writers bemoaned the lack of writing in contemporary Ireland.

So I was ready to be enlightened about my country, eager to see how the marginalised artists grappled with the state of our poor country, dying to be roused, moved and optimistic that the contemporary writers would have their bemoans unbemoaned.

I was faced with two female  Hip Hop Rappers and an almost inaudible and angry male Punk Poet.

Ophelia McCabe belted out hardcore Hip Hop tunes and to be quite frank I knew she was angry but about what specifically? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe she didn’t like her synthesiser.

Temper-mental MissElayneous was somewhat more coherent. Her rhythmic message nearly kept to the beat of her off and on accompanying music. Her accent wavered from inner city Dublin to somewhere west of Blackrock, Co. Dublin. She was clever enough to string together and hurl out tried and tested anti-establishment sound bites. But her words came across as empty echoes of archetypal ideologies stolen from oppressed and bygone decades.

The last performer was Jinx Lennon, a Punk Poet from Dundalk who was a little more to my taste than the previous two. Still he either whispered or shouted most of his poems into the microphone, dealing with unemployment and youth violence in a melodic fashion.  He painted Dundalk as some sort of dystopian nightmare you would find in Orwell or Burgess.

Mannix Flynn provided me with the highlight. While he spent most of the evening as compere, he did recite a catchy poem where he described contemporary Dublin and wondered where the ‘Joyces’ have gone.

I believe that everybody has a right to express themselves within the confines of the law. The second part of my sentence belies my own ideology. I believe in the system but unfortunately the system is currently fueled by greed whereas it should be fueled by goodwill.

I believe also that you don’t have to like something because it is true. There are parts of both anarchy and the establishment that need to be changed but it is not by replacing one with the other.

Some say art is whatever you want to be and any reaction is a result. That is a cop out. 

I want my Art to  give me food for thought. 

I applaud Mannix Flynn’s attempt to give a platform to these marginalised voices, everybody deserves a chance.

For me “Othered Voices” seem to trade on rotten lemons and all they cannot have. I was unable to find any answers here only despair and bitterness accompanied by loud and often random noises. At its worst it was was unoriginal and under-rehearsed. I was left wanting a pint.

This Art isn’t for me.

It is too easy for artists to complain, it is easy for anyone to complain, you can hear it everyday on the radio, or read it in the papers or listen to it with your eyes on social media.

But it is not easy to complain constructively and with style, neither is producing great art an easy task.

People are bitter, people are on the dole, people hate the government. It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times… yeah, yeah.

If we don’t start being optimistic and producing a healthy petrie dish for cultural and economic growth, especially and particularly at the margins, our national identity will become warped and twisted.

It has to start with us.

Culture in Dublin – Summer 2012: 3 of 3: Music

Dalkey Jazz & Lobster Festival

I thought my weekend was full already with a wedding on a Saturday (that’s a full one for me anyway) until I heard about the New Dalkey Lobster & Jazz festival.

I grew up Dalkey, still live close by and I visit it at least once a week for a business meeting or an evening pint with friends…  sometimes I jump off the train and stroll through for the sake of it.

So even though it made my weekend now bulging at the seams, I planned to sandwich the Saturday wedding with the opening and closing events of this new festival.

The Discovery Gospel Choir

I sat in the Church looking at the familiar altar and remembered the dusty transformation from it’s predecessor.  My faith used to lurk in a dark and empty room but was exposed by Catholicism which shone through a chunk  of my teenage years as an Altar Boy. When that light shone into the room, it was bright and empty, the only shadows held the doorknob and sat on the window ledge, they didn’t hang about either.

Ollie McCabe of Select Stores introduced The Discovery Gospel Choir who arrived into the church and danced their way on to the altar. Instantly the mood of the audience was lifted. The hour sped by as they chose a mixture of African rhythyms, classic soul tracks and their own original rap prayers which reverberated so energetically I was afraid that the Church was going to need to build another Altar. While the building stayed together, it was the pews that had difficulty keeping the audience sitting down.

They sung and danced. Their colourful costumes filled the altar and mesmerised the people who watched with awe.

It did nothing to make me want to believe in God again but intricate and positive sensation certainly reinforced my belief in music.

Then it was time to go to the lovely wedding in Wicklow where I witnessed (for the first time) a marriage take place in front of a massive stone hearth and burning log fire.

Sunday proved to be seedy. I was armed to the teeth with tea and a dog as my companion when I made it back to Dalkey to see The Camembert Quartet play in the same Church Car Park.

The Camembert Quartet

I had seen them on television but never live. They are an incredibly tight band and played familiar tunes with professional ease, the sharp dialogue they had with the crowd  consisted of the lead singer not letting a gap between songs pass without taking a swipe at the affluence of Dalkey and the people who lived there. As good as they were the only time people started dancing to them was with the addition of Catriona O’Sullivan as she joined them and belted out a rocking rendition of “Proud Mary”.

Dalkey was packed and the Lobster Festival seemed to be a huge success.

Congratulations to The Dalkey Business Group who spearhead the obviously attractive event.

The Discovery Gospel Choir.

The Camembert Quartet

Caitriona O’Sullivan

The Dalkey Business Group

Select Stores

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