Éigse an Spidéil
I’m in my third week here in Conamara and for those of you who don’t know, Conamara is a region that stretches (roughly) from west by northwest of Galway town to Leenan along the coast and is bordered on the east by Loch Corrib and Lock Mask. I was supposed to go out to Carna for a spell to visit with Mícheál Ó Cuaig but he has surgery on his leg and I thought it best to leave him to recover without a stranger in his house! I’ll likely take a visit out to see him for a day or so this week. So, right now I’m staying with Mícheál Ó Conghaile in Teach Mór Thiar, which is situated just west of Indreabhán and just south of An Lochán Beag. He’s a lovely dry house that looks south onto Galway Bay and on clear days (and not so clear days) you can see the Burren in Co. Clare and the Aran Islands. Mícheál is a writer and is busy so it leaves me to work on my own but he’s an amazing library (as you can imagine) and I’ve some great resources on hand. BUT I also need to talk in order to practice so I involve myself with outings and events and one such amazing event is Éigse an Spidéil, which is, essentially, a festival celebrating music, song, dance and poetry and is situated in the town of An Spidéal a good few miles east of Teach Mór Thiar toward Galway town.
The Éigse began on Wednesday with an art instillation from several local artists and continued on Thursday at Óstán na Pairce with performances from young singers who have been participating in the Gaelacadaimh program. Gaelacadaimh is much like the Aislinn Geal program in west Cork. Local, well-known singers attend schools or organize after school programs to teach children songs, which is hoped will keep several of them interested an life-long singers in the sean-nós style. Quite a few of the ones nearing high school age were very good and you could hear the Conamara style of singing setting in. The performance ended with the launch of a CD. The album consisted of several recordings of a local singer from An Spidéal, Peait Phádraic Tom Uí Chonghaile. There’s a great store of songs on it. I (of course) bought a copy!
On Friday at the pub An Tobar there was a meeting of poets and a reading and musical collaboration between poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and composer/fiddler Máire Bhreathnach. I hadn’t heard Nuala read since I was an undergrad living at home in St. Louis but I must say, woman has charisma! It was a magical pairing of tunes and poems for a good few hours and then as people filed off home the real magic began. As always happens, there was a wee session in the back room where more songs, stories and poems were had. Jackie Mac Donncha from Cill Chiaráin, a favorite poet of mine, was there reading a couple of poem he had recently composed.
The following day, Saturday, the weather was clear and bright so I took a walk down to the seaside. It was so clear that I could see the fences and houses on the Burren and on the Aran Islands. The weather has stayed clear but it’s very cold. This might work to my advantage though since I want to see the comet C/2011 L4 Pan-Starrs this week as it approaches the neighborhood. The Milky Way (An Bóthar Bó Finne) is stunning out this way…so many stars. Should make for a spectacular sight. I digress, there were instrument workshops, a singing competition for singers under 18 years of age and an evening concert of Irish music on for Saturday. I didn’t attend but spent the day at the beach. 😉
Just before the closing ceremonies on Sunday, I took a walk down to the old quay there in An Spidéal and while the wind was blustery and inhospitable, the sights were not but I wussed out half way along the trail. Turning heels quickly, I headed to Tigh Hughes for warmth, drink and the naming of the lucky winner of Comóradh Tom Pháidín Tom, which is an award given to an outstanding tradition bearer from the community. This year the award went to Johnny Connolly otherwise known as Johnny Phádraig Phetair Tomáis Mhicil Thaidhg Conaola. 😉 Say that three times fast. Anyhow, Johnny is a phenomenal melodeon player who is known to sing from time to time as well. He’s well known among the sean-nós dancing community as he’s played tirelessly for the Oireachtas competitions for time immemorable not to mention countless performances from kitchens and sitting rooms in Conamara to the National Concert Hall in Dublin and beyond. Fair play duit, Johnny!
I met many old friends, half acquaintances and complete strangers, which is always a pleasure and the compliments from them concerning my Irish…always heartening but (let’s be honest) wouldn’t they come from any Irish person?! Likely. I’ve my work cut out for me this week since it’s the second week of Seachtain na Gaeilge and leads up to Lá Fhéile Phádraic. It seems that cultural events were in trickles for the majority of my time in Ireland but now they’re flowing and I’m trying to keep up! Tonight I’m headed to a sean-nós dancing class in Árus na nGael in Galway town taught by the ever light-footed Pádraic Ó hOibicín (as of An Spidéal fame).
So what did I gather from my time in Conamara (and there still time to come here)?
1) It’s very difficult to get away from English, even here. I’ve had a mixture of experiences relating to which language you’re likely to be greeted in in Conamara. At the restaurant where I ate lunch on Saturday, the young ladies working the ground initially spoke to me in English but once I spoke back in Irish, they maintained using Irish throughout my stay there. In the local shops (called Cearlanna an Spidéil) Irish is visible everywhere but it’s not to be heard or even had by the artists that work there!
2) TV and radio aren’t helping me strengthen my comprehension skills (YET), they’re only overwhelming and frustrating me. In terms of the TV, there’s the incessant use of subtitles in English. The only time there aren’t subtitles is during the news, and, let’s be honest (again), the news is just full of shite and negativity so I’d assume go without! 😉 Radio will be great once I hit my stride but reception and conversations tend to cause a lot of confusion with me. *sigh*
3) In response to the TV/radio problems, I’ve been reading children’s books! Mícheál’s house if full of them so I’ve been diving in. Children’s books, folks, children’s books! Once you read them, you read them to your children or your friends’ children, etc. http://www.cic.ie <<< buy them here!
4) I've been lazy and complacent in my learning both in the States and in the past here in Ireland. I think I supposed in the past that just because Irish was to be heard in many aspects of media and social circles that I would improve naturally. HOW I WAS WRONG! This learning Irish thing is hard, kids! You've got to really want it and I'm going to be honest (again), this Irish language isn't easy either!!! It takes a lot of active study and forced interaction to build the skills a speaker needs to interact with easy and confidence.
5) Even after breaking through my initial barriers in west Cork, allowing the language to flow over me and into me in Mann, and swimming in the familiar blás of Conamara…I STILL HAVE MY FULL MOMENTS!!! At the end of the day, I can't be hard on myself for NOT knowing, I can only be patient and active and know that someday (VERY SOON, I HOPE) it'll come to me and I'll smile to myself and think HOW FASCINATING!