Creative Ireland – A Glimmer of Hope?

The Sheelin Suite was positively bopping with artists (a smattering of councillors, and a good few council officers) last night when I went to the Creative Ireland consultation workshop. There were painters, poets, writers, sculptors, video artists, embroiderers, curators, playwrights.  It was a positive love-in. I felt wooed and stirred. The Minister told us that ‘culture was going to be at the heart of government policy’, that the legacy of the 2016 celebrations was the revelation that culture mattered. There was a video of all the great and the good in the Arts World telling us how wonderful it was going to be with Creative Ireland in the frame. And face to face, the Cathoirleach, Cavan CEO, the Minister, Director of Culture Ireland, the Chair of the Cavan Culture team all told us, again and again, about how positive and radical it was going to be. Then, for the final twenty minutes it was over to the artists to say what we thought would be great in Cavan, creatively wise.

And did we think! We wanted to start young, get artists into schools running workshops, set up a network of artists in Cavan. We wanted space for exhibitions, rehearsals, workshops across the whole of the county (the Minister later referred to these as creative hubs). We wanted to make use of Castle Sanderson (a magnificent conference centre set in fabulous grounds restored under Peace Programme for the scouts) for training in traditional crafts. We wanted to develop a Cavan Gaeltacht, we wanted a heritage audit, we wanted to word farm and story tell, we wanted a children’s festival, to invest in our archives, an active creative and mental health programme, we wanted an artist buddy system, we wanted to make this Cavan Creative Team public.

So maybe, if anyone is listening, as the present Cavan Culture team seems to be all state/public sector officials, the first step is to ask a few artists from different creative fields to get involved.

In the world of Creative Ireland, there are five imaginings:

  • Enabling the Creative Potential of Every Child
  • Enabling Creativity of Every Community
  • Investing in our Creative and Cultural Infrastructure
  • Ireland as the Centre of Excellence in Media Production
  • Unifying our Global Reputation

So, it is not unambitious.

The core work of Creative Ireland is creating and sustaining functional and productive partnerships with all identified agencies built on detailed workplans, with tangible outcomes, that will be developed in consultation with each partner organisation.”

Maybe, the second step should be to write a little less creatively.

There is cabinet committee chaired by the Taoiseach, a senior officials group, a dedicated projects office to drive this initiative. But I am not sure how many Indians are involved. There is one, the director, John Concannon, who is currently touring all the counties with the presentation, so he has energy, and the Minister, Heather Humphreys, is enthusiastic. It reminded me of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy which ten plus years ago was very trendy but which created little change which impacted on poor people.

However, last night, I was heartened by the ideas, the suggestions, the artists! It was a glimmer of hope on what is presently a dark canvas. And, don’t you think its lovely to think that we might have government policy that is driven by the artistic and cultural well-being of its people. But, the collaborative nature of Creative Ireland is key. All Government departments need to be actively involved and creatively proof their policy making. And, artists need to be involved at every level. Not all artists will want to, but I am sure there are many who have been actively involved in their communities and who will be interested in helping make Creative Ireland successful. So, I will put aside my cynicism, all my previous experience as a community activist. Artists, check it out and maybe get involved. I leave you with the words of Oscar Wild, ‘a cynic is a man  who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.’ or

Oh, and while I’m here – don’t forget the Poetry Party in the Town Hall at 6.30pm on Thursday 27 April. Bring poems and cakes. And this years first AT The Edge, Cavan takes place on Tuesday 2 May in the Johnston Library and we’ve got great readers. Truly: Colm Keegan, Helena Mulkerns, Kate Dempsey, followed by Open Mic.

kate 002


Thank You, World

2017 has been good to me, so far. My mother would say that by announcing this, I am putting its future in jeopardy! But to hell with caution, my yellow daffodil of spring wants to trumpet!

I have funding from Cavan Arts Office for a fourth series of AT The Edge this year, and not only that, we have nine brilliant readers (think cat and cream and you have the right image of me here). The first on Tuesday 2 May will see Cavan welcome Kate Dempsey, Colm Keegan and Helena Mulkerns. In August, Maurice Devitt, Stephen James (tbc) and Lisa Frank and in October, Afric McGlinchey, Mairead Donnellan, and Brian Kirk. I am so looking forward to seeing them all in Cavan.

So, I was surprised when another Cavan Arts Office envelope plopped down into the porch of The Bungalow last week – the porch is where I occasionally sit when my muse goes awol. I smoke, keep an eye on the neighbours, and watch for what my garden is growing. Anyway, this envelope from Cavan Arts Office was telling me that I had been given a professional development award to get a mentor to help me finalise my first novel and collection of short stories. This was brilliant news which came at a very good time for me as my muse has been more missing than musing recently. Not writing is another ‘art’ of writing that my mentor may have to help me with! In fact, in the past few months, I have spent more time submitting material (thanks to Angela Carr for her circulation of submission and competition deadlines) and editing my early stories. It has been alarming but interesting to see how raw and unkempt my early short stories are; a raggle taggle of cock tales in sore need of pickles and extra shots! I vaguely wonder, how I know this. When and how did I learn the craft? More to the point, what exactly did I learn so I can do it now? I’m hoping my mentor who has much more experience than I will be able to tell me!

Anyway, that is not all! There is more good news. We are having a poetry party in Cavan at the Town Hall Arts Centre on Poetry Day, Ireland (Thursday 27 April at 6.30pm). The Town Hall has just received good news too. It has received three quarters of a million euro from the Department to refurbish the listed building. They plan to install poets on every landing to recite poetry every thirty minutes (not really, I’m just getting carried away). So, we having a poetry party to celebrate Poetry Day, Ireland, but not just a poetry party, we’re having a poetry and cake party. What better way to spend a few hours on National Poetry Day, reading poetry and eating cake!

So, this Spring is good, and I want to say thanks. Thanks to Crannóg in Galway, the Lakeview International Journal, Anomaly, and the Honest Ulsterman for publishing four of my short stories.  I loved reading at the Crannog launch in Galway last Friday. My son, Joe, said there were two women who were crying with laughter. I could hear their guffaws and it was very encouraging, so thank you to them. (The story is Irish Mothers, Beware and you can read it in this edition of Crannóg ( Thank you to Cavan Arts Office for supporting At The Edge, Cavan, and myself. Thank you to all the readers who are prepared to come to Cavan and read. Thank you to Nuala, and all the local poets who come to my own poetry workshops, and thank you for reading this blog. I should also thank my family, and Poppins, my dog, and, Ciaran, the postman who brings such good news and is nice about Poppins barking at him, and oh, my mother! I should thank my mother!


Art, Expression and Brexit

At one of the International Literature Festival events in Dublin last Friday, Margaret and I, along with similar looking and attired folk, filed into the upstairs bar of the Lord Edward pub next to Christchurch and scattered to the tables and stools. There, we were treated to a reading of Flan O’Brien’s drama, Thirst.

In Thirst, following the local sergeant’s arrival ‘after hours’ with his note pad, the audience is transported to a hot desert by Mr C who over a period of forty minutes described his war years as a duty bound soldier where the feet were caked in scalding hot sand so that the very skin peeled off, the throat was parched with arid dried sun and the water bottles had to be cast away because they were made of aluminium, the packs, guns, knives were the weight of elephants, the eyes were brimming with sand and dust, the sun was a furnace into which they travelled, indeed chased the enemy over dunes, and more (forty minutes more), all to convince the sergeant he needed a pint after hours, and indeed, we were all reaching for our glasses to quench our thirst. It was very funny, very Irish and a brilliant performance.

the thirst

I was less enthralled by Yianis Vouroufakis, though he is rather delightful on the eye and I am sure that if we were in one to one situation with a bottle of retsina (Ruth Ennals, are you reading), I would be totally charmed.

yianis varoufakis

He gave an absolutely devastating description of an EU which was undemocratic, unwieldy, in the hands of megalomaniac bureaucrats and indeed was set up as such a body from the very beginning. Yet after lambasting the mechanisms, behaviours, the corruption (he said that irrespective of the Greek decision to default, the EU paid the bankers and sent him the invoice), he believed that Britain should stay in. I couldn’t believe it. Yianis justified his view by saying you needed common standards, that the political loss would be huge and that the EU was already deteriorating because of its hubris. Speeding it up would create havoc. I wonder what propelled him to say this.

I have been alternating in my views about Brexit (although I don’t have a vote as I have lived more than 15 years in Ireland). My instinct and feeling is that the EU is a conglomerate of bankers and power elites which do not respect democracy and certainly put the interests of the rich and powerful first. However, I certainly do not want to be associated with UKIP, Gove and Boris Johnston who would appear to want to return to Little England, and have unpleasant and racist views about immigration and refugees. I believe firmly in human rights, international conventions, and the need to draw up fairer, equal policies in conjunction with the experience of other nations and countries. I believe we need to rethink what we want the EU to be. I am sure Mr Farage and others will not have in mind the kind of EU wide supports and network that I believe should be put in place.

Yianis described an unwieldy monster when he described the operation of the EU. And he was sceptical of its reform. He thought the Brits were damned if we did leave and damned if we didn’t. I think it is better to attempt change, and not fear it. Maybe the way to do this is to leave because at least it will change the status quo which at the moment is only providing people with unemployment, hysteria, right wing politicians and promulgating fear throughout society. Surely it is better to do something rather than nothing. Maybe this is the revolution, we just don’t know what revolution looks like any more.

Anyway, Yianis helped me think as did Lesley Courcof (an English friend of mine whom I met for lunch the next day before she left Dublin after seeing The Boss) and Margaret Barry with whom I went to the International Literature Festival events and who had to listen to my passionate ranting and ravings with a patience and a humour that only Margaret has. I thank them all.

My few days ended with a return to Cavan to see ‘Underneath’, a performance by Pat Kinevane at the Town Hall (to which, if you look back through my blogs, you will see previous references). ‘Underneath’ is about bullying, the power of the strong over the weak. He makes his point with sensitivity, humour, and his set is of the most beautiful, stark style. He is sinuous, sensual. His movements are graceful, his voice is huge. Performances like this is what we live for. Sadly, whether the EU exists or not, or Brexit happens or not, there will always be the weak and powerful. I just hope we will always have art and literature,  to help us reflect on our vulnerabilities and enable us to think, and listen. (Are you listening, Irish Government?)







Cavan Discovered on Tour

Culture day in Cavan was a hot trail of art and theatre through blue skies, scudding clouds, all merging into a wonderful sunset behind the spire of the cathedral. It couldn’t have been a more artistic setting.
It was a great day which began with the Women’s Traveller Health and Social Care Project. They put on a wonderful spread of food but it was the knitting, the painting, and the chat that was brilliant to see and hear. I didn’t realise the project was so extensive. What a resource for the town to have.
In the evening, Julie and I started in the Library with Sally O’Dowd’s one line drawings. I was intrigued by these. I used to like doing one line drawings myself but mine only turned into scribble, unlike Sally’s. Maire, a friend of mine, reminded me of the toy we had as children: grey screen, red backing, two knobs in the front which you turned and created a one line drawing. Ahh yes, memories. Sally’s drawing made me wish I’d kept at it.
After the Library we headed up to the Moth Studios behind Church St. This is where I discovered parts of Cavan I didn’t know existed. Long beautiful gardens roll up a hill and there are interesting bungalows dotted on the horizon beneath an almost Swiss looking forest of conifers.
On down to The Living Thing exhibition by Jackie O’Neill and Joe Doherty in The Teacher’s Centre. This was a delightful surprise. The outside tree light sculptures were so pretty and so was Kavan Donoghue playing the harp. It was a lovely exhibition. It focuses on the concept of Mandella, the unifying centre from which everything evolves. Yes, a little hard to get your head around but the wooden artefacts were gorgeous and I loved the way the way they were displayed. I particularly liked Jackie’s Shannon Pot piece.
We got so excited about this exhibition that we missed the beginning of the Tapas Theatre on in the Town Hall but when we did get there, I really enjoyed this performance. With the Sinfonia orchestra on stage providing the music in between, the Theatre Lab Cavan brought us a few of the tiny plays collected by Fishamble and the Irish Times who received over 1,700 submissions when they asked the Irish public what could be achieved on stage in three minutes. I particularly liked the heart knitting piece, the two girls drinking and dreaming, and the banking scene. So clever, and so enjoyable. The stage setting was fab too.
As, indeed, was the launch of the Town Hall Programme by the crew. What a spectacular! Great lighting, smoke, creativity, charisma, charm, and engagement. I loved the lowering of the gigantic bar of lights to centre stage (isn’t it ironic how the lighting is rarely acknowledged in theatre despite often being the show piece) and the final wrap up with the wrapping up of the dancer by the stage hands. Brilliant.
We are so lucky to have the Town Hall as an arts centre in Cavan. It feels like home. There can be no greater accolade. Thank you everyone!

th prog benchjoe doherty


Forgotten in Cavan

pat kinevane

I first saw ‘Silent’, Pat Kinvane’s one man show, in Manchester last March. I loved it and was excited when I saw he was performing at the Cavan Theatre Festival. I wanted to see it again not only because of his engaging and mesmerising performance, but also because the humour and wit was very Irish and I am not sure the English audience appreciated the nuances. I would love to know if he thinks this. So far my highlights of the Cavan theatre festival have been the performances of Silent and Forgotten by Pat Kinvane and the interview by Kieron Smith with Padraic McIntyre and Pat McCabe in Blessings. It was direct, refreshing and honest. I also liked Ray Fitzsimmons first film, pacy and funny. I should say, this is all I have seen! So I am a happy bunny despite having spent the week’s groceries on theatre tickets. It was worth it. But I just want to say a few words about Silent and Forgotten or are they about Pat Kinvane? That is the question. In Forgotten he brings to the set four characters, their stories, experiences, dreams, charms, and life shite but somehow he does it through his own person. The character of Pat Kinvane himself never leaves the stage. I don’t mean physically (it is a one man show, he can’t) but his own self dominates the set. Silent is about suicide, prejudice, mental health. These are very difficult topics but Pat Kinevane addresses them through humour, pathos and anger with dignity and grace. He tells good stories. Each character has a tale and Pat Kinevane regales it through conversation. He engages the audience directly, talks to us, is able to ad lib and draw us in. I felt I was a part of each performance. His interaction with the audience is absolutely brilliant. His movement is gorgeous. His body is divine. If I said more, I’d embarrass myself! Today I’m looking forward to The Moogles, Sean Rocks and Philip Doherty! But I’m also hoping that Pat Kinevane is staying around. Can you have old age groupies?


Summer Solstice in The Burren

I opened the curtains this morning and was surprised to discover a vast blue, yellow and green world outside my bedroom window. And it was completely still and silent. The wild flower meadow we planted last year spotted orange  poppies and blue cornflowers . The old calor gas tank, waiting to be collected, was murky white and dirty. It is the view I wake up to every day, but it was completely different this morning, bathed in the yellow and blue light of eight am. I think I can never have opened the curtains at that time before in weather like this.

I was reminded of the changing light yesterday evening, driving home from the Cavan Burren, on Cuilche mountain. The landscape seemed vast. But it was so different. It was dark, moody, melodious almost. It sang brown, grey and green in harmony with blue, and yellow. It was a true operetta of light.

The mid summer festival in The Burren yesterday was lovely though I only caught the last hour. I fell into Irish time yesterday. I must have been tired from my dancing at the shores of the Bandon river the day before in Kinsale, for I fell asleep on my bed  instead of getting in my car and driving off to the mid summer festival. Anyhow, better late than never, I said as I greeted the stream of poets, dancer and musician friends leaving while I climbed the new and winding road to the new Cavan Burren centre.


What is the Cavan Burren? It is the most beautiful place in the world. Better than Kerry, Cork, and Donegal! It is a “relict” landscape. Its habitation, sites, fields, stones, rock survive from prehistoric times. Its glacial erratics (free standing stones and rocks) survive from the last ice age while its dry valley (now full of trees and damp vegetation) bears testimony to a pre-glacial river and sink. It was once a tropical sea 350 million years ago! A sea! The place is truly amazing. It is wild, gorgeous, dramatic and interesting. The new Cavan Interpretive Centre is also fabulous. It is made with natural stone and designed to fit in with the wilderness of the Burren. It is open to the elements and it reveals all.




Actually, I was too excited to read all the colourful information panels as I tapped my feet to the fabulous Cavan Big Band (I caught the last ten minutes of their set, having missed the poetry, dancing and traditional music of the afternoon) and chatted to my Sallaghan neighbours who were just back from a guided tour and walk of tour hours. I was so envious. The compensation was the delicious hot dog from the Keepers Arms in Bawnboy who did the barbequing!

So as well as being beautiful, wild, and interesting, the Cavan Burren is a wonderful place for a party. (I’m thinking of my 60th!).

To be fair, most places in Ireland are good for a party. But as I write about parties, I am struck at the silence which I notice still prevails outside. It is rare not to hear the birds singing in my garden (it was only when I moved to Cavan that I realised birds sang all day and not just in the morning and evening). So, why the silence this morning? I am almost nervous of stepping out to discover bones and mystic pagan relicts. After all, it was the summer solstice yesterday.

Happy Autumn, everyone! Wish me luck. I’m going out there to find out. Oh, but before I do, I did discover something else of particular interest yesterday afternoon in the Burren…singing stones. There was a table of ancient musical instruments  . The ivory and iron horns were incredible, beautifully decorated. But there were stones too, beautifully polished by the sea with holes that you could play like flutes and whistles. I loved that.





“Recognise the World in a Different Way”

Where the Wind Sleeps, Noel Monahan’s latest volume of poetry, was launched last night in Cavan. People flowed up the Court House steps and into the council chamber. People rushed for seats but some had to make do with sitting on the sideboards, standing at the back, or squatting in the aisles. What an accolade to a local poet and to the Arts in Cavan.  Lovely poems too! I haven’t read them all yet, but what I liked, as I browsed, is seeing Cavan and its people peering out at me from its pages. I have lived in the County fifteen years and have travelled across it widely, so am well versed in its natural beauty and geography. I respond to the references to the town lands, I know the people, the mountains, the music. In Galway last year, Doire Press published short stories set in the city. I loved it. It is fun to read about characters roaming the familiar streets. Noel has done a similar thing through this volume of poetry.

After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world,” Philip Pullman.

Isn’t that right? Our lives become a series of stories and or poems. Stories weave our history and our shared imagination precedes our future. Words describe us, form our thinking, shape our ability to respond to each other. I wonder if our ham fisted use of it, our often lazy construction of sentences, the screaming hysteria of headlines and media leads the way to chaos and breakdown. Maybe. That is why we must delve, search, seek and use our language effectively.

Words are so important. I was on a ‘facilitative leadership’ course this week. I have facilitated and led groups for a long time. This course was very interesting. By naming the different segments of the facilitation process, and thereby specifically defining the work, I was able to appreciate and understand the job I have been doing, almost blindly, for 30 years. It gave the work and myself a value. However, you can go over the top too. Instead of being given an assignment, or homework, between sessions, I was given an ‘evening opportunity’!

Gerard Smyth, from Poetry Ireland, did a wonderful introduction to Noel Monahan’s volume, ‘Where the Wind Sleeps’. I wish I had his command of the English language. Poetry, he said, makes us recognise the world in a different way. That is a wonderful description of poetry. To enjoy a poem we have to see its kindred spirit, it may not reflect our own experience, but it must make us recognise the world.

ImageThe poets  and writers who read their work this week at the first session of AT The Edge, Cavan made us recognise the world in a different way. Shane Connaughton read an excerpt from his current work in play, as did June Caldwell. Both reflected the edgy experience, pathos and humour of emigration. Michael Farry brought us firmly home to Ireland again with his poems, also full of quiet humour, and sharp with experience. In his poems I recognised the older man in the chemist, the shed in the garden, the glory of being the new grandparent (even though I’m not there yet). Over thirty five people came to the Library for the first session of AT the Edge, Cavan. I was so happy!


It is great to recognise the world in a different way. Thank you, every one, for doing that for me this week.


Photos are of a few Cana House poets reading at the open mic, AT the Edge, Cavan. Also, Cana House Poets 11 have published a booklet of their poetry called YEAST. Poems by Pat Joe Kennedy, Ann O’Donoghue, Marion Lyon, Patricia Doole, Dermot Maguire, Ann Conway, Kate Ennals