Huge thanks to all the good folk who make the National Celtic Festival Australia Official happen every year – crew, volunteers, sponsors, artists, the good people of Portarlington – all lead by the visionary, hard-working, passionate Una McAlinden.
This year’s festival was just brilliant. Artists from all around the world brought their very best to enthusiastic crowds, who sang, listened, laughed, ate, drank, workshopped and danced their way through the weekend. The town – as always turned on the very warmest hospitality, opening its doors for the happy crowd who descended from all over. It was a celebration of Celtic culture, community, family, tradition and the power that music, song and story have to connect us all as a human family and transcend all divisions.
I was lucky to be treated to some of the fine work on offer, but this year I was so busy with my own gigs that I didn’t get to see as much as I would have liked. Despite this, I was delighted to meet many of the artists, make new friends and dream of new collaborations. Meeting fellow storyteller, Irish Joe Lynch, was definitely a highlight, as was being fortuitously billeted with the fabulous singer-songwriter, Teri Young. We had a sing over breakfast and she midwifed one of my half-baked songs into reality. We sang songs at the top of our voices all the way back up the highway to Melbourne in the car. I met the lovely Bernadette Morris, who has got me writing another song, about my ancestor, Kitty McCann, who comes from a place not far from the shores of Lough Neagh, where Bernadette lives. It turns out her own husband is a McCann. The joys of an international festival!
A big thank you especially to Una, for giving me the opportunity to be the ‘woman of the house’ – the ‘bean an ti’ – for the inaugural festival Rambling House. Having experienced Irish rambling houses on my recent trip, I was keen to get one going at the festival and it was warmly received. Thanks to all who brought a story, a poem or a song to share, or spontaneously got caught in the spirit of the gathering and gave us one – especially Jim, Keith, Teri Young, Kathryn Clements and Eric Purdie. I hope the Rambling House becomes a regular event at this festival long into the future.
Thanks to Jim Lawson for your support and encouragement and congratulations on your ever expanding Theatre Program which adds such richness to the festival. It was great to be present at an open rehearsal of Michael Kenny’s new play “The Messenger”, directed by Philip Hardy, of Barnstorm Theatre, Kilkenny. Festival goers enthusiastically took up the opportunity to offer feedback and respond to this powerful new work, which will present a story of the 1916 Uprising for a young audience. They were treated to performances by top Melbourne actors Sarah Kinsella, Russell Fletcher, Christine Keogh, Ben Adams and Jim Lawson.
It was disappointing to be unwell on Sunday and feeling a little under-par for my telling of ‘Cuchulainn’s Boyhood Deeds’, which usually goes off like a cracker, but I was very grateful for the generous understanding of my audience and the care offered by Jane and Mary and the volunteers at St. Andrew’s Ambulance, which helped me through.
After a wobbly night of feeling unwell, I was afraid I might have to withdraw from performing my new work, winding together the story of Cuchulainn’s meeting with the Morrigan and ultimately, his tale of his death. But, the show must go on! It was great to do this story in a big performance space like the Wine Bar and to feel the whole marquis of listeners hush and lean in to the story. I was moved to tears afterward by a man who came and beat his chest in a gesture of respect and offered me his heartfelt thanks for my rendition. Irish born, Michael said my version rang true and commented on what a difficult legend it is to read, but what a joy it is to listen to. Another audience member told me it was “spellbinding” and sent shivers up her spine. She said she’d look for my name first on next year’s program and give it an asterisk. It was a high risk to offer a new work for the first time in this context, but the feedback tells me it was worth effort.
Sometimes ‘the magic’ happens when I am telling a story and it takes over and it feels like I am just a conduit, a watcher at the gate, seeing the story unfold itself, as much as any audience member. It doesn’t always happen, but on Monday it did. Perhaps it was because in my wobbly state I said to my ancestors, “If you want me to tell this story, you better give me a hand.” And so they did.
Heartiest congratulations to all involved in making the festival happen and deepest gratitude for the opportunity to breathe my breath into the words of my ancestors, among such fine and joyous company.