By Darragh Kelly
This year’s O’Carolan International Harp Festival was launched last Sunday in Keaduewhere a large crowd assembled for the start of one of the most prestigious traditional music festivals in the country.
This year’s festival was officially opened by Minister of State for Communities and Natural Resources, Sean Kyne, who said harpers were particularly valued for their prowess today, unlike in times past. “Harps performed as early as the sixteenth century before the Battle of Kinsale. Such was their significance, after the battle, that the authorities issued a decree “to hang harpers and their instruments. Thankfully that is no longer the case,” said Minister Kyne, tongue in cheek.
This year’s festival, the 39th in all since its inception in 1978, began with the traditional parade through the picturesque village of Keadue, led by young harpist, Fiachra Guihan who performed a fine rendition of ‘O’Carolan’s Concerto’ on a replica O’Carolan harp, commissioned by the Taheny family of Alderbrook House and made from local sycamore.
Making his first visit to Keadue, Minister Sean Kyne describedKeadue “as a beautiful village”, adding, “festivals are hugely important, it’s great to see people coming together, it’s good for a town.” Minister Kyne spoke about the importance of the harp, not only as a musical instrument of great repute, but as a national symbol, used on the background of the Presidential standard and Ministerial seals of office as well as the speaking on the immense legacy of Turlough O’Carolan, after whom the Festival is named.
“Though born in Nobber, County Meath in 1670, O’Carolan is synonymous with this area and is buried a short distance from here. O’Carolan is the last of the Irish Bards, commemorated in the naming of your own O’Carolan Park, opened here in 1993.
“The festival is part of the Creative Ireland programme, which was launched following the very successful 1916 centenary commemorations. Roscommon has a lot to offer – cultural tourism is hugely important and Keadue has a lot to offer,” the Minister concluded.
Chairman of the organising committee, Stephen Hennessy welcomed those present and said Minister Kyne, as Minister for Community Affairs would see that “Keadue keeps our end of the bargain” in respect of a community coming together to organise the festival.
Mr Hennessy said the traditional ‘O’Carolan Summer School’ which preceded the launch of the festival was a fine success and noted that visitors to this year’s festival came as far away as Japan. He also thanked the event’s many sponsors, Roscommon County Council and the many venues who made their premises available for this year’s event.
Festival Committee Secretary Marie Guihen presented Minister Kyne with a special commemorative copy of ‘Kilronan Now and Then’ to mark his visit before tributes was paid to the founding vision of the Festival organisers, namely Padraig Noone and the late Josie McDermott, whose death occurred twenty-five years ago.
The parade featured a wide range of interesting and varied floats assembled by local businesses and community groups, including the local Tidy Towns Committee, who circulated an informative and professionally produced leaflet on the work of the Committee, who have been integral in the village getting national and international acclaim as one of country’s tidiest villages.
Visitors from the St. Enda’s GAA Club in Belfast were also welcome visitors to this year’s parade. Rather poignantly, a float featuring O’Donnell’s Shop lamented the closure of the landmark business in the village, which recently ceased trading after 53 years. The winners of this year’s parade was the float depicting the many events and activities taking place in the local sportsfield.
This year’s centrepiece festival concert featured a performance by renowned American group ‘Cherish the Ladies’. Following the opening formalities, musical entertainment was provided by local traditional musician Tommy Guihan and the group ‘Sheebeen’.