A Memorable Week-end in Sitges by the Mediterranean.
Festival d’Arts Irlandes-Catala 26-29 October 2017.
Where to begin is the question. To do it all justice is the challenge.
After a number of days in Barcelona, during historic times, we arrived in Sitges some forty minutes south of Barcelona for an arts Festival of music, song and dance intertwining both Irish and Catalan culture. It was a many-faceted festival as could be seen from the detailed programme and one needed the dexterity of bi-location with a reservoir of energy to catch a decent percentage of all that one might like to see and hear. One of the mainstays of the Festival organisation is Caroline Wynne from Croghan and during the festival events she was regularly commended on her trojan work for it.
Two different groups had been invited out from Boyle to participate in the Festival. St. Joseph’s Church Choir was the major group. It comprised of over twenty members of the regular choir, those who were able to make the trip at this time. They had practised diligently under the watchful eye and immense energy and talent of Director Anne Kielty. They had been really looking forward to it and now their time had come.
A smaller group of very familiar traditional musicians from Boyle also made the trip as they have done for some years now. These were Maurice ‘Mossie’ Martin, Bernard Flaherty and Donie O’Connor with sean nós dancer Edwina Guckian from Carrick on Shannon, under the title ‘Western Roots’. They were joined on an ad hoc basis by Anne Conboy and Brendan Gaffney for the bar sessions which they anchored.
The sun and blue sky was a comforting backdrop to the various performances. It was a Fleadh in guaranteed sunshine.
The initial challenge of finding venues was quickly overcome since most of the activity centred on one Prado and garden. ‘Western Roots’ and ‘No Crows’ from Sligo were amongst the stage highlights on that Friday with the evening capped by an energetic session in the Tres Courts sports bar following a viewing of Connacht defeating Munster. So all was positive there.
On Saturday after a hearty breakfast a very pleasant and helpful gentleman called Brandon gave us a guided tour of the town of Sitges referring to its artistic and historic legacy ending in his own bar for ‘refreshments’. The afternoon was benchmarked by ‘a session’ in the Café del Mon owned by a Scottish couple where different nationalities participated.
Later that evening one of the stand-out events took place which was the creation of the Human Towers or Castellers. This has been a long-standing local tradition and involved a number of different groups in their own colours. A large number of these formed a broad base and these supported a number of other levels extending to six or seven high. The pillar was capped by very small and obviously young helmeted children. During my viewing one of the towers collapsed with some slight injuries. After the initial collapse there were a number of successful towers going to six or seven people high. It was a pretty dramatic event.
The highlight of the night was a Concert in two parts featuring ‘The Best of Irish and Catalan Contemporary Songwriting’. The Catalan side was contributed by local Felip Carbonnell, now resident in Sligo I am told. Felip got a great reception and came across as a very pleasant and gifted performer accompanied towards the end by Ray Coen of No Crows.
Donie O’Connor represented the Irish half flourishing with a tapestry of songs familiar to many of us and getting vocal encouragement from the energetic Boyle travelling support.
Sunday The Choir in Church
The main event, as it were, was the Sunday performance of the choir in Sitges church for the crowded 12 o’clock mass. They had been unable to access the church for practise so it was more challenging than it might have been. So too was the interaction with the mass celebrant. This led to a post mass rendition of two pieces which had earlier been lost in translation. In any event the choir performed to the highest standard, enhanced by soloists Rhona Feely, Catherine Bolger and Josephine Moran. After prolonged applause in appreciation all was well with the world. After the performance members relaxed at the rooftop bar of The Hotel Platajor with members of the Gallagher family, originally from Boyle but domiciled in Sitges for a good few years now.
Later in the afternoon the choir performed on the festival garden stage in more relaxed mode as ‘The Lough Key Singers’ incorporating some of their church material and two folk songs ‘The Parting Glass’ and ‘Will You Go Lassie Go’. At a restaurant later a group of choir members engaged in an impromptu rendition of some of their material which had a emotive response from the owner of the establishment.
At a wrap up group meal we encountered a ‘Green Lady’ who would have frightened even the ‘Green Lady’ who was resident caretaker in the folklore of King House years ago.
Later that night one of the best traditional sessions of the festivals wowed the crowds in the crowded El Cable Bar.
Apart from the slight referencing of some of the events in which Boyle people participated there was also a great ‘feel good’ factor amongst the collective. One could drift seamlessly from one group within the company to the next. Usually when travelling abroad with a group drawn from all corners one would gravitate towards another couple or at best a very small number but here it was a ‘one for all and all for one’ ethos.
And so it came to the final wrap party back at the central venue. This began with a host of young musicians with the five large groups from Armagh, Beaumont in Dublin, Bray and Carlow to be followed by a traditional session anchored by ‘Western Roots’ again. This included all the strands, where driving tunes, songs, story-telling and dance prevailed into the late night with a large number of contributors. Since this was a finale the atmosphere was at a heightened level as people were reluctant to call an end to a magical and memorable week-end.
Conscious of being diplomatic if I was to nominate my Oscar winners over the week-end the main accolades would go thus:
Producer: Caroline Wynne.
Director: Anne Kielty.
Leading Lady: Maura McGann.
Leading Man: Donie O’Connor.
Cheerleader: Cathal Tivnan.
What a coincidence!
We all have stories of coincidences of varying degrees. So this is mine from Sitges involving an Irish couple, long- time residents in Alberta Canada who were in Sitges as part of a long planned holiday. I had met Noel and Bernie a few times through Friday as they were staying in the same hotel as I was and we got talking. (It was a great talking week-end also!) It emerged that Noel was from Bray and still had generational relations there and remarked that the younger connections were ‘into’ Irish music et al. I told him that there was a substantial Bray group present as part of the Festival and perhaps some of them would know their connections. Later that day Noel and Bernie were walking the prom and a little distance away a group with red tops were practising their music. Then they saw a couple of the group’s youngsters wave in their direction. Since there was nobody else in the vicinity just then, they felt they were the subjects of the wave. It turned out that the youngsters were in fact their grand- nieces! They were there with the Bray band one of whose leaders was Noel’s adult nephew. They had observed Noel walking nearby and one suggested that he was the image of their own grandad (being his brother) and hence the exploratory wave.
Noel and Bernie became an ever present at Bray and Boyle events subsequently and I received an ‘Alberta Broach of Honour’ for my little part in that coincidence maturing.
(I am very conscious that there were many, many more, highly regarded performers –local and Irish-present other than the Boyle contribution but this piece is written for our local constituency).