Americans’ cultural tour of Roscommon a major success

Declan Coyne It’s been a busy and a ‘good news’ period for the South Roscommon Singers Circle. While some of our members were guests of various clubs across the country – Spancilhill, Crinkle, Killeagh, Ballinasloe, An Góilín in Dublin and the Moone Fireside Singers Club yet to come (as I write), we received an offer of funding from the Arts Council under the Small Festivals scheme for our singers weekend in October 2008 (24th to 27th).    While such funding is essential for the running of events like the South Roscommon Singers Festival, which takes place in the village of Knockcroghery, we also depend on funding from Roscommon County Council’s Arts Office and generous sponsorship from people like Cllr. Paddy Kilduff (our main sponsor), the Roscommon People newspaper (sponsor of The Annie McNulty Award) and various others from the business community both locally and further afield.    However, oftentimes the benefits from such funding are not always evident once the specific event for which it is intended has taken place, but not so in our case. Since the festival was first launched six years ago, indeed since the Singers Circle was launched over fifteen years ago, there has been a steady stream of visitors to the south of the county to share the hospitality and hilarity, the culture and heritage, as well as the beverage and culinary delights the area has to offer.    Just last month, hot on the heels of a very successful and innovative Lamb Festival (well done to all concerned) in Roscommon, a busload of Americans arrived in the county town at the start of a ten-day ‘cultural tour’ of Ireland. The tour was organised by none other than Mick Moloney, recipient of the 2007 Annie McNulty Award and guest of the singers’ festival. Mick has been organising cultural tours from the States for longer than he cares to admit, but only last October he discovered a whole new facet of Irish culture that he hadn’t experienced at first-hand until then. He discovered the phenomenon that is ‘The Singers Circle’ and he discovered the Flute Players of Roscommon.  He told us the Flute Players of Roscommon are big in Vietnam since he introduced its people to the music recently.    Dr. Mick Moloney, as well as being the foremost authority on folk and traditional music in the United States, where he lectures on the subject, also travels extensively throughout South America, Asia and Australia. So, you can rest assured that the good news about Roscommon music, song and hospitality will travel and spread with him. I myself heard Mick recently on a BBC Northern Ireland radio documentary on the origins and the history of ‘The Session’, singing the praises of the Knockcroghery event.  Anyway, back to the recent visit to Roscommon.    The tour group, which was made up of music lovers from all across the U.S., north, south, east and west, arrived at the Abbey Hotel on a Friday morning, where they shook off the jetlag in preparation for a mighty night of music. In an intimate concert format in one of the conference rooms in the Abbey, the Flute Players –  Patsy Hanly, John Wynne and John Carlos, accompanied by fiddlers Mossie Martin and young Dylan Carlos, put on a cracking show. Mick joined in from time to time on the banjo and sang a few songs as well. It was a lively, most informative, relaxed and skilful performance that set the standard for the tour and delighted the eager audience.    The Americans were well pleased with the musical offering, but when Mayor John Kelly, Deputy Mayor Tony Ward and Cllr. Paddy Kilduff arrived to officially welcome the party to the county, the bar was pushed away up. That was the icing on the cake, if you like, since they were never afforded that courtesy anywhere before. The Americans love that kind of thing and full marks to John Kelly and his Council colleagues for the gesture. As Mayor Kelly said on the night, we don’t have as many American tourists as we did in the past because of the euro/dollar exchange rate making it expensive for them to come here, so it is nice to show our appreciation when they do come.    But there was plenty more cake and plenty more icing in store as the tour continued in equally high fashion on the Saturday morning. Local historian John Kerrigan took the group on an historic tour of the town, which also thrilled all concerned. Then it was on to the Famine Museum in Strokestown before returning to another memorable night of entertainment, this time as guests of the Singers Circle in Murray’s Lounge in Knockcroghery. Suffice to say, it was one of the best nights of the Circle in a long while – but, then Circle nights keep getting better and better. Thanks to John and Eithna for their hospitality and the ‘midnight’ grub. It was very much appreciated.    Then Monday morning’s visit (Sunday they took in Coleman Country) to Derryglad Folk Museum in Curraghboy was another memorable event that comes under the heading – Icing on the Cake. There is no doubt about it, but Charlie Finneran can be very proud of his museum and its contribution to the area. It must be by now the most comprehensive privately owned collection of folk memorabilia in Ireland and Charlie of course is thoroughly professional in his knowledge and presentation of the 4,000 plus items on display. Mick Moloney and Co. were very impressed.    Finally, before heading off to Clare and Kerry for the remaining legs of the tour, the vibes were good as they left South Roscommon. In fact Mick is already committed to including Roscommon on the schedule for future tours and, who knows, if the currency problems even out in the near future there may be many, many more to come. So thanks to the Arts Council, Roscommon Arts Office, Cllr. Paddy Kilduff, Roscommon People and all our other sponsors and friends, your contributions are, after all, very much appreciated. Thanks also to Hugh Baxter who liaised on behalf of ‘the Circle’ with Mick Moloney on the run-up to the tour.  Declan Coyne is Secretary/PRO South Roscommon Singers Circle