O’Conor ancestry revived through Siarsceal

By Gwen Bond An exclusive recital of the harp music of Turlough O’Carolan set the scene for SiarSceal Festival 08, as the cultural and historical collaborative celebrated its second year at an event in the seat of the O’Conor’s of Connacht, Clonalis House last Friday. A Turlough O’Carolan harp recital placed the O’Carolan harp back in its native surroundings through harpist Andy Gowan, who created a 17th century walnut harp with brass strings especially for the occasion. The riveting notes accompanied by George Patrick Eggleston’s bagpipes captured ancient overtures, as portraits of the ancestral O’Conor gentry gracing the drawing room walls soberly observed. Pyres and Marguerite O’Conor Nash had kindly provided SiarSceal with Clonalis House for the reception and evening’s performance.   The festival was launched by Cllr. John Kelly, Mayor of Roscommon, who pledged SiarSceal as an important initiative for the Council and the Library Services to be involved in. ‘The development of this festival since last year is evident from a review of this year’s programme which encompasses a variety of artistic disciplines and links those with the historical features and landscapes of the county.’ From the performances at Clonalis House here this evening with the O’Conor Nash ancestry to recitals at Cruachan Ai with its Rathcroghan and Queen Medbh associations and the Writers Groups collaborations the festival can truly claim to be comprehensive in its scope and ambitions.’ Richie Farrell County Librarian, patron and sponsor of SiarSceal endorsed his commitment to SiarSceal indicating that his earnest wish was for this particular initiative to develop and grow. ‘In many respects, a once-off event can be easy to organise but a greater challenge is to sustain an annual event, remain committed to it and see it flourish.’ Guest Speaker Pyres O’Conor Nash talked personally about his move from Dublin to Clonalis House, introducing an extract from Carolyn Callery’s play ‘El Capitan Colorado’ – the Royal O’Conor Memoir of Hugo O’Conor Don who left Clonalis House aged 16. His legacy included locating the new Presidia at San Augustine Del Tucson on August 20th 1775. The monologue was performed by Philip Gilbride in his Hibernian Uniform and gave poignant reflections of missing the West’s rain and the meandering Suck. Readings from Bilingual poet Nuala Ni Chonchuir, Mary Melvin Geoghegan and Ann Joyce followed. Ann Joyce adjudicated the SiarSceal Poetry ‘Hanna Greally Perpetual Trophy Poetry Awards,’ presenting first prize to Mike Casey for his winning poem ‘Riverrun.’ Highly commended winners were Pauline Scott and Deirdre Brennan. A recital by Ballintubber and Tulsk Writers accompanied by harpist Andy Gowan, fiddler Ruth Flanagan with Darragh Ó Cinnéide on flute wowed the audience as did readings from Boyle Active Age members.  A musical medley concluded the night’s performance. SiarSceal’s themed exhibition was launched Saturday 5th April in An Cruachan Ai Interactive Centre, Tulsk. Artists Clare Kelly and Sue Hill’s paintings are in collaboration with local writers and schools based on local history and featuring Queen Medbh. The exhibition will continue until the end of April and the schools’ work will move to both Castlerea and Ballaghaderreen Libraries. SiarSceal Festival is directed by Gwen McNamara in partnership with patron and sponsor County Librarian Richie Farrell and Donall MacAodha, Irish Officer for Roscommon County Council.