Breathing new life into an old tradition

September 20th, 2017 11:30 PM

By Southern Star Team

David Ross, Top of the Rock Pod Park; Pat Collins, festival organiser; Eileen Collins, Sean O'Brien, Noreen Collins, festival organiser and Paul O'Brien, festival chairperson, at the launch of the Drimoleague Singing Festival on Thursday night of last week in the Top of the Rock Pod Park.

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The organisers of the Drimoleague Singing Festival have hit on something very special – a celebration of the human voice in the heart of West Cork, writes Jackie Keogh

The organisers of the Drimoleague Singing Festival have hit on something very special – a celebration of the human voice in the heart of West Cork, writes Jackie Keogh

There is nothing new in singing, but the inaugural Drimoleague Singing Festival (September 21st to 24th inclusive) aims to focus on the pure drop – the human voice without the wall of sound that seems to be inescapable these days.

The fact that Drimoleague has a long tradition of singing and that this festival is the first of its kind locally makes it all the more authentic.

Bearing in mind that the organisers have picked some of the finest vocalists in their fields – and made the festival interactive so that pub singing also takes pride of place – is an early indication that they are on to a winning formula.

Some people are excited that they will have a chance to hear the award-winning Irish soprano, Celine Byrne, at close quarters in the All Saints Church in Drimoleague on Sunday, September 24th, but for others a chance to hear the sweet sound of Liam O’Maonlai of The Hothouse Flowers at St Matthew’s Church is the must-have ticket.

The three-day festival, which runs from September 21st to 24th inclusive, has a packed programme so there’s plenty to choose from.

As well as covering all the bases musically, the festival also covers all the bases in terms of venues. There will be concerts in two churches, as well as the parish hall, local pubs, and a few more rather unusual venues, like the Top of the Rock Pod Park.

The fact that renowned documentary maker, broadcaster and singer himself, Philip King, came to Drimoleague to officially launch the programme on Thursday, September 7th last, was yet another stamp of approval. Speaking on the night he referred to the importance of such a festival and how songs and music have the ability to break down divisions and bring people together, especially in this age of what he referred to as ‘digital loneliness’.

One of the organisers, Noreen Collins, told The Southern Star that the Drimoleague Singing Festival will feature the best in contemporary and traditional Irish and international talent.

There will also be singing and songwriting workshops, a singing competition and even singing in the schools.

Noreen explained how the festival is a voluntary, not-for-profit, community-based initiative that she, together with her brother, Pat Collins, and their friend, Paul O’Brien devised.

The trio not only have a love for their homeplace but a passion for music too. ‘We wanted to celebrate the great tradition of singing that there is in the parish going back over many generations,’ said Noreen, who believes there is nothing more satisfying than a good old-fashioned sing-song.

She said the date of the festival, at the end of September, should also revive memories of the Big Fair Day that used to happen around that time of the year.

Noreen said they are hoping to rekindle some of that spirit by welcoming locals as well as people from all over West Cork and beyond.

She said: ‘There has always been a strong tradition of singing, dancing, drama and concerts in Drimoleague. There were even punk gigs in the 1970s, plus large-scale fundraising concerts in the Catholic Church – all of which go to prove that demand for such events does exist.’

One event of particular note and interest to locals is ‘Drimoleague Imagined’ on Sunday 24th at 2.30pm in the Top of The Rock Pod Park. This will be a curated event of music, song and spoken word reflecting on and examining, the village and its surroundings and its place within the imagination. On the eve of ‘Big Fair Day’ people are invited to come together to celebrate and sing about who and what they are. Participants include historian Dr. Richard Butler, who will lead an oral history session, John Spillane and local musicians and singers. The location for this event is significant as the Top of the Rock is the location of the original village of Drom Dá Liag.

This event will be an artistic reaction to the village and its surroundings and the emotions stirred within its people by ‘the real, the invented and the misremembered.’

 Currently, people are enjoying the heats of the singing competition, which are taking place during the month of September, with the final taking place on Thursday, September 21st at the Drimoleague Inn.

Noreen Collins believes that Drimoleague suffered a lot more than other villages during the recession because it didn’t have the same kind of tourism resources that places like Baltimore and Schull have at their disposal.

The organisers believe the festival is a good way to promote Drimoleague. ‘When Pat rang me up and suggested a singing festival I thought it was a brilliant idea. And it went from there,’ said Noreen.

‘There is an awful lot happening for the first year. I suppose we didn’t plan for it to be as big as it is, but it has all come together. 

‘For us, it is an exciting project because it puts the voice at the centre of the whole idea. It focuses on the voice, and great singers, rather than a heavily-produced sound.

‘I don’t think there is anything else like it in Ireland at the moment that is specific to the human voice so it is unique in that sense.’

Because they wanted a diverse range, Noreen said they chose singers like O’Maonlai and Sean Ó Sé, who together with Cór Chúil Aodha will be in concert on Saturday, 23rd at the Parish Hall.

It is hard to prejudge anything, but there’s already a great buzz about this festival – so be sure to check the programme (see adjoining advert) and book your tickets on time. Who knows, you might even sing a song or two yourself!

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