The Galwayman who spearheaded the 1916 centenary programme has been appointed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to head up the country’s new five-year cultural strategy.
John Concannon was Failte Ireland’s Director of Marketing and Development when he was seconded in 2014 to coordinate the Rising’s year of commemorative events.
The whole project had been shrouded in criticism over a perceived lack of action following three years of consultative meetings involving TDs, senators, historical experts and civil servants.
There was also widespread disquiet among the relatives of those involved in the rebellion, claiming they had not been adequately consulted.
John was directly involved in The Gathering in 2013 and had been consulted when devising schedules for the visits of Queen Elizabeth and US President Barack Obama.
At the end of 2016, you could almost hear the marketing impresario breathe a sigh of relief.
“Considering the anxiety two years ago when it was launched – politically, academically, among relatives and the media – it turned out to be a very positive thing for the country,” he reflects.
He believes it had a profound effect on three major areas. Firstly, Ireland’s whole sense of identity, epitomised by the flag project in schools where inclusivity was wholeheartedly embraced.
Secondly, the participation of citizens in every part of the country – some 3,500 community events were organised across the land with 1,000 events taking place overseas.
The third element was the cultural richness that emerged, as told through narrative, drama and documentary.
“Galway hugely stepped up to the plate, it had a really, really strong programme in city and county. In Galway we really had just a really, really strong sense of community energy throughout the year.”
Two of the major highlights of the entire national programme took place in Athenry.
The first on Easter Monday at Athenry Castle to mark the first shots which rang out in the west during the Rising, where rebels held the largest territory outside of Dublin.
One of only four locations outside of Dublin to host a State ceremony, more than 5,000 people joined the relatives of the Galway men and women of 1916 for the synchronized wreath-laying and parade with significant numbers of the defence forces taking park and a fly past by the Air Corps.
The biggest surprise was the Teagasc exhibition which attracted 60,000 to the North Galway town in June for the two-day Farming and Country Life 1916.
John describes it as the Ploughing Championships of the West.
Capturing the imagination of all generations, there was overwhelmingly positive feedback to the seven distinct villages which were a hive of activity reminiscent of era, with music, dance and drama, livestock, machinery and history. There were exhibition GAA games in 1916 attire, a sports day with traditional children’s games and re-enactments of evictions, schoolhouse and cottage.
Another national highlight of the programme was a free international conference at NUIG about the ‘promise and challenge of national sovereignty’, with lectures by academics from Princeton and Oxford universities, states John.
“We had 5.5m impressions [on the website] from all over the world, it was trending for the week on Twitter. It was absolutely fantastic.”
As other events of note, John singles out the exhibition at the Galway City Museum, the Eamonn Ceannt piper festival and the outdoor showing of the world premiere screening of the feature-length version of 1916 The Rebellion, narrated by Liam Neeson, at the Spanish Arch. The father of three was recently announced as the head of Creative Ireland, a five-year cultural strategy launched by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, which will be the legacy of the 1916 year of commemoration.
The programme will give every young person in the country an opportunity to learn music, drama, art and coding. It includes a pilot scheme to help self-employed artists who applied for job seekers’ allowance and a new annual cultural day to be held on Easter Monday.
A culture team for every local authority nationwide will be established. Plans are being laid for an investment programme for Ireland’s cultural and heritage bodies and for developing Ireland as a worldwide hub for film, TV drama and animation.
The programme office is being set up within the Department of Arts under the leadership of John, who will be tasked with coordinating the different organisations and agencies.
It will have an initial budget allocation of €5 million, some of which will go towards cultural events such as Cruinniú na Cásca on Easter Monday.
Take a spooky staycation this Halloween at Púca Festival
For Halloween fans looking for a spooky staycation with a difference, Púca Festival is just the ticket. Returning to Co. Meath from 28th – 31st October, Púca celebrates Ireland as the original birthplace of Halloween. Vibrant, fun, and contemporary in feel but strongly rooted in tradition, the festival will take place in the hubs of Trim and Athboy.
Now in its fourth year, this year’s festival line-up is an exciting one, with a pool of contemporary Irish acts gearing up to re-ignite Celtic traditions through incredible music and live performances. Offering three breathtaking days and four spectacular nights of music, myth, food, folklore, fire, feasting, and merriment, Púca will boast a range of ticketed and free events, all individually priced.
From the ‘Arrival of the Spirits’ procession in Trim on Saturday 29th October right through to the ‘Coming of Samhain’ celebration at the Hill of Ward in Athboy on Halloween night, visitors will be immersed in the original and authentic spirit of Samhain.
Festivalgoers and fans of folklore will enjoy the well-rounded line-up of evening entertainment showcasing the best in contemporary Irish music, spectacle, and performance, including the talented Imelda May, Gavin James, King Kong Company, Block Rockin’ Beats, Lisa Hannigan & Cathy Davey, Jerry Fish & his Electric Sideshow Cabaret, Joanne McNally, Blindboy, David O’Doherty, Neil Delamere, and Jason Byrne. Headlining the Púca Big Top stage on October 29th, The Academic is an act not-to-be-missed. A thrilling live four-piece, their super-uplifting, hugely melodic guitar-driven sound is the product of a tight-knit gang who’ve been playing together since school.
Historic Halloween Walking Tours, Candlelit Tales Storytelling, Banshee Bingo Hall, Self-guided treasure hunts, Foraging Workshops, Circus performances, and Handfasting Ceremonies will complement the music and comedy programme, ensuring a host of diverse activities to keep visitors entertained all weekend. At Trim Castle, step back in time at the Deise Medieval Traditional Living Village. In the midst of mead and the smoke of the campfire, living history, crafts, and skills of the early to mid-medieval period come to life and will be open for all the family to discover from 29th – 31st October.
And as Samhain is a time for feasting, Jack O’Lanterns Food & Craft Markets at Trim Castle will feature local harvest offerings and Halloween favourites, in what promises to be the most spirited Púca festival yet.
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Italian archer brings whole new outdoor leisure pursuit to Loughrea
An eagle-eyed Italian has converted a cohort of locals in Loughrea into archery enthusiasts – in the heart of their local forest.
Mattia Cestonaro set up Loch Riach Traditional Archery, the first field archery club in Galway to be affiliated to the Irish Field Archery Federation (IFAF).
After raising nearly €800 in public donations, he established the course geared to different levels in a forest located in Peterswell on the Slieve Aughty Mountains.
Field archery has participants shooting at various targets. The targets may be concentric circles, animal faces on paper or 3D animal targets, from a variety of distances, which can be marked or unmarked.
There is a main course layout in a loop shape, where small groups of archers, typically up to four, walk around and stop at each station to hit a target.
The club is a non-profit organisation with the main aim to promote our beloved sport in Ireland.
“This is a sport for everyone, we have kids, adults, families shooting together. It’s some mighty fun,” enthused the native of Vicenza in north-eastern Italy.
“This is an exciting new activity for the local community, as well as to visitors from other counties and clubs.”
Mattia has created three small bridges to cross the river in different points using pallets on the course located on over 160 acres of forest. There are currently 14 targets spread out over 1.5km, crossing different types of terrain.
The club teaches a ‘traditional, instinctive way of shooting’.
“It is a challenging course with different tricky shots, uphill, downhill, between trees. We tried as much as we could to use natural backstops to make the shots look as natural as possible,” he explains.
“We think our club as a group of friends who share the same passion, we organise many social activities and we encourage members to volunteer in the club’s activities.”
The main course is made entirely of 3D targets.
“We believe there is nothing else like the sight of a realistic 3D target in the forest.”
Several of the first courses held last July sold out. The courses in August completely sold out.
It costs €50 per person for four weekly classes lasting an hour and a half, with the minimum age of eight set for participants. Archers aged under 18 must have at least one parent participating in the course with them. Adult membership of the club costs €60 for the year, while kids pay €30, which includes membership to the social club.
“There was an overwhelming response to our first beginner courses and an ever more surprising conversion rate, which saw the 100% of those who completed the course become members of the club. This was amazing and already repaid the months of hard work in the woods,” enthuses Mattia.
The club will now concentrate on making sure all the new members receive proper support during their first months in the archery world.
Mattia was doing field archery in Italy but took a few years off until he got the opportunity here over three years ago to reignite his passion.
“I went back into it thanks to my friend Enea, who is the son of the iconic Italian character Papetto, who is one of the greatest masters of Instinctive shooting and whose values and philosophy he is trying to promote and keep live for over 45 years.
“This is the same I’m trying to do with the club, I am offering beginner courses where we cover all the basics of field archery and where I try to spread my archery philosophy which has the social aspect of this discipline in his core values.
“To put it in simple words, I’m in love with this sport, and I try to transmit my passion to other people.”
The Italian moved to Ireland from Italy in 2014 looking for a change in lifestyle. After three months in Clifden, he transferred to Galway and found a job in supply chain with Schneider Electric, where he continues to work.
In December 2020 he bought a house in Loughrea and moved in with his partner Tatiana.
“It was a huge step in our life, and we couldn’t be happier with our choice. We found a lovely welcoming community, everyone is so kind with us and there is so much to do around here: from the lake which is at our doorstep, and we walk daily with our dogs, to the numerous sport activities available.”
Mattia plays with the Loughrea Rugby Club and recently helped organise a group of 14 Italian teenagers to visit Loughrea from his old club, the Rangers Rugby Vicenza. They stayed with host families and trained with the Loughrea RFC for a week.
Mike Feerick of Ireland Reaching Out said he and wife Eileen regularly get behind the bow and arrow on a Sunday morning after completing a beginner’s course earlier this summer.
He has praised Mattia’s hard work, with the support of Coillte, in turning an area of Slieve Aughties into a recreation hub.
“It’s interesting that someone has come to live among us and helped us strengthen our community, starting a new pastime in the locality which takes advantage of the wonderful hinterland we have in East Galway.”
“It is a big undertaking for any one person – but he has persevered and indeed succeeded.”
Mattia has plans to expand the course with new targets and create a bigger training range.
“We plan to create nice picnic areas for members to spend time together with benches and tables and some shelter for the rainy days. We also plan to host the first official IFAF shooting in 2023, where people from other clubs from all Ireland will come over to compete as part of the IFAF annual calendar,” he explains.
“The future ahead is exciting, and I am very proud to be able to offer something different to a community which is giving so much to me and my family in terms of quality of life.”
Hurdle cleared for Claregalway traffic calming and flood relief scheme
A dispute over land acquisition that threatened to sink a long-awaited traffic calming scheme and flood relief works in Claregalway has been resolved.
A meeting of the Athenry Oranmore Municipal District councillors heard that an agreement had been reached with the landowner, enabling the Council to proceed with its plans to install a surface water drainage scheme at the bridge.
Cllr Jim Cuddy (Ind) said following repeated representations, he had been assured that a resolution had been found.
“I have been informed that we are waiting for Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) to come back to the Council to tell them to proceed,” said Cllr Cuddy.
This came as councillors hit out at the lack of progress on the project, with Cllr James Charity (Ind) pointing out that it had been three years since they approved the project.
“I have had a lot of complains in the last few days about flash flooding in Claregalway, on the street outside Centra . . . we’ve mentioned it in here ad nauseum,” he said.
“It is very frustrating for communities and residents up there that this is not progressing – it’s a long-standing problem that’s being put on the long finger.”
Cllr Albert Dolan (FF) said it was disappointing that having approved the project in 2019, councillors were being kept in the dark and had received no official communication from the National Roads Project Office (NRPO) to explain the delay.
“It’s three years on and we have not seen any progress . . . the Athenry Oranmore councillors are not happy that this has been delayed for so long without being given a reason,” said Cllr Dolan.
Cllr Charity suggested that a representative of the NRPO should be invited to a meeting of local area councillors to explain the lack of progress.
“If the matter is progressing, we need an update from them. Resolution with the landowner is one thing but the TII committed to this in 2019, so now there is a question of funding as well,” said Cllr Charity.
Cllr Liam Carroll (FG) concurred and said with the increasing cost of construction materials, funding would need to be addressed without delay.