Lifestyle – Australian-born Steve Cooney moved to Ireland 40 years ago, instructed to do so by his Aboriginal tribe. Since then his contribution to Irish music has earned him admirers and friends at home and abroad. Next week, he will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award in RTÉ’s Folk Awards. He tells JUDY MURPHY of his journey.
When ground-breaking guitar player Steve Cooney played the Clifden Arts Festival shortly before Covid-19 Level Five restrictions were re-imposed, he had no idea he’d won the Lifetime Achievement award in this year’s RTÉ’s annual Folk Awards.
The accolade, announced last week, has topped off a good year for Steve who was performing in Clifden with Cúil Aodh singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, and whose new album Ceol Ársa Cláirsí: Tunes of the Irish Harp for Solo Guitar has been getting rave reviews.
On it, Steve has taken Irish harp tunes, which were composed or collected between the early 17th century and late 18th century, playing them on steel-string and nylon-string guitar.
It’s a project he embarked “for personal satisfaction” and the result is a multi-layered, magical, meditative album.
Among the people he credits on the album is the renowned harpist Kathleen Loughnane, who lives in Galway City and whose extensive research into the tradition offered new insights into the tunes of the Connellan brothers from Sligo. Four of their tunes feature on Steve’s album, alongside work by Turlough Ó Carolan, Denis Ó hAmsaigh, Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Cathain and others.
Given that the harp has such a sacred place in Irish music, interpreting these tunes on guitar seems like a brave move. But Steve has always followed his own musical path and loves the harp. So, it’s no surprise that he feels guitar players “should be able to claim it: we pluck strings and should not feel that territory is forbidden to us”.
He has enormous respect for the harpers who were an intrinsic part of the ancient Gaelic tradition that fell victim to English rule, and he praises the complexity of their tunes.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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‘Give even one big GAA game to Ballinasloe’
It’s the most centrally located ground in the country but Ballinasloe’s Duggan Park won’t host a single inter-county match this year – much to the annoyance of one local councillor who wants the GAA to allocate at least one big game to the venue.
Cllr Michael Connolly told a meeting of Ballinasloe Municipal Council that the ground is entitled to host major football and hurling fixtures – even though all but one of the Galway footballers’ home league games are assigned to Pearse Stadium with the other one in Tuam.
“If they gave us one match in Duggan Park, it would be something,” he said. “But at the moment, it seems as if it is being ignored.”
The Moylough councillor described it as the most accessible ground in the country and a venue in which players and supporters like to travel to – unlike, he suggested, Pearse Stadium.
He said that it was “a hateful venue” and few GAA supporters relished the prospect of travelling to the “far side of the city” to watch a football or hurling match.
A recent meeting in Gullane’s Hotel to discuss Duggan Park was attended by Deputy Denis Naughton, Senator Aisling Dolan, Cllr Evelyn Parsons and Cllr Declan Kelly among others.
But the Duggan Park Committee then issued a statement saying that the ground is owned by Galway GAA and any use of the facility needed to be authorised – and no authorisation was given to the meeting organiser, former Mayor of Ballinasloe Joe Kelly, for this purpose.
Mr Kelly has been a staunch campaigner for the redevelopment of Duggan Park and has called on the local authority to row in behind this initiative.
They went on to say that there is a plan in place for the development of Duggan Park which is multiple staged which started with the new dressing rooms, flood lights and a new entrance to the venue.
Planning permission is in place for this development and that €500,000 has already been spent in the Duggan Park over the past number of years carrying out these projects.
The work in the ground, they say, is done to an excellent standard by local contractors with the support of the previous Town Council for grants and sports capital grants.
Former tourism magnet officially on register of derelict sites
The fire-ravaged hotel that was once one of the most popular in the county is now officially considered a derelict site – and that has led a local councillor to call for it to be either redeveloped or levelled.
Portumna’s Shannon Oaks Hotel, for so long popular with anglers and golfers in particular, has been boarded up for more than a decade since it was destroyed by fire.
Local councillor, Jimmy McClearn, has called on the owners to reopen or sell the property – adding that it should either be levelled or redeveloped.
“We are a tourist town and we need a hotel. The last thing we want is for a hotel to be shut up,” he said.
“It is a fine facility and on an extensive site so there is no reason why it should be boarded up,” he added.
The Shannon Oaks saga has gone on for the past twelve years – but now the owners, the multi-millionaire Comer brothers, will be forced to pay a derelict site levy if they do not reopen or redevelop.
That amounts to a seven per cent levy based on the market value of the property, which is worth around €1 million even in its derelict state.
The Shannon Oaks was ravaged by fire in September 2011 and four years later, the site was acquired by the Comer Group who, at the time, gave an undertaking that it would be reopened.
Around two years ago, planning permission was granted by Galway County Council to Barry Comer of the Comer Group to renovate the hotel by providing 60 new bedrooms along with 40 apartments to the rear of the structure.
However, there has been little or no movement on the site since then and now the owners are being again asked to give some indication as to when the hotel will be rebuilt.
It is considered an integral part of the tourism industry for the town and that is why pressure is mounting on the owners to rebuild the hotel.
Cllr McClearn said that all he is asking for is the owners to develop the site and provide a hotel there. “It’s not much to ask in a tourist town,” he added.
More than €200,000 worth of cannabis seized in East Galway
More than €200,000 worth of cannabis was seized in during two separate search operations in East Galway on Saturday.
Gardai from the Divisional Drugs Unit conducted a search at a residence in Aughrim and seized cannabis plants with an estimated street value of €146,000 and €20,000 worth of cannabis herb which will now be sent for analysis.
Two men (both in their 30s) were arrested at the scene in connection with the investigation and are currently detained at Galway Garda station under Section 2 of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996. Both men remain in custody.
A separate search was carried out at a residence in Ballinasloe yesterday afternoon and cannabis herb with an estimated street value of €35,000 was seized. Cannabis jellies and €7,510 in cash were also seized.
A man in his 40s was arrested and later released without charge and a file will be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.