Shannon Community Centre resounds with Echoes of Erin

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Photo: Cassandra Kerwin

These young Irish musicians impressed the audience at the Echoes of Erin show held at the Shannon Community Centre. The show celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising. Sarah O’Gorman on fiddle, Jana McCarthy-Kent on flute, Fíona Ni Conmara on fiddle, Séamus Tierny on flute and Eirmear Arkins on fiddle. Séamus Ó Flatharta (left) and Gráinne Nic Ghiobúin (right) playing the harp in the background.

On September 28, the Shannon Community Centre gave an enthusiastic welcome to a troupe of young musicians and dancers from Ireland, all members of the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. The Association of Musicians of Ireland is dedicated to preserving Irish traditional music and culture and has spawned several touring groups.

The 2016 Comhaltas Echoes of Erin show is touring Canada, and Shannon was one of its many stops. Performances included narration, song and dance tracing the Irish republican and cultural movement that eventually led to the Easter Rising in 1916 and the country’s independence.

According to the show’s narrator, Joe Arkins, the Comhaltas share Irish culture with the world. “If we didn’t do it [the 100th anniversary celebration of the Easter Rising tour] this year, we would have to wait another 100 years, and we wouldn’t be here,” said Arkins. “We did a similar tour in 1966 [the 50th anniversary], but it is nothing like doing it in 2016.”

Over the centuries, “The Irish lost pride in their identity,” said Arkins. Since the mid-1800s, “The great national revival was established in culture, song and sport. The Gaelic revival is to rekindle the flicker into a flame.”

Comhaltas does its part by inviting young musicians to tour the world. “Many of the musicians, who are aged between 17 and 25, find it to be an honour to go on tour with us,” said Arkins. These young musicians, some of whom have performed internationally and nationally, have won awards and prizes. For Arkins, this tour is almost a family affair. His daughter Eimear is a singer, fiddler and narrator, while his wife Annette Hannigan plays the banjo.

Among the 15 musicians, Séamus Ó Flatharta plays the harp and the bodhrán. He impressed the crowd with his interpretation of the Irish national anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann (A Soldier’s Song), which he sang in Gaelic. He jigged with Carla Hanafin, Cara Hegarty and Argentine Fernando Marcos, the world’s first non-English-speaking, certified Irish dance teacher.

During the first part of the show, Comhaltas performers shared their repertoire of traditional Irish music and dance, while the second part recalled moments of the Easter Rising of 1916. Arkins provided historical context to the performance. The group then performed a jig dedicated to the Gaelic national sport of hurling.

At the end of the show, everyone agreed that it had been fantastic.“We got our money’s worth and more. Eimear Arkins’ singing was pure, and Joe Arkins’ voice! All the musicians are incredible. Did you see how they dance and how high the boys kick?”

When most of the spectators had left, the musicians regrouped to play an impromptu session. One person said as he was leaving at 11:30 p.m., “This is the best part. This is the Irish culture.”

To purchase CDs and DVDs of the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann, or for more information about the organization, visit www.comhaltas.ie.