So it turns out Romantic Ireland is not dead and gone after all, despite Yeats’ words to the contrary. Not completely gone anyway…
On Sunday I had the huge honour of being invited to perform the official opening of the Ballinascarthy Festival. For those of you who don’t know Ballinascarthy, it’s a little village traversed by the main Bandon to Clonakilty Road in West Cork, and has the distinction of being the birthplace of Henry Ford’s father.
On my arrival in the village, I was warmly welcomed and taken first to visit the excellent GAA facilities at Henry Ford Park, facilities that many bigger clubs would envy. Then it was on to Clogagh NS, the alma mater of some of my hosts, including festival sponsor and successful businessman Jerry Calnan, who presented a new cup to be played for between the three national schools in the area.
From there, it was on to local farm guesthouse, Árd na Gréine, where we enjoyed the warm hospitality of Norma Walsh – by a poignant coincidence, Norma was a good friend of Margaret Browne, late of Ballymakeigh House, Killeagh. Margaret is sadly no longer with us but was an early mentor of mine, and we took a few moments to share our memories of her indomitable spirit.
The chat was lively as we enjoyed Jerry’s hilarious stories of times past, punctuated by occasional bursts of song, as appropriate (no alcohol imbued, I might add!), including extracts from “The Bold Tenant Farmer”, who had strong links to Ballinascarthy, and “Shall my Soul Pass Through Old Ireland”, the story of Terence McSwiney, who was to be the subject of a history talk the following night as part of the festival programme.
After dinner, it was back to the village for the official opening ceremony, which included a parade of boys and girls from the local GAA and camogie clubs who posed for a photo along with myself and JJ Walsh, stalwart of the GAA club and the festival committee, at the Model T sculpture on the roadside – a wonderful combination of the past, present and future of the area.
The whole event brought me back to my childhood when the May Sunday festival in Killeagh was the highlight of our year, and when simple pleasures like a go on the ‘swingboats’ or dressing up for the fancy dress parade caused so much excitement. I don’t think I will ever forget the now sadly deceased Rory O’Connor resplendent in green paint and denim shorts as the Incredible Hulk, or the time of the ESB strike when my mother went all out and the costumes and placards she made for myself, my friend Lisa and my little sister saw us take the top prize… Luckily there was no Instagram in those days! One of the proudest memories of my younger life was when I finally managed to clinch the Festival Queen title after a number of failed attempts – I still can’t banish the suspicion that they just took pity on me eventually!
It’s heartening to see that simple pleasures like the amusements, dog shows and duck races, whist drives and old-time waltzing are still enjoyed in our communities, alongside more modern pursuits like ‘The Toughest Family’ and the obligatory 10k race. That legendary grandson of Ballinascarthy, Henry Ford, didn’t place much value on tradition, saying that “the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we make today,” but here in his father’s home village, tradition takes its rightful place beside progress.