Reen Farm Revisited

Last week, for the Taste of West Cork Festival, we went back to one of our favourite West Cork places for a very special concert.

Reen Farm is the home, gallery and sculpture garden of the artists John Kelly and his wife Christina Todesco-Kelly. But that description comes nowhere close to doing justice to this utterly unique, fascinating and beautiful venue. We have written about Reen Farm before – two years ago in Where Art and History Meet and last year in Out in the Field.

This year’s event was a concert by Jessie Kennedy and Justin Grounds, joined by Tess Leak on the cello. Jessy and Justin have collaborated on many occasions and always to great effect. Highly accomplished musicians and composers, their concerts are hot ticket items in West Cork. One of the attractions on this occasions was that seats were limited so we were promised an intimate occasion.

We started in John Kelly’s Tate – a sculpture/structure/installation intended to invoke the conjunction of wealth and art in a place that in fact is remembered historically for poverty and famine. This is mainly due to the visit of NM Cummings to Reen and to his famous letter to the Duke of Wellington, in which he relates the horrors of what he has witnessed in Reen and pleads with Wellington to intervene.

Christina read the letter and Jessie performed I am stretched on Your Grave.  It was deeply moving and we filed out of the Tate a more mournful and thoughtful group than the one who entered. We needed a lift and what better to deliver that than John’s iconic Cow up a Tree Sculpture. It doesn’t hurt that it’s located on one of the most scenic stretches of the West Cork coastline, either.

By the time we got back to the garden the tea and coffee were on and Billy (sound engineer and baker extraordinaire) had laid out a feast for us.

We tucked in, and settled down for the concert. It wasn’t just that we were listening to accomplished musicians – it was that it was all taking place on a warm summer evening as the sun was sinking low, in this amazing and exotic location. It felt like such a privilege to be in that place at that time.

Thank you, John and Christina, for your warm hospitality and for sharing your vision for future developments with us. We look forward very much to seeing what the next year or two brings at Reen Farm!

John and Christina

 

Countdown to West Cork History Festival 2018!

As last year, Roaringwater Journal is very involved in the marvellous upcoming West Cork History Festival. We are both on the organising committee and this year we are leading field trips and chairing sessions, and I am giving a paper (more on that below). The Festival will be held in Skibbereen this week – 16th to 19th of August.

This is St Barrahane from Castletownshend. During the Thursday Field Trip we will be revealing his secret message

We haven’t had a lot to do with the detailed logistics or with the ultimate lineup of speakers – that is the purview of the Founders, Simon and Victoria Kingston. What a force they are! As you can imagine, organising a festival like this is an enormous amount of work and they do it while working full time, with two young children and a life lived between two countries – all while remaining cheerful, focussed, inventive and energetic. Here are Simon and Professor Roy Foster, our keynote speaker, talking last year about the upcoming festival.

Simon and Victoria are next door neighbours to the wonderful Liss Ard Estate. This place is dear to our heart as it’s where we were married, and they have been incredibly supportive of the festival, providing parking and accommodation.

While many of the speakers are academics and writers on the national scene, local historical societies are attending and volunteering and local experts have been persuaded to share their knowledge. The Skibbereen Heritage Centre is a big part of the festival this year, with both Terri Kearney and Philip O’Regan on the program, and William Casey giving a talk and launching a book.

Philip O’Regan of the Skibbereen Heritage Centre leads a walking tour of the historic town. Here he points out the building where O’Donovan Rossa founded his Phoenix Society, forerunner of the Fenians

We are looking forward to the field trips, a new addition this year and a popular one, given how quickly they booked up. Thursday’s focusses on archaeology and history and Friday’s on the Famine and Art.

Coppinger’s Court – these fortified mansions gradually replaced tower houses in the seventeenth century, during of the series of changes from Irish to Planter land ownership

The Festival aims to cover international, national and local themes and this year will, of course, focus partly on the events of 1918, with talks on WWI, Carson and Redmond, Women’s Suffrage and the great Flu epidemic. The Irish Revolutionary Period is the subject of several talks, by both academics and non-professionals, ranging from the hot topic last year, Protestants in West Cork, to the violence suffered by some women during that period.

Inspired by the Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger exhibition currently running at Uillinn/West Cork Arts Centre, there is also a thread that looks at the intersection of art and history. It will be the main focus of Friday’s field trip, and run through sessions on Margaret Clarke, on Gothic art, on George du Noyer and most pointedly in the talk by Niamh O’Sullivan on the Coming Home Exhibition itself.

Stone Circle by George Victor du Noyer

We’re not forgetting the Medieval and Early Modern periods either. Dr David Edwards from UCC is recognised as an expert on Richard Boyle and on this period and his talk on Gaelic politics in the later Middle Ages should be fascinating. But never mind all that politics – what did people actually do back then, and what did they eat, before the advent of the potato?  Dr Susan Flavin is going to tell us that when she talks about ‘Food, Drink & Society in 16th century Ireland’.

Richard Boyle, Great Earl of Cork

Lots of local history too – on Cillíní (children’s burial grounds), women in the fishing industry, Sam Maguire and his memorial bells in Dunmanway, Pirates and treasure of the Coast of West Cork, and my own talk on Agnes Mary Clerke who grew up in Skibbereen during the famine and went on to become the most successful science-writer of her day, with a moon crater named in her honour.

Agnes Mary Clerke

That’s just a taster of the talks – there are lots more. And if that wasn’t enough, there are also film screenings, a concert by Jessie Kennedy based on the life of Lady Mary Carbery of Castle Freke, and a poetry reading by none other than Jeremy Irons! How can you resist that voice?

So if you don’t have your tickets yet, get them now. Yes, you’ll still be able to get them at the gate, but if you want to secure them now, do it online at this link.