Ireland of the Welcomes

Horse Fair

Horse Fair

Out of the blue, a friend has given us an old set of Ireland of the Welcomes. Her mother, Roisin, is downsizing, and thought we might like them. Understatement of the Century!!! This set covers the 1970s. I left Ireland in the 70s – the articles in this magazine create an Ireland frozen in time, just for me.

1970s set of Ireland of the Welcomes

1970s set of Ireland of the Welcomes

The magazine is still flourishing – indeed, it’s one of the longest periodicals of its sort in the world – and continues to put out 6 issues a year. The website describes it thus: each issue features lavishly-illustrated pieces on Irish beauty-spots, regular features on Ireland’s extraordinary millennia spanning history, our remarkable literary, musical and dance traditions as well as folklore, festivals, events and so much more. The photography nowadays is superb.

This cover could still be taken today

This cover could still be taken today

Although published by a private company now, in the 1970s Ireland of the Welcomes was an official publication of the Irish Tourist Board. Aimed at the overseas market, it was nevertheless also deservedly popular in Ireland. My father, who worked in marketing in Aer Lingus, brought home each issue as it came out and we poured over it. It showed us what others might find interesting about Ireland and therefore what we ourselves could be proud of.

All the best people wrote for Ireland of the Welcomes. I think they must have paid well, because familiar names from the time crop up: the 1971 issues include writing by John Montague, Gerrit van Gelderen, The Knight of Glin, Maurice Gorham, Hilary Pyle, and Niall Sheridan (husband of Monica). 

The Chieftains looking impossibly young. They're still going strong!

The Chieftains looking impossibly young. They’re still going strong!

This was no ‘shamrocks and leprechauns’ representation of Ireland – it showed a country transitioning into the modern world, while fiercely clinging to what made us unique. Articles on heritage jostled with pieces on modern farming methods; biographies of bygone artists contrasted with a description of Rosc, the famous modern art show that everyone of my generation visited; wildlife photographs vied with pen-and-ink drawings of inviting pubs.

The Famous Rosc Exhibition - modern and ancient art side by side

The famous Rosc Exhibition – modern and ancient art side by side

Of the five 1971 issues I have (I’m missing Jan-Feb), two are special issues devoted respectively to J M Synge (March-April) and Jack B Yeats (July-August). Here, from the Synge issue, is Yeat’s illustrations of the horse race from The Playboy of the Western World. Yeats (brother of William Butler, his more famous sibling) and Synge were friends and collaborators.

Jack B Yeat's illustration of the horse race in The Playboy of the Western World

Jack B Yeat’s illustration of the horse race in The Playboy of the Western World

The advertisements constitute an historical document in themselves. Tourists were assumed to be after tweed coats and Aran Sweaters and were invited to fly into Ireland by Pan Am First Class – very glamorous.

Flying Pan-Am into Ireland - why can't it be like this still?

Pan Am into Ireland – why can’t flying be like this now?

Each issue contained pages of small ads for shops and hotels and there is a poignancy to many which have since disappeared, such as the beloved Cork institutions of Cash’s and the Munster Arcade, and the two swanky hotels of my childhood – the International in Bray and the La Touche in Greystones (see sad pictures of its current state here).

I intend to return to this treasure trove again and again – I have just skimmed the surface so far to give you a flavour of the delights in store.

The Cliffs of Moher before the days of Visitor Centres and admission fees

The Cliffs of Moher before the days of Visitor Centres and admission fees

I’ll probably start with 1971 – I was 21 that year, and just finishing my bachelor’s degree in archaeology and history at UCC. Ireland was so different then – but Ireland of the Welcomes was chronicling the emergence of who we are now.

1971

1971

Sensory Upload

Skibbereen Arts Festival

In the words of one of the organisers, Robert and I have been doing a marathon – an arts marathon. The Skibbereen Arts Festival has been running all week and we’ve taken in as many exhibitions, concerts, events and experiences as we could. Last year we missed most of this festival, as we had just arrived and were occupied with settling in. This year we wanted to remedy that.

In the bottling plant*

In the bottling plant*

And what a sensory feast it was: music, art, dance, drama and various items that defied categorisation. There was something for everyone, no matter what your age and taste. We took two days to cover the art walks. There were several pop-up galleries – empty houses converted into pro tem exhibition spaces ideal for the kind of modern installations that leave you scratching your head and worrying that you’re not sophisticated enough. The Working Artist Studios, a building run by artists for artists, had opened all their rooms for the duration of the Festival. Some of the rooms functioned as galleries, while others provided a glimpse into the working process of an emerging canvas.

In one room we discovered Caoine by a young local woman, Michelle Collins, which explored the ancient practice of keening, the Irish funerary custom of women lamenting over the dead. In a darkened room, among scented candles, we listened to the sorrowful songs and sounds of an age-old tradition. To give you an idea of a keening song, listen to Iarla O Lionaird singing the Lament of the Three Marys, with its repetition of the phrase  Óchón agus óchón ó – which can translate as alas and alas, or my grief, my grief.

At the other end of town an old bottling plant had been cleared out to become a perfect space for showing artists’ work. Several of these exhibitors had graduated from an innovative visual arts degree program offered on Sherkin Island by the Dublin Institute of Technology. We talked to Janet Murran and Donagh Carey who were enthusiastic about their experiences in the Sherkin Program – their work clearly showed mature artists seeking meaning in a variety of media. In one corner an intriguing little installation by Tess Leak featured Haiku written by Sherkin Islanders and inspired by island life. And in an adjacent building photographs, by Yvette Monahan, of Bugarach in France – where a new arcadia was supposed to begin once the world ended on December 21st, 2012. Moody and elegaic, the colour reminded me of the Agfa prints of my youth.

Robert is writing about Canon Goodman – see his post for more on the concert in his honour (and in his church) that has become a staple of this Festival. Another highlight for us was the staging of The Playboy of the Western World by J M Synge, a classic of Irish theatre: one which caused riots when first performed. This was an amateur production but it was hard to tell – the Kilmeen Drama Group had won the All-Ireland Drama finals with this production, had performed it at the Abbey Theatre (Ireland’s National Theatre) and are taking it to New York next. It was superb – full of energy and humour with each line singing with poetic expression.

The Playboy of the Western World

The Playboy of the Western World

To illustrate the sheer variety of what was on offer we also attended:

Men Without Names: a poignant exploration in poetry and music of the Irish diaspora. 

Sunrise/3Epkano: a classic silent movie with soundtrack provided by the group 3Epkano. A surreal experience, different from what I was expecting but in the best way.

The Vespertine Quintet: in the beautiful setting of Lissard House, an afternoon of gentle, haunting, minimalist music from Iceland mixed with baroque.

Croi Glan Dance: I have written about this marvellous dance company before – these two dances looked at the challenges of finding our place in the world and once again brought lumps to our throats.

We couldn’t go to everything and I was sorry to miss the dancing at the crossroads and the sean-nós evening. Sean-nós is a traditional style of highly ornamented unaccompanied singing – here is Nell Ní Chróinín showing how it’s done. There were events for families, a river day, a drama day, outdoor movie screenings…But most of all I was disappointed that Starlight Serenade sold out before I could get a ticket. Moonlight kayaking on beautiful Lough Hyne with musical accompaniment. For a taste of what I missed, take a look at this, and add music. 

‘Paddling Through Stars’ on Lough Hyne

Next year! But I might have to call that one Sensory Overload.

*Sorry, I don’t know the name of this artist. Can anyone supply it?