Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Dancemasters of North Kerry

The National Folk Theatre is famous for its unique style of traditional Irish step dance.  This style known as North Kerry, or Munnix, is found nowhere else in Ireland.  We owe this rich tradition to Jeremiah Molyneaux, a travelling dance master who travelled around North Kerry, teaching young and old, in schools and private houses.

Jeremiah Molneaux dancing with Sheila Bowler (nee Lyons)
Jeremiah Molyneaux, known locally as Gerry Munnix was born in 1883 at Gunsboro in North Kerry. He was the youngest of a family of seven, four boys and three girls.  His mother was Ellen Scanlon, a dressmaker and his father was William Molyneaux, a blacksmith.

Ned Batt Walsh and his wife.
Munnix learned his dancing from Ned Batt Walsh.  Throughout his younger years he perfected his dancing and won the Munster dancing championship at 18 years of age.  He began teaching when he was 20 and held his first ever class in the kitchen of his own house.  From this time on Munnix travelled around North Kerry and West Limerick perfecting and teaching his unique style of dance until he was 70.  He taught many fine dancers in his time, people like Liam Tarrant, Jerry Nolan, John McCarthy, Jack Lyons, to name but a few.

Jack Lyons,  pictured in Teach Siamsa Finuge shortly after the building was completed.

Liam Tarrant dancing at the turning of the sod for Teach Siamsa in Carraig in 1974. Minutes after this photo was taken he suffered a heart attack and sadly passed away.
Jack Lyons and Liam Tarrant on tour with Siamsa in Dublin.

Jerry Nolan, Sean Ahern and John McCarthy outside the Palace Theatre in 1976.

Gerry Munnix died in Listowel when he was 83 years old.  He was buried in Gale cemetery and, as he had asked, his best pair of dancing shoes were buried with him.
In Siamsa Tíre we are very lucky to have access to recordings of many pupils of Munnix.  For the past thirty years we have been studying, perfecting and developing this unique style.  Some of the steps you see today on the stage in Siamsa Tíre date back to the beginning of the last century.

The Churn from Fadó Fadó show!
Many of these pupils formed part of Siamsa Tíre, back when the company was forming.  One of these, Liam Tarrant worked closely with Founding Director Fr. Pat Ahern to create the first ever piece performed in 1965.  Liam found an old butter churn in Galway and brought it to Kerry with him, Fr Pat then put a song and dance to the rhythm of the beating churn, and so was born the first ever scene, Amhrán na Cuiginne, a scene that still forms part of one of our summer shows, Fadó Fadó.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Irish Culture at the Crossroads - Prof. Muiris Ó Laoire

Prof. Ó Laoire in the Siamsa Tíre gallery

Culture night takes place this Friday (19th September) and as part of our 40th Anniversary programme we will be celebrating our native folk culture in music, song and workshops. We also have Prof Muiris Ó Laoire giving a talk which will  trace the evolution of Irish culture into the 21st century. 

Here are a few words from the man himself.

Analysing any culture is a complex undertaking and analysing Irish culture with its two languages is all the more complex. Questions will be raised in particular regarding our culture: its origin, contemporary transformations, future directions and its extricable links with languages.

The lecture will suggest possible answers to key questions like: What does it mean to be Irish today?  How can one get to the core of the rich tapestry that is Irish culture with its essential contradictions, multiplicity of voices, ambivalences and collisions? Has Irish culture arrived at a crossroads? How can we be sure that Irish culture will survive to the end of the current century? The lecture aims to create a debate around issues of voice, language, identity and social media in Irish culture. Above all, it hopes to illuminate and entertain. Tabharfar an léacht trí mheán an Bhéarla ach ardófar ceisteanna ann a bhaineann go dlúth le dúchas agus le dán na teanga in Éirinn an lae inniu agus sna blianta atá romhainn. Fáilte roimh cách.

Prof. Muiris Ó Laoire is a senior lecturer at IT Tralee

The lecture begins at 6.30pm, it will be followed by workshops and performances of music and song by members of Siamsa Tíre.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Greetings from Thailand... It's Claire Slattery

Claire chilling out in Phuket!
As a child growing up in Tralee, I never really understood what Siamsa was. All I knew was that my mother was really keen for me to have the opportunity to become part of it, and it seemed like ‘a big deal’!! It must be said that I didn’t exactly sail through the audition at Teach Siamsa, Finuge. I had to return for a few years before I was finally successful! I spent three very happy years in Finuge before graduating and becoming a community cast member in 2000.
Some familiar faces  - With the cast of Fadó Fadó
At the age of 12, I was fully grown and because of that, I launched straight into learning the adult character for ‘San Am Fado’. I felt a bit hard done by with my height because looking back, I really wanted to have a year or two to come out in my bare feet running around, pretending to be a chicken!! In my later years, however, my baby faced features gave me plenty of opportunity to liaise between child and adult roles. Beginning with ‘San Am Fado’, I have also participated in ‘Oilean’, ‘Clann Lir’, and ‘Tearmann’.
On tour in Germany
One of the wonderful things about live performances is that each and every show is going to be different.  I want to take you back to a show that still haunts my precious teenage years.  The show in question was ‘San Am Fado’, and the second half of the show had just begun. The curtain rises and instantaneously we begin to move to the rhythm of the music in one big group wheel. Now, on this particular night, it seemed that one person may have had too much sugar in their tea during the interval, because the speed of the footwork was increasing with each step. As we grasped each other tightly, hoping to gain control, somebody lost the run of themselves and as the domino effect kicked in, I could feel a tug from both my left sleeve and my right sleeve. I was being pulled in opposite directions. One person was using my arm to break their fall and the other person was trying to prevent me from falling over. But nothing prepared me for the outcome. It was happening and I had no way of preventing it. Each button of my blouse popped open, revealing my under garments to both my friends and an auditorium full of strangers. I immediately dashed off stage to pin my blouse together. I’ll never forget the moment of re-entering the stage there after. Mortified was an understatement of how I felt but ‘The Show Must Go On’!!!
A scene from Oileán
In the past fourteen years, Siamsa has become more than a job and more like a family to me. The friendships that I’ve made there are special and by far some of the most important in my life.

I’m currently teaching abroad. I spent 2013 teaching in South Korea, and I’ve just recently started teaching in Phuket, Thailand.  ‘Between the Jigs and the Reels’ is a fantastic way for me to remain connected with my ‘Siamsa Family’! Happy Anniversary!
A beautiful video featuring Siamsa cast members past and present, Helena Brosnan - Sydney, Claire Slattery - South Korea, Derwin Myres - University College Cork, Norma O'Brien -Tralee which was put together by Anna O'Donoghue.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Imigéin... on tour

There is a great buzz about Siamsa this week...  our wonderful production Imigéin is going on tour for two nights. This Saturday  and Sunday (30th  and  31st August) members of our performing cast will be at the Lime Tree theatre to bring to the people of Limerick the story of ‘the Irish habit of going away’ the struggle to “fit in” in foreign lands. This tale resonates with generations of Irish people past and present.

“To feel torn between two places is a difficult thing. It is an emotional struggle, it challenges ones identity, ones sense of place, ones sense of belonging. An emigrant is on the search for a new home, but already has a home. The story is simple. A young woman leaves her family to go to an 'other' place. A place that will not feel like home in the beginning but she will connect to this place; she will begin to settle here.” Joanne Barry (Director)
Sue-Ellen Chester-MacCarthy is the choreographer - the grand-daughter of an Irish emigrant and having herself immigrated from Australia to these shores, she felt she was able to bring her own very personal experiences to this particular production.
A scene from the show
The music for the show is the work of musical dramatist, Conor Mitchell. Conor is an opera, music-theatre and orchestral composer from Northern Ireland and he spent weeks working with the show’s team in creating rich melodies throughout.
Onwards to Limerick - Des and Declan getting the show on the road...
Imigéin tours to the Lime Tree Theatre in Limerick Saturday 30th and Sunday 31st August.  Directed by Joanne Barry, Choreography by Sue Ellen MacCarthy, Set & Costume Design by Conor Murphy, Musical Dramatist, Conor Mitchell.  Lighting design for this tour is by John Hurley.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Memories all the way from Oz - Helena Brosnan

Helena with a furry friend in Australia
“Do not jump over that wall!”
Having pottered into my first audition at the tender age of five, I had no idea that I was about embark on the most amazing journey that would nurture my childhood and life…
The wall I speak of was a four foot high stone creation right between the main training building and the little out-house where Irish dancing classes were held. I was in my second year of training at this point and being the rebel I was at the age of six, I was of course jumping over this very wall!…. Then out came our teacher with a list of names - all of whom had being jumping over this wall!  This is it, I thought, my parents are going to kill me… I was going to be kicked out of Finuge!

In the pink with other Siamsa cast members meeting President Mary McAleese
Instead to my surprise, we were greeted by Mr. Oliver Hurley and asked to audition for him.  I remember so vividly singing “Tioc Tioc” a happy song about feeding chickens as if it were the most sombre tune ever written and also remember being so nervous that I did what I can only refer to as a yodel at the very end! 

Helena in the centre Siobhan Clifford, and Colm Kelliher getting ready to go on as Swans in Clann Lir
Fast forward some months and I was waiting behind the thatch cottage door listening to Jonathan Kelliher whistling, about to burst onto the stage for my first show ever with Siamsa Tíre… I was six and that was 1995.
I am now 25 and it’s 2014 and thinking about that moment still gives me butterflies… 
I have such a clear memory of learning the part of ‘the little wren’ with Oliver Hurley in the circular Siamsa gallery, learning how to move my head, hands and feet and practicing walking around my house at home like a little bird to get the part just right!  
For 13 consecutive years I grew up in, and with, Siamsa.  This is meant in the truest sense.  The core members were my ‘pop stars’, my fellow performers were my truest and dearest friends, the stage was my playground, and as I matured, my nightclub.

At 18, I moved to London to broaden my theatre wings and study Musical Theatre. This added another element to my theatre cake.  However, I can truly say that any other skills learnt are the icing and candles, the fundamentals that you learn from those around you in the Siamsa family are never over- shadowed, Siamsa is my sponge, jam and cream .

On tour with international Irish Dance show ‘Magic of the Dance’
Since completing University I have embarked on many different theatrical and performing ventures, from Irish Dance shows, to Musicals, and from straight acting to Fringe festivals and Rock bands.  At the core of all of these ventures is the professionalism and respect for fellow performers that I learned behind those “Big Red Doors”. The performer I am today I owe to the vision of individuals such as Oliver Hurley and Jonathan Kelliher who have that special gift to see something in you that can be nurtured and encouraged to blossom, long before you see it yourself.

The Sydney bridge climb 2014
For the last year I have been living an adventure in the Land of Oz, and although loving it immensely, I do miss the comfy green couches, the sign-in board, the dressing room banter, the surge to the rehearsal room to make warm-up on time.  Those seconds of preparation just before you step on stage, the special moments, smiles, winks you share with friends and ‘that feeling’ that happens in little fleeting moments throughout the night when you think to yourself, “My God, I’m so lucky”.

Helena on stage with Sean Ahern, Cliona Murphy, and David Heslip.
Trying to describe what it means to be a member of the Siamsa legacy is like trying to describe the colour of water.  The Siamsa legacy is steeped in pure emotion and patriotism and its effect on the members within it is truly indescribable.  It holds a very unique and special place in so many people’s hearts.
For me it certainly does, and I am truly passionate that it deserves to, should, and will continue to create and inspire. To wow audiences and most importantly nurture the hearts and minds of the little singers, dancer and performers to come in the future.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Fadó Fadó - The Long Ago

Getting ready for working the land - a scene from Fadó Fadó
Fadó Fadó, the original show from which Siamsa Tíre grew is back on stage this summer as part of our 40th anniversary celebrations.
The lives of country people were immersed in their environment.  Each season defined a new set of activities and with that, each daily chore had a tune to it. 

Fadó Fadó is a dramatisation of the cycle of working the land and life in rural Ireland.  For many this is a stroll down memory lane to a time before life became complicated by technology. 

All work was achieved using traditional methods and the “Meitheal” - the old Irish way of people coming together to respond to local needs.

Through lively singing, music, dancing and mime, Fadó Fadó moves from the open air of the bog fields and harvest festivals, to the warmth of the hearth-lit kitchen and celebrates the joys and sorrows of a typical family in Ireland in times past.
Performance dates : August;18-22, 25-20 and September 1-5.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A message from Dubai - it's Justin Walsh!

Lost in music – Justin as a young boy in the 1991 production Ding Dong Dedero
Growing up in Siamsa was probably one of the best experiences I had as a child. It was a place I came and shared similar interests with other kids and I loved it. Life-long friendships have been made from Siamsa and the Siamsa family will always have a special place in my heart. 
There are countless great and wonderful memories over the years, from early Finuge days to summer seasons to my favorite time of the year, Christmas. I always loved the Christmas shows and there was always so many of us involved. The rehearsals were long for the Christmas shows but we didn't mind because we were getting up to mischief and playing spin the bottle in one of the dressing rooms or in the back of the auditorium, ha-ha!

Justin in the back row, second from the right with the Siamsa 'Family' during President Mary McAleese's visit
Touring was also one of the best memories I have of Siamsa, two of which stand out for me. Expo 92 Seville, Spain and also Washington DC (1999). Expo was special because it was the first time I was traveling to another country and first time ever on a plane and I guess with all the excitement I forgot to pack the most important item for the tour...my dancing shoes! Thankfully Geraldine came to the rescue and helped, and I think we solved it by me wearing Aideen Morgan’s shoes for the trip and also avoided telling Fr Pat (whew)

The Washington tour
 The tour to Washington was also amazing and brings back great memories, especially of Martin (Whelan). He really enjoyed that tour and looked after us all really well. Ford’s Theatre where we performed was great and the whole overall experience was all very exciting. We even got a tour of the White House! We had so much fun and laughter on that trip! One funny memory I have is at one of the after parties in someone's room - I managed to fit into a suitcase with just my head sticking out and of course my lovely Siamsa family decided it would be a great idea to put me out in the hall and in the lift!!! Great, great memories! And of course touring with Siamsa set me up and gave me a little taste of what was yet to come with my own touring life with the various Irish dance shows later on.

Justin performing on stage as part of St. Patrick’s day celebrations in Dubai this year.
I appreciate so much what Siamsa has done for me in life - it taught me everything there is to know about theatre and life on stage. Siamsa has always welcomed me back and for that I am forever grateful. Today I live and work in Dubai for Emirates airline and unfortunately the shoes are not as much in use as they used to be. However I did dust them off recently for Paddy's Day and danced again - even the camel enjoyed it! Happy 40th, Siamsa and here's to the next 40 - sending love from Dubai and see you all very soon