Shaping up to be one of the real gems of this year’s St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin is Abair 2022, curated by traditional singer and producer, Macdara Yeates.
A multimedia project consisting of a series of specially produced films – each accompanied by a live performance – Abair aims to explore, through song and story, episodes in Irish history which connect us in various ways to our near neighbours in Scotland, Wales, Brittany and Spain.
The Abair project presents the outcome of four journeys – each captured in a short documentary (directed by award-winning filmmaker Bob Gallagher) – which see Macdara and crew travel to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in Andalucia, to a former prison camp in rural Wales, to the language archives in eastern Brittany and to the banks of the Firth of Forth in Scotland, meeting a variety of singers and oral historians along the way to investigate their place in the Irish story.
Alongside the screening of each film during the festival, many of the artists featured in the films will attend in person to perform in Dublin “to complete the cycle of history.” Among those taking part in the project are: Sarah Ghriallais, Clarisse Lavanant, The Mary Wallopers, Chris Miles, Joe Mulheron, Juan Pinilla, Gwilym Bowen Rhys and Grace Toland.
The screenings and performances are as follows:
1. The Civil War in Spain (Film and performance: Palatine Room, Collins Barracks, Friday March 18, 2pm)
Setting off from Derry, Macdara Yeates meets traditional singer, songwriter and activist, Joe Mulheron, to discuss the Connolly Column, the brigade of Irish volunteers who fought against Franco’s army in the Spanish Civil War and their remembrance in the Irish song tradition. In Granada, Macdara meets with flamenco singer and commentator, Juan Pinilla, in Andalusia, the home of flamenco music and the first site of battle for the Connolly Column, to explore the wealth of Spanish songs from the Civil War period and to learn of the ruthless tactics employed by Franco’s regime to curtail and control flamenco and broader Andalusian culture. Following the screening, Juan Pinilla and Joe Mulheron will take part in a discussion and performance.
2. The University of Revolution (Film and performance: Palatine Room, Collins Barracks, Saturday March 19, 2pm)
Setting off from the Inishowen peninsula, Macdara Yeates meets singer and local historian, Grace and Colm Toland to learn of their grandfather who was interned in Wales for his involvement in the Irish rebellion. While there, the Tolands share their grandfather’s prison diaries and letters home during internment and also sing a selection of songs from the revolutionary period. In Wales, Macdara travels to the site of Frongoch prison camp near Bala in rural Wales. Nicknamed the ‘University of Revolution’ by Irish internees, Frongoch became an accidental breeding ground for leaders such as Michael Collins to plan revolutionary activity, with Welsh guards allowing the captured men to hold regular meetings, play Gaelic football, and conduct regular Irish language classes. There, Macdara meets Gwilym Bowen Rhys, an accomplished Welsh language folk singer steeped in the songs of the region, and Alwyn Wilson, the retired farmer currently living on the site where the prison camp once stood who has dedicated much of his life to the commemoration of the camp’s history. Following the screening, Grace Toland and Gwilym Bowen Rhys will take part in a discussion and performance.
3. A Breton in Connemara (Film and performance: Palatine Room, Collins Barracks, Sunday March 20, 2pm)
Setting off from Connemara, Macdara meets acclaimed sean-nós singer Sarah Ghriallais and award-winning actor, Olwen Fouéré, daughter of Yann Fouéré, in their adopted home of Connemara, to discuss his life and work and the theme of exile in the Connemara song tradition. In Brittany, Macdara meets Breton singer, Clarisse Lavanant, to discuss modern Breton regionalism and its expression in song and the influence of Fouéré on the culture and language of the region. Following the screening, Sarah Ghriallais and Clarisse Lavanant will take part in a discussion and performance.
4. Dominic and Hamish (Film and performance: Spiegeltent Beag, Festival Quarter Sunday March 20, 4.30pm)
On a journey from Dublin to Dundalk, Edinburgh and Fife Macdara explores the influence of Scottish writer Hamish Henderson on one of Ireland’s most celebrated folk songwriters, Dominic Behan. Setting off from the Behans’ childhood home in Russell Street, Dublin, Macdara meets Fergus Whelan, historian and personal friend of Dominic and, in Dundalk, the emerging band, The Mary Wallopers, to discuss the influential Dubliner, his life and his songs. In Scotland, Macdara meets ‘bothy’ singer, Chris Miles, to discuss Behan and Henderson’s camaraderie in Scotland, Henderson’s storied life and career as a poet, war veteran and political activist, and Dominic’s decision to settle in Glasgow – where he remained until his death. Following the screening, The Mary Wallopers and Chris Miles will take part in a discussion and performance.
While all four events are free and unticketed, capacity is limited.
Taken from the Irish word meaning both ‘to say’ and ‘to sing’ Abair is a staple oral traditions programme in the St. Patrick’s Festival. First beginning as a concert series in historic venues around Dublin city, Abair, now in its fourth year, broadens its scope to look outward and examine the influence of our neighbours on our native song and storytelling traditions. For more info visit: https://stpatricksfestival.ie/events/abair