Report on West London 50th Anniversary

21 May 2007, 2:05 PM GMT

50th Anniversary of West London Branch of Comhaltas 27–29th April 2007

West London branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (CCE), including especially the family of the late Joan Burke, would like to thank our fellow branches and everyone else who helped make the 50th anniversary celebration of our branch a success over the weekend of 27-29th April. It was a very special occasion, just as Joan would have liked, a testament to her and many others over those 50 years who gave so much time, love and passion promoting traditional Irish music and dance in London, especially West London.

Concert and Seisiún - Friday 27th April, Hammersmith Irish Centre.

A concert and seisiún on Friday night at the Centre launched the weekend. Oliver Mulligan, highly respected in traditional singing circles in these islands, filled the Master of Ceremony role in his usual engaging and informative style. How fitting that the first musician he introduced was Seán O’Shea, who was winning fiddle competitions as a very young man in the earliest days of the branch and who was warmly welcomed by the appreciative audience. Sean was followed by a host of other champion musicians, including John and Carmel Burke on fiddle and button accordion; Michael Gaughan on banjo; Aidan Burke on fiddle; Katie Crean on Harp, who played an encore; Timmy O’Dowd Jnr on Uilleann Pipes, evoking cheers for his deft use of the chanter; Orlaith McAuliffe, aged 14, on flute, playing with a delightful and breath-taking mastery; Seamus Brogan, singer; Pat Connolly, Seán Nós signer; Etaoin Rowe, aged 10, singer; and Mick O’Connell on accordion closed the concert. A mighty seisiún ensued, with other musicians joining them. Willie Fogerty captured it all on video. The Comhaltas Live web site at http://comhaltas.ie/ has some of Willie’s video clips of the evening.

Workshops - Saturday 28th April, Hammersmith Irish Centre.

There was a healthy interest from all ages for the workshops in the Centre on Saturday, taught by Niall Keegan, flute; Katie Crean, Harp; Aidan Burke drums +Bodhran; Moira Dempsey ceili dancing; Tim O’Dowd Jnr, Uilleann Pipes; Pat Connolly, singing; John Burke Jnr, fiddle; John Burke Snr, fiddle making. Thanks to those who did the catering on Saturday and Sunday, especially Marian and Seamus Brogan, Marian Turner and Bernie Crean, and satisfied the prodigious demand for tea.

Dinner and Ceili - Saturday 28th April, Fulham Town Hall.

For some 180 people the scene shifted on Saturday night to Fulham Broadway for the dinner and ceili. Fulham Broadway, the bee hive of so much traditional Irish music and culture over those 50 years. The venue was Fulham Town Hall, a Grade 1 listed building with a great sense of civic pride and huge paintings telling something of local history going back to the Middle Ages. This was preceded by mass for those who wished to attend, said by Fr Christian France, from South Africa. He drew some parallels between the troubles and hopes of his native land and Ireland; and voiced the thanks of the congregation for the good done by Comhaltas. He couldn’t stay to enjoy the rest of the evening, but he left us feeling he was totally at home with us. It was a pleasure and a privilege to meet him and he knows he’s welcome to our monthly seisiún any time.

Guests of honour included Séamus Ó Teimheáin, Uachtarán; Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, Ardstiúrthóir, and Pádraig Ó Dufaigh, Ardchisteoir, who’d both travelled from Ireland to be with us; Michael Baynes, branch founding member; Seamus McGarry, Chair of Ireland fund of GB; Amanda Bain, Irish Embassy; Ross Scanlon, Arts Director, Hammersmith Irish Centre; Peter Hammond, Director, London Irish Centre, Camden; Vince Jordan, CCE Provincial Chairman; Michael Nevin, London Region Chairman; Jim Myers, London Office Chairman. They were great company. Branch archive photographs all round the hall were fond and happy reminders of the people we had to thank for us being here tonight.

The night was set for a lively time. But would you believe it? The ovens developed a fault just before the dinner was served! Aidan Burke bravely announced the bad news from the stage and kept people informed till the problem was fixed and the dinner served.

In the interim Labhras addressed the gathering. He spoke eloquently of the way that Irish people, dispersed throughout the world, have won respect and admiration for their commitment and contribution to the host societies. At the same time the Irish treasured their Irish culture. The admiration of people around the world is evident in their affection for Irish traditional music, song and dance.

Talking of dance, once the dinner was eaten, the floor was packed and heaving for the rest of the night to the infectious music of the Knocknagow Ceili Band – Aidan Burke (drum) + his brother, John and John’s wife, Carmel; Gary and Theresa Connolly (box + fiddle); Carmel’s sister, Eilish Cummins (keyboard) + Niall Keegan. There was enough energy given off to light Fulham for the weekend, especially from the teenagers. They took no prisoners.

Seisiún - Sunday 29th April Midday – 4 p.m., Hammersmith Irish Centre, Free

The weekend of celebrations was rounded off with a wonderful free seisiún on Sunday afternoon back at the Centre. John Burke Snr started proceedings by screening an ‘Open Door’ BBC television documentary made in 1979, featuring a packed seisiún of music, song and ceili dancing in the Hibernian, Fulham Broadway. It was introduced by Oliver Mulligan and included a very youthful Seán O’Shea. The very same two who started our concert on Friday night! Hoots of laughter went up when people recognised John and Aidan Burke, the latter in short trousers, but still showing off his skills a treat on the Bodhran. Their sister, Marian, danced a solo and their mother, Joan, was one of the Gasra ná n Gael dancers. It was a tonic to see so many familiar faces from the past. Alan O’Leary, a past branch chairman, was one of them; and the Boyles of Battersea. The quality of the seisiún was inspirational.

Inspirational today was the home made soda bread and fruit cake (thanks to John Burke’s sister, Chris), sandwiches, fruit and lashings of tea and juice available today. All disappeared at a healthy rate of knots. Light flooded the high-ceilinged hall. It was like being at a picnic. Something about it reminded me of taking tea as a youngster to the people working in the fields. Generations of families and old friends met and chatted, children wandered around, playing in a relaxed atmosphere. One feature of the seisiún was the way that the young musicians (such as Sarah Nevin and Brogan McAuliffe) were capable and confident enough to lead, seamlessly playing sets of 5 and 6 tunes. The smiles on their faces spoke volumes. The seasoned musicians, many of them from other branches, followed heartily and did their fair share of playing too. As usual the stirring Soldier’s Song ended proceedings and we went our ways, pleased to have taken part in these momentous celebrations.

Irish Cultural Centre, Blacks Road, London W6 9DT. Tel: 020 8563 8232

The Centre is a terrific resource and we are so lucky to have been given it to use over the weekend. The management and staff have supported us unstintingly for years and we feel very much at home there. Recently it metamorphosed from the Hammersmith Irish Centre, under the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, into the Irish Cultural Centre, funded by Dion (the Irish Government), with assistance from the Irish Youth Foundation, The Ireland Fund GB. Their fantastic program is available via: www.irishcentrehammersmith.co.uk or [email protected]

The West London branch hold their seisiún of music, song and dance 8.30-11pm on the 2nd Friday of each month at the Centre. It is free of charge and the public is welcome to attend and to join in. We are proud of the part played by people of Irish descent in our diverse society and of the contribution our culture makes to our enjoyment of life and the general well-being of ourselves and society as a whole. Join us to start the next 50 years.

Sponsorship

Our branch is so grateful for the sponsorship received from the following: Mr. Stuart Mundy, Middlesex Hose & Fittings; Ardchomhairle CCE; Instalcom Ltd; Ethos Recycling Ltd; J. Murphy & Sons Ltd; Flatley Construction; Best Engineering Ltd; Mr Sean Flynn.

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Concert, London