Sinn Fein Ard Fheis features multi-faceted personalities

It’s interesting, the people – some expected, some unexpected – one meets at a political Ard Fheis – in this case, Sinn Féin’s in Dublin’s ultra-modern glass and steel, Liffey-fronting Convention Centre recently.

The former included loyal, hardworking party stalwarts – both at local and national level. People like Donegal Councillor and youth worker, John Sheamais Ó’Fearraigh, from the Gaeltacht hamlet of Bun na Leaca, Gaoth Dobhair, who voiced his concerned “about the closure of rural post offices and banks and lack of broadband coverage and tourism development, as well how European legislation on planning and wild life is preventing rural development – all leading to the export of our youth and loss of our Teanga Dúchas.”

John Sheamais Ó'Fearraigh, Sinn Fein Donegal

(l to r) Donegal Councillor, John Sheamais Ó’Fearraigh, discusses issues with Pearse Doherty TD, outside Dublin Convention Centre at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis.

And Inishowen Councillor Albert Doherty from Carndonagh who spoke passionately to the 2,500 party members about “unfortunate Donegal residents who are having to watch their homes disintegrate before their very eyes” because of Muscovite mica, a mineral that weakens concrete. He called for the government’s much-delayed experts report to be concluded by August 31.

Then there’s Pearse Doherty, TD. Though only six years since his victorious High Court case against Fianna Fail for delaying the Donegal South-West by-election, Doherty has risen in the party ranks astronomically since, culminating in national kudos recently when he found a gaping two billion euro hole in Fine Gael’s ‘fiscal space,’ (the amount of money available to the government above what is already being spent on public services). His value to Sinn Fein was more than obvious last weekend when I entered the so-called ‘green room’ to find him engaged in whispered conversation with party president Gerry Adams and vice-president Mary Lou McDonald. Even though a photograph was required of him for this article, a subliminal ‘not-to-be-disturbed’ sign hung clearly in the air.

Easter Rising Celebrations Dublin,

Celebrating women’s role in the 1916 Rising. Over 300 women participated, some of whom were sentenced to death, later commuted.

All three Donegal politicians supported calls made by delegates under the party banner “Saoirse Ceart Aontacht’ for the rejuvenation of rural Ireland, on behalf of people the official Ard Fheis programme declared, “are tired of being treated as second-class citizens, fed up with under-investment and angry at the lack of jobs and opportunities.” Among the motions to strengthen rural areas under the document, ‘A New Deal for the West,’ were “the introduction of rural equality legislation; a spatial enterprise and infrastructure strategy backed up with financial stimulus; a commitment to significant investment to protect and enhance public services; support for traditional industries, particularly co-operatives; and measures to assist emigrants wishing to return.”

Sinn Fein Ard Fheis Dublin

Honoring those who died during the Hunger Strikes and the Easter Rising.

Such were the expected.

Among the unexpected was meeting author and former ‘Sunday Times’ managing editor and ‘Daily Mirror’ editor, Roy Greenslade, now journalism professor at City University London, my alma mater, who now pens an insightful media blog for ‘The Guardian.’ From sturdy working-class roots in east London and a fellow West Ham fan, Greenslade has been a long-time supporter of Sinn Fein. We met way back in the mid-80’s ago when he and his wife, Noreen, a former national feature writer, visited me in Kansas City and later at Mirror HQ before I headed off to the Romanian revolution, former Yugoslavia and the Iraq war. Greenslade bought Ballyarr House in Ramelton and two years ago stood surety for Creeslough-based former IRA member John Downey after his arrest at Gatwick Airport.

Roy Greenslade journalist

Roy Greenslade, author, editor and journalism professor: unafraid to speak out on sensitive social issues.

Last, but not least, was Danny Morrison, Sinn Fein’s former national publicity director, now successful fiction and non-fiction author and international creative writing trainer. Dressed stylishly in black hat and long leather coat, the affable man reminded me of Toulouse-Lautrec’s portrait of Aristide Bruant, famous on so many posters. Both Greenslade and Morrison have been invited as special guest speakers at this year’s ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ held at Teac Jack’s in Glassagh from June 27 to July 3.

Danny Morrison author

Belfast-based Danny Morrison: a life well lived. Former editor of An Phoblacht-Republic News, Sinn Fein publicity director, author and creative writing guide.

For those interested in writing a novel, poetry or a memoir, or simply want to hear some fascinating speakers, this is the place to head for. It should be a most stimulating week. You can stay for the whole week, or sign up for several of the days. Your choice.

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Irish band, Goats Don’t Shave, raise the rafters at album launch concert

Musical lovers know such Irish groups as U2, The Cranberries and The Pogues – now make way for Donegal-based ‘Goats Don’t Shave.’

Whether it’s about the perils of drinking, the Irish Revolution, the loss of island life or indeed love itself – multi-talented singer-songwriter Pat Gallagher and his dynamic band move you to laughter or to tears. Never neither, as more than evident in a hair-raising, hand-clapping, foot-tapping, time-stopping, standing-ovation performance at The Balor Theatre recently in Ballybofey, Donegal, northwestern Ireland.

Master of many instruments including guitar, mandolin, banjo, harmonica and drum, not to mention the fine art of lyric writing, Gallagher and his musical colleagues more than please an audience – with humorous anecdotes, brilliant musicianship and strong voices whether in soft, poignant, tear-jerking ballads or fast, let-it-all-hang-out rhythms.

More than that, Gallagher’s songs tell vivid stories, rough-cut slices of life, some with serrated edges. And diverse they are too, whether about a washed-up Scottish boxer and his winning the world championship, digging turf for the fire (down and dirty blues-style), the tale of an Irish gigolo known as ‘Crooked Jack,’ or simply about Irish navvies taking the bus from Donegal to Glasgow in search of work.

Pat Gallagher musician, Goats don't Shave

Living in rural west Donegal – considered by many to be the most naturally beautiful part of all Ireland – Gallagher and his band have just released their fourth album, entitled ‘Turf Man Blues,’ an impressive output of musical creativity by any standard. Equally impressive, the friendly performers work spans many genres, from country and rock to folk, blues, even gospel. So versatile is Gallagher, musical aficionados say they await his debut as a classical composer and conductor for the Irish National Orchestra.

Shaun Doherty Goats don't Shave

While light-hearted banter is an integral element of Gallagher’s performances, so too sometimes is biting satire, as in ‘God Takes Visa’ about how some religions have gotten so greedy about taking peoples’ money for the saving of souls, as exemplified in the line, ‘the dollar is a Kingdom but the poor must stay outside.’

Mickey Gallagher Goats don't Shave

Gallagher’s verses and musical notes also have an enduring effect on listeners as in his, at times poignant, at times angry rendition, of ‘The Evictions,’ about the merciless evictions of Irish peasants from their small farms in Derryveagh in Donegal by a powerful English landlord, John George Adair, and his ‘crowbar brigades’ in the mid-1800s, thus forcing them to sail away from family, friends and their native homeland to Australia and other far-off places.

Odhran Cummings Goats don't Shave

Just as Gallagher’s new song, ‘The Volunteer,’ is a tribute to those men, women and children who gave up their lives during the 1916 Easter Irish Revolution, with the centennial being commemorated this year, so ‘Let The World Keep On Turning’ is devoted to diversity, whether that be religion, skin color or language.

Patsy Gallagher Goats don't Shave

A tribute to the loyalty Pat Gallagher and ‘Goats Don’t Shave’ have created down through the years, especially since their chart-topping hit ‘Las Vegas in the Hills of Donegal’ in 1992, is that on Saturday night a woman made a request for her two friends who got engaged at a Goats concert almost 20 years ago.

Stephen Campbell Goats don't Shave

Devoted fans Malachy McLaughlin from Dungloe and Michael Gallagher (Ireland’s famous weather forecaster) and daughter Marian, a Special Olympics Summer Games silver medal winner, left the concert-hall in ecstasy, with the former saying, “Brilliant. Fantastic music from my favorite band. I loved it.”

Michael Gallagher weather man, The Turf Man Blues

Even when Gallagher, singer-songwriter-musician par excellence, asked the audience to stay behind for a moment after the last song to pose for a group photo, he brought a smile to everyone’s face, saying he wanted it for the band’s ‘Instabook’ page.

So, a big hurrah for band members Pat Gallagher (vocal, guitar and banjo), Mickey Gallagher (drums), Patsy Gallagher (lead guitar, mandolin and vocal), Odhran Cummings (bass), Shaun Doherty (guitar and vocal) and Stephen Campbell (fiddle), as well as guest musicians, Connor Malone (saxophone) and Dermot Donohue (harmonica), for a terrific evening of entertainment launching the band’s newest CD. Interestingly, for part of Saturday’s concert, Pat Gallagher and fellow musician, Patsy Gallagher, played instruments made by Donegal-based company, Emerald Guitars – Pat on an X20 Artisan Woody, featuring a Bubinga veneer, and Patsy on an X7 Artisan.

Goats don't shave, Turf Man Blues

Following the Balor Theatre gig, ‘Goats Don’t Shave’ will perform three dates in Scotland next month: The Ceilidh House, Oban (May 27); Ramsay Hall, Port Ellen, Islay (May 28) and The Shed, Glasgow (May 29).