International guests from three continents are immersed in Irish culture at ‘Forgotten Land, Remembered Words’ Ireland Writing Retreat in Gaoth Dobhair

“These kind of events (Goitse go Gaoth Dobhair festival and ‘Forgotten Land, Remembered Words’ Ireland Writing Retreat) reflect cultural tourism as its best. With a rich tapestry of culture, history and legend in Donegal, the powers that be should be investing heavily in these kinds of activities. Any other place in the world would be delighted to have such a rich background as a platform to promote tourism and the economic benefits it brings.” Jane Gilgun, Professor of Sociology, University of Minnesota and participant at the recent writing retreat

group with Jane

International participants at the ‘Forgotten Land, Remembered Words’ writing retreat enjoy blue skies and sunshine outside Teac Jack.

From creative writing workshops and authors’ talks to ceildhe dancing, from hillwalking to studying the secrets of lyric writing, from performance of Irish seannós singing to learning ‘cúpla focal’ as Gaeilge and insights into Celtic mythology – such were some of the experiences of international participants at the inaugural ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ held last week in Donegal.

group with Ronan

Raidió na Gaeltachta’s Rónán Mac Aodha Bhuí chats with writing retreat guests at Cabaret Craicailte in Teach Hiúdaí Beag.

A host of local people helped guests from three different continents – Australia, America and Europe – immerse themselves in local Irish tradition. They included Eileen Burgess, Divisional Manager of Donegal County Council Cultural Services; Pat Gallagher singer-songwriter and band leader of ‘Goats Don’t Shave’; Mary Nic Phaidin, former school principal and prime organizer of ceildhes in Teac Jack; Noeleen ni Cholla, seannós performer and Foras na Gaeilge representative; Rónán Mac Aodha Bhuí, RnG broadcaster and founder of the dynamic Cabaret Craicailte; Seamus Doohan, walking guide and local historian; Moya Brennan, singer-songwriter, formerly of Clannad fame; Màirin Ó Fearraigh and Síle ui Ghallchóir, sisters and Gola Island guides; Caitlin Ui Dhuibhir, leader of An Crann Óg music group; Martin Ridge, long-time detective and author with transport provided mainly by Grace Bonner, winner of this year’s ‘Gaelforce’ event (over 40s category).

group with noeleen

Noeleen ni Cholla, sings sean-nós and explains to guests about the activities of Foras na Gaeilge.

While most of the creative writing, language, music and dance classes took place inside Teac Jack’s in Glassagh, participants also enjoyed hiking around the base of Lugh’s Mount (Errigal) where they learned about native flora, local history and Celtic legend. Time spent at Leo’s Tavern in Crolly, Teach Hiúdaí Beag in Bunbeg and a day over on Oileán Ghabhla (Gola Island) during the ‘Goitse go Gaoth Dobhair’ festival added to the depth of their overall experience.

Group with Mary

Retreat speaker, award-winning author and movie expert, Rachael Kelly, enjoys an informal get-together with Mary NicPhaidin, friends and family in the lobby of Teac Jack.

The next ‘Forgotten Land. Remembered Words’ Ireland Writing Retreat takes place this September. Spread the gospel and help attract more international tourists to your area.

For those unable to attend the week-long ‘Forgotten Land, Remembered Words’ Ireland Writing Retreat, here is a reproduction of a feature story published in Monday’s ‘Donegal News’ indicating some of the many highlights from it.

Donegal News after event

Donegal’s largest circulation newspaper, Donegal News, focuses Monday’s edition on the ‘Forgotten Land, Remembered Words’ Ireland Writing Retreat.

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From boatman and builder to balladeer extraordinaire 

Standing confused on a boat in the tiny west Donegal harbor of Bunbeg is how I first met musician-singer-songwriter extraordinaire Pat Gallagher.

Looking from above and seeing an obvious landlubber flabbergasted as to how to tie a main anchor rope, he kindly doled out guidance and assistance in abundance. That got us to talking, the kind of small talk strangers do to pass the time, with me rambling on about a wonderful concert – featuring ‘Goats Don’t Shave’ – that I’d heard with my wife the evening before.

boat

“So you liked it then?” he asked.

“Liked it? I loved it,” I said enthusiastically. “Great songs, great singing. Whoever wrote them is a musical genius.”

The man smiled, a quiet kind of smile. The kind you’d hardly notice, the kind where the lips barely part. I suppose that should’ve been my first clue. But who was I to know? Hadn’t I just moved to west Donegal and bought a boat soon thereafter? What I knew about either, you could write on the back of a postage stamp and still have plenty of space for a Shakespearian sonnet, or two.

“Do you know who wrote them?” I asked innocently. Then a queer feeling came over me, and in an instant, I knew what that smile meant.

Meet Pat Gallagher – banjo player, guitar player, harmonica player, singer, songwriter. And that’s only what he does for fun. As a Jack-of-all-Trades, he can also lay bricks in a straight line and tell you where the best fishing is among the offshore islands around Gaoth Dobhair in the heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht.

Pat Gallagher

And, of course, as he explained self-effacingly standing on that stony harbor pier, he’d written all the songs in the wonderful concert I’d just been to in Dungloe.

It’s no surprise then that I was delighted to meet him again this past week in the same little town, in a school auditorium between the mountains and the sea, once again with ‘Goats Don’t Shave.’ This time they were starring in a special, community-wide charity concert in aid of two-year-old infant, Lucy Gallagher, from nearby Maghery, who suffers from a rare, potentially life-threatening condition known as ‘harlequin ichthyosis.’

It was a classic sort of Irish evening, the kind I remember well from the days of my youth. The kind where – just like at Sunday Mass – the men all clump close together, too shy to be anywhere near the front of the hall. And the rest of the people are huddled on seats at the very back of the room, which left a very large intimidating space in the middle, right in front of Pat and his band members up on stage.

But where most priests don’t have the power or the charisma to raise the emotions of their listeners, the ‘High Priest of Music’ Mister Gallagher and ‘Goats Don’t Shave’ do, so it wasn’t long before the braver of souls there slipped shyly off their seats and a bit of groovin’ and gyratin’ was soon going on, others joining them, until that middle space began slowly to fill up with moving bodies. It takes some doing to turn a fairly solemn occasion into one of dancing madness but when I saw a young girl in a wheelchair spinning herself round and round to the music like there was no tomorrow – and let’s be perfectly honest, unlike the rest of us able-bodied, its not the same kind of tomorrow that awaits her – I knew the boys on stage had well and truly succeeded.

Dancing

Okay, there were still a lot of burly, muscular men – who could probably turn me into thinly sliced meat with a touch on the arm – still hugging their pints. But there were others who’d started hugging each other, as well as hugging the ladies. Some, lo and behold, unCatholic though the nefarious activity might have been, even hugging their own wives, which got me to thinking. Why is it sometimes we Irish don’t have the strength to be who we really are – emotional and affectionate? There’s a time to be subtle and retiring, and there’s a time to BE. It’s long past time we knew the difference.

But aside from our lingering awkwardness when it comes to overt shows of affection, there was plenty of that other characteristic component of Irish gatherings – rollicking good humor, especially when someone pushed a button by mistake and a giant suspended basketball board almost swiped poor Pat and his colleagues off the stage. Even funnier, as none of the band members noticed the near-catastrophe approaching them from the Heavens above.

lucy and group

As for Pat himself, his musical career has moved in an ever-increasing arc over the years. Having started early in life – he was an UlsterFleadh singing champion when he was 11 – he’s now a master of the art form known as songwriting, with more than 80 under his penmanship – whether it be the lively, foot-thumping ‘Las Vegas (in the Hills of Donegal); the hilarious lyrics and rousing satire of ‘Mary, Mary’ which opened the famous Dungloe festival years ago; the haunting melody of ‘The Evictions’, about the cruel events 0f 1861 in the Glenveigh Estate in Derryveagh under the infamous John George Adair; or the nostalgic journey Pat and thousands of other emigrant workers from Donegal took over the years on the ‘Glasgow Bus.’

He and his band have played many parts of the world, including 14 tours of the US,  taking cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and Fort Lauderdale. Their debut album ‘The Rusty Razor’ went gold and London’s ‘Time Out’ magazine voted them ‘Best Band’ in 1993. Admirably, Pat is not afraid to face up to many of Ireland’s taboo subjects in his songs – ‘Lock It In,’ a bitter attack on men who physically abuse their partners; or “Let It Go,’ on bigotry against Travellers; or even “Killing Me,’ about his own past addiction to booze and cigarettes. At the same time, his ballads are rich with honest sentiment – ‘Tor,’ about the joys of fatherhood (he is the proud father of three children – Fionnuala, Sarah and Ferdia); ‘Rose Street;’ and one no doubt very close to his heart, ‘She Looked My Way,’ written especially for his wife, Cathy, and given to her as a Christmas present two years ago.

Having released six albums so far (the latest being ‘Songs from Earth’), before the tender age of 55, thankfully there’s still plenty of time left for the friendly musician to regale us with even more such quality work.

And to contribute his myriad talents to such deserving causes as that of unfortunate Lucy.