The Hinterland Festival’s connections to the city of San Francisco (already evident in our association with the Litquake Festival through Lit Crawl) have been taken to a new level with Hinterland: West (8-10 November, 2019) – with substantial and pivotal support from Culture Ireland.
Hinterland: West is a collaboration between Hinterland / Kells and two of the leaders in the promotion of Irish-American cultural heritage in the Bay Area, Tony Bucher (former President of the Irish Literary and Historical Society of the San Francisco Bay Area) and Dr. Matthew Spangler (Professor of Theatre Arts at San José State University and playwright – author of the globally successful stage adaptation of The Kite Runner and the book Staging Intercultural Ireland). Tony and Matt feature prominently in this year’s Hinterland programme.
We’ll be running a bijou, eclectic festival of 12-15 events, encompassing Irish and Irish-American fiction and non-fiction elements between 8-10 November, 2019 in San Francisco. Support from Culture Ireland means that three of the participants in Hinterland / Kells 2019, novelist Liz Nugent, musician Jim Lockhart and artist Mark Smith, will travel to San Francisco to participate in our new sister festival.
Hinterland: West will be hosted by the Mechanics’ Institute Library in downtown San Francisco, a superb, centrally located venue with a long tradition of staging cultural events. Taryn Edwards, Strategic Partnerships Manager at the Mechanics Institute will be attending this year’s Hinterland Festival in Kells, from 27-30 June.
We’ll have more information after we recover from Hinterland / Kells in June!
I. The spell of dry weather we enjoyed last summer had interesting benefit for archaeologists in this part of the country. In fields near Oldcastle [in the county Meath], from the air, markings became discernible of the walls of buildings that had long since been forgotten. It now seems likely that they outlined the walls of St Oliver Plunkett’s former home. The foundations of these walls, long since gone and forgotten, apparently retain moisture sufficient to sustain some growth when all around had become desert. Similar markings emerged in New Grange, where ancient passage tombs, hitherto unknown and thousands of years old, asserted themselves in the landscape causing much excitement among archaeologists.
What struck me about these discoveries was how easily such important buildings could have been lost and forgotten over time. Loughcrew, where Oliver Plunkett’s house was discovered, is itself an important public space where people continue to visit and the traces of the old house are in extensive gardens open to the public. And still they were lost and forgotten.
How fragile is our memory; how brittle and frail, even our communal memory is. The lesson, of course, is that we forget and even societies and communities forget. And things which we think are important and socially significant today, things we now regard as unforgettable, can slip easily through communal memory into oblivion unless conscious efforts are made to mark and preserve the memories.
If this is true of public sites and important buildings, how much more valid is it about the small but significant things that have no physical manifestation in our lives: our stories, our music, our culture and our history.
That’s why the Hinterland Festival in Kells is so vitally important.
II. Let me go further, and share with you another experience I had last summer. A group of American friends of mine rented a big house in Dunquin, west of Dingle. Four elderly couples who had been friends for many years. One fine evening as the sun– a veritable ball of fire – set, over the Blaskets we sat down to dinner, 10 of us in all. During the course of the meal, as I looked around at this group of old friends, the thought struck me that, cumulatively, at that table we totalled over 800 years. It was a sobering thought. What a wealth of experience – I did not say wisdom-was gathered there that evening. Although we did not hold hands séance-like, I drew my friends’ attention to the fact. There was a moment of silence, a pause, while we absorbed the fact. In an instant they resumed their meal.
With me, however, the thought lingered and to myself I developed the thought further. On this occasion the 800 years was a horizontal calculation of the ages of contemporaries. But what if, and bear with me here, we were vertically stacked, in a temporal sense, one on top of the other, then the 800 years would bring us back to 1219. And why stop there? If we extended the table the following evening and included two more centurions from around the area, we could stretch back nearly as far as Brian Boru. Surely, we might hope to meet his ghost!
A couple of years ago the Kells Festival adopted the word “Imagine” as the verbal slogan for that year. The word was translated into many languages and in many print forms appeared throughout the town. Embracing this as my spur I continued the ride from fact to fancy. I imagined the 10 octogenarians leaving the dinner table and, as the sun set, silhouetting the sleeping giant that is the Blaoscaod Mor, in the field in front of the house we climbed on each other’s shoulders. From the top, the view stretched out over the Western Islands into the wild Atlantic. From the island itself the gentle breeze brought with it the haunting ancestral tune of Port na bPucai. And as I looked at the totem pole of the 10 senior people, I fancied, in the fading light, that three of the faces were those of Tomas O’Criomhthain, Muiris O’Suilleabhain and Peig Sayers. The last three great storytellers from the Baskets.
I refrain from joining the dots save to say that we must appreciate not only our history and our imagination. We must also feed our imagination. And that is why I am so pleased with the programme we have adopted this year at the Hinterland Festival.
III. As someone who spent most of his life growing up and living in small provincial towns in Ireland, It warms my heart when I see a small community adopt a project and commit energy and enthusiasm to its realisation for no other reason than the general benefit of the village and the well-being and gaiety of the neighbourhood. Seven years ago a small group got together and organised (with the assistance of Hay Festival) a Festival of lectures, debates and performances on a wide range of topics. Three years ago, the organisers courageously decided to go it alone and they morphed into the present Hinterland Festival Kells. The ambition and the courage sprang from a deep commitment to an ideal and a strong conviction that it could be done. Support from the community was forthcoming, so much so that the Festival is now an established and well recognised fixture in the crowded calendar of such summer events in Ireland.
And it is worthy of note that this success has not just meant an expansion of the programme itself, year on year, with more lecturers, a greater variety of topics and an expansion of entertainments. No. There have also been other notable spin-offs which frequently follow in the slipstream of such a community dynamic -spin-offs that could hardly have been envisaged at the outset. Let me mention some of these here:
Last week the old refurbished Courthouse was opened by Minister Brendan Griffin. It provides another lovely space and venue for more local events and endeavours. It also acts as a Tourist Office and a museum with a small interpretive centre for visitors.
One of the earliest supporters of this endeavour, to my eyes, came from the establishment of Kells Local Heroes who not only help in the preparations for the Festival but whose efforts throughout the year greatly enhance the town and its environs. We’ve had the Men’s Shed. The Harvest Walk out to Headfort Bridge has been created and is an additional amenity for both body and soul. Let me also list the wonderful Kells Print Works Restoration Project. This is a truly wonderful idea which, when realised, will be of permanent infrastructural benefit to tourism in the town.
I have also been reliably informed that another couple of art type venues could become available in the town in the near future and these too will further add to the attractions and amenities of the town when they arrive. Lastly, were we not trying to advance all these projects, we would not now have the beautiful, intimate space that has become a nerve centre for artistic endeavour in the town: the Bookmark cafe.
One by one the lights are coming on.
All these developments and enhancements did not happen by accident. They are the direct result of the energy and the success of the Festival itself. The Festival showed what can be done. The Festival was the seminal event, the catalyst. It taught others to have courage and to imagine how they can contribute to the venture and to the ongoing enterprise that is Kells. And we are not finished yet: there are still further opportunities in the town. And I urge the people of the town to look around and ask themselves, what can I do to further this awakening for the benefit of Kells Hinterland and for the town of Kells itself.
This year’s programme has an extraordinary range: history, politics, current affairs, literature music and art are all there. And the speakers and lecturers are a veritable Who’s Who of Irish (and non-Irish) artists, media personalities, historians, etc. I will refrain from mentioning anyone by name, as an omission would certainly get me into trouble. But I assure you that there is something in the wide programme for everyone. I would urge you to take the programme home tonight and to sit down and study it – like you might study the runners and riders in the Grand National – and when you have carried out this exercise I ask you to make your selection well in advance. Inevitably there will be clashes, inevitably you may not be able to see everything you would like; but if you do your homework in advance you can be sure of selecting an interesting and personalised list that should satisfy all your intellectual and artistic appetites for the week. So if you want to know how you can help, all I would say is: attend as many of the sessions as possible and book early.
Tá áthas orm go bhfuil an scannán An Beallach go Baile Ghib cláraithe don Aoine. Chonaic mé an scannán sin cupla mí o shin i Solstice san Uaimh agus geallaim- se díbh gur fiú e d’fheiscint. Tá sé an-suimiuil agus an- tabhtacht ó thaobh stair na h-áite.
I am also delighted to see an enhanced programme for children. It is vital that the children also are exposed to our stories and our music. They are the future.
None of this, however, could be done without the help of patrons, sponsors and benefactors of all sorts and I would like to acknowledge their help here tonight. Time does not permit me to individually thank them, nor is it perhaps my duty to do so, but I would like to draw your attention to page 2 of the Programme where all their names are listed.
Finally, I would like publicly to pay tribute to the total commitment of a hard-working committee (again named in the program) and to acknowledge those few people who seven years ago imagined this event and had the courage and the energy to bring it all to fruition. They know who they are. Tá said molta má fhannaim – se im thost.
It only remains for me to formally launch the Festival and I do so now.
Go raibh maith agaibh.