Friday, June 30, 1995

Cultural Feast in Athy - Sifonia and 'On Hallowed Ground'

Athy had enjoyed a cultural feast in the last two weeks. It started with the Wexford Sinfonia which played a programme of classic pieces in St. Dominic's Church on Sunday the 11th of June. Fergus Sheil was the orchestra's conductor which was led by Theresa Doyle and soloist was Michael D'arcy, violin played of exceptional quality who is leader of the R.T.E. Concert Orchestra.

Athy's Lions Club in co-operation with the Friends of St. Vincent's Hospital were the promoters of the enjoyable concert which played to an almost full house. However it is to Bruce Yates of Grangemellon must go the accolades for organising the event. Bruce who is involved with other choral and orchestral groups first made contact with Wexford Sinfonia and almost single handedly organised what was a most pleasant evenings musical entertainment.

Six days later on Saturday 17th June Athy Writers Group organised what the programme described as a Literary Evening in St. Brigid's Church, Ballintubbert. Under the title of "On Hallowed Ground" the entertainment commemorated the life and works of C. Day Lewis, Poet Laureate.

Lewis was born in Ballintubbert House on the 27th of April 1904, the only child of Rev. Frank Day Lewis, Church of Ireland Minister and his wife Kathleen. He died in 1972 four years after being appointed Poet Laureate.

The evening commenced with a feast of renaissance music played by the Capriol Consort, a group of four young ladies from the Dublin area. Playing on what to my untutored eyes looked like mock medieval wind instruments the sound produced was cultivated to let ones mind slip back in time to the days of Manorial celebrations in Woodstock Castle.

Mary Thompson, a Dublin based educationalist, gave a resume of C. Day Lewis's life and work and highlighted his importance in the literary world. Others to contribute included John MacKenna, described in the programme as "a prolific writer" when surely he is more aptly named as one of Ireland's most promising young writers. James O'Keeffe who is making a name for himself with his writings gave us a number of short poems including one entitled "A Gardener of Sorts" which I heard him repeat on Sunday Miscellany the following morning.

A very talented writer whose work is surely deserving of publication in his own collection is Dom Brennan who gave us a reading which was well received. His poem on the bewigged gentlemen of the Law circling the Courthouse in Athy on Court day was a gem.

There were many other contributors both musical and literary but one which I thought was particularly good was Canon William Beere's rendition of a Thomas Moore ballad. I would have liked to have heard more from the Canon whose rich mellifluous voice easily filled the Church of St. Brigids.

During the break I paid a visit to the Kelly family vault which is in the Church grounds where Rev. Thomas Kelly is buried with his wife and some of his children. Founder of the Kellyites he is today remembered as Irelands foremost hymn writer. No less than seven editions of his Church Hymnal were published during his lifetime and the last edition included 765 of his hymns.

"We sing the praise of Him who died" and "The Head that once was crowned with thorns" are two of his many hymns which are still included in modern day Church hymnals. Three of his well known missionary hymns are "On the mountain top appearing", "Zions King Shall Reign Victorious" and "Speed Thy Servants, Saviour Speed Them".

In this year of commemoration for the victims of the Famine it is well to know what is written of him by Miller in "The Singer and Songs of the Church" published in 1869. There Kelly was described as "admirable alike for his zeal and his humility and his liberality found ample scope in Ireland especially during the years of the Famine". Tradition relates that his uncle who was the Catholic Archbishop of Tuam while on a visit to Judge Kelly's house in Kellyville lost a number of valuables following which the cleric rather unkindly is supposed to have claimed "The larks will not sing over Kellyville, Till the large oak falls against the wind".

Whether the oak ever fell I cannot say, but certainly Saturday night in St. Brigid's Church as the dusk fell around us was the place to be. Well done Athy Writers Group and well done Bruce Yates.

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