Wednesday, April 11, 2012

All The Celts in Carlow

Last night saw the opening of the Pan Celtic Festival in Carlow, Ireland. It's the first time Carlow has hosted this event, which has been going for 41 years already.

The opening was held at The VISUAL, our fabulous Arts Centre here in Carlow where my sister, Jacquie, and I volunteer when we can. For me, discovering the VISUAL has been a source of endless joy and excitement. We've been to plays, movies and spent hours poring over the marvelous exhibition on there at the moment.

When we arrived for the volunteer briefing last night, we didn't realise that the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, would be opening it so we were really thrilled to know he'd be there as he's a great supporter of the arts and a proponent of the Irish language.  Indeed, we heard all the Celtic languages spoken there last night.
The President flashes past me!

Our job was to make sure things went smoothly once the crowds started to arrive, partly because the President was coming and partly because of the art work in the main gallery. There were large screens erected around the building so that people who did not have tickets to the main opening event in the George Bernard Shaw Theatre (also in the VISUAL building), could see the events unfold.  

The show started outside with dancers from Ireland and Brittany as well as a group of musicians form the Isle of Man and some pipers mixed in for good measure. We had to man our posts so weren't able to see all that much but we could tell people were having a great time and we were really grateful that the rain held off.

I was called away from the Gallery to keep the crowds in order when the President arrived. This was only for security reasons and it was a thousand times more relaxed than if the President of the USA arrived!  The President arrived to huge applause and cheering and spent time greeting all the dignitaries of Carlow and then headed to the theatre with his wife and Bríde de Róiste, the unflappable and wonderful organiser of the whole event.  The people behind me were thrilled to have got great photos of the President and to be able to say they'd been only feet from him.

When I got back to the Gallery, I saw that about 10 people were sitting on one of the big stone artworks and I had to, unfortunately, tell them they couldn't sit there as it might collapse and do them an injury.  There were people from all over milling about and by far the most beautiful were the dancers from Brittany in their demure laces caps and black velvet, embroidered dresses with gold chains hanging from the front.  My phone ran out of battery so I was not able to take photos of some of them twirling about amongst Eileen McDonough's remarkable 'Cathedral' exhibit - giant trees made from papier maché, reaching their arms to the sky. It's my only regret of the night.

'Cathedral' by Eileen McDonough

Carlow will now be the centre of countless sessions of music, story telling, dancing and the Food Festival on the weekend. We're so excited to have been part of this and to see and hear so much talent. 

It makes me more and more happy that I ended up in Carlow, which seems to be the hub of so much art and culture. How lucky are we?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Real Coffee

I didn't really learn about drinking proper coffee until I moved to Sweden when I was 19. Before that, it had either been the white coffee with steamed milk in the small cafe in Bray we went to as teenagers with our boyfriends, pooling our pennies together to get it, or it was instant.

When I was a child, my mother and father went to Yugoslavia to spend some of my father's writing royalties. They weren't allowed to take the money out of the country so they shopped a lot while they were there. One of the things they brought back was a hand coffee grinder and some traditional Balkan coffee pots. The kind with the wooden handle, they were made of copper which we shone carefully to keep them looking new.

She would grind up the beans - god knows where she got them in Ireland in the 1960s! - turning the handle for a long time to get the coffee as finely ground as possible. Then she'd spoon the coffee into the waiting pot and fill it with cold water, place it on the stove and we'd wait. Once it started to heat up there were tense moments while I watched the coffee slowly rise to the top lip of the pot. One second too long and it would spill over.  I felt both anxious and excited waiting for the perfect moment when Mum would grab the wooden handle, lift it off, satisfied.  She stirred it till the grounds went down again and would start the process all over again.  Three times she did this and then would let the coffee settle to the bottom after the final stir leaving only the brown froth on the top.

She poured the coffee - fragrant and rich, a bit like chocolate - into the small cups and topped them with boiled milk.  There was a priest called Tom Stack who used to visit her just for the coffee.

I never tasted it. She left before I was old enough to drink coffee.


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