The amphitheatre at Cloughjordan eco-village is just like its ancient predecessors, says Ellie O’Byrne
SINCE the 4th century BC, audiences of up to 14,000 at the Epidaurus amphitheatre in Greece have been listening with crystal clarity to unamplified actors and musicians, and that includes audience members perched in the dizzyingly elevated back row.
With their awesome acoustics, amphitheatres are one of the truly great feats of human engineering, and the technology is two thousand years old.
In the village of Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary, a new amphitheatre has been dug out of the rubble left over from the construction of Cloughjordan Ecovillage, Ireland’s first ecologically sustainable community.
Mick Canney is the chair of Cloughjordan Arts, the non-profit company set up to develop and run the amphitheatre. He designed the amphitheatre, without the assistance of an acoustic engineer, but he says the effect is still palpable.
“You stand in the centre, and it’s like you’re listening to yourself in a monitor,” Canney says. “It’s not an acoustic miracle, but you can easily have a conversation between the back row and the stage. For larger events, there’ll be some reinforcement of the sound, but that’s really about levels and balancing instruments, rather than amplification.”
Opened by President Michael D Higgins, in April, the amphitheatre is about to host its first festival, the Free Reed Gathering. Musicians will include Andy Irvine, Don Baker, Brendan Power, and blues guitarist, Seamie O’Dowd, and the focus will be on the harmonica and other ‘free reed’ instruments, such as the
concertina, accordion, and church organ.
“This will be the first in a series of what I would hope to be regular events, and not just music,” Canney says. “We see ourselves as having a much broader cultural, and perhaps even political, remit, in terms of the type of programming we’ll put on. It’s all about community. The land is co-operatively owned, and the company is not-for-profit. The whole ethos of it is to be embedded with the community, but we also want to bring visitors into the town and generate economic activity in the town, through drawing people in.”
The Cloughjordan Arts committee is made up of a small majority of Ecovillage residents, with the remaining members coming from Cloughjordan village cultural and business interests. The amphitheatre, it is hoped, will reflect the ethos behind the Ecovillage, and provide a cultural focal point for the community there.
Although events at the amphitheatre will eventually be powered either by off-grid renewable energy sources or via a local renewable energy company, the project is still incomplete and will require a diesel generator for the Free Reed Gathering. Lighting will be provided by solar power.
The Free Reed Gathering will be an open-air event, but the next step in developing the amphitheatre is funding the construction of a specially designed canopy, which will not only provide a little protection against the vagaries of the Irish summer, but will also contain special features for lighting, drapes, and aerial circus performers.
“It’s a half-finished job at the moment, really,” Canney says. “But you have to be ambitious. With a project like this, it’s always two steps forward, one step back, so you just have to dream it, I suppose. Otherwise, it won’t happen.”
Canney, who is technical director of Trinity College’s Samuel Beckett Theatre, envisages all sorts of cultural and educational events being hosted at the amphitheatre, during an annual six months of programming.
Film screenings, performing arts, talks, and workshops focused on food and sustainable living are possibilities. And the committee will be open to proposals from people working in the arts.
“We’re open to ideas; to anything, really,” he says. “It would be important to us to work with people who are engaged politically, socially, and environmentally, and who are willing to work with our ethos, because we will have very strong policies around the use of plastics, provision of local food, sponsorship issues, those kinds of things.”
“We’re not interested in running a mini Electric Picnic; there are enough people trying to sell stuff. We’re interested in ideas.”
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