Cork writer and academic Daniel Corkery described the aisling poem, in his 1924 study The Hidden Ireland, as an “intimate expression of the hidden life of the people among whom it flourished”.
Kerry poets Aogán Ó Rathaille, and Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin, both of Gneeveguilla, were among the masters of the verse form which personified Ireland, and herafflictions of penal times, as a beautiful young woman, appearing to the poet in an aisling or vision.
Though it lays no claims to such lofty or political vision, an aisling of a new and different kind will be revealed next week, just over the Cork side of the Derrynasaggart mountains, in Baile Mhúirne’s Ionad Cultúrtha.
While the 17th and 18th century aisling poems conveyed loss and longing for Ireland’s proud past and future respectively, the visionary experience in the Croí Mhúscraí stage production Aisling antSeanduine is an ‘intimateexpression’ of the cultural past and future of a Gaeltacht community.
Featuring the song ‘Aisling Gheal’, which lends its name to the scheme nurturing the sean-nós tradition in Múscraí’s future singers, the performance offers avision of an Ireland in which the traditional arts flourish.
Along with Irish language a gallamh beirte dialogue, a cross-section of local musical influences are showcased, from Seán Ó Riada marches to the slides of fiddle player Connie O’Connell and infectious rhythms of Sliabh Luachra polkas, accompanied by the beat of young set dancers’ nimble feet.
A community production involving more than 40 participants of all ages, from senior citizens down to national school pupils, Aisling an tSeanduine takes the form of an old man’s dream of the vibrant dance and song of his youth, and the tunes passed down through generations by a travelling music teacher.
The production, by Cill na Martra’s Lachtaín Naofa Comhaltas group, also embodies another artisticvision, as expressed by the state’s Creative Ireland programme, which sees a “vibrant cultural ecosystem as essential to society”.
The programme’s core proposition is that “participation incultural activity drives personal and collective creativity, with significant implications for individual and societal well being and achievement”.
Part-funded by the programme through Cork County Council,the production is an exercise in collective creativity, the majority of its cast having had little or no stage experience, yet together producing a collaborative cultural celebration.
Local farmer Dónal Ó Riordáin, who plays the titular sean duine or old man, sees community cohesion through the group learning process as one of the project’s chief benefits.
“It brings people together and it’s enjoyable as well,” he says.
“We’re all on the same ship, all different abilities, all different ages.”
Recitations at social events being the extent of his previous public performances, Dónal took a leap into the unknown when accepting the role: “I said look, I’ve never done anything like this, so maybe now is the time.
“I was nervous at the beginning,” he admits, “but I suppose as the practices went on, it got more comfortable. It was easy to learn the lines, apart from being a little bit forgetful at times, but the ones in verse are easier to remember.”
Though Dónal had never previously considered acting, it was a case of opportunity presenting itself, just as it had to his parents in 2006. Both landed parts in Ken Loach’s film The Wind That Shakes the Barley, filmed in part in the Baile Mhúirne area, with his mother Mary given a speaking role in scenes opposite actor Cillian Murphy.
Though Dónal’s current role in a cast which also includes two of his children does not propel him to any such limelight, it may have lit enough of a spark to inspire him to further acting.
“I think if you were on the stage when you were younger it’s probably easier, but would I do it again?Possibly.”
Seosamh Ó Críodáin — part of a production ‘meitheal’ along with writer Seán Ó Muimhneacháinand choreographer Siobhán Ní Dhuinnín, with musical arrangements by Alan Finn and Billy O’Gorman — has considerable acting experience with companies such as Aisteoirí Bhréanainn in Kerry, and as a producer while teaching at Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne.
But working with a mixed community cast, some as young as 10, made ‘Aisling an tSeanduine’ a very different, though rewarding challenge.
“It’s like looking at a swan inside in the river and he’s pure calm, but there’s an awful lot of work going on underneath the water,” says Seosamh.
“With the play, what’s going on on stage might be very calm, but the real work has gone on behind the stage.”
However, he adds, “there was great co-operation and camaraderie and what made it a way easier was that they [the actors] wanted to be there.
“It’s great to get [young actors] to realise that for something like this to happen, it requires a pile of commitment and work. Now, if they go to see another play they’ll appreciate the work that goes into making it.”
Conducting the rehearsals and production entirely through Irish was also a positive, says Seosamh, since it offered young cast members a chance to interact through the language with members of the community outside of a school setting.
“I think that’s one thing we achieved, that everything was done in Irish and once they see that it can be done in Irish as naturally as in English, that’s a winner.”
Though the dialogue and songs are in Irish, the production is accessible to those without fluency in the language, he adds.
“They’d get the sentiment of it, like going to see an Italian opera, and we should be able to get our story across to people without them understanding much of the language.”
The project’s biggest benefit,however, has been its ability to stimulate collective creativity in the community.
“The main thing is that they enjoy it,” says Seosamh.
"I’d be very surprised if they weren’t sad when it was over and that they wouldn’t be looking to put it on again.”
The dream is not yet over, as following Friday’s showing in Baile Mhúirne, Aisling an tSeanduinewill be performed as part of theComhaltas ‘Scoraíocht’ at the Brú Ború heritage centre in Cashel onJanuary 25.
Aisling an tSeanduine by Croí Mhúscraí, on Friday, January 17, at Baile Mhúirne’s Ionad Cultúrtha will be preceded by performances of 2019 Oireachtas na Gaeilge award-winning amhrán saothar work songs written by Seán Ó Muimhneacháin, music from the group ‘Baois’, and songs by students of the Aisling Gheal sean-nós singing scheme.
Admission is free but advance booking is essential on 026 45733, email@example.com