Ireland 100: “The Finest Strands of Who We Are”

IRELAND 100 Festival Opening Performance—May 17, 2016_David Brophy conducting the National Symphony Orchestra_Photo by Margot Schulman

By Sarah Buscher, Contributor
June / July 2016

Ireland celebrates the centenary of the Easter Rising in America with a three-week cultural festival in Washington, D.C.

 

One of the most notable features of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., is a large bronze bust of Kennedy himself. A world-renowned piece of art, it manages to capture the vibrancy and energy of the late Irish American president.

This sculpture was bathed in the golden light of the setting sun on Tuesday, May 17 as hundreds thronged the Grand Foyer to witness the same vibrancy and energy of the launch of Ireland 100, a three-week comprehensive celebration of Irish arts and culture conceived as a commemoration of the centenary of the Easter Rising of 1916 – what better way to remember a rebellion staged by poets and playwrights than through a celebration of the history and future of the arts in Ireland?

Liz Knowles and Pat Broaders with the National Symphony Orchestra.(Photo by Margot Schulman)

Liz Knowles and Pat Broaders with the National Symphony Orchestra.(Photo by Margot Schulman)

The event was a sampler of the variety of performances staged at the Kennedy Center May 17 – June 5 that blended both the traditional and the cutting edge, celebrating the considerable contributions Ireland has made to art in all of its forms. Directed by Irish-born actor, Fiona Shaw, the kick-off featured performers like choreographer Colin Dunne, fiddler Liz Knowles, singers Tara Erraught and Iarla Ó Lionáird and installation artist/musician William Close’s Earth Harp – the world’s largest stringed instrument.

Tara Erraught with the National Symphony Orchestra. (Photo by Margot Schulman

Tara Erraught with the National Symphony Orchestra. (Photo by Margot Schulman)

The evening opened with remarks by Vice President Joe Biden and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Vice President Biden, whose mother’s maiden name was Finnegan, described how growing up Irish American informed his identify and values. Following them, Fiona Shaw rushed onto the stage with all of the earnestness and intensity of a host welcoming you into her home for the first time. At one point, she sat at the edge of the stage to recount for the audience part of the ancient Irish epic the Táin Bó Cúailne (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), in a graceful, subtle nod to the power of Ireland’s folklore and oral tradition.

Fiona Shaw at the Ireland 100 Festival Opening Performance. (Photo by Margot Schulman)

Fiona Shaw at the Ireland 100 Festival Opening Performance. (Photo by Margot Schulman)

To Ireland’s very first Minister for the Diaspora, Jimmy Deenihan, sharing this commemoration with the United States was especially fitting.

“America played a critical role in 1916,” he said. “There are real connections between America and what happened in the Easter Rising. It’s no coincidence that America is mentioned in the Proclamation. Five of the signatories of the Proclamation spent some time in America. One of the inspirations of the Rising, Thomas Clarke spent a lot of time in America. People like John Devoy and Joe McGarrity were instrumental in providing the motivation and inspiration but also the finance to arm the volunteers.”

Iarla Ó Lionáird and David Brophy with the National Symphony Orchestra. (Photo by Margot Schulman)

Iarla Ó Lionáird and David Brophy with the National Symphony Orchestra. (Photo by Margot Schulman)

The strength of this connection was highlighted by the swirl of social events that attended the festival’s launch. Speaking at a luncheon hosted at Washington’s National Cathedral before racing off to the U.S. Capital for a tree-planting ceremony, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, remarked on the appropriateness of celebrating this centenary through the arts: “It is in our art, our literature, our music, our drama, our dance that the finest strands of who we are, and imagine ourselves to be, are to be found.” ♦

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