Saturday, 25 January 2020

Annaghmakerrig - the annual visit

Having written lots about the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig before I'll not bore you with more details other than it was the estate and family home of an aristocratic composer Tyrone Guthrie who left it first to two workers who looked after the farm and that was susequently taken on by the Arts Councils of Ireland and Northern Ireland as a retreat for artists to come and gain inspiration and quiet out of their daily routines.

The old maze at the back of the house
 As well as the main house accommodating up to 13 writers full board, there are also five self catering cottages that are mostly occupied by musicians and visual artists.  They're also ideal for couples like ourselves.  
The farm buildings turned into cottages - we were in the end one
from outside the cottages courtyard
 I feel the presence of Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon, playwrights like Martin Lynch and Marie Jones and Brian Friel, there's a wonderful concert pianist here at the minute whom we can hear practicsing in one of the rooms and the paintings adorning the walls have all been left or donated by well known names in their fields as well as people just beginning on their artistic paths.

Lots of stone carvings around the grounds ...

heading to the lake
 With visitors from America, England, Germany and Ireland there was a very international feeling during our week.  
Annaghmakerrig Lake

and old boathouse

What must it have been like to live in a place like this - call it your home!

The gardens are beautiful and we've decided to go back at the end of the Summer this year so we can experience the place in full bloom, althought with its winter coat on it was still a lovely place to walk through with a surprising amount of colour showing through. 

So between the usual January days with storms and bluster we had some lovely frosty mornings with gorgeous sunsets and blue skies during the day.  Who wouldn't be inspired with skies like that ....

A young artist from Lisburn just starting out on her path was vying for the biggest grin along with the young German classical guitarist - their delight was infectious and we all felt the need of an injection of joy which the place always imparts. We came away with some more or less finished songs and more new ideas - the bones of a new album starting to shape up - now to not let the world crowd in again so we can get them moving onwards. 

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

A very eventful December - singing with Anuna

I'm determined to get my look back at all the December happenings before January is out, so bear with me.

So after our visit to Dublin the next day my choir had a workshop and a performance scheduled with Anuna.   Another emotional roller coaster.   If I'd had any idea of how amazing the workshop was going to be I would have pushed all my singers to make sure they could be there.

Anuna were the orignal voice of Riverdance - you may remember seeing gorgeous young women with cloaks carrying candles and sounding like angels.   They are quite classical in style but have a very Celtic sound if that's a thing.   8 women and 9 men.
I know those of you into music and choirs will find this interesting ....

This group have no conductor, no-one out front, no-one counting them in - all their performance is lead by breath.  And they showed us how they do it ... It was so interesting.  They use the energy of the audience and wait for everyone to settle before they begin.

First Michael McGlynn the founder and director of Anuna asked me to conduct a piece, then do it again without moving my hands ..hmm   No, don't mouth the words!   No, don't use facial expressions!  At that I started to laugh and couldn't think of what else to do - so he proceeded to tell the group to close their eyes. 

Singmarra with Michael standing behind and me in front.  
Note the closed eyes and people trying not to giggle
Without giving them the note again - and remember this is a community choir, not a professional group, and we were now perhaps 10 minutes into the exercise, he then took a breath and they all started in unison and in tune.   Standing in front, I couldn't even hear the breath ... It was so exciting.  Here's a wee snippet from the workshop.

This piece blew us all away - it's called Jerusalem and was composed by Michael McGlynn and is a 7 piece canon in a style that is still sung in the Outer Hebrides .... The girls moved around the monastery as they sang this so the sound wrapped around us all - it was so moving.

So after going through breathing exercises and unison singing we rehearsed Gaudete to perform with them in the Monastery later in the evening.   We were drilled in walking on, bowing and walking off - such fun - I wonder how much of it people will remember when we start back next week lol

 So here's the performance - This is a terrible image but you can see the candles held by the Anuna ladies - we're surrounding them - they didnt trust us with the candles lol - and you can certainly hear us when we come in after the 2nd verse. 

Everyone together afterwards ..
we were in the Benedictine Monastery where the Mass is still sung in Gregorian Chant

Some of my Singmarra ladies with Michael

Even making it into the paper the following week
We were all high as kites for a week after and it certainly made a difference to our two Christmas performances and attracted more people to want to join us.

I have no desire to have a professional level choir - my main passion is to get people to use their voices - almost without exception, people who join community choirs tell the leaders that they can't sing or can't sing in tune - given 10 minutes singing in a group with fun songs and no-one pointing fingers everyone sings well in tune and has fun.   But, this experiecne will certainly lift the level of what we do, me as much as the singers - in fact it'll give me the opportunity to join in and sing with them rather than being stuck out in front.  

Monday, 20 January 2020

A very eventful December - meeting the President

Arás an Uachtaráin (literally means Hall of the President)
We were very excited back in October to recieve a gilt edged invitation from President Michael D Higgins' office to attend the lighting of the Christmas tree at Aras an Uachtarain in Dublin on 7th December.  

President Higgins who is known by everyone as Michael D is the 9th president of Ireland and a very interesting character which is reflected in everything he does.  A poet and scholar, a native Irish speaker as well as a seasoned politician, and married to Sabina a former actress from the Abbey Theatre, his entire presidency has been a message of integration and inclusion - at his inauguration he had speakers from every major religion in the country including humanists and atheists!  If you're interested here's the link to his Christmas speech which focussed on welcoming the new Irish into the country and helping them feel at home at a time when family is important. 
Michael D Higgins, President
The president's home is in the Phoenix Park in Dublin and was formerly the seat of the British High Consul.   It is a fabulous early Georgian building which houses all the offices associated with the Presidency and is where all visiting dignitaries are welcomed including the Queen and Prince Phillip, Prince Charles and Camilla and many former US presidents including Barack Obama.  

The entire day was set up for children and 100 kids from orphanages are entertained each year with their carers.   We assumed we were invited because Tom's book The BirdsSong is about inclusion and aimed at children - we were delighted whatever the reason and were especially pleased to have an invite for four of us, so Colum who illustrated the BirdsSong book was also able to attend with his wife Deirdre.

photo courtesy of

We did have our photos taken with the President and his wife but haven't been able to locate a copy yet and with us all being slighty starstruck, not one of us had the presence of mind to ask one of the staff take a photo for us ... however... We did catch Santa! 


After been ushered into meet MIchael D and Sabina we were then moved through to meet Santa and his elves and from there outside again and into a hall where entertainment and food was laid on before the speeches.  

Outside this hall there was an avenue of trees planted by various dignitaries ... 

planted by Barack Obama

and the Peace Bell which was commissioned to honour the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement by Mary McAleese, one of two female presidents and the only president to come from the North of Ireland - she's a native of Rostrevor where I live.  

The fabulous Dublin Youth choir sang in small groups and as one large group throughout the whole afternoon - just gorgeous. 

and the main entertainment stage had young performers from all over the country - 2 dancers from the South East, a couple of young sisters singing who came from the West and a young family of traditional musicians from Co Tyrone in Northern Ireland as well as comedians, jugglers etc etc ... 

traditional musicians from Co. Tyrone

And the highlight of the entertainment particularly for the young ones, although I was quite thrilled to see hime too, was Hozier who's chart hit Take Me To Church a few years back has made him into a household name.  He did a lovely set, finishing with Silent Night in Irish (Oiche Chuin)   He's a beautiful singer and a former member of Anuna who we were to meet the following day. 
Hozier on stage in the Douglas Hyde room


Tom, myself, Colum and Deirdre
And then outside for the switch on of the tree....

official photo

The building was kept open afterwards for us to look around - and for more teas and coffees, mince pies and choirs . 

The main entrance is a hall of bronze busts of former presidents ... Mary McAleese, Mary Robinson and Eamon deValera pictured here.

All in all it was a charming afternoon.   I would love to go back sometime and do the official tour as the building is crammed with fabulous Irish art and sculpture and I find President Higgins charming - a welcome change from the political bluster that is the norm at the minute. 


Sunday, 19 January 2020


This story made me so mad - what is wrong with this world.

It was bad enough that they put Extinction Rebellion on a watch list, but Greenpeace!!!
Read the full story from the Guardian here.

Friday, 17 January 2020

A week in creative rest

Sunshine between the showers
I'm very impressed by young writers these days - whether that's on blogs, songwriters, authors - they have a great sense of honesty, openness, authenticity.  Perhaps it's our growing up in a society where it wasn't ok to speak your mind - you didn't know who was listening - but I find it very difficult to be that open.   This week we saw the restart of our Stormont Assembly, after 3 years of not working.   Doubtless our health and education services were used as pawns by the powers that be to coerse our idiots to get beyond school yard politics and start behaving like politicians - I wonder how much honesty will be evident there. 
My view from our studio this week

We've come away for our annual visit to Tyrone Guthrie House in Co. Monaghan. - hopefully I"ll get some nice photos from here for next week's Scavenger Hunt. 

It's a great place to re-focus priorities - move back into my own realm - after such a busy couple of months with choirs and an impending tour of the Emigrant Woman's Tale, it's hard to find space to hear your own thoughts and tunes and see where you want to move to next - to find your own honesty. 

So we've both been going through hundreds of voice notes and memos on our phones, dumping, editing, rearranging and getting into a rhythm of work that's exciting us both and setting a way of working for the coming months.

We've use of a studio although mostly we're working in our cottage but I absolutely love having access to a beautiful piano to work through chord progressions when I get stuck in a riff on the guitar.  And looking out across green fields through rainy windows is better than being stuck in front of the tv or computer screen at home.  

As always, there's an international group here this week - several writers, a couple of painters, a pianist rehearsing for an upcoming concert in Paris, a young German guitarist writing music for a new album and a couple of people editing scripts for films and tv shows.   That mix is so inspiritng and makes for very interesting converstaion at dinner.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Such a waste

We just got along the seafront before the road was closed today as Storm Brendan passed through.   This was the scene 20 minutes later ....(photo stolen from my friend Clare on Facebook)

I hope you've not been too battered where you are ...

Thank you for all your lovely messages of support on my last blog ... we're both very tired and of course Tom is shattered emotionally and physically... however ill, or whatever the relationship, it is tough losing your mother.

Like everybody I know I'm trying to be more concious of what we throw out in our house ... particularly following Kezzie who regular posts very useful updates on how she's changing her lifestyle.  Thanks for all the hints Kezzie. 

In light of that, when clearing out Dorothy's house for sale, we've been really shocked at all the paraphenalia associated with old people that is given freely by the National Health Service but is then thrown in the dump.   Someone came to remove the stair lift and when Tom asked how it'd be resued, the engineer said, no way, it'll be taken to the dump.   We'd been informed that it cost £5000 when it was put in and he was removing 4 that day and does similar work each day.   That is shocking and the NHS is in such crisis ... The same is done with wheelchairs, zimmer frames, walking sticks and on and on.   A physiotherapist I spoke to said they're not allowed to take back walking sticks even if they've only been used for a couple of days!  We can buy reconditioned cookers and fridges and lots of other things - Surely the NHS should be able to employ someone to recondition a lot of these things.  And look at all the medicines that are prescribed, then changed or left behind when someone passes on but the pharmacies aren't allowed to take them back ... It is awful ... something must be done about it.

Anyway rant over.

Any suggestions? Are there any initiatives where you live?  We heard of one person here who collects these things and brings them by truck to Romania ...

And briefly back to the weather ....

Tuesday, 31 December 2019


I've been missing you all for the past while  - it's been a rollercoaster of a month.

My mother in law Dorothy passed away very suddenly early in December and left us all shocked and feeling in limbo.  She had been in and out of hospital with minor ailments and on this occasion was getting ready to go home when she suddenly became unresponsive and never really came out of it.  It was scepsis. 

Dorothy with Tom and his brother David

Between her passing and her funeral we had been invited on the back of our Birdsong book to visit the home of the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, for the lighting of the Christmas tree and Tom decided to go as it was quite an honour to be invited in the first place.   Aras An Uachtarain is a beautiful building and the day was very special.   That was the Saturday and on the Sunday my singing group Singmarra had a workshop with the amazing vocal group Anuna and performed in concert with them in the monastery that night. 

Then Dorothy's funeral was on Monday.

By Tuesday morning I didn't know what end of me was up and proceeded on to our rehearsal and choir dinner on the Tuesday night, more rehearsals on the Wednesday and our Christmas concert on Saturday.

I will tell you more about the positive December happenings in a future post but it doesn't feel apt at this point.  I still feel like I"m reeling.

So in the midst of all this emotion Christmas got put aside until the 23rd when my lovely Aussie cousin arrived from London and I was forced into doing some sort of a clean up and get organised.

My apologies for not being in touch, and not sending Christmas cards - the house eventually got decorated on Christmas Eve, thanks to cousinly efforts,  and we had a lovely Christmas with friends as my mother had decided not to join us this year.

I am happy for Dorothy - it was a blessing for her as she was so unhappy and so wanting to "go home" but it has been a strange Christmas for us, particularly for Tom, and without my own mother here it made it even stranger.   However we're now on New Year's Eve and have somehow surtvived, albeit with another funeral tomorrow to start the New Year :(

I hope next year is a bit less tempestuous and I look forward to keeping up some level of regular practice of blogging...  I have been dropping in and keeping up with what you're at, just not getting around to commenting. 

This blogging community means a lot to me and I wish you all a very happy, healthy, peaceful and above all safe New Year.  See you in the next decade ...eeek!