The 5th McGlinchey Summer School
5th - 7th July 2002
The McGlinchey Summer School at Clonmany has done it again. Superlatives can be unconvincing and extreme enthusiasm can seem false, nevertheless it has to be said the McGlinchey Summer school is unbeatable. How do they do it? This is the fifth year of the festival. Each one superb and each better than the last.
Yes, you might say, but hadn't they got Seamus Heaney for the whole of Friday evening. Well I didn't drive to Clonmany just to listen to Seamus Heaney. I wouldn't have missed the McGlinchey Weekend and, Seamus Heaney not withstanding, the superlatives would stand.
But wasn't Heaney great all the same. There we sat from a little after 7.30 pm on Friday in the magnificent Clonmany Youth and Community Resource Centre, about 600 of us, like wide-eyed spellbound children, taking in every word. And every word was worth taking in. He's one of ourselves: speaks our language, uses our words and engages our common sympathy. He stood at the podium and we sat in the hall yet we might have been at home seated around the fire listening to a local seanchaŪ. Nothing remote, nothing obscure, nothing high-falutin'.
In his Patrick Kavanagh (the Master) Memorial Lecture entitled Who owned that half rood? we heard about the community of his childhood, his family, his neighbours the Slodden Drain dividing two parishes and the way in which a defined boundary can be an agent of personal freedom. I admire his acknowledged indebtedness and esteem for Kavanagh, often regarded in sterile quarters as a "minor poet" and his embrace of Robert Frost also sidelined by the fashion-conscious in the same quarters. I had wondered who if any would quote Frost's famous line "Good fences make good neighbours". Heaney not only read the whole poem, he delved with us into it, probing its meaning, sharing its nuances.
As Des Kavanagh, Chairperson of the Summer School Committee and old friend of Seamus Heaney, said in his introduction, Heaney loved words he honed them fondled them, manipulated them. True. Yet his words are not big, obscure or simply ornamental. Each is picked, honed, arranged and right.
If this was an informal atmosphere it relaxed even further when after the interval Tommy Sands joined Seamus on the stage alternating song and poem in a delightfully unrehearsed performance. They had decided they would just go on the stage and they would know what to do. This they did, carrying with them the theme of the weekend (Borders Boundaries and Divisions) in song and poem.
I said I didn't come just to hear Heaney, yet unlike Johnson's assessment of the Giant's Causeway long ago, Heaney was not only worth seeing, he was worth coming to see.
Saturday morning we were back at the Centre listening to Myrtle Hill of QUB who reminded us of the many women who stepped out of line and crossed boundaries that had traditionally either corralled them in or kept them out. Her collection of photographs of working women, spanning more than a century of this endeavour, is memorable. Her talk, Breaking out, might just as validly been entitled Breaking in. On the basis of their participation at the Summer School it's clear that whether they've broken out or in they are here and here to stay.
The military aspect of borders was never far from the proceedings and Eunan O'Halpin's revelations about British black propaganda and Ireland during the Second World War reminded me of how naive we can be in Ireland about what is perhaps optimistically called state security.
The military theme, with a deft mixture of social history, was continued by Col. Brian O'Reilly, in his lecture on the history of forts of Lough Swilly. Both this and the later field trip to Dunree Fort were Saturday's highlights, and very high they were indeed. If you haven't yet visited the excellent museum at Dunree drop what you're doing and go now. It is superb - a model of what can be done locally. We saw Big guns, small guns, rare guns and common guns, breach loaders and barrel loaders, but the nicest piece of information of all was that none of the huge guns that defended Lough Swilly had ever been fired in anger.
We returned from the field trip to hear an tOllamh Nollaig Mac Congail (son of SeŠn McGonagle, a Ballyliffen man who taught Irish at St Columbís College in Derry) launch, in an at times passionate presentation, McGlinchey's own Irish version of the Last of the Name: An Fear Deireannach den tSloinneadh. What a joy to witness almost one hundred people in Clonmany paying rapt attention to the very fluent Irish of this presentation with no hint of the slightest difficulty.
Then to music. You would travel very far indeed to find a more enjoyable and higher standard of entertainment than that provided by Treasa Harkin (box), Patsy Toland (Strings), Seamus Gibson (fiddle), Dermot Toland (guitar) along with Grace Toland, Jim McFarlane and Sean Mone singing Songs Across the Border. To these were added the voices of three very fine visiting Scottish singers: Gordie McIntyre and family.
On Sunday we visited the ruins of the McGlinchey homestead in Meentagh Glen. I'm sure everyone present in the large group felt the lonely tug at the heart that deserted rural homesteads in such hauntingly beautiful settings bring. Pat McEleney (Jimmy Nancy) added to this poignancy when he spoke about Charles McGlinchey as a neighbour and how when he visited his house just below, on the side of the hill, his father and McGlinchey spoke in Irish only. How did we allow our native language to die here so quickly and comprehensively? Willie Doherty (Ownie), Francis Kerrigan and Jimmy Gibbon also kept us spellbound with their reminiscences.
We returned to the hall and to the military theme when Richard Doherty from Derry gave us a quite remarkable account of Irish people who contributed to the Allied endeavour during World War II.
Time was we didn't talk very openly about smuggling, but times have changed and the cat is now well and truly out of the bag. The proceedings of this Summer School when they are published next year will reveal all as it was revealed to us by Pat McNally and Paddy Ryan on the official side and many others, not least Maisie Grant, on the participating side. Pat and Paddy gave us inside and often hilarious accounts of defending the State from the smuggler giving the lie to SeŠn Mone's contention the previous evening that Customs Men were not known for their sense of humour. I suppose it depends on the circumstances of your acquaintance.
Before Marius Harkin introduced us to a panel discussion on local experiences during the Emergency/Second World War, Paddy Doherty, son of the late William J. Doherty, gave us fascinating insights into the Turf Campaign of that period.
The panel discussion, for me always a very strong attraction didn't disappoint. It brought immediacy to events that are often no more than fragile bits of rumours to those born after the events. The panel members were Tess Doherty (Urris), Maisie Grant (Buncrana), Sheila McLoughlin (Urris), Paddy Doherty (Desertegney and Buncrana), Charles Doherty (Moville) and John A. McLoughlin (Carrowmenagh). I don't think any of us will soon forget how , having regaled us with accounts of smuggling butter and eggs one way and candles and mustard on the return journey and engaging the Customs Men in a tug of war with smuggled bread as a rope Maisie gave a classic rendition of "Lilly Marlene". Events were brought to a conclusion by a very fine presentation by Ultan Cowley on the experiences of the Irish navvy in Britain. And although we had seen and heard some of this material last year it had lost none of its fascination and impact.
As a total outsider not only to Inishowen, but to the Northwest in general, I can put my hand on my heart and say that the McGlinchey Summer School continues as an unqualified success. To me its success lies in the remarkable blend of high academic standard and local participation and focus. The village of Clonmany has set a headline for any other community that wishes to facilitate access to its local heritage. The fact that people are prepared to travel huge distances to attend the school (I met one couple who travelled from Boston and another who travelled from Honolulu) is indicative of, rather than critical to, its success.
Seamus Heaney is obviously fully aware of and in sympathy with the philosophy behind the School. His remark that "This is not a sentiment, but a real service" cuts right to the heart of the matter and clearly is one of the reasons for the remarkable and continual success of the Summer School.
L. ” Bh.