Scoil na gCláirseach

(Food, Drink, Fun and Music)
By Alasdair Codona

It began as soon as my extremely helpful taxi-driver dropped me off at the Kilkenny School of Music. I had arrived in a sunny and picturesque Kilkenny with nothing but a suitcase and the clothes I was standing in. I walked through the door...

Any event starting with free wine a-plenty is bound to create an expectation and this one lived up to it. Before I knew it, I was plunged into a five-day series of classes and lectures along with a lot of lovely people I'd never met before and who seemed just as lovely by the end of the week. Now that's not the wine talking: I've got photographs to prove it!

OK, so the free wine stopped the next day. But then came - the cuisine! Scoil na gCláirseach boasts a fine spread on the table every lunchtime. Now when I say fine, I mean the kind of meal you get when you visit your friends who are really good cooks. The particular friend in this case was Siobhán herself.

Siobhán created Scoil na gCláirseach because she realised that if she didn't do it, nobody would. From beginning to end of the week, all for the sake of the Irish harp, she organised, taught and performed with seemingly no lack of energy and we all got the benefit of this: the week had an unusually pleasant and comfortable atmosphere for a course of this type.

Helping to create that atmosphere was the inspirational Ann Heymann who joined Siobhán in guiding a programme that covered more than I expected and developing an impressive rapport between tutors and students. Ann, along with husband Charlie, seemed always available to answer students' questions and impart from her huge fund of knowledge, creativity and skill.

The presence of Gráinne Yeats was a particular treat for the opening evening of the first year of Scoil an Chláirsigh. On the Tuesday, she displayed her encyclopaedic knowledge of the historical background of the cláirseach by giving a 45 minute lecture with the barest of glances to her notes.

On the Wednesday, we all jumped into a minibus headed for Dublin and a very rare opportunity to see ALL of the cláirseachs in the National Museum up close, including the ones in storage. We also paid a visit to the shrine of the Book of Kells, Trinity College, to pay our respects to the 'Brian Boru' harp.

Sean Donnelly arrived on the Thursday to read us his pre-published article on the position of the Gaelic harp in 17th century England and, despite Siobhán's little boy Oisin's occasional forays, failed to be put off his stride!

On Thursday night, Siobhán, Ann and Charlie performed to a packed St John's Church of Ireland. If anybody needed proof of the viability of this instrument to pull in crowds, they should have come to this concert. The variety of harps, repertoire and technique on display couldn't fail to satisfy the audience and inspire the students, who attended for free.

Everything, they say, has to have an end. I think there was more free wine on Friday afternoon but somehow it didn't convince me that this was 'the end'. I wandered around Kilkenny some more with friends, visited the surprisingly panoramic castle grounds, had some great meals, upstairs in Breathnach's, bought a suit in the Man's Shop but... I still couldn't feel that Scoil na gCláirseach was over.

I think I'm waiting for the next Scoil na gCláirseach.

Alasdair Codona 2003