Patricia McKenna and her Townhall installation ‘Recall’

A night of high culture


This year’s Culture Night in Cavan Town certainly didn’t dumb it down for the masses. The programme for the county town had an art installation, a series of short films, a sound installation and a concert by a trio of sopranos.

While each event showcased artists at the top of their game, the combined effect was a little overwhelming. It was the artistic equivalent of bingeing on health food, when an oul’ spice bag wouldn’t have gone amiss. The most glaring programme omission was the absence of any events in Cavan Town catering for children.

The Celt’s evening began at Cavan Townhall where renowned artist Patricia McKenna’s installation ‘Recall’ occupied a room. It’s a stark landscape of trees made by dismembered branches denuded of leaves. There’s a floor to ceiling wooden structure with ‘and the story’ written in neon light, and then on the floor the phrase continues, ‘goes’. Elsewhere there’s a neon ‘@’. A floor mounted light directed at one of the chairs left for a small audience suggests where the story goes is left to the viewer.

“The piece is essentially a space to take time to pause and absorb the visual atmosphere,” the accompanying literature advises.

That atmosphere wasn’t entirely tranquil, there’s that hint of menace you find in fairytales. With neon’s more usual American urban setting, and with the distorted reconstruction of trees, the Celt’s (completely wrong as usual) interpretation of ‘Recall’ was our inability to recreate the triumph of nature in art, yet our refusal to stop trying.

Choreographer Jessie Keenan and composer Robbie Blake with Jessie's parents, Joe Keenan and Jane McCormick in Cavan Townhall. Photo: Sheila Rooney Photo by SHEILA MARIE ROONEY PHOTOGRAPHY


Next into the theatre for the screening of three short films. The first was ‘Happy Birthday’ by Tracy Martin, which in deliberately over the top style riffed on the idea of an Ireland where arts are prohibited.

Next up was ‘Running the Ending’, a film by Robbie Blake described as a ‘graphic score’. This is an intriguing idea, apparently inspired by Brian Friel’s playwrighting process. Blake used his own notations to indicate three tasks: ‘run’, ‘reset’ and ‘dance’ which the five female performers dressed in black were asked to interpret freely. Their responses were shown simultaneously across split screens. With no music to respond to, the soundtrack became various layers of panting, grunts, stomping and the odd laugh which built and built with their increasing fatigue.

The final of the films was the Celt’s favourite. ‘So What is Surfacing’ was directed by Jessie Keenan and featured three dancers moved and created shapes in a warmly lit Museum of Literature. It was mesmerising. Audio seemingly described choreography the performers were not following, before an annoying vocal humming emerged that resolved into exhilarating climax.

Jessie was in the audience to explain that it had been conceived as a live performance, but had to be reimagined in this format due to restrictions. That has its advantages, as through close up and wide shots she was able to bring the viewers’ gaze precisely where she wanted them.

Mark St John Ellis at Cavan Cathedral. Photo: Dimitry Germanov, AKA Jago Studios


On to Cavan Cathedral where Mark St John Ellis had his sound installation The Empty Vessel. This was the first time your reviewer genuflected going into an arts event.

With only a few others inhabiting the empty vessel of the cathedral, it was a deeply relaxing experience. Ellis was at one section tinkering with the sound system that played the Eastern infused tracks created by sound bowls, and chanteuse Caitriona O’Leary.

Judging by the gent lighting a candle, or the person sweeping up the aisles, it was simply an unobtrusive accompaniment to the few in church. For the Celt it became an accompaniment to appreciating the intricate designs of the cathedral, while the stained glass apostles illuminated by the setting sun looked down from above.

Vox Lumina, an evening concert in Urney Church Cavan town with three sopranos, Eileen Coyle, Niamh Mc Cormack and Aisling Kenny Photo by SHEILA MARIE ROONEY PHOTOGRAPHY

Mind bending

Final stop was across the road to Urney Church where Vox Lumina – aka sopranos Niamh McCormack, Eileen Coyle and Aisling Kenny showcased their breathtaking vocals. It was mind bending to learn that the opening chant ‘O Viridissima Virga’ was composed almost a thousand years ago. The following hour whisked the receptive audience along on a whistle-stop tour of 600 years of spiritual music.

Given the vocals were in languages your reviewer doesn’t speak it emphasised more than ever how the voice is primarily an instrument. The sopranos never seemed in competition, their voices simply folded over and under each other.

Before the closing chant Niamh told the audience how much it meant for them to perform live again. The sentiment was echoed by those relieved to get to enjoy live performances once more. It’s a treat we’ll never take for granted again.