Arán & Im celebrates the Irish language in an engaging, accessible bilingual way.

Spreading the words

One show sure to be a big draw for the Cavan Arts Festival is ‘Arán & Im’, Manchán Magan’s celebration of the Irish language and sustenance. This engaging, accessible bilingual performance manifests itself through sourdough bread and home-churned butter.

Arán & Im is part theatrical show, part installation and in the course of 70 minute Manchán bakes sourdough bread while offering insights into the wonders of the Irish language.

“I first devised it with the Abbey Theatre back in 2018. I’ve just come back from touring it for seven weeks in North America. That was in 16 towns in 13 States,” Manchán says of his offering that will take place in the big top tent as part of the Cavan Arts Festival.

In Arán & Im Manchán explores potent words of landscape, terms of intuition and insight, and the many phrases that bring to life the mysterious glory of our natural world.

It’s a celebration of our language, land and local Irish food, with freshly-baked traditional sourdough bread for the audience to slice and spread with butter they churn themselves from Irish cream.

The accessibility of the show is, like the dough, proved by the tour across the Atlantic: “A lot of that was in Irish American Centres. There was a real mix to them. In some, like Albany in New York, the last emigrants arrived in the 1970s, while other, like Toronto, you have young, cool people.”

The story in the performance is that of our origins: “We have been growing grain here on this island for 4,500 years,” Manchán explains, “We initially arrived from the Middle East with techniques of growing grain and we have been baking bread on a fire using sourdough for the same length of time.

“We also brought butter with us, and the knowledge of farming cattle. When I talk about those things it’s universal. Every Indo European culture has those same roots. Making butter, cream and cheese are part of that. We can still see the cultivation ridges where grains were cultivated 4,000 years ago,” he tells.

That marriage of the observations on our origins and what sustains us is the core of performance: “I tie that in with language, which is also rooted in the landscape. It has been talked on this island for 2,500 years. Though about Ireland, it’s universal. It is about these ancient cultures and the insights they give into the world, into our psyche and a sustainable way of living on the land.”

Traditions and folklore are a thread that runs through Manchán’s presentation: “You can’t churn butter without taking account of the faeries. I am a left hander. Older people say, ‘You can’t churn butter, you are a ciotóg, the faeries won’t allow the cream to turn to butter’.

“When you put the bread in the oven you put a cross on the top of it to allow the faeries to escape. These are the rituals that are discussed.”

The performer is enthused by the opportunity to be part of the Cavan Arts Festival: “There’s a heightened sense during an arts festival. There’s so much on. In many ways an arts festival makes no sense, there is so much choice. There is this bacchanalia, this excitement and exuberance that takes hold.

“Everyone throws themselves into attending as many events as possible. It’s unplanned and it’s art at its best.

“It is how you would love to live your life the whole time.”

Manchán says the show is entertaining: “It’s a ritual of eating bread and butter, but it’s fun, and also profound, well it aims at being profound.”