Arts

Soma enchanted evening in Castlewellan

Beoga were amongst the high class acts at this year's Soma festtival
Robert McMillen

Go mbeannaí Dia daoibh agus bhur gcéad fáilte isteach chuig The Bluffer's Guide to Irish.

Each July, the Bluffer jumps into the Hyundai Getz and heads off through the droimníní - drumlins of County Down on his way to Caisleán Uidhlín - Castlewellan, hometown of the Soma Festival.

Although the Bluffer just got down for one night, he came away with enough spreagadh - inspiration to do him for a month and a permagrin to match.

Before he headed to the local church for the first gig, he found his car barricaded in preparation for - I kid you not - a rás caorach - a sheep race - down the main street. Then, after much ado about mutton, the magic began.

A Stór Mo Chroí - Love of my Heart is a show featuring a group of musicians - John McSherry, Dónal O'Connor and Donogh Hennessey, and singers Mary Dillon, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh from Danú and the inimitable John Spillane.

With the majestic Beanna Boirche - Mountains of Mourne standing guard over the beautiful setting of St Malachy's, the church's acoustics transported Mary's stunning version of Slieve Gallion's Braes and Muireann's noble rendering of Cois Abhainn na Séad on angel's wings.

John Spillane was the heart and soul of entertainment, while the ceol uirlise - instrumental music took us by circuitous routes and moods from Donegal to Brittany.

The concert finished off with the audience/congregation heartily singing Óró Sé do Bheatha Abhaile.

The Bluffer then headed over to The King's Inn where the legendary Cabaret Craiceáilte was faoi lán seoil - in full swing.

As he entered the room he was hit by a wall of sound that meant Tucan, a band whose stirring music wouldn't be out of place on the main stage at Glastonbury, were in town. They were just mighty.

And then when they had finished, fear an tí - MC Rónán Mac Aodha Bhuí got a few Donegal teenagers in Castlewellan to sing Amhrán na Scadán and Níl Sé ina Lá. These young voices joyously singing local songs were followed by the kings of Gaelic reggae, Bréag and it dawned on the Bluffer, yet again, that Irish language and culture is so saibhir - rich, so éagsúil - varied, so open and so damn enjoyable.

Tíona McSherry managed to pull neamh agus talamh - heaven and earth together to get the Soma Festival up and running this year but without the help of the local community it just wouldn't have happened.

Other big events were gigs by Duke Special, Brian Finnegan Moxie and Beoga while seoda beaga - little gems included talks, workshops and a cookery demonstration.

This year, Soma coincided with Scoil Samhraidh Shéamuis Uí Néill - the Séamus Ó Néill Summer School, dedicated to the great County Down údar - author and drámadóir - dramatist so there really was (cliché alert!) something for everyone.

Roll on next year and a weekend stop-over.

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