On the road with Drawing from the Well, September 2022

During September, ITMA presented a national tour featuring artists from its popular archival series Drawing from the Well. Tour Manager Declan McCarthy shares some behind-the-scenes stories of a week on the road with the Drawing from the Well Quartet.

DFTW Tour photo 1
The Drawing from the Well Quartet: Laoise Kelly, Edwina Guckian, Brendan Begley and Brían MacGloinn

On Monday morning, after the very successful Drawing From the Well concert at the National Concert Hall Dublin, I took a pleasant journey by DART to Greystones, Co. Wicklow. From there I hopped on a bus to the village of Newtownmountkennedy to collect the van that was going to carry us around the country on the inaugural Drawing From the Well nationwide tour.

I made it back to the hotel in Dublin for the designated pickup time of 11.30am. After a few leisurely minutes Laoise Kelly was the first to show up. We both agreed that this was a very bad outlook for the rest of the week if she was going to be the first down the stairs every morning. After a while Brían Mac Gloinn, Edwina Guckian and Cormac Begley sauntered along, and we hit the road.

The sun was shining as we drove up the east coast, around the top of Lough Neagh, and arrived at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy, County Derry around 3pm. What an amazing venue! The concert was great, the audience and crew were lovely, but I think the highlight for all of us was the excellent informative exhibition dedicated to Seamus.

Seamus Heaney HomePlace, Bellaghy, Co. Derry

We were so taken with it that we went back the following morning for a guided tour. Filled with tales and photos of his personal life in the place that was a constant in his writing. A fitting tribute to the great man.

Next stop was the Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar, Co. Mayo.

Although these four musicians, singers, and dancers know each other, they hadn't actually played together as an ensemble before this tour, and so decided to use their time well with some rehearsing enroute. Myself and our sound engineer Daragh Murphy were treated to a lovely session in the back of the van as we travelled south west, again in glorious sunshine. Availing of Leitrim woman Edwina’s local knowledge, we stopped for a lovely lunch in Manorhamilton and then landed into Castlebar around 4pm.

The show was sold out, of course we had the queen of Mayo on board so it wasn’t such a surprise, and the gig was even better than the night before.
The Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar, Co. Mayo

The next gig was in Áras Eanna on Inis Oírr, Co. Galway and we were booked on the 10.30 ferry from Rossaveel which meant an early start. Without mentioning any names, Cormac, we were a little late leaving the B’n’B. Then a combination of morning school traffic, roadworks outside Castlebar and a wrong turn in Leenaun meant that time was slipping away from us.

If you are familiar with the great Máirtín O’Connor tune The Road West then you’ll have a fairly good idea of the nature of this particular journey. While our diplomatic ambassador Laoise was on the phone to the boat asking them to wait, we hurtled though villages at breakneck speed and to make matters worse we had to stop for what must be one of the fastest fuel stops of all time. Laoise’s plámásing worked and the boat said they’d wait 10 minutes. We screeched onto the pier at 10.39, threw the instruments to one of the crew and the keys of the van to another and ran down the gangway to the boat. Fair pay to Aran Island Ferries!

The rest of the day was pure bliss. What a beautiful place.

Inis Oírr, Co. Galway

Again the gig was better than the night before and the packed house really showed their appreciation.

Another early start the following morning to catch the 8am ferry which we definitely weren’t going to miss. After a delicious fast full-Irish, the landlady of the B’n’B said she couldn’t or wouldn’t accept cards and had no interest in bank transfers, “I only want cash” but we didn’t have any! Not a bother to her though and she trusted us completely that we’d sort it out later somehow so off we went.

After the shenanigans of the day before, the journey from Rossaveel to St. John’s Theatre in Listowel Co. Kerry was taken at snail’s pace. After a stop for nice coffee and a tour of the beautiful Stiúideo Cuan, in Spiddal, we ambled along by the Shannon estuary through Askeaton, Glin and Tarbert and landed in Listowel nice and early with plenty time for some well needed rest and recuperation.

Drawing from the Well, St. John's Theatre, Listowel

Another big audience at St. John’s that night, and again it was clear the show was getting better and better. A few relaxing scoops in what must be one of the best bars in the country, John B Keane’s were followed by a very entertaining nightcap in the Listowel Arms Hotel due to the impressionable night porter who was tending bar.

The final day of the tour began with a very civilised 12 o’clock departure from Listowel for the relatively short journey to the Birr Theatre and Arts Centre. Back up to Limerick, then through Tipperary past Birdhill, Nenagh and Borrisokane until we crossed into Offaly and landed at the heritage town of Birr around 3pm.

We were all a little sad as we had reached the end of the tour and the audience were treated to the best show of the week.

Birr Theatre

I consider myself very lucky to have been on this tour, the craic, the camaraderie, the scenery, the weather but it was the music, singing and dancing that will live longest in my memory. The incredible playing of Cormac and Laoise, the beautiful songs from Brían, and the amazing dancing by Edwina all combined to produce a very special show.

I hope that the Drawing From the Well Tour will become an annual event and I hope that I’ll be along for the ride but I know that this one will be a very hard act to follow.

Declan McCarthy

Baltimore Fiddle Fair

National Concert Hall Dublin

The Drawing from the Well tour began in the National Concert Hall Dublin on Sunday 11 September 2022, featuring: Laoise Kelly, Edwina Guckian, Cormac Begley, Brían MacGloinn, Caitlín Nic Gabhann, Radie Peat, Jesse Smith, Mairéad and Deirdre Hurley, Daoirí Farrell, Aoife Granville, Steve Cooney, Conor Connolly, and Aoife Ní Bhriain. The event was presented by poets Vincent Woods & Moya Cannon.

Drawing from the Well NCH, 11 September 2022 / Des Gallagher

Drawing from the Well in the media

Irish Times

Drawing from the Well: Back to a deep source of Irish tradition – The Irish Times

RTÉ Radio 1 Arena

Drawing from the Well

RTÉ Culture

Drawing from the Well live - trad legends assemble at the NCH

Five contemporary traditional artists to watch

Journal of Music

Conversations with the past [Brendan Finan Review]

RTÉ Radio 1 The Rolling Wave

Cormac Begley in advance of the Drawing from the Well tour

Visit the Drawing from the Well series to view the work of ITMA Drawing from the Well Artists: https://www.itma.ie/drawingfromthewell

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