Dungannon soprano and harpist, Gemma Prince

Dungannon soprano and harpist Gemma Prince performed some of Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies at St Macartan’s Cathedral Clogher. “Sing, Sweet Harp” provided a fine opening to the 25th annual William Carleton Society Summer School. The school director Aidan Fee introduced Gemma, with a talk on Moore. Cathedral organist Diane Whittaker provided the music at the start and finish of the performance.


Knockmore Céilí Band at the Fleadh  Photo: BBC (NI)

Knockmore Céilí Band Co. Fermanagh (2nd place) at the Fleadh Photo: BBC (NI)

One of the most successful events during London/Derry’s year as UK City of Culture, apart from tonight’s announcement of the Turner Prize winner, was the staging of the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, the first time this great traditional music competition was held in Northern Ireland. It was marked by a documentary on BBC Northern Ireland called ‘Fleadh‘, that was filmed, produced and directed by Sean McGuire with Paul McGuigan as Executive Producer.

McKenna Family, Clogher at Somers café Fardross  Photo: © Michael Fisher

McKenna Family, Clogher at Somers café Fardross Photo: © Michael Fisher

One of the groups appearing on the programme was the McKenna family from Clogher, who were competing in various categories. Peter plays the uilleann pipes. They are all very talented musicians, led by their father Martin. They performed during the William Carleton summer school at Somers café and caravan park at Fardross, Clogher, where they were joined by two pipers Frank Gildernew and Jim Brady as well as the Ulster-Scots Juvenile Pipe Band, who hold their practice sessions there.

Peter Mc Kenna (uilleann pipes) & his sister (guitar) at Somers café Fardross  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Peter Mc Kenna (uilleann pipes) & his sister (guitar) at Somers café Fardross Photo: © Michael Fisher

The BBC reported how every year hundreds of thousands of people gather for this festival of Irish traditional music, and for one week in August, Derry reverberated to the sound of fiddles, tin whistles and banjos. Organisers estimate that more than 400,000 people were at the fleadh over the course of the week, while 20,000 musicians were performing, whether on the big stages or in the streets and the city’s walls.

While the casual observer might have got swept up in the revelry, there were higher stakes involved for many of the musicians who had spent months and years fixated on winning a coveted all-Ireland title. It has been described as the Olympics of traditional music, and a new documentary goes behind the scenes to capture the pressure and tension at play when all those hours of practice come down to one nerve-wracking performance.

The programme charts the progress of a number of performers as they compete against hundreds of other hopefuls, first at county level, then at provincial level, in the hope of winning through to the main event. One of them is accordion player Justin Quinn, who likened the experience to “running down a hill faster than you feel comfortable”.

Justin grew up in Leeds but his parents are from Pomeroy in County Tyrone and Irish traditional music played a big part in his upbringing. While he won an all-Ireland title at the age of 14, he gave up the instrument when he went to university and did not return to it for another 20 years.

The competition itself is awful – having everything relying on five minutes, whether you forget the tune halfway through,” he says.

That pressure is echoed by accordion player Christopher Maguire, who says that by the time musicians have gone through provincial heats to reach the fleadh, everyone is of a high standard.

You’re in this massive room, and everyone’s watching you they’re like policemen for music, and you just have to perform your best. You have to know the song, you have to put feeling into the tune and imagine you’re singing it, you’re actually in the accordion,” he says.

While the world of traditional music is a close-knit community, friendships are put aside for a few hours while musicians do battle in front of the adjudicators. The programme’s producer and director, Sean McGuire, says the fleadh is about more than winning medals. Although there’s a competitive spirit, he says what he found in this world of music was friendship and camaraderie, along with  a lot of joy.


Mary O'Rourke at the William Carleton summer school Photo: © Michael Fisher

Mary O’Rourke at the William Carleton summer school Photo: © Michael Fisher

Mary O’Rourke’s speech in August at the William Carleton summer school in Clogher, County Tyrone, made headlines when she proposed a coalition between her party Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. She also gave an interview to Lise Hand of the Irish Independent. This is her speech which can now be viewed on youtube in three short sections of about six minutes each. Her main proposal can be found in Part 3, “To think the unthinkable”.

(I was very pleased to accept Michael Fisher’s invitation to come here today to Clogher and to talk on the theme “How Differences Can Be Accommodated”.  I appreciate that the theme and the speakers to it will be mostly reviewing the Northern Ireland situation.  I have chosen to talk about my own mixed political background to the theme of the Summer School.)

Mary O'Rourke at the William Carleton summer school, Clogher Photo: © Michael Fisher

Mary O’Rourke at the William Carleton summer school Photo: © Michael Fisher

PART 1 Family History: to watch the video click here

“I talk in my book “Just Mary” of my parents’ mixed political backgrounds. Not many people know that: until I put it in my book. My father was from Kilfenora County Clare where his father was of the very…a great follower of the old Irish Party and in time a follower of Michael Collins. My father, the young boy, imbued that from him. And indeed my cousin is here today Dr Dudley Edwards through my father’s mother late lamented and early lamented. But he was imbued with that kind of politics. He went off the UCG (University College Galway), where he met my mother and she was Ann Stanton from Drumcliff, County Sligo. Now she mixed and she was from a strongly republican background. Indeed my grandmother, her mother, was left with a clutch of six children when her husband was brought over to her mortally wounded, on the door of a pub at a local skirmish in Sligo and he died three or four days later and she was left…I think it was the era of no great big social welfare or anything like that…she was left with a clutch of children to bring up and to educate and they had twelve acres of land (of not great land) at the foot of Benbulbin. Now she was very lucky. She had a cousin who was very central in the nuns’ community in the Ursulines in Sligo and she took each one of the girls one by one and educated them, brought them into school, clothed them, fed them, made them boarders and they got (a) powerful education, so much so that three of them got scholarships directly to university out of the Ursulines in Sligo. So I went back there some time ago to look at the records and I was amazed. They have a wonderful woman there an elderly nun who’s looking after all of that. But she had it beautifully collated and ready for me and I thought to myself I don’t learn from a background like that what my mother was: it was a great feat to get to college and to do her BA and all of that. But along the way anyway she met my father Patrick Joseph Lenihan from Kilfenora County Clare. And when they met their different…their varied political background went out the window because love came in. And once it did, that was that. They fell for one another very heavily and they decided that they would get married. And going back to my grandmother she was so republican, instead of minding her business when she was herand knowing that she should be going careful she made her a safe house I heard one of the other speakers talk about the term “a safe house” she made the same house of her little farmhouse and everyone who was on the run or who was in trouble or whatever was welcome there. I’ve often thought of her spirit: instead of saying to herself ‘how am I going to manage now? I’ve no money and I’ve to manage and do she went out and she and in fact one of her sons Roger  Roger Gandon who was the boy soldier on the mountain in the skirmish when there were six of them taken Michael McDowell”s uncle, Eoin MacNeill’s son, Brian (MacNeill). He was the one who alerted that they were coming for them. The bodies were brought down and my mother   and the bodies were laid out…the six bodies…as they are called now Noblel Six. So that was the background of my mother and as I say the background of my father. My father fought in the Free State Army     He fought in Athenry when he was a student then after that he fought in many other skirmishes of that war. We were always conscious growing up my two brothers and my sister we were always conscious of our mixed political background. But when my father first went…Sean Lemass was the Minister in the Fianna Fáil government…had met my father in the old civil service and ike thought well he’s a good guy and he sent him to Athlone to set up an enterprise called General Textiles Limited. It was an embryonic cotton factory. There were about five or six of them set up around Ireland at the time to give employment state investment  but it was a time for that and he sent him to Athlone. And he came home and said to my mother one day “Pack your traps Annie we’re going to Athlone!”   Now she was glad she was halfway to Sligo and he was halfway to Clare I suppose. They came to Athlone with three children and I was…my mother was pregnant with me, so I’m the only Athlone person out of that clutch of people. But when the local elections came in 1943 in Athlone town my father went as a Ratepayers’ Association candidate. It was another title for Fine Gael so he was (true to his) roots and he went on that occasion as a Ratepayers’ Association and he had poll. Now later on Sean Lemass got at him: ‘Hey, I didn’t send you to Athlone  to be running Fine Gael’ but he went for Fianna Fáil and in time he became Mr Fianna Fáil Athlone. In 1965 he went for the Dáil and got in and for five short years. He died in 1970.”

Frank Brennan introduced Mary O'Rourke Photo: © Michael Fisher

Frank Brennan introduced Mary O’Rourke Photo: © Michael Fisher

PART 2 Brian Lenihan’s speech at Beal na mBláth 2010: to watch the video click here

“So you say why am I telling you all this? Fast forward to Sunday, the 22nd August 2010 in County Cork when Brian Lenihan, the then Minister for Finance, spoke at the Annual Commemoration of the life and legacy of Michael Collins. Brian Lenihan was greatly honoured to havend  August 2010 in  Béal  na mBláth received this “quite unexpected offer from the Collins Family and the Commemoration Committee” and he expressed so publicly on that occasion. I have spoken to Dermot Collins since then, who initiated the invitation to Brian and he was quite emphatic that he and the Committee were unanimous in wanting Brian Lenihan to have this privilege.

I went to Béal na mBláth on that occasion with two friends from Athlone and will always be glad that I did so as I have the eternal memory of Brian standing clear and tall and confident but humble as he spoke at that hallowed spot.  I quote directly now from his Speech:

“The differences between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael today are no longer defined by the Civil War nor have they been for many years.  It would be absurd if they were. This period of our history is  graadually moving out of living memory. We ask and expect those in Northern Ireland to live and work together despite the carnage and grief of a much more recent and much more protracted conflict. Nevertheless, keen competition between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael remains as I am very aware every time I stand up in the Dáil but the power of symbolism cannot be denied, all the more so as we move towards the centenaries of the Easter Rising and all that follows. If today’s commemoration can be seen as a further public act of historical reconciliation, at one of Irish history’s sacred places, then I will be proud to have played my part”.

Brian went on to say in his talk that he had taken:

a particular interest in Michael Collins’ work as Minister for Finance between 1919 and 1922.   In a meeting room in the Department of Finance, where I have spent many hours over the last two years, hang pictures of all previous Ministers.  They are in sequence.   Eoin Mac Néill’s portrait is the first because he was actually the first to own that office in the first Dáil though he served for less than ten weeks.  The picture of Collins is placed second and regularly catches my eye.   He is the youngest and I dare say, the best-looking, of us all”.

Brian went on to say “there is no substantive connection between the economic and financial position we come from today and the totally different challenges faced by Collins and his contemporaries. But as I look at those pictures of my predecessors on the wall in my meeting room, I recognise that many of them, from Collins through to Ray MacSharry, had in their time to deal with immense if different difficulties.  I am comforted by what their stories tell me about the essential resilience of our country, of our political and administrative system and above all of the Irish people.

That is why I am convinced that we have the ability to work through and to overcome our present difficulties, great though the scale of the challenges may be, and devastating though the effects of the crisis have been on the lives of so many of our citizens.” Brian’s closing lines on that memorable day in Béal na mBláth were ‘the spirit of Collins is the spirit of our Nation and it must continue to inspire all of us in public life, irrespective of Party or tradition’.”

Frank Brennan with Mary O'Rourke & Mary Kenny Photo: © Michael Fisher

Frank Brennan with Mary O’Rourke & Mary Kenny Photo: © Michael Fisher

PART 3 Time to Think the Unthinkable: to watch the video click here

“Well here we are now in 2013 and here I am too, somebody who was in successive general elections elected on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party and proudly representing my constituency of Longford/Westmeath. And yet and yet and yet surely it is not too fanciful for me to put forward today as the theme, my theme, for this Summer School that it is time that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would bridge the political divide between them and give serious thought to coming together in a political coalition come the next General Election. I know quite well that there are plenty who will dismiss my reflections here today as ‘Summer School Speak’ or even the wild rantings of somebody who has left the political system. No, no, no, there are no wild rantings. It is very easy to dismiss my thoughts in that cavalier fashion. We, as a people, have long forgotten that the bone of contention between us as Parties since the Civil War is the Treaty signed in London in those far off days. I put the thought out there conscious that I can do so coming, as I do, from a lifetime of observing the tribal political theatre that is Dáil Éireann – coming, as I am, from someone who has reflected in historical terms long and hard on the thoughts I am putting forward today and coming as I am from a mixed political background. We are in the end the products of our background. And though growing up we knew all that about my mother and my father, it didn’t somehow come in on us. It didn’t kind of weigh upon us, but yet, of course, it had a bearing.

I was inspired to do so by the generous thoughts and reflections in the speech Brian Lenihan made in Béal na mBláth.  It is, to my mind, one of the most generous non-tribal speeches ever made by anyone in either Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Labour. But I am most of all inspired by what has been able to be done in Northern Ireland, of the differences which have been overcome and  accommodated. Is it not time to bury the totem poles and fly the common flag of Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera? I quote finally from the last sentence of Brian Lenihan’s speech:

But even if we can never know how the relationship between Collins and de Valera might have evolved, surely now we have the maturity to see that in their very different styles, both made huge contributions to the creation and development of our State. Neither was without flaws but each had great strengths. Each was, at different periods, prepared to operate with the constraints of the realities facing him without losing sight of his greater vision of a free, prosperous, distinctive (and dare I say it here in Clogher: some time) united Ireland.”

Is it not time now in this year of 2013 to note the similarities and to forgo the differences?   Is it not time for us to think the unthinkable – to allow our minds to range over the possibilities which could emerge from the voices of the electorate in two to three years’ time. It is enough that the mind is engaged and that is all I ask for. To engage the mind on this possibility and to reflect on the courage and vision of those who have gone before us.

Now I don’t usually…very rarely…do I actually speak from scripts. I like to talk naturally. But I did feel that this was an important occasion. I did feel that the theme and the principle of what I had to say was very important, so that’s why I actually sat down with Brian’s script there (left hand side) and my own black pencil (right hand) and I thought and wrote and thought  and wrote. And I hope you…I am sure you will accept it in the way in which I have prepared it and that

A little funny interlude to us all. I forgot to say that when I started to make my way in politics..

and I used to say ‘And what about my mother? Is she not important’

Women in politics…no no…they’re not top dog.

So that used to be the taunt I would get. You’re not really Fianna Faíl…..But of course we are…

and if you ask me something I will be delighted to answer and thank you for listening closely to me. Thank you”.


Dr Frank Brennan introduces Mary O'Rourke at the William Carleton summer school

Dr Frank Brennan introduces Mary O’Rourke at the William Carleton summer school

Former deputy leader of Fianna Fáil Mary O’Rourke made an interesting suggestion in her address to the 22nd annual William Carleton summer school in Clogher, County Tyrone, earlier this month. Her speech was reported and analysed by the Irish Independent and Sunday Independent. It was the subject of reports and editorials in the Irish Times and The Examiner (the latter very unfairly in my view referred to an unnamed ‘unfashionable’ summer school as the location for her talk).

During her speech which can now be viewed on youtube, she referred to an address made at Béal na mBláth by her nephew, the late Brian Lenihan (junior) TD, who was then Minister for Finance, in August 2010. She put forward the suggestion that the time had come for a realignment of the main parties that emerged from the Irish Civil War, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, into a Coalition.

Bill O'Herlihy

Bill O’Herlihy

Now at the same commemoration of the death of Michael Collins at the hands of anti-treaty forces at Béal na mBláth in August 1922, former Garret FitzGerald media advisor Bill O’Herlihy has made a similar suggestion. The PR executive and broadcaster told the crowd he had been ‘fascinated’ by the suggestion made by Mary O’Rourke eighteen days ago.

Mr O’Herlihy’s speech had been widely reported on RTÉ News as well as in the Irish Times and Irish Independent, along with For a full copy of his comments, you can click here (link via Irish Times website).

Béal na mBláth memorial for Michael Collins Photo: © Coppeen Heritage Colum Cronin

Béal na mBláth memorial for Michael Collins Photo: © Coppeen Heritage Colum Cronin



Walking tour of Monaghan town led by Grace Moloney and Theresa Loftus assembles at Monaghan County Museum, Hill Street. Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Walking tour of Monaghan town led by Grace Moloney and Theresa Loftus assembles at Monaghan County Museum, Hill Street. Photo: © Michael Fisher



Monaghan Gospel Choir under the direction of David Drum brought to an end one of the most successful summer schools ever held by the William Carleton Society with a concert at Fivemiletown Wesleyan Hall. The Choir sang some of their favourite numbers including ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’ and ‘How Great Thou Art’. But the big hit of the night was the guest appearance by Gloria from Tydavnet. She sang with them the song which gave her a number one hit in 1978, ‘One Day at a Time’, before going on to delight the crowd with several other songs. There was a rousing finale when the Murley Silver Band directed by William Hill returned to the stage to accompany the Choir in two songs, bringing an end to a most enjoyable night.

The previous night members of the Clogher Valley Walking Club led a group of ramblers on part of the Carleton trail in the area of Fardross forest. The route passed by an old Mass rock, thought to date back to penal times. The walkers were met by two pipers, Jim Brady and Frank Gildernew as they arrived back at Somers cafe. The Ulster Scots juvenile pipe band also played for the guests and inside the cafe the McKenna family from Clogher provided traditional music.

On the Monday night at the Rathmore Bar in Clogher there was a music session with a new traditional group called SÍoda, one of whom is from Emyvale. They were joined at one stage by SeosamhÍn Ní Bheaglaioch from Dublin, a sean-nós singer and well-known broadcaster who sang a number of songs in Irish. On Sunday, she sang unaccompanied during a ceremony at the Blue Bridge at Inishdevlin, Emyvale. Summer school events in Emyvale and Monaghan were part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund through the PEACE III Programme managed by the Special EU Programmes Body and delivered through the Monaghan PEACE III Partnership.

The summer school director Michael Fisher unveiled a plaque which had been restored with the help of local craftsmen by Emyvale Development Association. In 1997, Monaghan County Council in conjunction with the Association erected a Plaque there but weather conditions eventually rotted the  plaque backing and it came away from the wall. The programme began at 4pm in Emyvale Leisure Centre with light refreshments and then a move to the Blue Bridge. Some walked while transport was laid on for the remainder. At the Bridge Peadar McMahon, chairman Emyvale Development Association,  began proceedings giving some background and then introduced entertainment from the Murphy family of Jack, Chloe and Lauren playing traditional music, Seosamhín Ní Bheaglaioch, and Edelle McMahon singing the ‘Romance of the Merrow Queen’, which has local connections.

Breege Lenihan, Tullyvogey, Tydavnet inspects the restored plaque at the Blue Bridge Photo: © Michael Fisher

Breege Lenihan, Tullyvogey, Tydavnet inspects the restored plaque at the Blue Bridge Photo: © Michael Fisher

Michael Fisher then addressed the crowd and spoke about Carleton and also about another great poet and writer, Terence O’Gorman, whose works have just been launched in book form by his daughter, Patricia Cavanagh. He read a poem about Emyvale, written by Terence and contained in the book. He thanked the Bowe family and Seamus McAree for their part in the preparations for this event and then unveiled the restored Plaque. Seamus McCluskey then added some historical notes and interesting facts about the Blue Bridge, Carleton and the area in general. Finally Peadar McMahon thanked those who assisted – Truwood; Connolly Furniture; Murphy Sound and Video; The Murphy family musicians; Seosamhín and Edelle; Richard McCarron (local stonemason who, with Declan McMahon, erected the plaque and advised on stonework); the Photographers; Moran’s Transport; Norah Ryan; Jim Balfe and Paddy Sherry; George McCarron; Emyvale Leisure Centre Committee; The Emyvale Development Committee and all who attended; There was special thanks to Paul and Ann Bowe for their assistance and support, which was greatly appreciated. He then invited all to return to the Leisure Centre for a reading by the Carleton Players of the ‘Fair of Emyvale’, adapted by Liam Foley. On Saturday, around sixty people took part in a walking tour of Monaghan town led by Grace Moloney of the Clogher Historical Society and Theresa Loftus from Monaghan County Museum.

For the first time, the summer school had opened in Monaghan, with a conference on William Carleton, Patrick Kavanagh and Charles Gavan Duffy. Art Agnew from Carrickmacross who grew up in Inniskeen put in a lively performance as Kavanagh, delivering extracts from ‘The Green Fool’ and other works. International guest Professor Thomas O’Grady from Boston read some of his own poetry, including verses about Prince Edward Island, where he was born. He also talked about Kavanagh and Benedict Kiely. Earlier the summer school was officially opened by the Mayor of Monaghan Cllr Sean Conlon, who was accompanied by the Mayor of Dungannon and South Tyrone, Cllr Sean McGuigan. Mary O’Donnell who comes originally from Monaghan and is a patron of the William Carleton Society read some of her poems. Dr Brendan O Cathaoir and former Monaghan Museum curator Aidan Walsh spoke about Charles Gavan Duffy, while the final talk was given by Felix Larkin, director of the Parnell summer school in Avoca, on the Shemus Cartoons in the ‘Freeman’s Journal’.

The proceedings switched to Clogher on the Monday, in the presence of the Bishops of Clogher Right Reverend John McDowell and Dr Liam MacDaid, and Bishop Emeritus Dr Joseph Duffy, a patron of the William Carleton Society. Among the speakers were Professor O’Grady, Professor Owen Dudley Edwards, honorary director of the summer school, and the television presenter and commentator Tom McGurk, who spoke about his upbringing in Brockagh, County Tyrone.

This part of the summer school is supported by the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister and funded through  Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council under the District Council Good Relations Programme and the William Carleton Society committee gratefully acknowledges this funding.OFMDFM (1)

On Tuesday the guests included Dr Ciaran Mac Murchaidh from St Patrick’s College Drumcondra, who spoke about the Irish language in the 19thC Clogher Valley area and Dr Ian Adamson on Ulster-Scots. William Carleton Society President Jack Johnston gave a talk on the history of Augher. Josephine Treanor from Knockatallon spoke very movingly about her great great grandmother Anne Duffy, the miller’s daughter from Augher and Carleton’s first love.   Dungannon_logo

Wednesday’s session attracted national headlines with the speech of Mary O’Rourke about a proposed grand coalition between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. There was also an interesting session on the current state of the Orange Order by Professor Jon Tonge from Liverpool. The audience included former Police Ombudsman in the North Dame Nuala O’Loan and her husband Declan, an SDLP Councillor in Ballymena.

Mary Kenny’s talk on Edward Carson, Dubliner, Irishman and Unionist was well received and provided a fitting end to the formal part of the summer school. The seventh day was devoted to a literary tour of Fermanagh, led by Gordon Brand (Secretary, William Carleton Society) and Frank McHugh, deputy director of the summer school. The tour headed to the Crom estate near Newtownbutler on Upper Lough Erne, where our guide was Vicky Herbert from Lisnaskea. She took the group on a walk to the old Crom Castle and past the famous yew trees, some of the oldest in Ireland. She also pointed out the house where the author Shan Bullock had lived as a child. His book ‘The Loughsiders’ is based around Crom and the neighbouring villages.

The Wiiliam Carleton summer school was brought to a successful end with a literary tour of Fermanagh, finishing with a visit to the Ceili House near Enniskillen. Host Tom McGowan has assembled a range of unusual objects from road signs to old rowing boats and oars to radios. The group led by summer school director Michael Fisher was met by the Chair of Fermanagh District Council, Alex Baird.

The Wiiliam Carleton summer school was brought to a successful end with a literary tour of Fermanagh, finishing with a visit to the Ceili House near Enniskillen. Host Tom McGowan has assembled a range of unusual objects from road signs to old rowing boats and oars to radios. The group led by summer school director Michael Fisher was met by the Chair of Fermanagh District Council, Alex Baird.

The day finished with a visit to the Ceili House, a private establishment run by Tom McGowan outside Enniskillen. Based in a former quarry, it includes a vast collection of memorabilia including old radios, road signs and rowing boats and oars. The group met the Chair of Fermanagh District Council, Alex Baird and after a pleasant dinner, returned to Corick House to round off a hectic week of engagements.  EU flag2colors


Dr Frank Brennan (William Carleton Society) with Mary O'Rourke and Mary Kenny Photo: © Michael Fisher

Dr Frank Brennan (William Carleton Society) with Mary O’Rourke and Mary Kenny Photo: © Michael Fisher

A leading article in today’s Irish Times newspaper (based in Dublin) carries the following editorial, based on Mary O’Rourke’s address to what the Irish Examiner without naming us rather unfortunately called an ‘unfashionable’ summer school in Clogher, County Tyrone. You can view the speech in full here.

The William Carleton Society’s annual international summer school since its inception in 1992 has welcomed over 300 guests of such stature as the Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney, John Montague, Polly Devlin, Barry Devlin, Eugene McCabe, Gerald Dawe, Frank Ormsby, John Wilson Foster, Michael and Edna Longley, Bernard McLaverty, Sam McAughtry, Theo Dorgan, Susan McKay, Diarmaid Ferriter, Declan Kiberd, John F Deane as well as our patrons Dr Joseph Duffy, Maurice Harmon, Noel Monahan, Mary O’Donnell, Jim Cavanagh and Sam Craig, our honorary director Owen Dudley Edwards and the late Norman Vance, Gus Martin and one of our most enthusiastic supporters, Benedict Kiely.

Mary O'Rourke signing copies of her Memoir

Mary O’Rourke signing copies of her Memoir

A Grand Coalition?

There was nothing new in a suggestion by former Fianna Fáil minister Mary O’Rourke that her party and Fine Gael should put aside past differences and participate in a future coalition government. What was different was her attempt to present such a development as the desired legacy of her late nephew and minister for finance Brian Lenihan.

Mrs O’Rourke is a canny political operator, a trait that appears to run in the genes of the Lenihan family. Her speech to the William Carleton summer school and subsequent radio interviews were designed to open up public discussion on a possible realignment of political forces while undermining the ambitions of Sinn Féin. After decades of disparate coalition governments, the notion of a Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael arrangement may pose less of a visceral challenge to voters than the prospect of Sinn Fein entering government.

That’s the nub of the issue. Should the present Government complete its term of office or break up under fiscal pressure, Sinn Féin is likely to be in a powerful position to offer support to either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael in a bid for power. Rather than see that happen, the former Fianna Fáil education minister has proposed a grand alliance of traditional opponents.

Such an outcome, she acknowledged, would depend on the electorate. In attributing the “thought” of such a coalition to her much-loved nephew, however, she exaggerated. Certainly he delivered a powerful speech at Beal na Blath, commemorating Michael Collins and acknowledging his contribution to the State. But he did not suggest a coalition of the civil war parties. He spoke of accepting differences of approach in good faith and of a need to work together to build a viable economy, even as keen competition remained. At the time, support for Fianna Fáil had collapsed and a deal with Fine Gael was unthinkable. By raising the prospect of coalition now, as an effective political memorial, Mrs O’Rourke is being, as always, pragmatic.  

Honorary Director WCS summer school Owen Dudley Edwards gives Mary O'Rourke a copy of Carleton's autobiography, with Bonnie Dudley Edwards Photo: © Michael Fisher

Honorary Director WCS summer school Owen Dudley Edwards gives Mary O’Rourke a copy of Carleton’s autobiography, with Bonnie Dudley Edwards Photo: © Michael Fisher


Old Crom Castle, Co. Fermanagh Picture: © Michael Fisher

Old Crom Castle, Co. Fermanagh Picture: © Michael Fisher

Crom Castle (old) on the Crom estate in County Fermanagh was one of the highlights during a literary tour of Fermanagh on the final day (Day seven) of the 22nd annual William Carleton summer school. The visit was organised by the Secretary of the William Carleton Society Gordon Brand and deputy director of the summer school, Frank McHugh. Vicky Herbert from Lisnaskea was our guide and she pointed out many sights of interest as we walked through the beautiful grounds maintained by the National Trust.

Yew Tree at Crom estate, Co.Fermanagh Photo: © Michael Fisher

Yew Tree at Crom estate, Co.Fermanagh Photo: © Michael Fisher