The Home Straight

We’re onto the home straight of the Earagail Arts Festival now but there are still some great acts to be seen. Cape Verde contemporary jazz artist Carmen Souza is at The Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny tonight and Mephisto Theatre Company’s Grenades is at The Town Hall in Ramelton before travelling on to playwright Tara McKevitt’s home town of Moville on Friday. Also on Friday, Aisteorai Gweedore bring two Irish language plays – a two act comedy and a one act farce – to the An Grianan stage.

Derry playwright and director JP Conaghan brings Solicitors, which has won several awards on the Irish student drama circuit, to The Balor on Saturday and the festival rounds off with a couple of great gigs over the weekend. On Saturday, T With The Maggies are joined by special guests including the great John Prine at An Grianan and the festival finishes off in style with the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble at The Grill on Sunday.

Earagail Musings

It’s Tuesday when I’m writing this, so we’re two-thirds of the way through what has been a most enjoyable Earagail Festival. As usual, I haven’t got to see even half of what I would have liked to see, thanks to work and family commitments. But going on first-hand experience and second-hand reports, here are a few musings on this year’s festival so far.

The outdoor and family events seem to have been a huge hit. The opening Carnival Parade was a great success and I’ve heard nothing but good things about The Feast Of The Senses in Letterkenny Town Park.

I brought the little ones to the Global Village Fete and everyone there had a ball. Great idea to stage the event inside a tent to overcome the inclement weather. Speaking of acts inside the tent, Breathe Owl Breathe and Little Wings must take the prize for previously unknown revelation. They blew me away in the park on the Sunday and a few people I spoke to who were at their Ballyshannon gig came away equally impressed. I also enjoyed what I saw of Ponydance before my 4-year-old dragged me away to play on the swings.

One feature of Earagail I really love is acts going to places that aren’t normally used as arts centres. It really brings the festival to the people of the county and events such as The Blond, The Brunette and The Vengeful Redhead in Dunfanaghy, The Mothers Arms in Termon and Solo Cissokho in Dore are what the festival is all about.

After seeing The Selector in The Grill I believe that a law should be passed making it mandatory for all music bands to have at least two female trombone players.

It was also great to see the rehearsed readings of Rediscovering Friel so well attended. I find the rehearsed reading process fascinating to observe, giving a glimpse of the play as a work in progress and forcing the audience to use their imagination more.

Also fascinating from a work in progress point of view was watching the Next Big Thing Edinburgh comedy previews at The Balor. Getting the chance to see comedians working and honing their shows – some even going so far as discussing with the audience mid-act whether a particular joke was funny or not and whether or it should be left in the act or cut – makes you realise that stand-up isn’t just a spontaneous outpouring of random funny stuff. It has to be scripted and rehearsed, just like a play or a song.

If all three Session Americana gigs were as good as their Balor one, then the lads had one helluva weekend. I’d forgotten just how good these guys are. Jim Fitting plays the best harmonica I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing live and the rest of the band are on a par. The fact that Laura Cortese can both sing and play fiddle so well just doesn’t seem fair.

The highest tribute I can pay Finbarr Sadler Doherty is that he wasn’t one bit out of place in such esteemed musical company when he guested with Session Americana last Sunday. Great voice and great songs - some really poetic imagery in his lyrics. I particularly loved the song about The Crow and The Butterfly. He has an album out, seek it out and buy it.

And it’s not over yet – T With The Maggies and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble still to come!

Choral Academy

There are plenty of talented singers out there who just need a little guidance and training to realise the potential of their voice. If that sounds like a description of you (or your child), give a little consideration to Choral Academy ireland’s Singing Camp with Jim Maley at An Grianan next week (July 25-29).

The academy is open to ages 10 and up with no upper limit and will teach you to sing both solo and as part of a group in harmonies. In addition, everyone gets a specialised singing lesson to cater for the individual needs of your own voice. The singing lessons are designed to help you to sing and take care of your voice, which will prove invaluable wherever you go.

At the end of the week, there will be a showcase where everyone can display their newfound talents onstage and which all your family and friends can attend. This has been an amazing success every year with family and friends stunned at what can be achieved in a week and attendees equally stunned at their own accomplishments.

If this sounds like what you’ve been looking for, give An Grianan a shout on 074 912 0777. It costs €100 which covers five consecutive days of classes from the Monday to the Friday 10am – 4pm, with the exact time of the showcase still to be confirmed (or, if it is confirmed, they haven’t told me yet!)

Ballyshannon Folk Festival

If you like a good festival, there are few better counties to live in the summer than Donegal.

Just recently we’ve had The Rory Gallagher Festival in Ballyshannon, The Sea Sessions in Bundoran, while Earagail is continuing across the county this week and then next weekend we have the Ballyshannon Folk Festival. That’s not to mention the plethora of smaller town festivals that are taking place all round the county throughout the summer – Ardara alone seems to have a great festival almost every month or so it seems, then there’s the fiddlers gathering in Glenties...I could go on and on.

This year’s Ballyshannon Folk Festival takes place the weekend of Friday, July 29 to Sunday, July 31. There’s a mouth-watering wealth of talent on offer including Frankie Gavin & De Dannan, Finbarr Furey (who once gave me a lift when I was hitch-hiking. Good man Finbarr, I haven’t forgotten!), Four Men & a Dog, Charlie Mcgettigan, Sarah McQuaid and many more.

As well as the gigs, there’s street entertainment, a pub music trail, workshops, storytelling, markets and just an outrageous amount of fun in general. There’s full information and online ticket sales on or you can ring 071 985 1374 for further information.