Eye on the Island - July

Desima Connolly previews the Rathlin Airs traditional music festival

On Friday June 10 we launched our ‘Arts on Rathlin’ exhibition at the Boathouse Visitor Centre.


Opening for a community launch weekend until June 13, we then transported the entire show across the water to Craft Connections on

Ann Street

in Ballycastle where it will be on show until July 9.


Needless to say my car boot has therefore been taken over by plinths, frames and marketing material rolling about menacingly while I scurry down the motorway to and from
to Ballycastle.


I can safely say, however, that the ‘Arts on Rathlin’ show is a true achievement, the first showcasing and summary presentation of work created through the Rathlin crafts programme and drawing classes.


Featuring over 25 varied and sublime drawings by islanders, the exhibition also presents a small selection of ceramics created by locals Penny Sewell, Imelda McFaul, Liz Withers, Jennifer McCurdy, Angela Green and particularly handsome boats created by young crafts participants Eoin and Connor McCurdy. 


It is often a difficult task to source work for exhibition, but on this occasion, as curator Ann Henderson will testify, the task was restricting the selection, so many works displayed a power and beauty that simply bowled us over. The drawing classes only started in February… Imagine what we will have by next year!


It was fantastic to witness the reaction of community members seeing their work presented in an exhibition for the first time. Coyly proud, these are the moments that bring community arts alive.


If you miss the show in Ballycastle, not to fear, as it returns to the island’s Boathouse Visitor Centre from August 1 for three weeks, coinciding with this year’s ‘Rathlin Airs’ Festival.


‘Rathlin Airs’ Traditional Music Festival


Planned for August 12-14, the festival bids a welcome back to the fabulous Daimh who tore the house down last year with three standing encores. Renowned for displaying ‘some of the headiest and tightest traditional sounds from Scotland today’, Daimh’s five members hail from Cape Breton Island, Ireland, and the West Highlands of Scotland, fusing their fast-flowing styles of banjo, bagpipes, fiddle, guitar, bodhran and mandola to create a unique and compelling sound. They are quite simply something else!


The boys will be joined again by The Armagh Pipers Club who are fast becoming regular guests to the island, even being granted their own private midnight RIB (rigid inflatable boat) on their last island departure. 


We’re also showcasing At First Light. Comprised of John McSherry, hailed as one of the best Uilleann pipers in the world; Donal O’Connor, carrying on the music mantle from talented parents Gerry O’Connor and Eithne Ni Uallachain; Tony Byrne, formerly of Shinook and Francis McIllduff of the legendary McPeake family, the band has been described as one ‘of the most exciting musical projects to come out of Northern Ireland in many years’.


‘When four of the busiest young maestros on the traditional music scene get together, it’s sure to have trad fans wetting their lips and queuing up for tickets… make a note now to hear this formidable foursome on their travels’  - Neil Johnston, Belfast Telegraph.


Talented Gaelic singer and musician Julie Fowlis will also be gracing us with her nightingale tunes. Having released her debut solo album last year, Julie is also a member of Dochas and tours internationally.


Imagine this fantastic talent gathered under one roof with a view to die for! As usual, there will be a festival performance marquee in the main island harbour, with only five paces to get ‘a drop of the strong stuff’. This year, artists will also be conducting short afternoon performances as well as evening concerts allowing everyone, from daytripper to overnighter, to benefit. Island accommodation is limited, but camping is permitted at various sites. Let’s hope the usual Mediterranean Rathlin weather lasts the weekend. 


Performance Art on Rathlin


On Tuesday June 21, in celebration of the Summer Solstice, a visiting party of performance artists graced Rathlin’s shores on an overnight excursion. Organised by the
University of
Ulster and Flax Art Studios,
, the group included Northern Irish and European artists, most of whom had never been to Rathlin before.


They scattered themselves exploring the island and I hope found the trip creatively rewarding. I was bombarded with local whisperings and discussions of many subsequent strange goings-on... Beautifully, they released 200 symbolic black balloons from the Manor House lawn on their first evening. However, the video-camera installed in the middle of the harbour and ferry slipway wasn’t as popular with the ferry crew.


Many people underestimate the business of the slip when the ferry docks and departs – it is the real Rathlin island rush-hour with cars jostling, family members being left off or collected, food deliveries etc.


All in all I hope they found Rathlin inspirational and will return soon. The event certainly opened the eyes of community members – where else would you find rural locals musing on the definition of ‘performance art’. That is the beauty of the ‘Arts on Rathlin’ initiative.


For futher information on any of the above activities, contact Desima on +44(0)28 2076 3908 or email arts@rathlinislandcoop.fsnet.co.uk.