17 January 2019

A fading reminder of
the cultural glories of
the Wexford Festival

A poster that reminds me of Wexford’s quays and key landmarks (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I have a poster from the Wexford Festival hanging in the breakfast room in the house in Knocklyon. It is 25 years old at this stage and for the last quarter century has been fading in the sunlight that streams through the south side of the house.

Perhaps I should have moved this fading poster many years ago. But it is a pretty depiction of the quays in Wexford, and I can pick out many familiar landmarks that shape the skyline of Wexford town. And it is a reminder too of happy days when I lived in Wexford until I moved to Dublin 45 years ago at the end of 1974.

Someone once told me the Irish definition of where you are from is found in the answer to who you hope, despite all the odds, is going to win the next All-Ireland. It is a particular Irish understanding of identity and a sense of place.

I lived on High Street, across from both the offices of the Wexford People and the Theatre Royal, already over a century old at that time. In those days, the Festival specialised in unfamiliar operas and, as Michael Dervan recalled in The Irish Times yesterday [16 January 2018], it was known for its ‘decisiveness and daring.’

I have memories of going to sleep in the mid-1970s listening to the sound of rehearsals across the street, and waking to the prospect of enjoying the fringe programme or a morning service in Saint Iberius’s Church with participants from the opera.

Today, the theatre is a major national cultural centre, and the Wexford Festival Opera this week announced the appointment of Rosetta Cucchi, who will succeed David Agler as artistic director. She has a long connection with Wexford that dates back to 1995 – the year after that fading poster I still treasure.

I am back in Wexford today, for a short overnight stay, with hopes to walk along the Slaney Estuary at Ferrycarrig and to meet some friends for a few drinks or for dinner.

It was a long journey by two buses from Askeaton through Limerick and Kildare, and then a journey by car through Carlow, Bunclody and along the banks of the River Slaney, crossing the the river at Enniscorthy. Once I had arrived in Bunclody this afternoon, my bearings were realigned, and old loyalties and hopes were reignited. I am staying tonight in the Ferrycarrig Hotel, in a room with a view that looks across the estuary of the River Slaney, expecting to wake tomorrow morning to the sound not of opera rehersals but of birdlife on the river.

This afternoon, in one of the corridors of the hotel, among a large collection of posters from the Wexford Festival, I was that same poster from the 1994 festival. Unlike my poster in Knocklyon, however, it is not fading.

Perhaps I may keep that poster a little longer, continuing to harbour hope against hope for an All-Ireland win for Wexford.

In the corridors of the Ferrycarrig Hotel in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

When football becomes
more important than
politics in a time of crisis

Patrick Comerford

As I switched to the news on BBC 1 last night, it was obvious that the most important clincher of the night was not the penalty shoot-out earlier in the evening between Corby and May or even the fallout after the clash in the Commons the night before.

The real news was the clash between Derry and Southampton and the penalty shoot-out that pushed the 10 O’clock News over to BBC 2, delaying the BBC 1 version for over 35 minutes.

Derby won and now know where they are going. But does Teresa May knowing where she is going? Even early this morning it seems there is no possibility – yet – of a penalty shoot-out with Jeremy Corby … he has taken his ball and he is refusing to play today after losing last night

But if Theresa May thought the nation was watching as she stood on the steps of No 10 at 10 last night, then she has shown how she totally fails to listen to the pulse of the nation.

But the understanding of the nation seems to be dominated by English nationalism. Did the BBC really think last night that viewers in Northern Ireland were more interested in a penalty shootout between two English teams than they are in the choice between the ‘backstop’ or a return to the bad old days of a ‘hard border’ on this island?

Did the BBC really think last night that viewers in Northern Ireland thought an English football match was more important than the future of their own nation.

I fear the Anglocentric focus of political discourse and journalism is feed by a dangerous nationalism and racism that is illustrated by a newspaper cutting from last month posted on social media last night:

A scene of modern Britain played out on a rail replacement bus service in Newport yesterday. A woman wearing a niqab was chatting to her son in another language. After five minutes, a man suddenly snapped: “If you’re in the UK, you should speak English.” At this another passenger turned round and explained: “We’re in Wales, and she’s speaking Welsh.”

If Jeremy Corbyn is refusing to meet Theresa May today, is he any worse than the MPs on the opposing benches in the Commons? After all, when you do the sums, it means 117 Tory MPs believe she is unfit to lead their party but is fit to lead the country. They are more interested in remaining in the Commons than whether Britain should or should not remain in the EU.

Meanwhile, watching all the news bulletins and their Anglocentric biases last night, one would be forgiven for forgetting that there is a continuing political, economic and humanitarian crisis in another EU member state.

No bulletin I was watching carried the news that the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had won a vote confidence that now paves the way for the Greek parliament to ratify an accord he agreed to last year that could end a long dispute over the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

It would all be enough to make us cry and weep if we did not pray and hope. The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Bishop Mark Strange, posted on his Facebook page last night:

‘At the end of another divisive day in the House of Commons we are no further forward than yesterday. We still face an uncertain future and our politicians are really going to have to speak to each other. Is it too much to ask this group of politicians to work together for the good of the people they represent.

‘I pray that our politicians will stop shouting across the room at each other and start talking.

The Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, has written a prayer for these times:

God of our reconciling hope,
as you guided your people in the past
guide us through the
turmoil of the present time
and bring us to that place of flourishing
where our unity can be restored,
the common good served
and all shall be made well.
In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.