The Ceol Na Mara Experience

I’m Oonagh Keogh and I would just like to tell you the Ceol na Mara story, how it came about, what we are aiming to achieve (and what you will become part of if you come down and join us this year!)

Oonagh Keogh

Oonagh Keogh

My family and I have been coming on holiday to the Renvyle peninsula since I was a child and over the years a very strong connection has grown between us and Connemara.

Over the years, we talked about how wonderful it would be to play chamber music there as my mother Geraldine had fond memories of music courses in the Swiss alps when she was a student and felt the peace and tranquillity of the area contributed a great deal to the quality of the music making We felt Connemara could make the same impression on a new generation of musicians.’

I was also looking for an outlet for my own pupils where they could meet up with other musicians of their own ages and have some fun playing chamber music. After doing a survey with my pupils and their parents the following points emerged:

Many of them, although keen to get involved in chamber music, were too young to participate in residential courses.
Some were Irish traditional players as well as classical and liked to combine the two where possible.
There were families with two or three children studying music, of different ages and standards that were looking for a course that would suit them all.

Some were themselves adult students of music with a great love of chamber music but little playing experience.
From all of this information, the ethos of Ceol na Mara was born and thanks to the help and enthusiasm of the local community in the Letterfrack region and the assistance of the Arts Council and Connemara West,the first Ceol na Mara Summer School for Strings took place in July 2008 in the Connemara West Centre.

Students ranged in age from 6 to 60 and came from the four corners of Ireland and from overseas. Entire families came down and stayed locally in hostels, B&Bs, holiday cottages and hotels. We included a module of traditional Irish music and Sean Nos workshops took place in which the parents and grandparents also took part.

During time off students met for swims and picnics on the beach…(yes, we did get a few days of fine weather!) some climbed the Diamond mountain, fishing trips were made (if you like mackerel…you’re in the right place) and shopping expeditions to nearby Clifden were embarked upon.

Evenings were spent at the Seisiun in the Teach Ceoil, enjoying the amazing local traditional talent,(including regular performer, sean nos dancing sensation Emma O’Sullivan, star of ‘The All Ireland talent show’)In Renvyle House we enjoyed the hospitality of Ronnie Counihan, sampled the cuisine of head chef Tim O’Sullivan and listened to the swing and country blues duo ‘Some like it Hot’.

There was really something for everyone as the Wednesday night play in Paddy Coynes pub proved popular and for the younger children there was ‘Tegolin’s Tales’ in the Teach Ceoil (enchanting performances of sean nos stories told with masks!)……and SOMEHOW they still managed to fit in practice!

At Ceol na Mara we believe that to get the most out of learning music it is vitally important to mix with other like minded people in a non competitive environment to explore music together and have fun. Ceol na Mara offers this opportunity, far away from the pressure of exams and competitions.

We also believe music is music so we include classical, traditional Irish, jazz, world music, pop, and we play it in groups from small chamber ensembles to larger orchestras. As well as learning music from notated parts we encourage learning by ear with our trad and jazz influenced sessions. This encourages much more fluency and confidence on the instrument.

We have found that presenting music to kids in this way with no pressure gets the most amazing results in a very short time and the high quality of music they produce in a week is phenomenal. Through their own choice they opt to rehearse and play for fun (even during break time!) and ask for extra music to play at home which is what music should be all about.

We have a large extended Ceol Na Mara family of kids teenagers, adult participants and parents who return year after year, and it’s very rewarding to see kids who began with us 9 years ago in the juniors, come back year after year and to watch them progress and blossom into fine musicians and lovely young adults who still enjoy their music more than ever.

No matter what your age or musical aspirations may be, there is a place for you in Ceol Na Mara. So, why not come and join the fun in the beautiful surroundings of Letterfrack in the heart of the Connemara countryside.

Oonagh Keogh