Lee Side Story: “The Opera House Can Be Daunting”

The culture of the city is explored, and the divisions that drive a wedge between starcrossed lovers are also the ties that bind, in Leeside Story, a new musical directed by John McCaffrey, featuring the voice and songs of Corkonian troubadour John Spillane. Mike McGrath-Bryan gets a chat in ahead of the show’s debut at Cork Opera House.

On either side of the river that wends its way through our beloved home city, two tribes eye each other suspiciously. Age-old rivalries have come to the fore, and seemingly insurmountable differences drive Corkonians North and South ever-closer to complete isolation. But as the light fades on a seemingly unending feud, in a Shakespearean take on Cork city, a Northside boy and a Southside girl emerge from the shadows. It’s the classic boy-meets-girl tale, plunged deep into the well of local humour, and placed amid the best light-entertainment stage traditions. ‘Leeside Story’, presented by the Leeside Drama group and debuting at the Opera House next week, draws on theatrical tropes and Cork’s cultural heritage to deliver a new work, embellished with local song and cutting Leeside humour.

Originally designed for smaller spaces in Cork city, the play’s story and vision quickly grew, catching the eye of programmers at the Opera House, and for director John McCaffrey, scaling up not only the production of the show, but its cast, was a challenge to be relished. “The stage in the Opera House can be daunting for many actors, but as I have found in the past, if you get used to working the stage, it’s no more daunting than a country hall. An audience of twenty people is the same as five hundred plus. Logistics have to be worked out, weeks in advance. Lighting plans, sound, projection needs, set design: never leave any of these items a week before a show.”

The Opera House’s generous stage portions must surely pose a challenge, though: while the play itself features a total cast of thirteen, the usual struggle with prop placement, and keeping the onstage action tight while emphasising the space available to them is a perennial challenge for playwrights, dramaturges and casts. The venue’s high-tech setup has done a little bit of the heavy lifting in that respect. “The main challenge for this show has been the inclusion of background screens and video. One has to be careful not to distract the audience too much with fancy backgrounds. Thankfully the Opera House has a lighting system second to none, so we envisage no problems there.”

As stated at the outset, the premise of the show plays on the oldest story of all: conflict, love and resolution, investing the cultural heritage of Cork with a readily accessible pop-culture narrative, as hinted at in the show’s title. Veteran writer Derry Cotter has taken the local vernacular and history, and brought it to a new life, according to McCaffrey. “Derry Cotter must have studied in in the same bizarre college of wit as John Spillane, I reckon. During a cold spell earlier in the month, John reminded me that the record for the coldest place in Ireland goes to Birr! Derry’s puns are legendary within UCC. One comes to mind from a previous play I worked with him on: ‘there are people dying now, that never died before!’ As a perfectionist, Derry often suggests changes to the script. Sometimes I say ‘okay’, other times I tell him to hop off. There is a cutoff after all, when you have to let your baby go. We see this show as a flagship production for Leeside Drama Group, and would hope to run it again in the near future.”

Music is a vital part of the show, including the involvement of Leeside legend John Spillane, armed with his encyclopaedic knowledge of Cork’s culture and song. Working with himself and musical director Jimmy Brockie, McCaffrey comments on what the collaboration has brought to the overall feel of the show, as well as the process involved. “Both Jimmy and John are a pleasure to work with. Jimmy has been working closely with anyone with a singing role to hone their skills. He is also adding wonderful musical colour to the show. As regards John, that man will walk on stage with guitar, and just do his magic.”

Spillane’s career has been well-documented, notable for the breadth and depth of his local knowledge and how it’s been implemented across a deep discography from which he’s drawn, not only for solo shows and regular residencies, but projects like this, which keep him going creatively. “I’m very happy that Derry and John decided on the songs, the context in which the songs are used. It’s an honour, and an honour to be involved in a play that sets out to be pure Cork, that I was the guy they went to for the songs. Dr. Con Murphy had a night to honour him at City Hall there lately, I’m getting a lot of that kind of stuff now.”

The experience of using four of his songs in a new context, while maintaining a certain familiarity in line with Cork light-entertainment tradition, was the end result of a process of working closely with writer Cotter. Contributing to the show’s creation, and influencing its use of Leeside humour, it’s only fitting that Spillane makes a few walk-ons over its course. “It’s very interesting. It’s a lovely crowd of people, and it’s nice to work with people that are different. We call it ‘amateur’ drama, but amateur drama is huge in Ireland. There’s a lot of people that are really good, and really passionate about it. It’s lovely to hang out with that (kind of) crowd.”

Just about a week from stage night, and with myriad concerns as a director to get addressed before doors are open, McCaffrey is chipper about his thoughts heading into the big show itself. Keeping things ticking over seems to be the name of the game. “So far, going tickety-boo! With a core cast of thirteen, and numerous stage and production staff to deal with, scheduling rehearsals has to be managed accordingly. Thankfully, the crew I have are dedicated, one hundred percent, to the production.” After this is done, it’s a wide spread of duties for the production team involved, including a dalliance with Hollywood stars in an unlikely location, and an immediate return to the grindstone with more new plays and productions. “No rest for myself. I’m stage-manager for ‘The Blarney Stone’ in April with Patrick Bergin in Macroom. I also know that Derry has further plays in the pipeline with Leeside Drama group, including another run at this show.”

Leeside Story debuts at the Opera House on Thursday March 14th, at 8pm. Tickets on sale now from €25 at corkoperahouse.ie and the venue’s box office.

Cork Multiple Births Club: “Unique Support from Others on the Same Journey”

In the absence of formal support structures, Cork Multiples Club has provided parents of multiple-child births with advice, assistance, and a little bit of breathing space for ten years. Mike McGrath-Bryan spoke with organiser Alexie Ui Laoghaire on the eve of the anniversary edition of the group’s monthly coffee morning in Wilton.

Beginning or expanding a family is undoubtedly a seismic event in anyone’s life: the amount of planning and preparation that goes into welcoming someone new into the world is a drastic and transformative process, that alters every aspect of how one looks at the world, their work and their responsibilities. And if that either frightens you, or resonates with your own experiences, you can probably imagine what goes through the minds of new parents when told that their upcoming arrival is, in fact, twins, triplets and more. But despite what one might imagine, supports specific to the situation of multiple new additions to your team are scarce on the ground, bar some benefits and home help. It’s an issue that led to the foundation of the Irish Multiple Birth Association, a volunteer-led charity that provides new ‘multiple’ parents with information and advice, directly from multiple parents themselves.

But taking that first step to get involved and help oversee that support for your own area is another big step again, one that was taken in February 2009 by multiple parents Noreen O’Keeffe and Valerie Maout Uí Aodha, IMBA members and co-founders of the Cork Multiples Club. Seeking out a space in which to host families from across the city centrally, the pair began running coffee mornings in Wilton’s Brú Columbanus. For Alexie Ui Laoghaire, the club’s current co-ordinator, these mornings provided space, support and a sense of community. “I originally attended the monthly coffee morning, before my twins were born. I had received an IMBA booklet from CUMH, and had seen a poster in the twin clinic about the group so decided to check it out. I missed the following month’s meet as I had just had my babies, but I have attended pretty much every month since for the last four years. I took over running the group about two years ago, and love meeting all the multiple families. I think it is a really important space to enable multiple parents to get together, and share their experiences, their challenges and to be supported through these by their peers.”

Mutual support among parents is important to the development and growth of individuals, families and communities, all over the country, and the intensified need for support around multiple-birth families is met with aplomb by the Club. The coffee mornings are an important part of the group’s activities, but not the only means of addressing the questions of support, time management and keeping things afloat in a busy household. “The coffee morning is a space for multiple parents, expectant parents, or carers minding multiples, to chat and share peer support over a cup of coffee while little ones nap, play, feed, or squabble (laughs). It is an informal meet but it provides an opportunity for unique support from others who are on the same journey. As well as our monthly meet, we host a quarterly information evening, also in Bru Columbanus.  This is an opportunity for expectant parents to chat to multiple parents further along on their parenting journey, about what to expect when babies are brought home, what to get organised, possible sleeping arrangements, feeding, breastfeeding, routines, equipment etc. Our evenings are well attended and hopefully reassuring to expectant parents that while it is challenging it is also survivable!”

The club’s home in Brú Columbanus is a natural extension of the facility’s accommodation of multiple parents’ needs at CUMH. An independent charity, it provides “home from home” accommodation for relatives of seriously ill patients in the hospital, as well the headquarters for the club’s coffee mornings. “Initially, the coffee morning started in a meeting room within the building, but for the last number of years we’ve held it in the family playroom there. The room is bright, and cheerful with plenty of space for the double buggies, lots of toys and comfortable couches. It was recently redecorated by Dulux. Anne-Maria, Pat and their team are so accommodating, and we are delighted to be able to rent the space each month and for our quarterly information evenings. We would like to thank them for enabling us to keep our meet going for the last ten years.”

Over the course of a decade, you’d imagine a group like Cork Multiples Club spanning not only the development of young families, but the growth of multiple-birth kids not only as groups, but as individuals. As time has worn on, the Club has been present for families as schedules and life allows, and the common experience of bringing pairs or groups of people into the world has brought people together outside of it. “While some families attend the monthly meets for a number of months, or years, other parents return to work, or babies become pre-schoolers and then start national school, and may occasionally come along if the meet falls on a school holiday. Sometimes it’s hard to believe our pre-schoolers were once the tiny babies other parents are now arriving with! Some regular parents have struck up friendships that continue outside the Club, and we hope these families have fond memories of their time at the meets.”

February 22nd just past marked the Club’s tenth anniversary, and while it was business as usual regarding the meetup, it’s also cause to look toward the future for Alexie, still-active contributor Noreen, and for the group’s development, as it looks at expanding to new towns and areas in the county, and raise further awareness wherever multiple-parents may be. “We’re thrilled that the group is still going strong ten years later, now Noreen’s twins are twenty, and my own are turning four! It was great to see both new and old faces, and we look forward to welcoming more families to IMBA and Cork Multiples Club, in 2019 and beyond. We plan to continue running our monthly meet, our quarterly information evenings, and hope to get more volunteers involved.  We would like to get some posters up in local GP and Public Health Nurse offices, to spread the word further offline.”

For more info on Cork Multiples Club, search for their page on Facebook. For more info on supports for multiple-birth families, check the Irish Multiple Births Association’s website (imba.ie) and Facebook discussion group, or call 01-8749056.

The group’s quarterly information evening is held the first Wednesday of each quarter, from 7.30-9pm. The next installment is 8 March 2019, at Brú Columbanus in Wilton.  

Sexual Violence Centre Cork: “It’s About Talking About It”

This Valentine’s Day afternoon, dancers and volunteers for the Sexual Violence Centre at Camden Quay will gather at the Opera House for a special flashmob, as part of a worldwide event raising awareness of sexual violence, and the worldwide movement to break the stigma surrounding its victims. Mike McGrath-Bryan checks in with SVCC head Mary Crilly and flashmob leader Inma Pavon.

Valentine’s Day in Cork City will mean an extra-busy few days for shops, restaurants, florists, and by the time 1pm rolls around, the beginning of an influx of panic-buying significant others, descending upon Paul Street to get the last few bits in (or all of them in some cases!) ahead of the evening’s proceedings. The perfect time, then, for a flashmob to strike, and disrupt the routine. Thursday week will see the volunteers of Cork Sexual Violence Centre, accompanied by dancers from around the city, co-ordinate and dance to raise awareness not only of their own cause locally in the wake of movements like #MeToo, but of the realities that one billion women, out of three worldwide, will have been raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.

The flashmob, kicking off at 1.15 on the day, is part of the One Billion Rising project, that sees similar displays of solidarity and expression happen around the world on Valentine’s Day. For Sexual Violence Centre Cork co-ordinator Mary Crilly, creation of awareness via the arts and community outreach is as important as fundraising, keeping the word out there after a busy holiday season of fundraising initiatives, like Cyprus Avenue’s ‘Undivided’ Christmas mega-gig. “For the people working in the centre, I think they feel an incredible buzz. Not just listened to, but that we matter. Sometimes when you’re working in a centre, especially when there are counsellors seeing people everyday, you’re not aware of what else is happening out there, so it’s encouraging to see that there are young people, listening, and that they want to raise awareness.”

‘V-Day’, the one-day campaign for One Billion Rising under which the flashmob falls, has been on the peripheries for the Sexual Violence Centre for a few years, in terms of its community outreach goals and collaborations with local artists. But in getting something like a flashmob together, creating a sense of urgency was also important. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and the 14th of February is very soon. If we started rehearsals in September or October, people might forget by February. January seems awfully late to try and do it, but we said we’d give it a go… We’re very aware that the majority of people will not come in for counselling. I think Irish people, in general, are very private. One in ten people (affected by sexual violence) will come in for counselling, and it’s about letting the world know that if this has happened to you, that we’re really sorry that it’s happened, and that you’re not on your own, and for the people supporting them: we’re here to help. It’s about talking about it.”

That process of community outreach has been important to many of the Centre’s drives for fundraising and awareness led them to look into the city’s vibrantly-busy dance community, whereupon they were introduced to locally-based contemporary dancer and tutor Inma Pavon, whose experience and passion for people made her a perfect fit for the project, according to Crilly. “We were really fortunate. One of the women here knew Inma, and she said ‘why don’t you contact her?’. I did, and she got back immediately, within a few hours. She said, ‘I dance, I do dancing, I teach, I know a lot of people, I’ll organise this part’, and she made it so much easier. It’s wonderful when you have someone like Inma, who wanted to help, but never knew how to help, looking after things, it’s wonderful, totally.”

Wanting to help, but not knowing how to help, can be a big obstacle for many ordinary people who might like to volunteer, not only for SVCC, but for charity in general. When asked how people can get involved, Crilly is open about what anyone can bring to the fray for a community group like theirs when they reach out. “People have organised community events in here, and for us, it was a way of getting people into the centre, who wouldn’t previously have been in, who might have wanted to, and felt safe coming in and leaving like that. People, when they want to volunteer, I hate them thinking that they have to have so many skills. It can be big, or small, or whatever they’re willing, or able to do. We do want new energy coming in, new people coming through, whatever they can do for us.”

Making her home in Cork after a lifetime of pursuing contemporary dance around the world from her native Spain, Pavon has, in recent years, harnessed the power of community across different media and artistic disciplines, to create a compelling body of work that goes from freeform dance classes to appearances in music videos for local artists like alternative folk singer Elaine Malone. Working on the flashmob, Pavon gets to bring her expertise in working with new people to the fray, and embark on rehearsals with people of different skill levels (and none). “Working on the flashmob has been absolutely incredible. Just the fact that I am a dancer, and a believer that dance helps to break chains, the flashmob is, in fact, a gift given to me to help me spread this message. I love working with new people, that’s the beauty with dance, that you meet new people all the time… It’s a place to make people feel good through the learning process, which can be at times more difficult. My task, I believe, is to help faciliate that process, and make it easier for everyone to pick up.”

The choreography of the piece has been agreed upon by project participants around the world, focusing on breaking the stigma of silence and shame surrounding sexual assault. For Pavon, who’s used to far more freedom of movement and concepts in her work, the differences are stark, but the validity of expressing a message and empowering others is important “Contemporary dance is a very ‘expanded’ dance technique, where lots of different styles come to be. Also, it depends a lot on the choreographer’s taste, to add something completely unique to their dance works. I like to think we love as many different dances as we love people: all dance is good if feels good for you… I love making my own dances, sometimes to no music, just allowing the movement to emerge from a sensation or visual stimulus. Music comes later sometimes, but it’s all to bring on a journey, along with the dance.”

Pavon’s work with various groups and new dancers in the community from her studio on Monahan Road have informed her approach to community outreach, so when it came time to muck in on the V-Day project on a local basis, she eagerly answered the call to do so. “I want to thank the Sexual Violence Centre for making this happen, and bringing the awareness of this issue to the people of Cork. This is a very important event, and its goal of raising awareness about sexual violence around the world is really necessary, still, in peoples’ lives.”

The Sexual Violence Centre continues to go from strength to strength, with more calls to action and ongoing projects, such as nightlife safety initiative ‘Ask for Angela’, taking place over the course of 2019. Equally as important, however, is the health and wellbeing of the people that keep the SVC running and serving an all-important purpose in the community. Last year saw Mary Crilly diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer, a horrible shock that refocused her personal efforts, but also provided a profound perspective on her work, as she rounds the corner to recovery. “I needed lots of surgery, I needed lots of chemotherapy, so it came as a huge shock. I was lucky enough that I got diagnosed and had chemo all through the summer. Last week, I had an operation to reverse the stoma, which was joining my bowel back together. It’s been a rough year, but I’m at the end of it, and I feel amazing. I feel lucky and privileged to have the people that have supported me, and that I’m at the stage, now, where I’m feeling ready to go again!”

The Sexual Violence Centre Cork flashmob, for the V-Day Project, happens at 1.15pm at Cork Opera House. For all the latest information, and to get involved, check ‘Sexual Violence Centre Cork’ across social media.

Shane Casey: “I’m Not the Finished Article”


The Celtic Tiger is now firmly in the rear-view of the national psyche, and is increasingly remembered as a strange time in Irish history. For former painter/decorator Shane Casey, it was a point of frustration, but also a rich seam of material for comedy-drama play ‘Wet Paint’. Mike McGrath-Bryan sits down with the Young Offenders star to find out more.


From the local buzz that has sprung up around the international success of Leeside slapstick series ‘The Young Offenders’, the real-life stories behind its leading actors and actresses are among the most compelling, with a cast of homegrown talent breaking an all-too pervasive glass ceiling in Irish entertainment and further afield. Thanks to the international reach the original film and spinoff TV show has attained via RTÉ/BBC co-production, and distribution deals with streaming titan Netflix, ‘The Young Offenders’ has become a bona-fide success story in Irish media, and alongside Channel 4’s ‘Derry Girls’, a cultural talking point not seen in Irish comedy since the height of Father Ted’s success in the mid-nineties. For those out of loop, one of the show’s profound pop-cultural sensations is one of its’ anti-heroes, Billy Murphy, portrayed by Northsider Shane Casey.

Though the success of Young Offenders has placed Casey in a national spotlight, he’s been fervently working away on stories of his own for over a decade. Informed by his time as a painter-decorator at the very crest of the construction-boom wave, ‘Wet Paint’ was written entirely by Casey, who also stars in its upcoming Patrick Talbot production at the Opera House next month. Sitting down upstairs in the venue’s Blue Angel bar, Casey is open about the process of bringing the story of an image-conscious boss and his workers to life. “To be honest with you, I didn’t know that that was what I was going to write about. I started writing a monologues, and ‘I was on the Late Late Show once’ was the opening line. This monologue spilled out of me one afternoon up in Sunday’s Well, I was living (there). I found it was a funny anecdotal story about the man who meets the future James Bond on the Late Late Show, and told his wife that he knows him, when in fact he doesn’t know him. He’s caught out with a lie on national television. I found that humourous, and off the back of that, then, I had the character Tony, who I thought was like a neighbour of mine, and that evolved into the painting and decorating ‘boss’, that was under pressure, buying the new car every year, the new kitchen unit, and so on, all of this nonsense that was going on during the Celtic Tiger, and that evolved into, to be honest, a semi-autobiographical piece on being an apprentice painter-decorator as the world was going mad, in 2005.”

‘Wet Paint’ is a curio, in that it deals directly with the Celtic Tiger’s largesse and ‘notions’ by openly lampooning them, doing so not only as a personal nostalgia piece, but addressing the national episode, a time when the country, by and large, was arguably getting carried away with itself. Irresponsible investments, an over-emphasis on entrepreneurship, and a steady flow of cheap credit championed by banks and politicians alike created an atmosphere where anything seemed possible. For young people, however, soon to be the first victims of the precipitous bust of 2008 and the reviled austerity measures that followed, that fantasy was rarely the case, and Casey’s bile was aimed directly at the obstacles the boom-years mentality placed directly in his path. “It was just a frustration for me, at that point. I’d left the painting and decorating (a few years prior) and then when the 2005 (City of Culture) scenario rolled around I’d just finished college, I thought, ‘oh, this is going to be good for me, lots of plays and lots of theatre, vibrant things happening in my city’, and I just felt completely excluded from it. It was opera-singing up at the barracks, foreign plays coming in, which is all well and good, I love theatre, but I felt it was elitist, and that was the frustration that was coming through me in the play. I wanted to write a play that my Mam and Dad, and that my friends, who are builders, painters and decorators, and the theatre-going public could sit down and watch, and go ‘oh, he’s trying to say something, here’, y’know? I know that sounds kind of heightened, or convoluted, but it’s frustration, really, with… jambons, and silly, stupid carry-on.”

This time around, Casey and crew are working with former Everyman Palace director Patrick Talbot to get the Opera House production of ‘Wet Paint’ over the line, but Casey is quick to sing the praises of former directors that have worked with him on the play’s prior productions at the Granary Theatre, and the Everyman itself, drawing from the rich seam of theatrical talent that the city possesses in spades. “The play was directed by a woman called Evelyn Quinlan, who was one of the first Theatre students from UCC, she would have been involved with Julie Kelleher and people like that. She became a friend over the years, and I wanted a female input on the play originally, and she would have been a guiding light for the original production, and a director when we put it on in the Granary, and transferred it to the Everyman, then, a year later. Pat happened to be the guy that was running the theatre at that stage, and then when Pat came to me last year and said ‘would you take it out again?’, I was thinking it would be more relevant again, that there’s distance between now and 2005. I had another look, and thought, yeah, ‘maybe this does have something to say’, because now there is a nostalgia buzz, and I even talk about ‘Reeling in the Years’ in the play, Turners’ Cross and Cork City, all the stuff that was going on at the time. Pat has always been very encouraging to me in theatre, and encouraging me to write more, always.”

With the property bubble having long since burst, the fallout of the bailout and bank guarantee having taken a heavy toll on the Irish public over the course of the last decade-plus, and the prospect of a so-called economic recovery being touted by the Irish establishment, the temptation to ask Casey if any of the well to-do crowd have taken umbrage with the play and its mirroring of notions in certain parts of Irish society is frankly overwhelming for your writer. “I live close to inner-city Dublin, and I do workshops in schools. I know that kids are suffering because of the austerity cuts, like. We’re all suffering. The nurses are on strike. There’s kids who are homeless in Cork city. There is a bit of a recovery, but for who? That’s why I’m doing my workshops, ‘cause I know what it’s like to feel like sh*t about myself as a teenager, The Young Offenders has opened the door for me to do this, and put this play on again, and I’m proud and really excited to be working on it.”

In pursuing the opportunity given to him to revisit ‘Wet Paint’, Casey reached into his recent acting past to cast his two collaborators for the new production. Having moved to Dublin right before ‘The Young Offenders’ to pursue his craft in a busier atmosphere, the right people were literally falling in around him as he was revisiting the script. “The first time I met Tommy (Harris) was across the road (from the Opera House), when we were filming the prison scenes. I was beating this guy for an afternoon, and he turned out to be a friend, and now he’s in a play that I wrote, it’s amazing… I was in Dublin, went into a coffee shop that I had never been in before, and I took out the script. I hate taking out scripts in coffee shops, because I feel like a bit of a w*nker. The next thing, Tommy walks in the door, and I think ‘brilliant!’. Michael Sands is also a friend of mine, and he’s probably played more than anyone else at this stage. He’s been in dozens of pantos here, and in the Everyman, and I’m really excited to be doing it with him.”

Taking the play, a three-man piece with limited props, from the ‘round’ of the Granary and the smaller stage of the Everyman, to the generous proportions of the Opera House’s boards, would present anyone else with the question of how best to fill that space, and make the most of the historic venue’s facilities. For Casey, however, that negative space around his show’s characters presents an opportunity to maximise its visual impact and complement his story, allowing audiences to fill the spaces themselves. “That’s probably saying more for their isolation as characters, to be honest with you. We’re still on the outside, looking in on them. It was probably more ‘under the microscope’ as an actor, in the Granary and the Everyman because they were up our noses. There’s a moment in the show where, without giving too much away, where ‘the wall’ is very much broken. People didn’t realise we were acting within the scene, they thought the play was falling apart. We can make it maybe a little bit bigger. I’m glad that we did it in a small venue, and now we have it here, and we’re looking at taking it on tour later in the year, see how it does in other houses. We’re doing Skibbereen as well, I’m excited about that!”

When he isn’t working on his stagecraft, Casey has used his influence and the wide reach his acting has garnered him to advocate for awareness of mental health and stress among teenagers, following on from parental testimonies on ‘The Young Offenders’’ inherent inter-generational appeal. In his mind, opening up the conversation about the world around our young people, and the pressures that have always gone hand-in-hand with adolescence, is the first step. Casey draws from his own experiences prior to entering the performing arts, and has come away from his school workshops on the matter with some profound experiences and perspectives. “We’re opening up the floor to them, to have a conversation, suggesting things that they could do. It’s an experience-based workshop, based on the mistakes I’ve made in my life and the life I’ve led so far, what I need to do to be productive and happy within myself. That’s the most important thing. It’s very easy for kids to feel like sh*t about themselves, I know what it’s like to go home and sit on my phone for four hours, thinking everyone else’s life is perfect. I’m going in and being honest them, ‘cause I’m not the finished article at all. They think that when you’re an adult, everything’s over and you have everything made, they don’t realise you have problems and troubles. We need to sit down and talk about their problems and troubles as well. We had a lovely moment the other day, I asked a group, ‘how many people have somebody they can turn to if they really need help?’, and nobody put their hands up, and that was worrying. But we turned the tables on them and asked, ‘if somebody needs help, would yoy help them?’, and they all put their hands up. We’ve a lovely saying at the workshops, ‘don’t go the butcher for a haircut’. A lot of them get confused at the very start, but it’s about going to the right person for help at the right time.”

It must be an odd reverse-engineering of those experiences with mental health, then, to pour everything into portraying Billy Murphy, the Young Offenders’ eternal menace, rival and eventual anti-hero. Initially portrayed as protagonists Conor and Jock’s near-psychotic local bully, pursuing the pair over comeuppance received at the end of the original film, Murphy slowly becomes a sympathetic figure as the subsequent TV show progresses. He’s shown to be profoundly out of his depth when holding bus-goers hostage in the series’ infamous finale, and is ultimately shown as the product of parental neglect, mental ill-health and the wider social issues affecting inner-city areas and their infrastructure. With the responsibility that comes with such a large platform, Casey’s approach, similar to his other work, is to create a blank canvas for others to project their experiences onto. “Everything was there on the page from Peter (Foott, Young Offenders director). It’s well-documented at this stage that he lets us do a bit of improvisation, but Peter knows me for years, and what I can contribute as an actor. The character was there, and we knew there was more to him than the stereotypical guy that punches somebody. I very much wanted to have a struggle within the guy that if he does punch someone, that he goes ‘oh, tell your mam I was asking for her’, afterwards. I thought that was an interesting angle. Any time I ever saw a lad get into trouble, especially in relation to violence, he was kind-of beating himself up, more than anybody else, afterwards. I don’t think anyone goes out, punches someone and feels great about it. I think there is a sinister side to him as well, where he does take a little bit of enjoyment out of it, but there’s a pinch of salt to it.”

This coming summer will see the show’s second series enter filming around the city. While the details of the show’s next steps are of course under tight wraps, it’s evident that between the upcoming shoots and ‘Wet Paint’s continued run around Cork county, Casey has enough happening to keep him busy in the coming year. “It’s going to go again, that’s all I know. The kids and teenagers I meet are crying out for another series. The more we can get done, the better. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, I’ll get the one-percent of people coming up to me (saying so), but it’s like, ‘ye’re not the demographic’, like. Peter has assembled a brilliant team of people on cast and crew. Somebody put the headline that there’s a ‘love-in’ between all of us, and I’ll stand by that, I’m very fond of everyone I work with on that show.”

On a parting note, Casey makes time before he heads to a production meeting for an anecdote on the real strength of ‘The Young Offenders’ wide-ranging appeal. “A prominent person in this city, a television person, told me that they would sit down every Thursday night with their son and watch the show, and it would become a real bonding moment for them. It was really nice, as a family to do that. I thought that was really nice. The therapeutic quality the show has. Sitting down to watch one episode and being able to switch off, from their phones and the pressure they’re put under at school. I’m very happy to be involved in a show like that, and at the very least – kids are having a laugh.”

‘Wet Paint’ runs at Cork Opera House, at 8pm nightly from Wednesday March 20th to Saturday 23rd, with a special matinee show at 3pm on the Saturday. Tickets €21-27 are available from the venue’s box office, and corkoperahouse.com.

Imaginary Neighbours: “It’s Possible to Find More Meaningful Connections”

As Quarter Block Party sets out to re-imagine what the city’s historic quarter can be this weekend, one group of artists sets out to fill in the blanks left by vacant spaces left on North Main Street, creating a group of ‘Imaginary Neighbours’. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with installation co-creator, Gergő Lukác, and Quarter Block Party co-organiser Eszter Némethi.

It stands as proud as ever it has, for better or worse. North Main Street, at the centre of the city’s ‘old’ quarter is an important lifeline in traversing the city, linking Shandon Street and the Northside to Barrack Street and the Lough beyond it. A historically proud area for businesses and trade, the street has seen the ups and downs of arrivals, departures, and the seemingly endless cycle of boom and bust over the years, forging a strong and resilient community of traders and the loyal custom that keeps the area alive. For the past five years, Quarter Block Party arts festival has sought to breathe new life into the area’s vacant spaces, nooks and crannies, with music, performance and public engagement, doing so right as winter gives way to spring.

This year, a group of visiting artists from Budapest in Hungary have given specific consideration to the issue of vacant retail units and lots in and around North Main Street, devising a number of interactions and provocations through street art, installations and performances, among which is an intriguing proposition: ‘Imaginary Neighbours’. Asking workshop attendees to imagine the people and stories that could fill the empty spaces and open new possibilities for the area, the project sees the ideas rendered as images, drawn onto kites, to be flown during a special parade later in the day. At a time when vacant properties risk creating vacant neighbourhoods, co-creator Gergő Lukác explores the process of getting a conversation going beforehand. “Approximately 300 people live on North Main Street now. In theory, it shouldn’t be so difficult to reach and convince people to participate, but in practice, it definitely is. This is the reason we created a three-step strategy. First, posters will appear in the streets with our faces, to not be complete strangers when we show up. The second, to send letters to the residents, with more information about why we arrive. And lastly, to get to know them in person, on those four days when we arrive in Cork.”

Further to the process of finding out who will have “arrived” at the workshop, the stated theme of who is “yet to arrive” in real life hangs poignantly over proceedings: our city is to become a City of Sanctuary for refugees, and the artistic community works hard to create place for them wherever possible. Such concerns, though relevant, will be explored indirectly, via the simple process of imagination, as well as the chats with locals, says Quarter Block co-organiser Eszter Némethi. “The workshop, and the parade propose a curiosity and gives space for thinking together, about what it might mean to live together. What it might mean to move in to a very specific place, with a very specific history and situation. Like Gergő said, there are 300-odd people living on the street, that’s six busloads, a very small community. I think to be in the same room with your neighbours in itself is quite exciting, even if it is temporary.”

Reclamation of real and imagined spaces are a theme for the parade: vacant living and retail spaces have always been a feature of the city centre, like cavities, in its forward-facing nature, and in recent years, have coincided with the death of community arts spaces like Camden Palace Hotel, commonly falling victim to property hoarding and an inaction on infrastructural issues and changes in customer habits. For Nemethí, public art like this is an attempt to find a common way to suture up the disconnections with the city centre that have followed. “With Quarter Block Party, my personal question is: ‘what is the place of art on a street?’. And I like to propose this question to artists, traders, residents. To think together, because I think the answer is not simple, the dynamics change. The values and priorities shift. I learnt a lot about how much space there is on North Main Street for art, often more than I thought. Often in places I didn’t anticipate! But I also think ‘sensing’ this place requires a continuous dialogue, and it’s a slow process, a negotiation of differing value systems. It’s not the point to fill temporarily vacant buildings, meant for trade or living with art. It can help to lift spirits, but I think it’s possible to find more meaningful connections.”

The workshop was developed as part of the Common Ground programme of cultural exchanges between Cork and Budapest, that runs over the course of Quarter Block Party weekend, with the help of the EU’s Erasmus+ programme. For Lukác, the challenge was working from Hungary alongside Cork-based Némethi and the Quarter team, with all of the challenges that occur. “In Common Ground, we work and research on how we can reach and engage local communities through the tools of art. We work in small groups, along different approaches of the topic, everyone according to their main interest. We were interested in how to involve the people who actually live on this street, and what’s the topic we could catch their attention with. ‘Imaginary Neighbours’ was then designed especially for North Main Street residents.”

Quarter Block Party has, for half a decade, explored and shone a light on spaces and interactions for local people along the city’s old quarter. The initiative and effort that organisers like Némethi have put in to bring life to spaces that could otherwise be construed as ‘left behind’ by development and gentrification cannot be underestimated. “I think in the margins, the places where people do not look, wild and magical things can happen. There is a possibility for things to emerge and develop. And it might be hard to establish or eradicate things, but I also think this is the strength of these places, that they change, but also persevere. I think North Main Street is one of these wild spaces, just that it also happens to be in the very middle of Cork.”

The ‘Imaginary Neighbours’ workshop takes place between 1pm and 6pm on Saturday February 9th, at the Middle Parish Community Centre on Grattan Street. Families are welcome. The Parade of Imaginary Neighbours then sets off from Skiddy’s Castle Plaza at 6pm. To book a place, email eszter@quarterblockparty.com.

Cafe Move: “We Wanted to Offer an Alternative”

 

For one Wilton-based exercise centre and class space, Saturday mornings mean one thing: members getting together for a cup of coffee before working together on movement and flexibility. The endgame? Building up to the task of executing a handstand. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with Café Move co-owner Robbie O’Driscoll about a pressure-free alternative for New Years’ fitness kicks.

It’s 9am on a fresh Saturday morning at Doughcloyne Industrial Estate, just up Sarsfield Road, and nestled among the warehouses, retail units and even a children’s amusement complex, lies an exercise and fitness centre unlike any other. Café Move is being opened as we come in the door, and at first glance, as wooden pallets create a small corridor to a fully-stocked coffee bar that’s being readied for the day, slinging tea and speciality coffees as well as protein supplements, the idea sets in. Opened three years ago by owner-operators Robbie O’Driscoll and Karen Lunnon, Café Move styles itself not necessarily as a gym, but as a ‘movement centre’, prioritising exercise and wellbeing in comparatively unorthodox ways, especially for the current climate. Weight equipment is noticeable by its absence, and brass rings for gymnastics and acrobatic use hang from the rafters on both floors. The whole air of the place seems to be the polar opposite of the iron temples that seem to be springing up all over the city as of late.

At the forefront of the centre’s drive for accessibility is a simple yet starkly ‘different’ idea: a class simply entitled “Coffee and Handstands”. Doing largely what it says on the tin, the class allows for participants to file in early for a cuppa and some chats with the facility’s staff and fellow exercisers for about an hour, before getting down to the brass tacks of stretches, collaborative warmups and exercises combining gymnastics with resistance training. For O’Driscoll, it’s about bringing a lifetime of movement and fitness experience to a welcoming, inclusive space. “The whole concept comes from the point that exercise and socialising ought to be brought together, for the full package of developing a person. There has to be a bit of craic, in regards to exercise. It needs to be a constant, week in, week out, and if you’re doing it by yourself all the time, it’s going to suck. But if you’re in the company of good people, and the theme of the class is that it’s playful on the weekend, I think it ticks all the boxes regarding staying social, staying healthy, staying strong. And it’s a draw to have that chance to bring people together, to have the chats, a bit of interaction and discourse before we get things moving.”

It’s one of those questions that seems so simple for an interviewer that it becomes difficult by overthinking: how does one teach somebody a handstand? Even the mention of the word ‘handstand’ likely conjures up one’s own childhood images of small gymnastic feats among friends while out playing, gangly legs kicking up awkwardly into wobbly displays of athleticism that ranked alongside cartwheels and forward rolls as serious achievements for the day. The process of reverting to that mindset, and tapping into exercisers’ inner children, is what sets the class apart from any other offering in Cork gyms at present. And it’s making a difference, says O’Driscoll. “In this environment, there’ll be a general warmup, so everyone can benefit from strengthening and mobilising the fingers, wrists, hands, shoulders, core. So, nothing is outside the capacity of anybody. Anybody can join the class, we have an age bracket here from early twenties up to sixty. And as the class progresses, we split into groups, who is able for what, and then there’s individual practice. And it’s taught in a way that involves a partner or a group, so that everyone achieves their handstand, achieves their goal. You have that sense of camaraderie, it has that playfulness to it… There’s one person that sticks to mind to me, Martha, she showed up here a year-and-a-half ago with a shoulder injury, she was an avid Taekwondo player. She turned sixty recently and is now kicking up into a handstand, coming from a place of no gymnastics training, arriving with an injury and developing that practice is something.”

The centre’s regular custom has been slowly increasing in number over the past three years, as its reputation has spread among people looking for something different from a fitness experience. But even for such an eclectic group of people, this morning ranging from athletes to former quantum physicists, the idea of building from absolute zero to a handstand might be strange for different reasons. The idea, however, has been received well, according to O’Driscoll, acting for some as a goal, and for others, a gateway to more movement. “Let’s say somebody hasn’t been referred to us, they see a post (online). ‘Coffee and handstands, what’s that about?’. So, they’re quite apprehensive, they’re expecting something a bit hipster-y. They expect, ‘hey, man, peace, high five, wanna mocha-chocha-latte’, and I can see how we’d fall into that mix, with pallets around the place and coffee. But we meet them on a one-to-one level. People who have been recommended to us are all quite enthusiastic about arriving on, they’ve heard great things about us. People outside the centre, in (the fitness space in the city) look upon us as being quite airy-fairy, that’s one term we hear a lot. Maybe they’re the regular gym-goer and they see us with coffee and hanging upside-down, and it seems like an airy-fairy approach, not understanding that when we get into it, there’s some serious training, there’s a lot of sports-science, exercise-science, and I’ve travelled the world collecting these exercises to bring them to a public domain.”

It’s all in contrast to the current gym and fitness scene in the city, to say the least. There’s no disputing the rise in gym culture over the past few years, as people take to the benches and attend circuit training to get fit, boost their self-confidence, and get an all-important endorphin rush, the latter being an increasing point of discussion within the overall mental-health discourse. But with a number of new gyms opening up around the city, O’Driscoll is emphatic about creating an inclusive space, where the kind of gatekeeping that can sometimes happen in regular gyms, and the intimidation inherent for some people to working with fitness equipment, becomes a non-issue. “When we first opened, one of the first installments was a café, put right in the centre, creating a social atmosphere for a physical lifestyle and culture, was the idea. Not to say you’re a gym-goer, but that it’s more a lifestyle, you meet people you already know, like the ‘Cheers’ of the gym world. There’s no obligation to exercise in one format here, no dogmatic view. I teach the content I teach, I keep it as broad as I can, without restrictions on the members to not explore their own approach. We shake hands and meet each other, and that was the idea. In this setting, also, it’s more attractive to those who aren’t drawn into the gym scene. I wanted to offer an alternative.”

It’s January, and the natural course of events dictates that people venture trepidatiously into gyms at hotels and other locations around the city, prompted into action by the dawning of a new calendar year, and the traditional cocktails of well-meaning New Years’ resolutions and a seeming carnival of advertising that negatively reinforces peoples’ perceptions of themselves. Playing on insecurities by leading advertising campaigns with unreasonably attractive models and vaguely aspirational sloganeering, the intimidation factor is both a draw for facilities and an eventual turn-off. For O’Driscoll, the inclusive atmosphere at Café Move is aimed at helping trainees avoid that cycle, and play to their own strengths. “We don’t offer fat loss, and we accept anybody in whatever way they show up. We’re more interested in physical ability and whatever that is to the individual. Wherever they’re coming from, wherever they’d like to go, we’d like to be part of the assistance, and offer an environment where they’re not under pressure to adhere to a particular aesthetic, because that’s absurd to me. I believe weight loss, etc. is a by-product of tweaking of one’s lifestyle to improve their physical ability and their quality of life. Nor is it driven by what they ‘ought to’, or ‘should’. Because those negative motivations burn out quite quickly, I’d prefer it to be something that gives them an improved experience of life. ‘Now I can go hillwalking, now I can play with my kids, now I can have fun with my own body.’ Whatever that is to them, I’d like to be part of. And that perpetuates itself, being around others, without the sense of judgement.”

As the interview progresses, our seat at the space’s coffee bar allows us the opportunity to meet the attendees as they come in the front door, and get settled in for a chat before the proceedings. Martha Lynch, of whom O’Driscoll was speaking in reference to transformation stories to emerge from the facility, is softly-spoken, but effusive in her praise for the facility and what it’s done for her wellbeing. After demonstrating a handstand technique hard-won by training and exercise, she’s quick to reiterate. “It’s improved my fitness, my core, my balance, strength… everything. My energy… it’s great fun. We end up laughing halfway through the class most of the time, and it’s just great fun, and the coffee’s brilliant (laughs). It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, Robbie adjusts everything so you can participate in class and do your bit. I’m trying now to learn to do a pull-up, haven’t gotten near it but there’s variations all the way up, and it’s just getting your bit and working your way up. No machines, and you’re talking to people all the time.”

It’s hard not to look at the current slew of gym openings around the city and county as something of a bubble, if one is being entirely cynical. Time will tell how new facilities might fare in the long-term, and if the ongoing surge of casual interest in personal fitness becomes a permanent fixture in punters’ routines. O’Driscoll and Lunnon have put three years and a lot of very personal touches into Café Move, right down to portraits of their parents alongside various heroes of theirs in the changing facilities. There’s a vision at play here, and O’Driscoll’s mission statement speaks to this. “I’ve often thought of the movement centre, ‘Café Move’, a ‘movement café’, as being a social requirement, in city centres and all major suburbs, as maybe the new age community centre. We’re quite aware that sedentary living, fast food and high technology has us not moving a whole lot, and quite highly stressed. It’s nothing new to say that movement is a requirement, socialising is a requirement. So how I see it in the future is almost like a household name, in a sense: ‘I’m off to Café Move’, or however you want to refer to it, the movement centre, because it is a requirement. They may not be ‘sports’ people, but they do need to move, do need to be around other people, and I see the place like you would, in a day, go to the pub, you go to Café Move. I’d like for it to be a household name for taking care of yourself.”

‘Coffee and Handstands’ happens every Saturday morning from 9am to midday at Café Move, Unit 3, Doughcloyne Industrial Estate, Sarsfield Road, Wilton. For more information, check their social media pages.

Cork Youth Orchestra: “We’re Standard-Driven”

Having celebrated its sixtieth anniversary last year, Cork Youth Orchestra is getting ready to take to one of the biggest stages this country has to offer, as ensembles of young musicians nationwide converge on Dublin’s National Concert Hall next month. Ahead of their big performance, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with director Tomás McCarthy.

For over sixty years, young musicians from schools all over the county have come together for their first experiences with large-ensemble performance with Cork Youth Orchestra (CYO), rehearsing currently at the CBS school in Deerpark. Debuting in 1958 at UCC’s Aula Maxima for an audience including the then-Lord Mayor and Mayoress, CYO has subsequently fine-honed its reputation for developing members’ talents and its legacy among the city’s artistic institutions. Down through the generations, the ensemble has performed at every major venue in the city, taken excursions around Europe, and performed at the openings of major national cultural events, cementing its place in the fabric of the city’s educational and artistic life. CYO’s musical director and conductor Tomás McCarthy summarises a busy year. “We have an ongoing programme, all leading toward a concert tour of Italy in 2020. We’ve just come out of our sixtieth anniversary, with concerts in City Hall, Killarney and Kenmare. Over six concerts, we played to nearly five thousand people. We had five sold-out concerts in City Hall. In April, we had four orchestras performing, and one of them had 120 members, who had been in the orchestra at any time between 1958 and now, including two people that had played sixty years ago. In preparing for the concert, we had two of the principle performers from Phantom of the Opera, and they were phenomenal to work with.”

Under McCarthy’s tuition, the ensemble continues to go from strength to strength, and a two-year path to a major performance series in 2020 begins with next month’s gathering of youth orchestras at Dublin’s National Concert Hall, under the auspices of the Irish Association of Youth Orchestras (IAYO), itself based in Cork city centre. As another year begins, McCarthy’s twenty-first as musical director and conductor, he brings us into the nitty-gritty of preparing for a performance on such a large scale. “The National Concert Hall comes part of our journey toward Italy in July 2020. We’ve been working all year ‘round on the concerts we’ve performed, and in amongst all of those are the rehearsals. We also have to rehearse for this concert in four weeks’ time, which is a much different programme. We would be the largest orchestra taking part, and at that, we’re the largest youth orchestra in Ireland at present, with 131 members on-stage. There’s a huge logistical support team involved, it takes fourteen people to run this, and it can’t be done without their involvement or input. A managerial team, libraries, roadies, transport… the National Concert Hall is a great opportunity for our members, who have never and may never again have the chance, that’s the primary reason for doing this. To play there is a good experience for all players, and we’re delighted to be able.”

The background of the ensemble’s membership is varied, taking in a wide range of young ages, and attracting applications for positions from around the county, such is the standard of musicianship that the ensemble has displayed in recent years, and its subsequent reputation for polishing and enhancing musical talent. Maintaining this state of affairs is a priority for McCarthy. “Of the 131 members, we would be approaching most communities in Cork county and city. The majority of our members and performers would come from the county. We have people in from East, West and North Cork… Kinsale, Midleton, Carrigaline, they come from everywhere, really. So, without specifying schools, most of the city schools would be represented. We’re Cork, the greater Cork area. We’ve taken sixty years to establish our identity, and we’re quite proud of that. We’ve established a reputation as the primary orchestra in the South of the country, we would be highly-regarded, and people are aware of our audition process every Spring. We’re standard-driven. It can be quite difficult to get in at this point, because the standard of tuition has risen dramatically in the past few years. It’s a wonderful thing to see, and we’re one of the beneficiaries of this.”

While the CYO requires time, effort and a good amount of dedication over one’s time in the group, it offers young people something a little bit more than average by way of an introduction to professional musical experience and a set of events to attend. Generations of families in Cork have come through the Orchestra’s ranks and picked up social and teamwork skills that complement their innate musical abilities, and members find those skills easily transferable in other environments. “I had three of my own children go through the orchestra. My youngest has just left, she’s eighteen now. It involves getting ready to go from around six o’clock, and getting home at ten o’clock on a Saturday. You have this teenage outlet, from September through to May. For any young person to have somewhere to go to meet such a large group of friends, and they become friends for life, it’s a great attraction. For some the music might even be secondary, but it all mixes to become a powerful energy. People always comment on that, this togetherness. They don’t have to work hard to make this happen: they’re talented, and they’re team players. It’s a magic you won’t get with an adult group.”

Over the course of twenty-one years, McCarthy has seen a great amount of young people become alumni and continue their musical training through third-level education, further orchestral experience and their own solo adventures in other genres and formats. Narrowing noteworthy examples of same down to a few favourites, then, is understandably difficult. “The list is so long. Speaking from my own family, my brother Declan has gone on to play with the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra. Another brother, Mícheál, has gone on to be highly-regarded on the Australian music scene. Not to name names, one of our former members, Muirgen O’Mahony, has qualified in London as a singer, and on New Year’s Eve, performed live with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, so that’s an accolade for her. We did a survey a few years back, and 27% of our members continue into the profession.”

This year’s IAYO excursion, entitled Young Musicians Centrestage, will feature, alongside the Cork contingent, orchestras from Galway, Meath, Dublin, Louth and Limerick. It’s a unique annual opportunity for audiences to see more than four-hundred young musicians from around Ireland, performing classical works and new arrangements. McCarthy has put together a special programme of performance for the occasion, and discusses what goes into selecting pieces for the ensemble and the stage on which they’re performing. “We’re going to be performing a piece called ‘Danzen #2’, by Arturo Marquez, and we’ll perform a Festive Overture by Shostakovich, as a sample of what we’re doing: good, strong, classical work.” As the year’s preparations for the 2020 performance in Italy continue, and the ensemble enters its seventh decade, there’s a lot for McCarthy to consider as he collects his thoughts heading into the NCH performance. “I’ve always loved performing there, and I’m delighted to be able to accomodate the members, give them the opportunity. I’ve played there as a teenager, and to come back there as a conductor several times over the years, it’s a fine experience. It’s about the young people, their experience, and their families, seeing their children onstage, the pride they get from that.”

The Cork Youth Orchestra perform at the National Concert Hall in Dublin as part of Youth Orchestras Centrestage on Saturday February 9th, with performances beginning at 3pm and 8pm. Tickets priced from €7.50 to €15.00 are on sale from the National Concert Hall box office or online from http://www.nch.ie. See http://www.iayo.ie for more details.