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President Gives Rousing Speech At Opening Of Cloughjordan Amphitheatre

Thursday, 27 April 2017

ABOUT 350 people turned out for the opening of a new amphitheatre in Cloughjordan Ecovillage on Friday afternoon, during which they heard President Michael D Higgins give a rousing speech that greatly enthused the crowd.
The attendees enjoyed performances from local musicians Rigs and Jeels, Weave and Deirdre O'Leary and Aingeala De Burca.
Actor Patrick Bergin recited Ode to Thomas MacDonagh and there were a number of speeches including one from Peadar Kirby and another from Thomas MacDonagh's great granddaughter Michelle Drysdale.
The President opened the Community Amphitheatre on the eve of Earth Day. With seating capacity for 250 people, the amphitheatre is a new multi-purpose performance space designed to stage a diverse range of cultural events, from youth, amateur and professional drama to music concerts, educational talks, screenings and recitals.
The venue is built into a mound at the northern end of Ireland's first ecovillage and is sculpted from the Tipperary landscape using permaculture design principles. Its creators believe it will be a significant addition to the cultural and artistic infrastructure of the mid-West region.
The amphitheatre was built by Cloughjordan Arts CLG, established as a not-for-profit company in 2016, to promote Cloughjordan and the North Tipperary region as a creative and economic hub for the performing arts.
The stage incorporates a commemorative inscription in honour of Thomas MacDonagh, the Cloughjordan native who was one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation. Created by Cloughjordan-based artists, Liam Callaghan and Thomas Wollen, the inscription in horizontal ceramic tiles is taken from Francis Ledwidge's poem Lament for Thomas MacDonagh.
Funding for the project came from a 1916 Special Projects grant from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and Tipperary County Council, as well as local fundraising. The JVM Trench Trust, a philanthropic trust with a particular interest in the Cloughjordan area, has committed to supporting the project for the first three years of operation.
MC for the official opening was Peadar Kirby who spoke very well drawing our attention to Thomas MacDonagh's vision and how it correlates with President Higgins' vision and the vision of the people of Cloughjordan. He said the President's speeches are often excellent and inspiring, including a recent one which touched on the subjects of ethics, economics and ecology, which argued that many of us need a reconciliation with our better selves and a divorce from insatiable consumption and greed. The MC pointed out that the ecovillage is a very successful entity where the homes are built to the highest possible ecological standards, and where a great deal of positive work takes place. He praised Cloughjordan Arts CLG and Mick Canney and Davie Philip for all their very hard work and vision in bringing this amphitheatre to fruition. He also praised Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy for her strong support of the project.
Michelle Drysdale told the audience that her great grandfather was deeply attached to his homeplace and as a young boy spent many happy hours playing in the surrounding fields, woods and hills. This love found expression in his verse, in poems that included 'Knocknacree', 'Summer Joys', 'May day' and 'The Night Hunt.' She read out a few lines and reminded us of what a fine lyric poet MacDonagh was - 'I wish I were today on the hill behind the wood / My eyes on the brown bog there and the Shannon river / Behind the wood at home, a quickened solitude / When the winds from Slieve Bloom set the branches there a-quiver.'
 Michelle said her great grandfather was a teacher and he shared his deep love for the Cloughjordan region and Ireland's culture with the children he taught.
 She said the process of theatre performances is very positive on many levels. For example, it shows the value of a work ethic and of a united community. She said the creation of the Cloughjordan amphitheatre has been a magnificent community effort which will enrich the surrounding region for many years to come. She pointed out that one of the reasons we come to the theatre is to escape our real lives. Theatre and its performances is 'a safe place where we can dream. After the performance it provokes thought and discussion with our friends. I very much look forward to coming to this countryside haven and enjoying the performances in this amphitheatre.'
Actor Patrick Bergin, who lives locally, read Francis Ledwidge's famous poem 'Lament for Thomas MacDonagh'. Mr Bergin recalled a comment made to him by a relative many years ago, that there are three essential things in life - a roof over one's head; food on the table; and a flower in the vase. He said the flower in the vase symbolises the emotional, the heart, the spiritual.
Salters Sterling of the JVM Trench Trust said Patrick and Julia Trench would be very happy to see their money spent on this project. He said one of the things which brought Patrick and Julia considerable pleasure was attending live performances, especially musical performances. 
President Higgins pointed out that many inspiring things, many things of vision, have often been said but have never resulted in practical action. He said the Ecovillage (which now has 55 houses) was the dream of a number of people who gathered together in the Central Hotel in Dublin about 20 years ago, and that dream became a reality. The same could be said for the amphitheatre. 'The ecovillage stands as an impressive testimony to all that can be achieved.'
He remarked that the idealism in evidence in the ecovillage was echoed by the Co-operative Movement of many years ago, a movement which sadly lost impetus. The President recalled that Horace Plunkett established the Co-operative Movement but, tragically, his country house was one of 285 country houses which were burned down by the IRA in 1923.
'Our lives are short,' commented the President. 'We are migrants in time.' During our short period on the earth it behoves us to strive for positive things. The people of the Ecovillage were certainly doing that.
The President argued that one of the problems of our age is the restrictions being imposed on our thinking. The culture of groupthink, he contended, is killing independent thought. 
 Another problem is the rise of populist, nationalist parties in politics; and the rising threat of increased division between peoples with the increased possibilities of conflicts erupting.
Many people, he said, are caught up with ambition, greed, and narrowminded nationalism. They are foolish because life is short and they should be otherwise employed. 'In Cloughjordan today we see the things that truly matter, the things which give us peace and contentment. Here we have a strong sense of a supportive, decent community; we are surrounded by nature in its spring idyll; in the background is the happy sound of children playing; we have been entertained by wonderful music and beautiful words. These are the things which matter, these are the things which bring us happiness; not worldly things. Thomas MacDonagh implicitly understood that. He knew the importance of possessing an integrity of imagination, which transcends the boundaries of worldly restrictions, which transcends selfish individualism.'
He spoke of our vulnerabilities and how we respond to them. 
He recalled visiting the wonderful amphitheatre in Epidaurus Greece. 'It was dreadful hearing such negative things being said about the Greeks during their economic crisis a couple of years ago, because they are a magnificent people with a fabulous heritage whose ancestors gave the world so much.'
The President warned that everyone suffers when society is restricted by its prejudices. This was the thought which was the basis of movements such as feminism.
He returned again and again to the theme of our acquisitive, capitalist world and the psychic damage it can do to people whose conversations are reduced to things of the world such as how much others own. 'Many in society are suffering from this lost symmetry, they are paying a price for it. The acquisitive philosophy is very destructive of the person. It produces lesser people and lesser communities.' He wondered if, in some ways, we are no more free than the generations who came before us. He warned against forms of government or forms of thinking which tell us there is only one way of living or one way of thinking. He urged people to subvert reductionist forces, and to do this by applying visions, ideals, dreams to our lives; but applying them in an atmosphere of calm and understanding. Above all he urged everyone to fight for all that's best about human life, i.e. its sense of community and solidarity, its care for each other, its sense of contentment.

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