Cuimhnigh ar Sarsfield – Students from Scoil Uí Ruairc (O’Rourke School of Irish Dance) rehearse at Thomond Park for their upcoming performance at the premiere of Cuimhnigh ar Sarsfield: The Wild Geese Suite.
Sarsfield’s Legacy Honoured as Music, Dance and Poetry Take Flight at King John’s Castle
This Sunday, July 11th, Limerick’s King John’s Castle will host the premiere of Cuimhnigh ar Sarsfield – The Wild Geese Suite, a newly composed suite of music and dance, especially commissioned by the Limerick Bastille Day Wild Geese Festival Committee to mark the 330th anniversary of the Flight of the Wild Geese. Described by Dr Loïc Guyon, French Honorary Consul, as ‘a poetic musical tribute to Patrick Sarsfield and the Wild Geese’, this new commission combines music, dance, history, and language to illuminate a key story in the history of the Treaty city and has been created collaboratively by composer Dr Francis Ward and lyricists Dr Mairead Ni Bhriain and Dr Orfhlaith Ní Bhriain.
A scholar of music education and ethnomusicology, Dr Francis Ward is a lecturer in the School of Arts Education and Movement at DCU Institute of Education and is an accomplished performer and composer of Irish traditional music and dance. He has performed worldwide as a piano player and dancer with a variety of internationally renowned productions including Riverdance. As a composer, Francis’ tunes have been recorded by traditional artists and particular recognition has been given to his compositions for Irish dance. In 2011, he was awarded the Marie Duffy Foundation Award for Excellence in Irish Dance Composition. Dr. Mairéad Ní Bhriain is a scholar of the French language, literature, and history as well as an avid writer of poetry in both Irish and French, and currently lectures at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick. She has also performed extensively both at home and abroad with shows and artists such as Riverdance, the Irish Harp Orchestra, Planxty O’ Rourke and Seán Keane. Dr Orfhlaith Ní Bhriain is an ethnochoreologist at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, University of Limerick. She regularly delivers workshops and seminars internationally and is a recognized expert in the Irish traditional music and dance world, featuring in many broadcasts and documentaries on radio and television as a cultural commentator. All three composing artists are also dancing teachers and choreographers with the renowned Scoil Uí Ruairc (the O’Rourke School of Irish Dance), which was founded in 1929 and has been active in the promotion of culture and the arts in Limerick and internationally for over ninety years now. In discussing Cuimhnigh ar Sarsfield, Orfhlaith notes how this collaborative project provided.
“a wonderful opportunity to bring together and combine our performance and academic profiles and skillsets to create a multi-layered legacy piece in honour of Patrick Sarsfield and The Flight of the Wild Geese.”
The 20-minute suite of music, dance, and poetic verse consists of five sections that represent different chapters of Sarsfield’s story, opening with a military-style dance-off that depicts Jacobite soldiers challenging Williamite forces. The remaining sections each begin with poetic verse recounting Sarsfield’s journey which is brought to life by four individual musical movements: 1) The March to Shannonside, 2) Sarsfield’s Ride, 3) The Siege of Limerick and 4) The Flight of the Wild Geese. These movements consist of spirited dance music contrasted with more poignant and reflective airs to represent the highs and lows of Sarsfield’s engagement with the Williamite forces, and are written for Irish traditional instruments (fiddle, button accordion, uilleann pipes) and string quartet. Thus, emotions such as disappointment, defiance, pride, anticipation, fear, despair, and resilience are explored through the musical representation and oral narration of key historical events such as The Battle of the Boyne, Sarsfield’s Ride, Ballyneety’s Walls, The Siege of Limerick, and the Flight of the Wild Geese.
Composer Francis Ward recalls key elements of the creative process and the coming together of the various elements of the suite:
“The composition process took place over a period of three months and used various texts and historical accounts of Sarsfield’s life to construct a timeline of events which led ultimately to the Flight of the Wild Geese. Key historical markers were explored with Orfhlaith and Mairead who wrote the accompanying lyrics, and we set off on our creative journeys to represent the actions, moods, and emotions of these events in the various art forms of music, dance and poetry. The composition was arranged for Irish traditional instruments, string quartet and percussion and represents a fusion of folk, classical and popular music styles.”
A studio recording is also in motion to capture and preserve the unique legacy piece. Rehearsals have been underway with Francis working with Arco String Quartet to fine tune the interpretation of the written score, whilst Irish traditional musicians Niamh Dunne (fiddle), Sean Óg Graham (button accordion), Paul Harrigan (uilleann pipes) and Dermot Sheedy (percussion) have been exploring the composition’s contemporary take on tradition. Mairéad and Orfhlaith have also been mapping the poetic verse onto the music for the recording and world champion Zoe Griffin have added some percussive dance. The live performance features a slightly different lineup including renowned fiddler player Tara Breen, button accordion extraordinaire Conor Moriarty and includes a live performance by a troupe of Irish dancers from Scoil Uí Ruairc.
In parallel to the music composition and recording process, Scoil Uí Ruairc dancers have been working hard with Mairéad, Orfhlaith and Francis on newly choreographed dance routines that form part of the suite. Indeed, it seems especially fitting that these talented dancers from across Limerick, Clare, and Tipperary – the tri-county route of Sarsfield’s ride! – should grace the stage for this exciting premiere. As highlighted by Mairéad:
“It has been a fantastic experience for the dancers, getting the opportunity to expand their performance repertoires and further their understanding of the relationship between music and dance while also learning about and gaining a sense of pride in their own local history. In a way, it was a perfect lockdown project, enabling us all to work together and keep the creative juices flowing.”
This unique performance – as part of Limerick’s first major cultural event since the outbreak of the pandemic – is an opportunity to reflect on the importance of the Arts which have been adversely affected during the various lockdowns. Performers and indeed all Irish people have shown strength and creativity throughout this pandemic and this work celebrates a resilience that has characterised the spirit of Limerick for generations.
The premiere performance of Cuimhnigh ar Sarsfield: The Wild Geese Suite will take place in King John’s Castle, Limerick at 2 pm on Sunday 11th July 2021 as part of ‘Remember Limerick!’, an official ceremony and commemoration of the 330th anniversary of the Flight of the Wild Geese. Unfortunately, the event is now sold out, but we look forward to other opportunities to hear this unique tribute to Sarsfield and Limerick city.
The full programme and ticket booking links can be found on the festival’s page on the Limerick.ie website HERE or on the festival’s social media accounts @LimerickWild.
For more stories about Limerick Bastille Day go HERE
— O'Briens Wines Limk (@obrienslimerick) July 9, 2021