Home » Arts & Culture » Craic and creativity combine in meeting of North Clare minds
Simon O'Reilly, Paul Coote and Donal Minihane, organisers of the Hedge School which takes place in Hotel Doolin from 27th to 29th January. Photograph by John Kelly

Craic and creativity combine in meeting of North Clare minds

SIMON O’Reilly came to Clare to work for a week, after spending much of his early life in Australia and Holland. Twenty-three years later, the musician, composer and producer is still here. 

He has certainly been busy during those two decades developing his music studio between Lahinch and Doolin and working with artists including Luka Bloom, Susan O’Neill, the ConTempo Quartet, the Monks of Glenstal, Davy Spillane and Kila.

A composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and music video maker, Simon has also found the time to showcase the musical energy of the West at festivals both local and international. 

Under the banner of Doolin Arts, a not-for-profit organisation which describes itself as a “flying column of creative souls” committed to supporting and defending the arts, Simon co-founded Hedge School.

The eclectic offering brings together creative artists and producers of all kinds in a series of workshops, performances and conversations that will take place from January 27 to 29 in Doolin. The festival is described as being for “anyone who feels the need to create, anyone who creates for that simple inherent joy, regardless of reward”. It is a not-for-profit and artist-run, with the aim of putting the artist front and centre and creating a rich and productive experience for those attending.

Simon had been running the Music Minds festival when he joined forces with Dónal Minihane who had been overseeing Doolin Writer’s Weekend. The two events and creative minds merged to produce the Hedge School, which is now in its second year and set to bring a burst of inspiration and energy to the final days of January. 

“The music and writing festivals have morphed into Hedge School,” Simon told The Champion. “We wanted to create something really progressive and collaborative for everyone interested in creativity. We realised that whether someone was in music or in writing, they were having the same experiences around creativity and the barriers to it.

“The idea of the Hedge School is that it will merge performances and workshops with musicians and writers and all kinds of other creative minds. It’s for everyone, from those who want to participate to those who would like to spectate and take a look at what’s going on in terms of the conversations and performances.”

The timing of Hedge School is another point of interest as most of the country continues to lean into its seasonal slow-down.

“Lots of people would have the impression that this is the worst time o the year, but I think creative people see an awful lot of possibility in the month of January. People in music are finally getting a break after being busy over Christmas and so many people are looking for inspiration and to get into new creative projects at this time of year. It’s also happing just before the new Bridget’s Day public holiday so it’s a really positive time.”

Traditionally, hedge schools would have offered people an opportunity to access learning that was off limits, “hidden and under current”, Simon adds and this year’s festival certainly has an eclectic programme.

It boasts more than 30 events across a wide variety of artistic disciplines including music, literature, film, visual arts and will include classes, workshops, artistic collaborations and intimate encounters.

The focus of the action is Hotel Doolin where every nook and cranny will reveal an item of interest, from a pop-up record shop, hosted by Rollercoaster Records to arts installations including one from Simon himself which is comprised of 50 vintage TV sets.

“It is quite left of field.” Simon admits, “We have a really eclectic programme and there are great bands, artists and writers at the heart of it with a focus on having great craic.”

Last year’s Hedge school which was held just as pandemic restrictions lifted was “a gamble” Simon acknowledges. “We ran on the first weekend after the restrictions ended and the festival was well attended and really busy because people were itching to get out again,” he says.

“Last year had the uncertainty of the restrictions hanging over the final preparations, so it’s great that we’re not having to handle those again this year.”

Preparation for Hedge School looks, to the outside eye, like an absolutely mammoth task. Events get underway on the Friday, January 27, from 2pm. They run from 9am until the small hours on the Saturday and Sunday.

The packed schedule includes artists like Dónal Dineen and Tara Howley and there will be workshops in ‘instant instruments’, ‘Magick’, printmaking, synthesiser building and even a ‘caoining’ or loss lamenting session. Alongside all of that are plays, readings, poetry, visual art, music and film workshops, a ‘pedal party’, a time-travelling dance party and more.

Among those flying the literary flag at this year’s Hedge School will be Scottish-born David Keenan, the critically-acclaimed author of several novels. Among them is For The Good Times, which won the Gordon Burn Prize 2019; and The Towers The Fields The Transmitters. David is also the co-designer, alongside the illustrator Sophy Hollington, of his own tarot deck, the Autonomic Tarot, published by Rough Trade Books.

Susan Tomaselli, whose Sunday event is ‘Sunday Mass and Brunch’ is founder and editor of the exciting ‘art-in-words’ gorse journal. She has written for numerous publications, including an introduction to a re-issue of Mervyn Walls Leaves For the Burning, and a contribution to the book Well Never Have Paris.

Her art writing has appeared in the catalogues In Context 4 – In Our Time, and Hairline Crack (for Niamh McCann, 2022). She was writer-in-residence at Maynooth University last year and is currently working on a novel-in-essays, entitled Trace. 

Underlining the eclectic nature of the Hedge School’s lineup, is the inclusion of creators and makers in the programme. These include Margaret OConnor, the acclaimed independent accessories designer, DJ and conceptual artist.

Margaret is best known for her work with millinery, Margaret recently launched her first accessories range in the National Gallery of Ireland.  Her creations have attracted the attention and been worn by a broad range of celebrities, ranging from Supermodel Kate Moss, Lady Gaga, Years and Years, Pink Floyd. She also produces hand-made eclectic couture designs and commercial millinery collections from her studio base in Dublin’s Temple Bar.

A firm favourite with readers and writers alike, Manchán Magan will discuss his vision for a ‘Saol Eile’ on Sunday at 6.30pm. A true Renaissance man, Magan is a writer and documentary-maker weaving rich tales of his travels in Africa, India and South America. He is the author of two novels.

He also presents the RTÉ podcast ‘The Almanac of Ireland’, and is author of the award-winning, best-selling Thirty-Two Words For Field, and Tree Dogs, Banshees Fingers and other Irish Words for Nature. His new book is Listen to the Land Speak.

With a total of around 38 artists, creators, innovators and communicators on the Hedge School’s two-and-a-half day programme, Simon admits that things can get “pretty hectic”. Scheduling and planning looks like a feat of organisational brilliance, but Simon is modest about the behind-the-scenes work required.

“To be honest, a lot of it happens more or less organically,” he says. “I was producing the Music Minds event for two years and Dónal was producing the Doolin Writer’s Weekend for a decade, so we are always meeting people who are interesting and creative.

“I work on lots of projects that are not so much commercial, but creative, collaborative projects. I’m connecting with and meeting with musicians all the time, so in terms of the schedule for the Hedge School, things come together organically.”

As the final touches are put to installations and facilities in Doolin, Simon extends a welcome to everyone with a curiosity for creativity. “The main message is that Hedge School is for everyone,” he says.

“It isn’t just for artists. It’s very much for those who want to go and see some amazing performances and have a coffee or a beer and join in the talks and discussions. There will be some fantastic events and live performances and this is for everybody.”

Hedge School runs from Friday, January 27 to Sunday, January 29. Full details are available at Hedge-school.ie. 

About Fiona McGarry

Check Also

Council begins review of Shannon Heritage sites

CLARE County Council this week signed a contract with Lambert Smith Hampton to undertake an …