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New era blowing for Cnoc na Gaoithe

A BUILDING with a 130-year history in Tulla has been transformed over the past three years from a shell to a community asset. It preserves not only the building’s heritage but also the music and history of the locality. 

Musician Laura Donnell of the Cnoc na Gaoithe Session group, playing in the Cnoc na Gaoithe Cultural Centre at Tulla. Photograph by John KellyNow the Cnoc na Gaoithe Comhaltas Cultural Centre, the building was first opened in 1883 as a Sisters of Mercy convent. In the late nineties, it was vacated and fell into disrepair.

In 2010 the Sisters of Mercy handed the building over to Comhaltas for the development of a cultural centre. Since then, the local development group, headed by Tulla woman Breda McNamara, has successfully completed two phases of renovation and are delighted to announce the centre is now open to the public.

The first phase developed the archive and annexed rooms, while the second phase provided for a dance hall facility and the refurbishment of the oratory, offering a concert venue that can cater for an audience of up to 40 people.

The centre employs two Tús staff, one of whom will be working on digitising the extensive catalogue of musicians and music of East Clare going back 100 years.

Already, visitors are dropping into the centre to access the archives, view the extensive photographic collections and to visit the museum.

Although the centre is open to the public from 10.30am to 2pm, music classes will begin in the coming weeks and the opening hours are set to extend to 9pm and beyond as the use of the building increases.  
Breda McNamara noted, “We wanted to develop the centre for traditional arts, as we are in an area where there is a huge history of traditional music, dance and folklore”.

“We now have an archive room, where we are in the process of uploading content chronicling music from East Clare back a 100 years. We also have a photographic collection of musicians going back to the early 1950s and a historical social photographic collection going back to the 1900s. We also have a collection of artefacts from the 1800s to the 1900s, which includes household items, lamps, farming implements, woodturning equipment and the Carrahan Flag oil painting.”

She said there are two very particular connections to the building with two residents of the townland of Glendree.

“Fr James Bowles of Glendree invited the Sisters of Mercy to open a convent in his parish in Tulla in 1883 and it was another Glendree man, who would be a close neighbour of Fr Bowles’ homestead, that has been instrumental in its redevelopment,” she said.

Tim Moloney of Glendree has a significant involvement in the centre, providing artefacts for the museum from his own personal collection and sourcing and framing much of the photographs that don the walls of the centre.

His work is evident in the wall of fame-style gallery which features all past and present musicians that have special connections with East Clare.

In addition, he has found a home for his treasured collection of historical artefacts, which offer insight into what home life was like in the age before electricity.

In addition to this collection, the museum features a series of photographs of the changing streetscape of Tulla, capturing significant events and buildings. Other photographs of interest feature local primary schools dating back to 1910 and village life back to 1901.

The redeveloped centre retains features of the former convent, nowhere more so than in the oratory, which is dedicated to the Sisters of Mercy who donated the building to Tulla Comhaltas. Here original art work dating back to 1883 remains. Great efforts were made to locate the original Italian stained glass windows that were removed in 1998 for repair works and these have made their way back to their original frames.

Another feature in this room is a large reproduction of a painting that hung on the church wall in Tulla. The painting has an interesting story, Ms McNamara notes.

“Fr Patrick Sheedy, the local parish priest in Tulla, was sick during the Famine and he was sent to Rome to recuperate. He subsequently came home with the Crucifixion painting in 1856,” she said.

The painting hung in Tulla until 1970 when it was taken down. The painting was sourced and is awaiting restoration but Comhaltas in Tulla was able to reproduce a digitised copy, will will hang in the oratory until the original is restored.

Cnoc na Gaoithe has become the 17th Comhaltas Cultural Centre in Ireland joining the Brú Ború Centre in Cashel and the Colman Centre in Sligo. Phase three has yet to come on stream but the local committee is pursuing this development in the background. The last phase will involve the redevelopment of the upstairs of the former convent into accommodation for visiting musicians and tutors.

Going forward, Ms McNamara said the centre will provide a multitude of possibilities for the community in addition to its use as a recital hall, museum and archive.

“There are four rooms available for use, one with a stage which can seat 40 people, one with a piano suitable for classes/meetings/entertaining and performances and two other rooms for smaller meetings. Kitchen facilities are available if a cup of tea or refreshments are required,” she said.

Classes are already running at the centre in a variety of instruments, including accordion, tin whistle, guitar, fiddle, traditional and folk singing and sean nós dancing since last year.

Further classes will start from September 9 featuring set dancing for children with Helen Hehir on Thursday evenings at 7pm; banjo with Kieran Hehir on Friday evenings at 6.30pm and group tin whistle classes for beginners/intermediate.

Monday classes will be held in Gaeilge for primary school children aged 10 to 12 years from 4.30pm; guitar, folk/contemporary singing at 5.30pm and sean nós dancing with Suzanne Leahy at 7pm for the juniors and 8pm for adults.

On Tuesdays traditional singing and fiddle classes take place at 5pm. On Wednesdays accordion classes are held at 4.30pm; yoga with Ruth Ganley is at 7pm and a new group class offering tin whistle for beginners will be held at 6.30pm.

On Thursdays set dancing for children from five upwards will be held at 7pm and there will also be a Ciorcail Cainte for adults at 8pm.

On Fridays, tin whistle group classes and individual whistle/flute classes will be held with Brian O’Loughlin at 6pm, while banjo classes will begin with Kieran Hehir at 6.30pm.

Classes must be booked and all enquiries regarding can be made to 087 8350996 or 087 1715760.
Booking of rooms can be made by phoning Mary on 065 6835918; voice messages will be responded to promptly or by calling into the centre.

Cnoc na Gaoithe can be contacted on 065 6835918, e-mail  cnocnagaoithe@gmail.com, webiste www.cnocnagaoithe.ie or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/cnoc.gaoithe.

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