Capital Irish Film Festival hosts chair of WIFTV Ireland

The tenth Capital Irish Film Festival (CIFF), which will run from March 3-6 at various D.C. theaters, is proud to host Rachel Lysaght, an award-winning film and TV producer who is the chair of Women in Film & Television Ireland. Lysaght, who produced two of the films showing at the festival, will take questions after each film.

“Traders”, which shows Friday night, March 4, at 8 p.m. at the U.S. Navy Heritage Center, 701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, is a new thriller from Rachael Moriarty and Peter Murphy. It imagines a time of financial crisis when laid-off whiz kids invent a form of trading in which anonymously matched combatants liquidate their assets and fight to the death with the winner taking all.

Lysaght’s other production at the festival, “One Million Dubliners”, is already a classic in Ireland. It will show at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 6 at the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market. Beautifully directed by Aoife Kelleher, this documentary explores the largest inter-denominational cemetery in Ireland. The resting place of the 1.5 million Dubliners of the title, it is a fitting lens through which to view the history, culture and rituals of the island nation.

Representing Northern Ireland filmmakers will be Eileen Walsh, director of “Together in Pieces”, an inspirational short film about the changing landscape of her country and the graffiti revolution that is overcoming sectarianism. It will show in a Double Feature on Saturday night at “Live at 10th and G” at 5:30 p.m. Walsh is an award-winning broadcaster, producer and journalist and founder of Foxwall Films, based in Derry, which specializes in interactive content.

CIFF is presented by Solas Nua (which means “new light” in Irish), a D.C.-based non-profit dedicated to introducing U.S. audiences to the contemporary art and artists of Ireland. Many of the more than 30 features, documentaries and shorts selected to be shown at the festival are written, directed or produced by women. For a full guide to CIFF 2016, go to

Ireland's Year in Film by Adam McPartlan

This has been a year of unusual good fortune for one of the smallest countries on Earth. Ireland, long over-shadowed in the film industry by the United Kingdom, has had one of the best years of any country in the world. The sad thing about Ireland’s historic year is that it has gone almost entirely unnoticed by the media.  While this article may not rectify the snubbing given to Ireland since Jan. 15, 2015, last year’s Oscars announcement, I hope to shed light on why this has been one of the most wonderful years in Irish history.

Ireland has emerged as a dominant competitor in the film world. Walt Disney brought the world of hand-drawn animation to life in 1937 with his stunning Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Over 75 years later, in 2009, Tomm Moore burst onto the scene with an old, yet fresh, approach to animation: hand-drawn art over computer generated animation. Moore’s first film, The Secret of Kells, was met with great praise. Rotten Tomatoes’ consensus says that the film “hearkens back to animation’s golden age,” with some even calling it one of the best animated films of all time. Moore’s directorial debut received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature. It took Moore five years to finish and release his follow-up film, Song of the Sea. In 2014, he again received widespread critical acclaim. On Jan. 15, 2015, Tomm Moore received his second Oscar nomination for his second film. Moore is one of very few animation directors and producers to have received two Academy Award nominations for Best Animated Feature, in the company of Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, and Brad Bird.  Moore is also one of the only to be recognized by the Academy for his first two films.

The run Ireland has had in film did not stop at animation. Ireland proved in 2015 that she can produce live-action Oscar bait as well. Only U.S. filmmakers have more Oscar nominations than Ireland’s nine. German-Irish actor Michael Fassbender received a nomination for his eponymous role in Steve Jobs. Serena Armitage and Benjamin Cleary also received nominations in the Best Live Action Short category for Stutterer. Three films in particular stood out to the voters in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS): Viva, Room, and Brooklyn. Viva, produced by Ireland and directed by Paddy Breathnach, is the least recognized film of the three. The Spanish-language film, set in Cuba, was received with critical acclaim as one of the best foreign films of the year. These sentiments were reflected by AMPAS, as Viva was one of nine semi-finalists in the race for Best Foreign Film; sadly, it did not make the cut.

Brooklyn is the second best film Ireland had this year. Saoirse Ronan delivers one of the most heart-wrenching performances of the year.  She deftly plays the part of a young girl leaving behind both family and familiarity for the promise of a new and better life.  The key aspect of the film, however, is the story. My grandfather once said, “There is nothing more heart-wrenching than having to leave your home and know you will not go back.” To see these sentiments brought to life by such a script is phenomenal.

Room was not just the top Irish film; it was, by far, the best and most emotional film of the year. Brie Larson delivers a powerhouse performance.  Her portrayal as a mother held captive who shields her son from the painful truth makes this the best female performance of the year.  That said, Jacob Tremblay makes the film.  His performance as her son, Jack, has been met with more praise than an adult would know how to handle, never mind a five-year-old actor.  We can only hope that he will continue giving such great performances.

Now nominated for three Oscars (Picture, Actress, Adapted Screenplay), Brooklyn has been placed on 57 Top Ten Films Lists, with 11 of those listing Brooklyn as the best film of 2015.  With Room nominated for four Oscars (Picture, Director, Actress, Adapted Screenplay), this marks the first time that two Irish films have been nominated for multiple Oscars at the same ceremony. Larson, who just won a Golden Globe and a Critics’ Choice Award for her performance, is poised to be the first actress in an Irish film to win the Oscar for Best Actress.  Saoirse Ronan and Brie Larson will compete at the Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, too, for Best Actress, while Jacob Tremblay vies for Best Supporting Actor. 

This year has been one of phenomenal proportions for Ireland.  After the Oscar nominations were released, the director of Room, Lenny Abrahamson, appealed to the next Irish government to invest more funding in their film industry, saying that this year must be recognized.  The 2016 Sundance Film Festival is now underway, and the program features several Irish-made films.  The rest of 2016 can only offer more success for Ireland, as nine Irish artists compete for awards in six Oscar categories. 

"Room" Film Review by Adam McPartlan

Let me begin with a statement clarifying what this movie is: first, it is NOT The Room, widely considered the worst movie ever inflicted on humanity. This is a movie that has the best chance of any Irish film to win Best Picture at the Oscars this year. This is the most powerful film you will see all year, and certainly one of the two best films of 2015.

The movie stars Brie Larson as Joy Newsome, and Jacob Tremblay as Jake, her five year old son, a child of Joy’s rape. Joy makes the room in which she is held as good of a home as she can for her little boy. She has shielded him from the truth for years, telling him lies to protect his innocence. She takes on all of the emotional, psychological, and physical injuries of being trapped in a shed for years, trying her best not to let the emotional toll it takes on her interfere with how she teaches and raises her son. A few days after he turns five, Joy entrusts him with the truth, and pleads with him to help them escape. When the plan succeeds, Jake adjusts to the world he has never known faster than Joy re-acclimates to being home. In reality, Joy’s entrapment is not over; she has just traded the four walls of a small shed for the four walls of her home with ravenous paparazzi waiting outside. Again, it is Jake who saves her from her imprisonment, and brings her to safety.

Lenny Abrahamson’s direction is a thing of beauty. It is subtle, unimposing, and tender, much like Joy’s love and guidance of Jake during their time in the room. When watching this film, you will be enamored by the performances, but before I discuss that, I must implore you: do not lose sight of the technical subtleties. The cinematography is excellent; the film editing is spectacular; the score is emotional and tear-inducing; and most of all, the writing is, without a doubt, the most beautiful of the year.

With that reminder said, Brie Larson is my choice for Best Actress. Her nomination is a guarantee, but with a field that will likely include some combination of Saoirse Ronan, Emily Blunt, and previous Oscar-winners Cate Blanchett, Charlize Theron, and Jennifer Lawrence, her win is certainly not assured. Still, her performance is a thing of absolute beauty. Larson exudes a mother’s love wonderfully on screen. She perfectly embodies a 24 year old woman with a child of rape, and the struggle of protecting her child from the truth while keeping her own sanity. Tremblay, however, is going to be the Oscar casualty of the year. He won’t get a nomination, but I sincerely will pray that he does. He aptly depicts the child inside all of us that hopes the world is so much bigger than we think it is. More importantly, he is the perfect child. He listens to his mother, he listens to his mother, he listens to his mother. And then he saves his mother. The things this boy says and does on screen at his age make Haley Joel Osment’s performance in The Sixth Sense look like child’s play in comparison. Tremblay is the star of this film, and as much as I hope Larson wins, I hope even more to see him nominated. When you see this most wonderful film, see it with your mother. While you are watching it, the realization will hit you that if it were you and your mother in that position, she would have done for you everything Joy does for Jake. If you hold on to that feeling for the rest of your life, the movie has succeeded.

"Brooklyn" Film Review by Adam McPartlan

Awards season is in full-swing, and Saoirse Ronan, star of the Irish-film Brooklyn, is poised for her second Oscar nomination at the ripe old age of 21 (previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress in Atonement).

Brooklyn is a love story that is so much more than that. This is a story based on the life of a fictional Irish immigrant, Eilis (Ronan), who leaves everything behind in Ireland in the hopes that she will find a better life in America. The movie itself is heartbreaking in its extremely accurate portrait of life as a young immigrant. Eilis finds the transition difficult at first: from a vomit-inducing boat ride across the Atlantic, to her new life in a boarding house run by the kind but strict Madge Kehoe (Julie Walters). Eventually, she falls in love with an Italian plumber (insert Mario/Luigi jokes here), and although she still saves money to travel back, she forgets how much she misses her home across the ocean. Of course, the life of an immigrant in the 1950’s is never simple, and the life of an Irish immigrant is never just smiles and rainbows. Tragedy strikes hard, and Eilis is soon forced to choose between her new life in America and her old life in Ireland.

The technical aspects of the story are wonderful: costumes, production design, cinematography all contribute to make this film feel as Irish as St. Patrick’s Day. It is the story and score, however, that really makes the film Irish. The obvious emotional Irish music is used to its fullest extent in the film, making the audience feel just as torn, sad, and miserable as Eilis does at key points of the film. The sorrow in Irish films is always conveyed through the fiddle, but here, it feels more like deep depression. It won’t get a nomination for Best Score, but I certainly would vote for it. The key aspect of the film, however, is the story. “There is nothing more heart-wrenching than having to leave your home forever.” This is the mantra of my ancestors: my grandfather, his five brothers and sisters, my grandmother’s parents, and their siblings. To hear from them about what it was like to leave Ireland, knowing in their hearts that even though they said they would return that they would not, is devastating. To see it so accurately depicted on the screen is tragic. Imagine, then, what it must feel like to those who experienced it.

Thousands of Irish immigrants left the comfort, the familiarity of their nation and home to try and make it in America. One scene in particular will hit you like a punch to the stomach; it made me cry like a baby. It is the scene in which the inevitable question is answered: “What if you don’t make it on your own?” It is here that we see the shining star that is Saoirse Ronan. Her emotional performance breaks your heart slowly, mostly without her having to utter a word. She breaks slowly and steadily, and your heart breaks along with her until the end, leaving you feeling somewhere between absolute misery and complete happiness. This is what it felt like to be an Irish immigrant. Until today, Ireland’s finest actor had been Brendan Gleeson (Gangs of New York, Troy) and half of three-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot, There Will Be Blood, Lincoln). I say confidently that the finest is now Ronan, who was the youngest Irish actress to be nominated for an Oscar, and will be the youngest actress ever to have two Oscar nominations.

Irish songs of Yeats and Joyce by Fran O’Rourke

The songs of the people were very important for both Yeats and Joyce. For Yeats they were the distillation of the folk tradition, the channel through which the ancient Celtic spirit survived. One might even say that his approach to song was more theoretical. For Joyce they had a more vibrant function as part of everyday life. It is said that Yeats was tone deaf; what counted for him was the rhythm. Joyce had a fine tenor voice.

One of Joyce’s favourite songs was Yeats’ ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’, which the poet had modeled on an older folk song. Joyce sang it in concert and even made a gift of the poem to Nora Barnacle, the newly found love of his life, shortly after they first met. John Feeley and I will do a lesser known version of ‘Salley Gardens’ – possibly the air that Joyce sang.

Joyce’s interest in classical music, especially opera, is well documented; less well known are the very many allusions throughout his writings to songs from the Irish tradition. John Feeley and I try to show that Joyce was just as interested in the songs of the people; he was very democratic in all of his interests, particularly music and song. Joyce’s work is inconceivable without such songs as ‘Lass of Aughrim’, ‘Last Rose of Summer’, and ‘Croppy Boy’. These and other popular songs of the tradition are included in our programme. Also included are lesser known songs of significance such as ‘Who Goes With Fergus?’ and the forgotten air to which Joyce may have sung Yeats’ poem ‘Salley Gardens’. 

I’ve known John Feeley for about twenty years, but was familiar with his first recordings. I loved his very sensitive arrangements of Irish airs and was delighted when he agreed to accompany me for the Irish songs of Joyce. It is a real pleasure; our rehearsals are often private solo recitals! We are both from County Galway in the west of Ireland and have a lot in common besides music. 

We have just published the CD of a live recording of our concert in Monaco on St Patrick’s Day. This CD includes nine songs with a connection to James Joyce:  Cruiscín Lán, Éamonn a’Chnoic, Lass of Aughrim, Brian O’Linn, Last Rose of Summer, Croppy Boy, Rocky Road to Dublin, Down by the Salley Gardens, Slán le Máigh / A Long Farewell, and Siúil A Rún. There are also three instrumental pieces, including a recording on James Joyce’s own guitar that was restored in 2012.

In our concert for Solas Nua we will sing all of the songs that are on the CD, as well as a few that we’ve added, that have a joint Yeatsian and Joycean link. These include the Irish versions of ‘Twisting of the Rope’ and ‘Paisteen Fionn’. Both of these are referred to by both writers. We will perform ‘Who Goes with Fergus’, which Yeats included in the first version of Countess Cathleen; Joyce heard it on the stage and later sang it for his sick brother and dying mother. There is a poignant reference to it in Ulysses. We will do musical settings of some Yeats poems: Lake Isle of Inisfree, Had I the Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths and possibly one or two more.

Purchase tickets here.

The Strypes

Irish band The Strypes will visit D.C. on August 19th to play at the 9:30 Club. Sean T. Kane, who works in the music industry in New York, fills us in on the band.

Conversation around breakout Irish band The Strypes usually starts with an eyebrow-raising comment about the group members’ age. A quartet of hard driving rockers who cite names like Howlin’ Wolf and Dr. Feelgood as some of their biggest influences is one thing- but when that group’s elder statesman was born in 1995, people start to pay attention.


The same conversation usually pivots around the time someone pulls up a clip of the band’s smashing performance on The David Letterman Show this past March. In less than three minutes, it becomes quite clear what separates The Strypes from the boy bands that traditionally cater to the young ladies in their demographic: these guys can really rock.

The band formed in the small town of Cavan, Ireland in 2011, and after building some buzz playing gigs on the regional pub scene, The Strypes released their independent EP Young, Gifted, and Blue in April 2012. The project reached No. 1 on the iTunes Blues Chart, leading the band to attract interest from Elton John’s Rocket Music Management company, along with various record labels. Later that same year the band signed with Mercury Records and began polishing new material for their debut album, Snapshot.

Powered by singles such as “Blue Collar Jane” and “Hometown Girls”, the US release of Snapshot in January 2014 has raised The Strypes’ profile on this side of the Atlantic and the group has been touring steadily since.  They seem to have found their comfort zone at a unique crossroads between the vintage roots of their idols and the contemporary flair of their teenage counterparts.

If you’re interested in catching a live glimpse of Irish rock’s new wave (or are in need of scoring some cool points with your teenage daughter and son), the band will be performing at Washington DC’s 9:30 Club on Tuesday, August 19th.  $15.00, plus service charges, tickets are available now. Or you could download The Strypes’ debut album Snapshot.

10 Questions for Eoghan Neff

Extreme fiddler Eoghan Neff indulged in us by answering 5 silly questions and 5 sensible questions to help us get to know him a little better. You can make up your own mind about which is more informative.

Our campaign to fund Eoghan's D.C. visit recently ended. You can attend Eoghan's D.C. concert on December 13th 2014 at Bethesda's Writer's Center.

5 Silly questions for Eoghan Neff

1. What is your favorite color? Black, or any combination with black.
2. What was your first pet’s name? To answer that would be to breach my email security question.
3. Rashers or sausages? I always leave the crispiest end of a sausage for last.
4. What is your shoe size? An even 10, I believe (the size has worn off both inside and outside the sole I’m afraid).
5. Black pudding or white? Refer to question 1, I’m occupied right now re-tying my shoelaces.

5 Sensible questions for Eoghan Neff

1. Who is your musical icon? Tommy Peoples.
2. What inspires you? Art.
3. Who would you love to play with? Cecil Taylor.
4. What’s your favorite album? I have a significant CD collection, and favour the album I’m truly listening to at any particular moment. Last truthful listen was “Uninvisible" by Medeski, Martin & Wood.
5. Which is your favorite track from Week One? Week One was created as a whole. I hope all my future solo releases will be projects rather than compilations.

In case you missed it here's Eoghan's #FillTheFiddle video.

Introducing J.J. Rolfe

J.J. Rolfe, photo by Eoin McLoughlin.

J.J. Rolfe, photo by Eoin McLoughlin.

Our June 30th Irish Popcorn! screening features Hill Street, an excellent recent documentary that chronicles more than two decades of skate boarding in Ireland. We are so pleased that the film's director J.J. Rolfe is going to join us in person for a Q&A.

In today's blog post we'd like to give you a little background on Rolfe and the film.


Hill Street is J.J. Rolfe’s first foray into directing, but he’s certainly not new to the filmmaking game. This talented young cinematographer studied at The National Film School in Dun Laoighre and he’s worked on short dramas, tv comedy, music videos, ads, and documentaries. We highly recommend that you visit his website to watch some of his short films.

Hill Street documents the culture of stake boarding in Ireland from the 1980s to the present. Before the film J.J. was not really a skateboarder. He’s no stranger to boards or adventurous sports though, enjoying surfing and snowboarding. Recently he’s gotten more involved in skateboarding with the purchase of a cruiser board.

Clive Rowen , the "godfather of skateboarding in Ireland"

Clive Rowen, the "godfather of skateboarding in Ireland"

Rolfe originally planned just to shoot Hill Street, but his conversations with producer Dave Leahy gave him the passion and the confidence to direct the film. He told “The idea of telling the story of how something that can be regarded as very much counter culture and watching it grow to become mainstream was something I wanted to look at. I also wanted to make a film that would appeal to skaters while also being entertaining to a wider audience.”


Hill Street took about five years to make. It began as a self-financed project by Director Rolfe and producer Dave Leahy. They even created a short version of the film in 2012. It did well at the Jameson Dublin Film Festival and the Irish Film Board became involved with some modest financial support to expand the project. Rolfe and Leahy were lucky enough to get an interview with American skate boarding star Tony Hawk. J.J. told “I remember driving down to his offices about four hours south of Los Angeles, still not really believing that it was going to happen. The relief when we pulled away in the car, with the footage secured was an amazing feeling.”

Tony Hawk being interviewed for Hill Street.

Tony Hawk being interviewed for Hill Street.

Here at Solas Nua we’re particularly excited about the Hill Street sound track. It really adds  majesty, drama, and absolute coolness to the fabulous visuals of the film. Rolfe himself describes it as one of “the triumphs of the film.” He was able to feature the work of his college buddy Gareth Averill. Rolfe says: “its great when you get to include a friend on a project like this. There is already a shorthand of communication there, and going into the studio with Gareth is always loads of fun. I spent time playing on his synths while he did all the work. The intro track is a collaboration between me & him…”

J.J. Rolfe. Photo by Dave Sexton.

J.J. Rolfe. Photo by Dave Sexton.

We hope you can make it to our screening of Hill Street, June 30th, 7pm at Busboys and Poets. It’s a great opportunity to discover a side of Ireland that is rarely heard about outside the country. It’s also a chance to find out more about a really exciting sport that originated here in the U.S. We’re delighted that J.J. will be on hand to discuss his work with us.


Poetry Blast: Alan Gillis & Leontia Flynn

For our May Poetry Blast we are proud to present two poets from Northern Ireland.The Ulster Way by Alan Gillis and Airports by Leontia Flynn are read by D.C. actor Patrick Flannery.

Alan Gillis

 Alan Gillis was born in Belfast in 1973 and lives in Scotland where he is Lecturer in English at The University of Edinburgh and editor of Edinburgh Review.

His first collection, Somebody, Somewhere (2004) was short-listed for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award and won the Rupert and Eithne Strong Award for best first collection. Hawks and Doves (2007), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize. His latest collection Here Comes the Night was published in 2010.


The Ulster Way


This is not about burns or hedges.

There will be no gorse. You will not

Notice the ceaseless photosynthesis

Or the dead tree’s thousand fingers,

the trunk’s inhumanity writhing with texture,

as you will not be passing into farmland.

Nor will you be set upon by cattle,


ingleberried, haunching and haunting

with their eyes, their shocking opals,

graving you, hoovering and scooping you,

full of a whatness that sieves you through

the abbatoir hillscape, the runnel’s slabber

through darkgrass, sweating for the night

that will purple to a love-bitten bruise.


All this is in your head. If you walk,

Don’t walk away, in silence, under the stars’

Ice-fires of violence, to the water’s darkened strand.

For this is not about horizons, or their curving

limitations. This is not about the rhythm

Of a songline. There are other paths to follow.

Everything is about you. Now listen.

Leontia Flynn


Leontia Flynn was born in County Down and now lives in Belfast. She is the author of several full-length collections of poetry, including Profit and Loss (2011), Drives (2008), and These Days (2004), which won the Forward Prize (Best Poetry Collection of the Year) and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Award. She has also been awarded the Eric Gregory Award and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature.

Fran Brearton, writing in The Guardian described the poet as : "One of the most strikingly original and exciting poetic voices to have emerged from Northern Ireland since the extraordinary debut by Paul Muldoon 35 years ago."

Find out more about Leontia on her website.




Airports are their own peculiar weather.

Their lucid hallways ring like swimming pools.

From each sealed lounge, a pale nostalgic sky

burns up its gases over far-flung zones,

and the planes, like a child’s mobile, hang at random.


Like hospitals, they are their own dominion.

We have tried their dishes with plastic knives.

We have packed our bags ourselves, no one has tampered with them,

and as we pass through the eye of the charged needle,

our keys and wallets drop from us like stones.


But now we are passing quicker, colder, clearer,

From East to West un-policed, a gate of light

which lengthens like some animal proboscis

Or a hoop bowled along at speed beside the sun.

And when we return, the airports remain in us,

We rock, dry-eyed, and we are not at home.


David Monahan disscusses "On Leaving"

Irish photographer David Monahan visits D.C. during the week of April 21st (2014). You can find about his public talks here. Before he arrives we're delighted to introduce him on the Solas Nua Blog.

David's current project is called On Leaving. It began as a series of portraits called Leaving Dublin featuring emigrants the night before they left Ireland. At the moment David is following up on that work by traveling the world to photograph his sitters in their new homes, and taking pictures of the now empty locations of the original portraits.

David Monahan

Tell us about your work as a photographer?

I have worked as a photographer for about 17 years. Until about 5 years ago I worked mainly for cultural institutions like The National library of Ireland, The National Photographic Archive. This work ground to a halt in 2009 after an economic crash. Since then I have concentrated on personal projects.

What is “Leaving Dublin” and how did it come about?

Leaving Dublin is a series of 84 portraits of over 120 people who are about to emigrate from Ireland. It began when I decided to make a dramatic, heroic parting shot of my partner’s niece as she was about to emigrate. It occurred to me that a series of such shots would be a powerful symbol for our times. In the past we were too quick to let leavers slip from our collective thought (although we each held on to those dear to us). I suppose you could say as a nation we have always been in denial that emigration robs us of something. Now is the time to have a thoughtful conversation on leaving!

Leaving Dublin is now part of a bigger project called On Leaving.

How did you find participants for “Leaving Dublin”? Who got involved and why?

In February 2010 used my blog to invite people of all nationalities, who had decided to leave Ireland for economic reasons, to take part. I told them I wanted to make portraits that were “… monumental, to show those depicted in a true heroic spirit. For after all they are making a huge jump into the void of uncertainty and this needs to be commemorated…” From there I got my first 3 sitters. Generally people are known to me, a friend, or another sitter, some though responded to the work and contacted me to be included.

Why is emigration interesting to you?

My mother was one of five children and by the time she was seventeen all of her family had moved to England. She was left alone in Dublin, where she married my dad about 2 years later. Growing up there I had no family on my mothers side. This seemed normal to me, but I remember a sadness that my mother showed occasionally, especially around Christmas time. In the eighties things where very bad economically, so all of my own siblings left town. I was all of the nineties in Dublin without any of them.

My dear brother Ian came back to Dublin in 1999 and is still here. Around the time he returned things were changing in Ireland. Soon we arrived at a point where no one had to leave Ireland if they preferred to stay. My emotional response to this was a sense of happiness for the future.

When the crash came I was saddened to see all the progress being washed away, and things returning to the way they were were for hundreds of years. I realized what awaited families in the future. I knew all about the thwarting of family relationships caused by even the shortest of distances. I felt sorry for all of those who were yet to experience this loss. Then I realized that I myself had lost so much, but never even noticed. It was then I made up my mind to give a face to those about to depart, and to celebrate them as people not mere statistics.

When I began making this work I was sad, but I was encouraged by the attitude of my sitters and their wish to create a better reality for themselves. Some time into the process of making the work I became extremely angry, especially at the denial of this drain by our government and the branding of emigration as a lifestyle choice. My work taught me that emigration came about through a complex mix of desire, necessity and desperation. Today I occupy a place of resignation, acceptance of our situation, as it was in the past and as it will be in the future. We are a nation of travelers, that’s how it is. The world is a better place for the infusions provided by the Irish.

On Leaving is an ongoing project, could you tell us about the current phase?

Recently I have visited over 30 participants in their new cities, or I met with them when they returned to see family, or to settle once more at home. I’ve also been revisiting many of the original shot locations and photographed them depopulated, close to dawn. These new photographs will hang side by side with the original portraits.  

After I spend time with Solas Nua in Washington D.C. I will travel around the Americas to make more visitation shots for future exhibitions and a book.

On Leaving is part of a conversation about emigration and the effects of austerity on our communities. I hope the work will promote the serious critical debate the issues deserve.


You can find out more about David Monahan on his website. You can also keep up to date wit his photographic adventures on his blog. And you can even secure your copy of the On Leaving book through David's current crowd sourced funding campaign.

If you'd like to see the On Leaving exhibit in Washington D.C. consider donating to Solas Nua to help us make it happen! Visit our Support page for details.

Poetry Blast: Lani O'Hanlon

It's Cherry Blossom season here in D.C., so we are delighted to share Lani O'Hanlon's poem Cherry Blossoms. It's a touching, short work about growing older, memories, and happiness among the Cherry Blossom trees.

Lani O’ Hanlon is a writer, poet, dancer, movement therapist, co-creator and author of ‘Dancing the Rainbow' Mercier Press ’07.  With a family background in Theatre and Performance she has a lifetime's experience and training in the Creative Arts. She has worked as an Arts Facilitator/Director Internationally, as a Director/ Teacher/Trainer in Movement and Dance, and as a Creative Writing Facilitator with Co. Dublin VEC,  Co. Waterford Arts Office, and on the annual Molly Keane Writers' Retreat in Ardmore.

She is currently working on her debut poetry collection, and studying for an MA in Creative Writing with Lancaster University. Her poetry, short stories, life-writing and short fiction have been published, received and been short-listed for numerous awards including 'The William Allingham Award' and Galway’s 'Over the Edge New Writer of the Year’. She was awarded the Tyrone Guthrie Bursary in 2009, 2013, 2014; the Writer’s Mentoring Scheme with Grace Wells 2011-2012, by Co. Waterford Arts Office, and received an Artlinks Bursary in 2013. Her poetry has appeared most recently in 'Southword Literary Journal' and 'The Stinging Fly'.


Cherry Blossoms


Barefoot, I walk to the hen house,

Lift the door, reach

Into a sanctuary of straw,

Find the egg warm in the cup of my hand.


The new hen still cuckling,

I drop the egg into a pot of water,

butter toast, measure time.


Everything stops as I eat,

My stale thoughts and musty breath,


And I remember

Ellie Byrne and me

Looking up through cherry blossoms

At stars and the young night,


Our warm round bellies,

Before the eggs began to fall.


Lani O’Hanlon

Behind the Scenes of Stitching

In today's post composer Sarah O'Halloran takes us behind the scenes of her project Stitching. It's a music drama based on a play by Northern Irish playwright Colin Stanley Bell. As part of Sarah's residency at GWU there will be workshop performances of Stitching on April 4th and 5th. The shows are free and open to all.

Putting Stitching together has involved a lot of collaboration. The first collaboration was between me and Colin Bell, but once we had a script ready we began to work with others. In September 2013 I visited Colin in Edinburgh, where we hired local actors to record dialog for playback in the performances, and to take pictures and video. We worked with Jenny Hulse, Suzanne Dance, Liz Strange, and Tom Freeman.

We didn't have much time, and our budget was next to nothing, so we had to be quick and creative. We created a makeshift recording studio in the little hallway of Colin’s apartment, and tried not to fall over cables as we passed between the rooms.

Suzanne Dance and Colin Bell.

Suzanne Dance and Colin Bell.

For our mailman character Tom Colin borrowed a real Post Office uniform from a friend, and we took to the streets pretending to deliver mail. Suzanne Dance got some strange looks as she walked through busy streets in a nightgown, as the confused Nana.


Our work included a day trip to Dunbar, where the piece is set, to take pictures of Lana and Nana on the beach.

Colin Bell and Jenny Hulse

Colin Bell and Jenny Hulse

The gang on the way to Dunbar's beach.

The gang on the way to Dunbar's beach.

Suzanne Dance and Jenny Hulse joking around as Nana and Lana.

Suzanne Dance and Jenny Hulse joking around as Nana and Lana.

On our microscopic budget we could only afford four actors, so Colin and I had to step up and play Lana’s parents. Playing Lana’s mother, Hannah, involved walking into the freezing cold water at Dunbar’s beach. I was really glad to get piping hot fish and chips on the way home!


When I returned to Washington D.C. I began my residency at the GWU Music Department. This supported my work on Stitching. Creating the music for Stitching has been a fun challenge. It's allowed me to bring together my love of musicals, opera, and avant garde music theater. Stitching is about people facing a very real problem, age related memory loss, in a magical version of our world where memories are stored in the form of knitting, and lost memories are holes in the fabric, which might be reparable. I was attracted to the piece because it's emotionally rich and relatable, but it's also full of magic, whimsy, and humor. This allowed me to created a score with a lot of musical variety, and to create a piece that I believe is both artistically innovative and approachable.


My residency gave me a project budget to workshop the piece with faculty and student performers. Rehearsals are currently in full swing. Four faculty musicians and eight student performers are taking part. The workshop process is a wonderful opportunity for me.


Young composers rarely have the chance to try out material with an ensemble before presenting a final version. At a recent rehearsal I asked our musical director/pianist Neil Weston to play something differently. He mentioned that the first time he played exactly what I had written, I responded “Yes you did, and that’s how I knew my instruction was wrong.” You would not believe how rarely I have had the chance to both find out a weakness in my score and do something about it before the audience hears it!


If you're wondering what a workshop performance means in the case of Stitching. The performers will be well prepared, they will be wearing costumes, but they won't have memorized the material or be moving around the stage. The music that we will perform is a completed draft, but I plan to revisit it based on what I am learning from the rehearsal process, and the audience reaction. The images that will be projected during the performance are also subject to revision.


Creating projected images to accompany my music is a relatively new challenge for me. I've done it on a small scale in the past, but in Stitching it's a vital part of the storytelling. I'm using projected text to underscore sung text, contradict it, and to flesh out ideas that didn't fit in the libretto. I'm using the photos and video we shot in Scotland to give the performance life by taking us directly into Lana and Nana's world. I've also been animating the work of artist Nico Dodd, who recently joined the Stitching team. We met at a  networking lunch for D.C.’s Emerging Arts Leaders. I enlisted his help to create drawings related to the story of Lana and Nana, he’s taken a wonderfully whimsical approach to it.

Evil Agnes the Sea Witch

Evil Agnes the Sea Witch

Lana unravelling Nana's memories.

Lana unravelling Nana's memories.

I hope you can join us for the show. If you do, stick around and talk with us after. The audience is a vital part of the workshop process, we want to know what you think!

You can see a workshop performance of Stitching at GWU's Dorothy Betts Marvin Theater on April 4th and 5th at 7.30. 

Stitching is suited to audiences from about age 10 and up, if you'd like to bring your children with you we'll be happy to see them. The performance lasts about an hour.



Poetry Blast: Siobhán Campbell

“Acerbic, cool, controlled, Siobhan Campbell gives us poetry with attitude.”

We are delighted to present the work of Siobhán Campbell for our first ever Poetry Blast. Siobhán is from Dublin and she currently lives in Washington D.C. She tells us that critics have complimented her work by calling it 'bitter and twisted'. What do you think?

Siobhán Campbell is the author of five books of poetry from Seren Books and Blackstaff Press in the UK and Dufour Editions in the US. Siobhan was born in Dublin and spent several years in New York and San Francisco. She has won awards in the National, Troubadour, Mslexia and Wigtown International competitions.  She has broadcast her work on RTE and BBC  radio.

She lives in Washington DC with her husband and she has three children.

If you'd like to read some of Siobhán's poetry her 2010 collection Cross Talk is available from retailers including Amazon. Her earlier collection "The Permanent Wave" is also available.


Don’t bring haw into the house at night

Or in any month with a red fruit in season

Or when starlings bank against the light,

Don’t bring haw in. Don’t give me reason

To think you have hidden haw about you.

Tucked in secret, may its thorn thwart you.

Plucked in blossom, powdered by your thumb,

I will smell it for the hum of haw is long,

Its hold is low and lilting. I will know

You want me buried in the deep green field

Where god knows what is rotting.

These Women

“These men are no dreamers”

-MacDiarmaid, “The Wreck of the Swan”

These women are no dreamers.

They make happen the full wake,

the kettle hopping,  the oven warm.


They take death in hand

And force him to be civil.

In their lighting, the spitting candle calms

And the rosary settles out of irony.


These women are not kind

If you did not iron the sheets you borrowed,

If you bring batch instead of sliced,

What good is that for sandwiches?


These women bar all holds in the

screamed stall of the birthroom.

Instead they ask for the gummed grit

They found for themselves in that

most alone of coupled moments.

These women know how to mash potatoes

so that they charge despair

out of a teenager.


They have followed a father

and a small child on a combine harvester,

not to pick up the pieces of the boy’s arm


and bring them to his mother,

but because they felt the call of the back field

like something rotting in the feed shed

before chief rat jumps out.


These women will not pass through

The horse meadow, even on a summer night,

For there they have felt that the world might  let us go.


They’ve seen the consequence of that.

Ironing keeps it at bay

and doing what is right.

Poetry (is a) Blast!

Solas Nua featured eight poets in What’s the Story?, the book we co-published with The Stinging Fly for Irish Book Day. We are delighted by the positive reception the book has received from the public and the press. Ron Charles, fiction editor of The Washington Post, called the book ‘a pot of literary gold.Solas Nua's Paddy Meskell is here to announce a new literary initiative, a monthly Poetry Blast to showcase.

bus stop copy.jpg

When I think about poems, I think of dry stone walls in the west of Ireland. The stones are the words of the poem and the finished wall is the intricate pattern of lines and curves, sounds and silences, rhymes and rhythms that make up a great poem. As stones are the stuff of walls, so words are the stuff of poetry. And finding the right word and putting it in the right place next to the right word is the stuff of fine poetry.

We often call poets ‘wordsmiths’. To me, it conjures up a picture of a skilled person transforming words through the intense heat of labor, creativity and imagination into the magic and mystery that is a poem. Just like the blacksmith in my village in Castleconnell transformed metal into tools.

I love reading poems. I especially love reading them out loud.  Often, I feel that I am only skimming the surface of the poet’s intended meaning, but the sound of reading a good poem out loud is something to hold in the ear and roll around and savor.

Each month, we’ll produce a video to introduce a talented Irish poet, give some content for one of their poems, and then read it aloud. Sometimes the reading will be performed by the poet, sometimes by actors, or friends of Solas Nua. We invite you to engage with the poem and the poet by sharing your reactions and thoughts about the poem in the comments.

If you are an Irish poet and you’d like us to consider your work for the Solas Nua Poetry Blast you can reach us at



Irish Book Day Impressions

paddy solo.jpg

Solas Nua's Chairman Paddy Meskell spent Irish Book Day 2014 giving away copies of What's the Story? at his local Metro Stop, Columbia Heights. In today's blog he'll share some of the highlights of his day spent sharing Irish literature with wonderful people from all around the world who have made D.C. their home.

What a great privilege and joy it is to put a book into the hands of someone with the words “enjoy some lovely Irish stories and poems today”.

Paddy Meskell, Pat Reilly, Molly Brauer. Photo by Kate Flannery

Paddy Meskell, Pat Reilly, Molly Brauer. Photo by Kate Flannery

Pat and Molly and Chris and Kate and myself gave out about 1,800 copies of What’s The Story? today.  We wonder how many stories will “What’s The Story?” create as the book makes its way around the city and suburbs.

Little Nellie from Peru stuffed her copy of What’s The Story? into her cute pink school bag and asked: “Is this really my own book”?

Patricia from DC took one book and returned for six more because she is an English teacher in a local school and will use the book to teach her students.

Baba from Dakar in Senegal put his copy beside a bunch of the red roses he was selling. “What’s The Story with The Red Roses?” we laughed together.

Veronica from El Salvador took one book and then asked for a second because she said her husband needs to stop watching soccer and needs to start learning English.

Anton from Jamaica flashed a smile that melted all the snow around us and wondered why the Irish can’t run as well as they can write.

Sam a rapper from DC, is a cool, smooth lad who took out his buds long enough to take the book, flick through it and promise to write some rhythm for whatever his favorite poem in the book will be.

Diana from Singapore studied in Galway and squealed with delight when she saw that the poet Sarah Clancy is also from Galway.

I watched two lads with white hats on the Irving Street building site sit down for their lunch break. They had burgers and fries to eat and their recently acquired copy of What’s The Story? to read.

Well, That’s The Story from Columbia Heights today.

Dedicated, enthusiastic Solas Nua volunteers gave away thousands of books at metro locations today, so stories like these were repeated over and over and over. 

Thanks to Declan Meade at The Stinging Fly, to Dennis Houlihan of Solas Nua and to all our wonderful volunteers, supporters and financial contributors, who helped to make this magic happen.


Countdown to Irish Book Day

Dennis Houlihan, President of Solas Nua and producer of Irish Book Day counts down to the event and gives us some insight into the process of creating and distributing What's the Story?

Dennis Houlihan photo by Kate Flannery

Dennis Houlihan photo by Kate Flannery

A Pot of Literary Gold for D.C. Commuters on St. Patrick’s Day.  This is how Ron Charles, Deputy Editor of the Washington Post Book Section, described our What's the Story?  this morning in his blog. What a great way to start the final countdown for our 9th annual Irish Book Day

The tens of thousands of books we have given away over the years has sparked conversations across the city about Ireland past and present, about reading and writing, about arts old and new.  The books have deepened personal connections to Ireland, brought back memories of trips, and inspired dreams of traveling to Ireland.

Tomorrow (March 15th) we will gather at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library to put bookmarks in about 8,000 copies of What's the Story?  Then they go on to the Irish Book Day truck, and then to you. When you get your free copy on Monday, St. Patrick’s Day, whether it be on the street or from one of our storefront friends, tweet or post what you think on Facebook using #whatsthestory.  We really want to know what’s the story.

Dennis Houlihan presents   What's the Story   to Taoiseach Enda Kenney.

Dennis Houlihan presents What's the Story to Taoiseach Enda Kenney.

This is the first time we have published our own book.  We partnered with Declan Meade, editor of The Stinging Fly in Dublin, to develop a sampler of short stories and poetry.  It will fit in your pocket or bag so you can read it on the bus, on the Metro, at lunch or before you turn in at night.  By the time you finish What's the Story?  you will have met thirteen new Irish authors.

It doesn’t have to stop there, however.  Join us at the Solas Nua Book Club on April 14th, 7 pm, Teaism - Penn Quarter, where the book-of-the-month is What's the Story?  You join Solas Nua Book Club Facebook group too.

Special thanks to the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities for their generous support of Irish Book Day.

What's the Story, Declan Meade?

Declan Meade. Photo by John Minihan

Declan Meade. Photo by John Minihan

Irish Book Day 2014 is extra special because of our collaboration with Irish literary magazine The Stinging Fly to create the first original Irish Book Day publication. Declan Meade of The Stinging Fly gives us a little insight into the process of creating What's the Story?

Declan Meade is the founding editor and publisher of The Stinging Fly magazine. In 2005 he set up The Stinging Fly Press. He has edited two anthologies of short stories for the imprint: These Are Our Lives (2006) and Let’s Be Alone Together (2008). He teaches a module on the business of publishing at the American College Dublin as part of their MFA in Creative Writing.

Declan Meade and Kevin Barry. Photo by John Minihan.

Declan Meade and Kevin Barry. Photo by John Minihan.

Tell us a bit about The Stinging Fly?

The Stinging Fly is a literary magazine based in Dublin that publishes new writers and new writing. I set it up with a friend of mine back in the late 1990s. At the time I was trying to write short stories myself – and I was meeting a lot of writers who were just starting out and who complained of the fact it was really hard to get their work published. There weren’t many places publishing short stories, in particular. So my friend and I just thought that we’d give this a go. We put out a call for submissions and very quickly the stories and poems started coming in. There was enough good work to put together our first issue. I think the first issue was about 28 pages and we had five stories and about twenty poems. And the work is still coming in now sixteen years later.

How did you get involved with Irish Book Day?

I was lucky enough to have been invited to take part in the Solas Nua Writers Festival in 2011. I met Dennis Houlihan when I was in D.C. It was always the plan that we’d try to do something together again and Irish Book Day was really the perfect opportunity for us to collaborate.

I love the idea of getting a free book. I also love any opportunity to discover new writers. That’s what Irish Book Day offers – that’s what it is all about.

What were the criteria you had in mind when creating What’s the Story?

I wanted to bring together in one volume some really good stories and poems that we have published in our different books and in recent issues of the magazine. Generally in deciding whether to publish a piece of writing, I will rely first and foremost on my gut reaction as a reader. If I’ve enjoyed reading a poem or story – if it has excited me, or thrilled me, if it has made me laugh or made me cry – I want to share that experience with other people. Of course, not everyone will respond to the work in the same way as I have. I hope that some people will though. 

With What’s The Story? as well, I wanted to offer a range of styles and approaches to the story and the poem. It’s a showcase for these different writers and their different work. Taken all together, I hope it will offer readers some fresh and interesting perspectives on Ireland and on Irishness now.

Cover image. What's the Story?

Cover image. What's the Story?

Tell us about the stories and poems you chose?

We’ve published four single-author short story collections under The Stinging Fly imprint. There are stories from each of those books here. Kevin Barry is the writer readers are most likely to have heard of and read before. Since we published his first collection, he has gone on to get published in The New Yorker and in other US magazines and to win a number of prestigious international prizes. His books are now published in the US by Graywolf. ‘Atlantic City’ is the first story from Kevin’s first book – and I think it’s still one of his favorites. It’s a very funny story about a group of teenagers and then it switches and it becomes a very sad story. I still remember reading it for the first time and that is true of the other stories and the poems in What’s The Story? too.

As a rule I tend not to say much about the work that I publish. I prefer to stand back and to let the readers decide. I think all these stories and poems deserve to be read and to be read widely – that is why I chose them for the book. I’m delighted that Irish Book Day is providing the opportunity for this work to reach a whole new group of readers. Reaching more readers, new readers – that’s something that will always make writers and publishers happy.

Irish Book Day is March 17th. Solas Nua volunteers will be giving away free copies of What's the Story? at Metro Stations and other locations around Washington D.C. Check Facebook and Twitter for up-to-date details on the day. If you get a book share your thoughts with us on Social Media using #whatsthestory

Click to Support Irish Book Day!

A few yarns on Stitching

Solas Nua's music curator Sarah O'Halloran is a composer from Ireland and she is currently an Artist-in-Residence at GWU. In today's post & a few up-coming blog entries she's going to give us a peak behind the scenes of her GWU residency project Stitching. It's a dramatic piece with a text by Northern Irish playwright Colin Stanley Bell.

Sarah O'Halloran

Sarah O'Halloran

Here's Sarah O'Halloran:

Stitching tells the story of Lana and her Nana, who have lived together since Lana was about three. All they have is each other, and they share a life full of imaginative stories. These stories protect them from the harshness of life. Recently Nana hasn’t been doing very well, her memory is starting to fail, so Lana looks after her as best she can. She’s afraid to ask anyone for help because they don’t want to be separated, and besides, who would she ask? After finding Nana waiting at a bus stop in her nightdress, Tom, the local postman decides to get involved. He takes Lana on a journey through time and space, so that she can try to recover her Nana’s memories. Will she succeed?

Stitching is a radical re-interpretation of a play called Lana’s Nana written by Colin Stanley Bell in 2011. Colin is an award winning playwright from Northern Ireland, who was recently on attachment with both National Theatre of Scotland and the Traverse theatre. He's even worked with Solas Nua's old friends Tinderbox. Stitching is more than a version of Lana's Nana with a few songs thrown in. Together we created a new form and envisioned a new method of telling the story. Colin created a new text to accommodate the addition of music and multimedia.

Here’s Colin Stanley Bell on the origins of Lana’s Nana and Stitching:

Colin Bell

Colin Bell

The piece [Lana's Nana] was commissioned by East Lothian Council for their Youth Theatre and was inspired by the stories and recollections of the local area by the men and women attending Dunbar Day Centre on Scotland's East Coast. We shared tea and buns on Friday mornings and, after a short time, I was fortunate to hear a whole range of personal stories. Their ideas about family secrets and lost histories formed the backbone for the story. The piece was performed for the Dunbar Day centre by the Youth Theatre and although the story contained some controversial elements, the Dunbar residents were delighted. We had knitters throughout the East of Scotland who knitted and crocheted our set. The play was then selected for performance at The Youth Theatre Festival in Scotland.

I met Colin in 2011 when my sister, dramaturg Deirdre O’Halloran, chose his moving play  Pigeons for Siamsa Tíre’s New Voices Platform in our hometown Tralee. I loved the frankness of the play, and its emotional depth, so I was keen to find a way to work with Colin. After that we discussed collaborations online, and during one Skype chat we noticed that both of us were interested in things like magical realism, the sea, memory and secrets. He told me about Lana’s Nana and shared a script with me. I loved it. And we decided that an adaptation of it would be a good project for us. That's where our work began.

Thanks for your interest in Stitching. More soon.

You can see a workshop performance of Stitching at GWU's Dorothy Betts Marvin Theater on April 4th and 5th at 7.30.