Friday, 27 January 2017

The WRITE STUFF Kids Club

In January 2015 I took the plunge I've always dreamed of and set up my own business. Having been a full-time mother to three sons for 16 years I returned to full-time education in 2005. A BA degree and an MA degree in English/Irish literature followed. In 2010, having graduated with my MA I began tutoring a number of Leaving Cert students in English literature. I had a passion for all things Shakespeare and had found a profound love of Irish poetry and writings. These had always been there from sitting my own Leaving Certificate in 1988 but life took over, and my passion for such work was put on the back burner, so to speak. I never stopped reading or penning little pieces of poetry, ideas, dreams, but motherhood took precedence in 1991 and my life was filled with maternal love and dedication (the best mother I was not, but the best that I could be, I was).
By 1998 I was mother to three little boys and wife to one (not so little boy!!). I made the decision then to become a full-time mother (having worked as a secretary/book-keeper/childminder). And so my days were filled with cooking, cleaning, Mum's taxi driving (oh it was endless) but I wouldn't change one day of it. It was during these 16 years that I learned more about life, living, and loving than one could ever imagine. There were days I cried (oh I hated life), and there were days I laughed hard (I loved life). My life was real. It was far from perfect, but it was my life, and my boys were mine, and my husband was mine.
In the early noughties I knew it was time for more. I had always dreamed of studying English further, and in 2005  the opportunity presented itself. I returned to Ulster University and embarked on a part-time course in Irish Literature. It was then that I met my mentor in life, Dr Brigid Walsh O'Toole. Sadly Brigid passed away in 2011. But she left a legacy with me. A dream to be fulfilled. I had just finished my MA (with lots of help and support from Bid). The day she was buried I promised that I would make her proud. And I do believe that today I have. Bid (as I called Brigid) I don't doubt is very proud of all that I am currently doing.
In 2010 I began tutoring Leaving Cert students in English. I instilled in them my love of Shakespeare and helped them understand their literature course of study. This was geared at family and friends' children who were studying for the Leaving Cert. I also began penning some book reviews and a little cultural reviews for a London based Irish paper, The Irish World. I loved seeing my name in print. I wanted to see it more.
Then during 2014 I knew I wanted to take this a step further. I set about inquiring about setting up my own business and soon after my first inquiry I was on my way.
January 2015 saw the birth of The WRITE STUFF. Here I was penning music interviews with Irish Music Magazine and I was blogging at North West Culture Gal and Craic On Muff. I was also blogging with Mummy Pages and then with Ireland Today. I was tutoring Leaving Cert students all over Inishowen and was supporting students with their work at Ulster University. In May 2015 I realised that I would have very little work over the summer months. And so I came up with the idea of doing a Children's Creative Writing Summer Camp here in my local village of Muff. I set about advertising such and within two weeks the camp was filled. This camp evolved out of my needing to create some summer work for myself. After one day that week in July 2015, it was less about work, and more about supporting local children in their love of writing and reading. I found a niche I wasn't looking for, but one I fell in love with.
The week flew in and by Friday I knew that I had hit on something special. I had ten children asking me to continue with this group on a more regular basis. I agreed to think about this during that August and by September that year, The WRITE STUFF Kids Club was born.
We began a monthly workshop at Warrenview Manor in Muff and by that October we had also started in neighboring Buncrana. In January 2016 we set up in Derry and that summer we set up in Letterkenny. This wee club is continually growing.
To date there are groups in Muff, Buncrana, Derry, Letterkenny, Greencastle and it has even hosted workshops all over Co. Wexford.
As a Leaving Cert English tutor I discovered that 17 and 18 year olds had NO imagination. I could spend time encouraging them to understand Shakespeare, poetry, novels and other works of literature. And yet they were unable to start an essay question - "but how do we start the answer?" "I know the play but I just don't know how to express myself?" were the questions these teens were asking.
The kids club is all about encouraging children to delve into their imagination, believe in their own opinions and beliefs and go with what they really think. I found that I was encouraging Leaving Cert students to think like children - to delve into their imagination and express their own individual thoughts and opinions. I began to see the rewards very soon. I began to realise that what was missing was simply, 'imagination'.
The WRITE STUFF Kids Club focuses primarily on creative writing - expressing ideas in language and words. Creating stories and poems and analyzing stories and books. But in reality it focuses on so much more. Children aged 5+ are learning to express how they think as individuals and put it down on paper (in words and in pictures) and they are exceeding all expectations. They are learning to believe in themselves and they are building their self-esteem and self-confidence. They are believing in themselves.
Earlier today a young man (12) Colm, from The WRITE STUFF Kids Club accompanied me to a production of Hamlet. It was his first Shakespeare play. Tonight his mother told me that the same young man now wants to read ALL of Shakespeare's plays. I smile at the thought, and I also smile because I played a little part in his love of Shakespeare. This same boy will read all this work and more. And when he does his Leaving Cert I don't doubt that he will excel...in every subject...because he believes in himself.
A couple of years ago I watched an amazing Ted Talk. That of Sir Ken Robinson Creativity Ken Robinson and I base all my work now on this. As Albert Einstein once said 'Logic will take you from A to B: Imagination will take you everywhere.' I firmly believe that Imagination is paramount in our children's development and their future.
I can use my eldest son as testimony to this. Now aged 25 he works endlessly as an Agricultural Mechanic. Basically he fixes tractors (and other farm machinery for a living). This same boy excelled in school. He didn't like school, but he had an amazing imagination. Aged just 5 he spent endless hours in our tiny front garden (a small patch of grass with a flower bed and some shrubs) working his farm and fixing his tractors. Neither myself or his father have any farming background. And yet this boy worked his farm daily on this tiny patch of grass. Now his dream has become a reality. Now his imagination has fulfilled that dream.
I spend my days encouraging children to pursue their education, to aim high academically. But not every child is academic. But every child is capable of achieving their dream. Every child is capable of using their imagination and making it a reality. They just have to believe in themselves.
The WRITE STUFF Kids Club is helping children believe that they really do have a place in life. That they really do have a right to be heard. That they really do have their very own niche in the world. Imagination really does take them everywhere. They just have to believe it. I did. Do YOU?

GMcC

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Social Prescribing

It was just last week that I discovered another aspect to our local Health Care here in Donegal. Namely, Social Prescribing. And as ever I had to find out more.
Social Prescribing is about supporting the health and well-being of people by using community based activities and supports, such as exercise, art, reading, gardening, and many other such activities. There may also be opportunities to attend self-help sessions and stress control.
The local Social Prescribing Co-ordinator will talk to you about what activities interest you, the benefits of participating in them and will then assist and support you in attending these activities.
The programme is for you if you feel that you need some support to mind your health and well-being or if you feel isolated, stressed, anxious or depressed. Using resources within the community will help you to benefit from meeting other people or taking part in a new activity.
There is a book club in Buncrana set up by local Co-ordinator Carmel Gallagher. This allows for a social gathering and in turn is encouraging people to read and then discuss their reading material. Books are suggested in relation to a person's health and well-being which may help them in their current problems. Books are beneficial in so many ways.
I'm currently reading a book called, The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. This is telling the story of a 'literary apothecary' who possesses a rare gift for sensing which books will soothe the troubled soul of his customers. One of my favourite quotes from this novel and must surely be relevant to Social Prescribing is: There are books that are suitable for a million people, others for only a hundred. There are even remedies—I mean books—that were written for one person only…A book is both medic and medicine at once. It makes a diagnosis as well as offering therapy. Putting the right novels to the appropriate ailments: that’s how I sell books."
Social Prescribing will not only help support and mind your health and well-being, it will help shape your future. New friends, new hobbies and new interests are all waiting. 
This just has to be one of the best Health Services introduced in our area. Go out there and reap the benefits of it. 
Our local (Buncrana, Carndonagh areas) Social Prescribing Co-ordinator Carmel Gallagher can be contacted on 0860406950.  Moville Social Prescribing Co-ordinator Ann Doherty can be contacted on 0894318831. Check out the local Facebook page at Social Prescribing Inishowen. You really won't regret it. 


GMcC

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Flashdance is coming to Derry

Flashdance for the Forum
Mon 19th – Sat 24th March 2018

Tickets from £20.00 on sale Fri 27th Jan 2017


I really must admit that I'm just a tad excited about Flashdance coming to the city in March. Definitely worth planning a girlie night around.

Dance like you’ve never danced before! FLASHDANCE-THE MUSICAL tells the inspiring and unforgettable story of 18 year-old Alex, a welder by day and ‘flashdancer’ by night, who dreams of going to the prestigious Shipley Dance Academy and becoming a professional dancer.  When a romance complicates her ambitions, she harnesses it to drive her dream.

Based on the Paramount Pictures film (Screenplay by Tom Hedley and Joe Eszterhas, story by Tom Hedley) Flashdance is an inspiring musical about the power of holding onto your dreams and love against all the odds. 

Prepare to be blown away with an astonishing musical spectacle and phenomenal choreography to this iconic score including the smash hits ManiacManhuntGloriaI Love Rock & Roll and the sensational title track Flashdance - What a Feeling.

Produced by the award winning team at Selladoor Productions- producers of FootlooseAvenue Q and Little Shop of Horrors, and Runaway Entertainment - producers of LazarusIn the Heights and Guys and Dolls, FLASHDANCE-THE MUSICAL is not to be missed!

Flashdance performs at the Millennium Forum from Mon 19th to Sat 24th March 2018.  Tickets go on sale from the Box Office on Fri 27th Jan 2017 and are priced from £20.00.  Telephone 71 264455 or visit www.millenniumforum.co.uk for bookings.  Opening Night Offer:  all seats £20.00!

Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Byrne Brothers

In my capacity as 'freelance contributor' to Irish Music Magazine over the past four years I have been very fortunate to meet, greet, interview, and hear, some of the most outstanding traditional Irish musicians worldwide.
People often ask me who has been the most inspirational to date. There is never one answer. But I will always say that Hanz Araki and his partner Colleen Raney will always stand out, as they travelled all the way to my family village of Muff, here in Donegal, a few years ago to say 'hi' and have a Guinness with me in the village local, The Squealing Pig Muff. That was a special meeting having interviewed Hanz a few months prior for Irish Music Magazine. Two exceptionally talented musicians and two exceptionally lovely people. (visit soon folks please)
Every month I am so fortunate that I get to speak with at least one amazing traditional Irish musician, and each continually inspires me with their love, passion, and dedication to our national culture and music.
My most recent interview was with three young lads from Gods county in Ireland...Donegal. Aged just 12, 11 and 7 I really was in awe when I met the three boys with their parents at The Cottage Bar in Letterkenny.
I normally host Children's Creative Writing workshops on a Saturday with The WRITE STUFF Kids Club but last Saturday I was meeting these three kids. And what a meeting this proved to be.
I was travelling back to Donegal in August last year from a short holiday in Cork and Shannon (Co. Clare), when I realised that the Fleadh Cheoil was actually happening that week in Ennis. Unfortunately I didn't have time to stop off as work awaited. Boy was I disappointed.
Just a few days later I watched online the outstanding live video posted by The Byrne Brothers' mother, of her three boys and father (her husband Tommy). It totally blew me, the nation, and the world, away. The Byrne Brothers not only impressed me that day, but they took the world by storm. This was the most watched online video in Ireland for last year. And here was little me meeting these lads just last Saturday. I really was in the presence of some very special children.
The boys shot to fame after their appearance on The Late Late Toy Show 2015.

Luca, Finn and Dempsey are now being sought after worldwide to showcase their outstanding musical and dancing ability. The boys are music and dancing enthusiasts. Just being in their company showed me how important this tradition and culture is to them.
Finn was in awe when I told him I'd interviewed and met Cathal Hayden. Luca just couldn't let go of his treasured 'button accordion' and little Dempsey (7) talked non stop of his love of music and dance.
I asked the boys where their love of music comes from. They didn't hesitate in telling me that they were all inspired by their Grandfather and their Dad, Tommy.
Tommy Byrne is one of the founding members of the world renowned trad music scene in Temple Bar, Dublin. But Tommy's history goes further. He told me,  I'm an Irish Show director and composer. It's what I've been doing for years. My biggest show was Celtic Dance Force in New Zealand with 30 dancers and an 8 piece band and toured NZ with it. I've another show called Ceili in the Kitchen I do with the boys that includes getting the audience (tourists) up for a ceili dance or two. And Slice of Ireland Show I directed for 4 years in The Central Hotel Donegal. I'm also a music producer with my own studio and have done the music for a Sky Sports Golf program that went out all over the world (You Tube).


So it's no surprise that these three young men are so gifted. It's in their genes.
The boys play a variety of traditional Irish instruments: the button accordion, fiddle, mandolin, bodhrán, banjo and tin whistle. They dance, they sing and they make their own music. For three primary school children, they incorporate a world of culture and tradition in one little space.
And last Saturday they had very little space and yet they showed myself and the people of Letterkenny just what they can do. They played a few tunes in The Cottage Bar and brought the place to life on a Saturday afternoon amid the darts and football that was on the screen.
What impressed me most that day was how grounded and rooted the three boys are. Their mother Julie sees to that. She told me about their small rural school that the boys attend outside Donegal town and how their teacher and Principal ensure the boys get no special attention but ensure that their educational needs always come first. 
Dad Tommy plays with his three sons and emphasises that they "are continually teaching me". Julie told me that the kids "always put a twist to their music and it's all their own creation". 
Earlier last week The Byrne Brothers filmed their first video in Dublin which will go along with their debut CD, The Family Tree. Tommy showed me the said video and I was so very honoured to be the first person to see such. I was very touched by the tear in Dad Tommy's eye as I watched it. To say he and Julie are proud is such an understatement. These parents are very much parents first and foremost. I shed a tear on my drive home just thinking about it. 
The Byrne Brothers, and indeed The Byrne Family, are US bound very soon. They are playing in Florida for St. Patrick's Day and then New Jersey and New York following that. 
I asked the three kids where has been the most memorable place they have played to date - bearing in mind they have been on The Late Late Toy Show, they have played all over Ireland and beyond, they have played in the US - and yet in unison they told me, "Temple Bar in the bar Daddy played in, Goartys Temple Bar."  Roots are instilled in these young men and familial tradition is paramount. It was very special to hear them all speak at once saying such. 
Being a mother to three sons myself I asked the boys about girlfriends - all hugged Julie at once. Mother is the only girlfriend at present and somehow I don't see that changing any time soon. (Oh how I recall those days long ago!)
America beckons for The Byrne Family in just a few weeks time and yet when I asked about future gigs they were again in unison about a gig which is happening as I write this - a gig in their mothers home town where their great grandmother can travel to see them. America is very exciting for them, but for their family, home is paramount. Again I was teary. The mother instinct just never leaves!
As a huge rock fan I was very honoured to meet my idol, Bryan Adams, a few years ago....I've met and hung out with Sinead O'Connor...I've chatted with and interviewed The Four of Us...I've interviewed and had drinks with Eric Bell (Thin Lizzy)...I've interviewed Elanor McEvoy...Cathal Hayden...Altan...Na Mooneys...We Banjo Three...Coscán....Beoga...and so many more.....but next time someone asks me who has been the most inspirational musician I've met to date I won't hesitate in saying....3 kids from Donegal....namely, Luca, Finn and Dempsey Byrne. I've recently had my ultimate 'claim to fame' with three kids from Donegal...Luca, Finn and Dempsey are my true heroes to date. Watch this space...these guys, alongside their parents, really are set to take the world by storm.


GMcC 

Monday, 9 January 2017

Millennium Forum – Thurs 26th & Fri 27th Jan 2017

A sexy, bloody, fast-paced production.
A company of seasoned classical actors embrace the brutality of the greatest play ever written. A gripping, ensemble style brings exhilaration and violence to the unforgettable music and delicacy of the words.
Shakespeare for the Game of Thrones generation.
The King of Denmark is dead. Consumed with grief, Prince Hamlet avenges his father’s death with devastating consequences for his family and the Kingdom.

The spirit of a murdered king, the wrath of a vengeful son, and the turmoil of Denmark in 1601. Shakespeare’s most iconic and challenging play tells the tale of young Prince Hamlet fighting the new King who stole his throne.

Blending traditional and physical theater with a musical score, this muscular production brings vividly to life some of literature’s most vibrant language and characters in a way you’ve never seen before: bold, exciting, action-packed.
Hamlet performs at the Millennium Forum on Thurs 26th & Fri 27th January. Tickets are now available from the Box Office.   Telephone 71 264455 or visit www.millenniumforum.co.uk for bookings.

GMcC

Friday, 6 January 2017

Christmas story by Mollie McCauley

January 6th is a special day here in Ireland when we celebrate the women who worked so tirelessly during the holiday period. Nollaig na mBan - Little Christmas or the Feast of the Epiphany as it is more commonly known - marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas.
To celebrate Nollaig na mBan 2017 I am printing a wee Christmas story by Mollie McCauley from Drung, Inishowen, Co. Donegal which she wrote with The WRITE STUFF Kids Club just before Christmas. Mollie had the prompt, 'It was Christmas Eve'. The following is her story.

It was Christmas Eve night. Cassie-May went to Nannie Mary's to deliver the presents to her cousins. They had done Secret Santa one week ago. It was a tradition that they were allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve. So they opened these presents from their Secret Santa. Cassie-May had got perfume, a purse and a hair-clip. Her Secret Santa was Mia Kate. Cassie-May was Mia Kates Secret Santa. She got Mia Kate perfume, a hat and a handbag.
The boys also opened their presents. My cousin had recorded the Late Late Toy Show so we watched it on the TV. We enjoyed watching the TV so then went into the room.
We lay on top of the bed. Then the wardrobe opened and all the books fell out of the wardrobe. We thought there was an elf in the wardrobe. Then we heard Santa's bells ringing. Santa came into Nannies. We gave him some coke and biscuits. He gave us a present each and left.
We saw him in the sky when we were leaving. 'Merry Christmas' he shouted to us and he disappeared into the night sky.
By Mollie McCauley, aged 9

GMcC