Dialogue Through Tradition

Kerry County Council was the lead partner in an ‘arts in adult education’ project sponsored by the Socrates ll programme; ‘Grundtvig 2’ learning partnership, through Léargas.  The project theme and delivery came about following discussion at the Léargas seminar in Kinsale in 2004 where a number of countries interested in creative and cultural traditional arts learning came together.  The essence of the project was to provide adults the opportunity to learn about the traditional art forms of partner countries.  Learning took place during the host visits and during a number of workshops in between visits.

This project was born from a desire to learn about European Traditional Arts.  Each country has a wealth of creative tradition in music, song, dance and folk arts.  The focus was to understand these arts forms, learning about where they came from and what they say about people.  It was a way to understand cultural differences and similarities, to learn about each other, both people and place.  Arts education affords a learning opportunity that transcends language.  Barriers are broken down through music, dance, etc.  Adults of varying abilities and experience learnt from this experience.

The aims and objectives of the project were:

Experiencing different cultures.

Learning the traditional music, dance and folk-art of partner countries.

The two-part learning process involved facilitators; dancers and musicians who learnt from other countries creative traditions.  These facilitators shared this learning with the wider community in their home country.  The adult learning involved learning music, song, dance and folk art of each other countries.  The project commenced in September 2005.  All partner countries agreed a work schedule.  In Ireland, the emphasis was two fold.  Two specific areas of traditional arts education were focused on; on the one hand Siamsa Tíre, the National Folk Theatre of Ireland would be involved in the learning process by visiting the partner countries and thus be inspired by other traditional dance, music and singing styles.  Secondly, Siamsa Tíre worked with an identified adult learner group learning about traditional arts of partner countries.  The project allowed for development opportunities in arts education for adults as both groups came together to forge unprecedented links.  In Ireland, the O’Connell Centre, Caherciveen, South Kerry run by the Kerry Education Services as part of its adult education remit worked on the project. The project was exciting as it gave a learning opportunity that transcends language.  The adult learners had the opportunity to develop their creative abilities and cultural awareness through this ‘Dialogue through Tradition’.

The first international visit was hosted by the Czech Republic in Valašské Klobouky, the second part of the seminar was hosted in Tralee, County Kerry, and the third part of the seminar was held in Spata, Greece.  The final seminar was in Hódmezovásárhely in Hungary.  It is noteworthy that at each of the seminars, the hospitality greatly enhanced the programme of work.  The link between the people of a place and their traditional arts is one which communicates culture very well.  There were additional results; greater appreciation and awareness of our own traditional arts, their importance in our lives, what the traditional arts tell us about people, creatively and socially.  There is more awareness of the importance of the traditional arts as an integral part of celebration and of commemoration. Siamsa Tíre musicians, dancers and singers learnt new material and had new inspiration. There was great interest among the musicians and dancers in learning traditional music, song and dance of other countries and comparing the place of Irish Traditional Art culturally today with that of traditional arts of other countries.

The Arts Officer co-ordinated seminar schedules, arranged workshops, meetings and all host seminar details and travel seminar arrangements.  It was a successful project, mainly due to the commitment of all partners involved.


Background: International Art Program, funded through Leargas, Grundtvig 11 program.

Partners: Ireland, Czech Republic, Greece and later Hungary. Arts in Adult Education;Background:Kerry County Council was lead partner in an ‘arts in adult education’ project sponsored by Socrates ll programme ‘Grundtvig 2’ learning partnership, through Léargas. The project theme and delivery came about following discussion and debate at the Léargas seminar in Kinslale in 2004. At this seminar, Kerry County Council was represented by Arts Officer, Kate Kennelly, who met with Jarmila Stavinohóva of the Czech Republic, Voula (Paraskevi) Papakonstantinou of Greece, all were interested in the concept of a creative and cultural traditional arts learning process. The essence of the project was to provide adults the opportunity to learn about  traditional art forms of partner countries. This project was born from a desire to learn about European traditional arts, in a way that transcends language barriers. Each country has a wealth of creative tradition that is communicated via music, song, dance and folk arts such as craft and costumes. To understand these arts forms, to learn where they came from and what they say about us as people is a way to understand cultural differences and similarities. It was a way to learn about each other – both people and place.The aims and objectives of the project were clear, Arts education affords a learning opportunity that transcends language. Barriers are broken down through music and dance. Adults of varying abilities and experience took part.

It was a two-part learning process. Initially facilitators ( dancers, musicians, and folk artists) learnt about other countries creative traditions. Following this, these facilitators offered this learning to the adult learners. The adult learner participants varied from country to country.

The project learning process included:

Experiencing different cultures.

Learning the traditional music, dance and folk-art of partner countries.

Possibility of an end presentation of learning experience to share learning about other cultures through music, dance, song and folk art.

Evaluate effectiveness of project

The project commenced in September 2005, Kerry County Council  worked with Síamsa Tíre to deliver a number of art workshops where traditional arts such as traditional music, song, and dance will be learnt by the participating groups. The adult learners had opportunity to develop their creative abilities and cultural awareness through this ‘Dialogue through Tradition’. The first international visit was hosted by the Czech Republic in Valašské Klobouky from December 1st-December 4th . This was very successful and set a high standard.

Phase II: The second phase of this Art in Adult Education project was hosted in Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland. Three partner countries, Greece, Czech Republic and Ireland participated in the learning process where the creative traditional arts of Ireland were explored. Irish music, song and dance was the focus of the seminar which was facilitated by Musicians, Dancers and Singers from Síamsa Tíre, The National Folk Theatre of Ireland.

Seminar delivery: Participants from Greece and the Czech Republic flew to Ireland for Thursday May 25th . Community participants from Caherciveen and Dingle/ An Daingean also attended parts of the seminar. The seminar commenced with a reception in Tralee Library, officiated by the then Mayor of Kerry, Toireasa Ferris. The Czech and Greek delegates were greeted by the Irish partners, Kerry County Council and Síamsa Tíre as well as the Irish education groups; Kerry Education Services’ O’Connell Centre, Caherciveen and Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne, Dingle/ An Daingean. The seminar took off to a flying start with a performance of the traditional arts provided by Síamsa Tíre. The official reception was followed by an informal visit to ‘Sean Óg’s’ bar where a Traditional Irish Music Session was taking place. The delegates took this opportunity to sample the local beverages, with Guinness proving to be a favourite!

Friday started with a tour of Síamsa Tíre – the stage, rehearsal rooms, as well as a look at the costumes. The morning workshops in traditional Irish music and song were hosted in Síamsa Tíre, by the Musical Director, Tom Hannifin. Tom was accompanied by musicians Maura Walsh, Conor Moriarty. The musicians demonstrated on Traditional Irish Instruments such as the harp, flute, tin whistle, bohdran and accordion. Singing lessons were facilitated by Geraldine Hurley. The workshops were intensive and resulted in a good grasp of the music and song by all the participants. Three songs were taught to delegates, 1. Ding Dong Dederó, 2. Óró Bog Liom Í,3. Dilín Ó Deamhas. The delegates were also treated to a performance by ‘Sean Nós’ singer Sean Ahern.

The afternoon session centred on traditional dance – traditional figurative steps as well as a set. Dances learned included group dances; 1. North Kerry Set (part of) 2. Walls of Limerick, 3. Patsy Healy. The delegates learned a piece of a traditional Hornpipe. Initially the group found the steps quite difficult, but as the afternoon progressed many participants were executing the dance steps very well. There was consensus – from all those who truly are perfectionists –that they would have liked more workshop time to learn more dance.

After a successful first day of workshops the evening schedule was designed to show some of the scenery nearby. Participants were transported by bus to Killarney, After a flying visit to the gardens the seminar continued at Muckross Traditional Farms, here delegates had the opportunity to see what inspired many of the traditional Irish songs, tunes and dances. We were warmly greeted by Farm Manager, Toddy Doyle and the ‘Bean an Tí’ Mary, then treated to a butter making demonstration. Delegates inspected the livestock, Kerry Cows, Shire Horses, Irish Wolfhounds, hens and cats, this was followed by an excellent dinner at ‘Quill’s house’ in the Muckross Traditional Farms. Traditional Irish whiskey, soda bread, homemade butter (by the delegates!), homemade stew and apple crumble; accompanied by Irish Music from the Black Valley, uileann pipes and accordion playing musicians entertained the group during the meal.

Delegates returned to Tralee, gathering in the Imperial Hotel. The evening session started at 9.30p.m. with each country having a chance to perform their traditional dance, music and singing styles. This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and although the structure was less formal than the class sessions, the learning was as strong as workshop time. The evening was a true experience of all the partners’ countries traditional arts. This exchange of culture carried into the wee hours.

Saturday morning in Siamsa Tíre workshops commenced with a tin whistle lesson, initial attempts to master the tin whistle were somewhat hard on the heads…however the session did provide good learning and participants were presented tin whistles as a memento. All delegates learnt to play the tune ‘Dilín Ó Deamhas’.

Later in the morning the second singing session took place, and the results were utterly magic – the participants are extremely talented as well as enthusiastic, words cannot express the purity of sound that was made Saturday morning. The Greeks and Czechs, as well as the Caherciveen and Dingle group are all now fluent in ‘Dilín Ó Deamhas’ and . ‘Ding Dong Dederó’, ‘Óró Bog Liom Í’. Tom Hannifin and Geraldine Hurley are to be congratulated for their inspirational teaching. After lunch ‘the crack was mighty’ with all participants taking to the Stage in Síamsa Tíre to continue the dance workshops. Jonathan Kelliher, the Artistic Director and Anne O’Donnell, the Dance Master as well as the permanent dancers of the company put the group through their paces. The set dancing was a huge success and enjoyed by all. Some participants still found the figure steps difficult and many agreed that more time for the workshops would have been useful. The learning of traditional arts can take years; a three day programme facilitates a beginning.

Saturday lessons finished at 4.30, the session concluded with by a big thank you to all participants and organisers rather than a formal dinner, the delegates requested shopping time so it was agreed to meet back in the round gallery of Siamsa at 7.45pm. There a final reception was provided by Síamsa Tíre. All participants were invited to attend a sell out performance of ‘Tearman’ – the most recent Síamsa show which depicts the famine time in Ireland and focuses on its impact on dance. Many dance masters died of hunger taking their ancient steps with them never to be known again in this life….the show is powerful and contextualises the link between traditional arts and societal change. The delegates commented that the performance was indeed magical as well as extremely touching. Síamsa’s skill in taking the traditional arts to today’s audience, whilst remaining true to the strengths of traditional music song and dance was appreciated by the audience.

Overview: This phase of the project evolved to give more opportunities to share as well as learn and this was without question a positive way forward. We each had a chance to listen, observe, as well as to participate and ‘inhale’ traditional arts for the three days. The schedule was intensive but worth the results. The Caherciveen and Dingle learners had a chance to display some of their Czech learning by joining in the Czech dance as well as some tunes and congratulations to all the adult learners for their achievements. Arts in adult education are an important way of communicating and broadening our skills, culture, and potential to develop. This project has also fostered an insight and sensitivity to other cultures by learning about the traditional arts and their meaning in peoples lives and to a country’s image of itself.

Review: Taking a step back in time – a number of weeks ago from January through to March the Caherciveen and Dingle learners had facilitated traditional Czech music, singing and dance sessions from tutors Tom Hannifin, Michelle Griffin and Jackie O ‘Mahoney. The tutors were great! They passed on what they had learnt in the Czech Republic to the adult learner groups. The learning achieved is testament to the importance of this project. Many of the rhythms of the music of Ireland and the Czech Republic, the steps of the dance bear similarities, yet their performance/ delivery is quite different – why is this? Is it the landscape, the history and heritage that have shaped the traditional arts and how people express them? Feedback from Participants: The participants involved in the project agreed that the Irish visit delivered arts in adult learning, this was evidenced by the act that all the participants were able to dance and sing the songs on the final workshop.Some comments as follows:‘Both the schedule and the pace of it, together with the friendly informal environment and knowledgeable, engaging style of the tutors made the learning process enjoyable and effective’‘The visitors took home a little piece of Ireland that they are never going to forget’‘An interesting set of activities and exposed me to unknown (to me) aspects of traditional Irish music and dance (Irish participant)’‘With the class structure in Siamsa Tíre, the teaching of music, song and dance was clear and concise’‘It was delivered very simply with a hands on approach making each participant feeling really involved throughout’

92% of the participants who responded to the questionnaire involved felt that the workshop format and delivery was effective:

‘The pace was slow and repeated enough to allow total beginners to learn’

‘A unique way to learn new things and to get to know fellow participants in a very fulfilling way’

‘We could not have asked for a better venue. The professionalism of the teachers was above and beyond, everyone was included and all the barriers were transcended’

‘The workshops were paced with about the right amount of learning content’

‘The workshops were informal and enjoyable for all. They were conducted in a relaxed manner with a definite focus on learning as much as possible in a small time frame.’

Suggested improvements that could be made for future traditional arts workshops:

‘More visual displays to overcome language barriers’

‘More time with traditional musical instruments and opportunities for musicians to play together and exchange tunes and songs.

‘A possible second option for workshops one is unable to attend

‘If time had been longer, there could have been more workshops i.e. traditional arts and crafts, basket making, weaving, knitting e.t.c.

‘Class times to be adhered to more.

‘More time to visit local areas and scenery’

Overall, the participants felt the scheduled visit communicated Irish Culture in an effective manner for the following reasons:‘The experience covered music song and dance both in the classes and in the Siamsa show. The group also experienced an Irish farmyard and traditional food. ‘Even for the Irish involved it brought us back to our roots and showed the Irish people at the very best.’

When asked in retrospect what else could have been included in the schedule? ‘Compile a CD of songs and tunes that were learned’‘More time in Muckross’ ‘Take in more scenery and historical sites’

Interestingly, eighty percent of participants did not find language a barrier to learning, however twenty percent did. Although the emphasis is on learning the traditional arts and transcending language – the fact the traditional songs in each country are in the native language does provide a challenge for us all. Music and dance learning does indeed transcend language barriers, however learning the traditional songs means participants need to try to grasp an understanding of the native language, this is working, but it is a challenge. ‘There is no language barrier in music and dance’ (Irish Participant)‘Even the language was not that much of a barrier we were able to ‘Dialogue through tradition’’The impression of the traditional arts of Ireland following the visit:‘Brill!’‘As an Irish person I have come to appreciate the difference between the traditional seanós and the contemporary folklore theatre’‘It proved its worth and showed Ireland as a passionate and culture rich society’‘It shows how much Irish traditional music, song and dance is admired in different countries’‘It’s life traditions’‘It was a great honour to go “behind the scenes” with the Siamsa team and to get a feel for the evocative and mystical nature of Irish music and dance. I find the all pervasive humanity in Irish song and dance quite humbling and very touching.’‘Unbeatable it just shows back to basics is definitely best’‘I was taken by the enthusiasm, commitment and high ability of the instructors and support people’

Thanks to all participants, facilitators and organisers. A special ‘Thank You’ to the staff at Síamsa Tíre for accommodating the workshops and teaching, and to Léargas for the funding and support throughout this project.

Phase II - A presentation by Kerry County Council of the Irish Host visit in May 2006
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Phase III - A presentation by Kerry County Council of the Greek Host visit in November 2006.
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Phase IV - A presentation by Kerry County Council of the Hungarian Host visit in April 2007.
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Link to partner sites: www.sweb.cz/dubrava.folklor

Kerry County Council, Co. Buildings, Rathass, Tralee

Phone: (066) 718 3500     Email: info@kerrycoco.ie

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