by ehistoryadmin on November 28, 2015

An Indian Summer leads to steaming night of culture

Liam Kenny


Writers of weekly columns should refrain from making weather predictions. These words were typed a week ago on an Indian summer night as a “super moon” illuminated the autumnal plains of Kildare; by the same night a week later gale and rain could be hinting at climes more wintry over the same pastures. However there is something about the third Friday night in September which in recent times has been promoted as “Culture Night” which speaks of a mellow autumn atmosphere. Autumnal things like music in old churches, sunset rambles in parklands, and willow weaving workshops are some of the activities complementary to the season which feature on the programme for Culture night in Co Kildare.

As with its cousin event “Heritage Week” earlier in the autumn, Culture Night offers an opportunity to all to experience places in the locality perhaps not often open to the public or to see public places in a different light. A whole spectrum of offerings which fall under the wide banner of “culture” are to be seen and experienced, all presented and facilitated by volunteers whose only interest is to share some of their arts and passions with those who stir themselves from the Friday evening television schedule.

And in terms of getting out in the autumn atmosphere it does not get more appealing than a visit to the intriguingly-named Larchill Arcadian Gardens where Kildare meets Meath near Kilcock. Larchill is an 18th century parkland garden set within a landscape of lake, tree-lined walks, follies and a formal walled garden. On a culture night the gardens stay open until the evening hours and, even better, picnics are welcome so the invitation is to bring a basketful of treats and enjoy all the gardens have to offer.

Indeed it would be a relaxed step from early evening Larchill to another hearty cultural event down the road in Kilcock which will host a night of traditional music, song, stories and dance, featuring the flourishing local Comhaltas group. The night will no doubt feature reference to Kilcock’s great songwriter Teresa Brayton, author of the sentimental anthem “The Old Bog Road”, who has been the subject of renewed interest prompted by a spectacular exhibition on her legacy held recently in the welcoming new library at NUI Maynooth – or Maynooth University as it is to be known in future.

But while Maynooth might be getting a makeover from the marketing people a part of the old campus is staying resolutely in the past. The Russell library deep in the cloisters of the old college building is opening on Friday night for tours from 3pm to 6pm. Like a scene from “Harry Potter” the beautiful library is home to a rare collection of manuscripts, archives and early printed books, all surrounded by the arcaded glories of neo-gothic architecture.

Even less well known than the Russell library is the St Patrick’s College (great that the old names endure) museum. This hidden treasure trove which includes an eclectic collection of pioneering scientific instruments side-by-side with religious artefacts including silver plate and gold embroidered vestments presented by the Empress of Austria. She had ended up in Maynooth when hunting with the Meath harriers she got separated from the pack and her horse galloped into the college grounds. So convivial were the college authorities towards their unexpected royal visitor that the Empress commissioned a set of vestments made by elite Austrian craftsmen which she had presented to College. For Culture night habitués who want to spread their visits over the weekend the Museum will, helpfully, be open through Sunday afternoon.

Science in the old-fashioned way will also be on view in the dramatic environs of the Straffan steam museum where flywheels will spin, pistons will pump, and steam will hiss from valves, as the big machines of a bygone industrial age show their power. This column has been around steam museums from Belfast to Berlin, yet horsepower for horsepower, it would be hard to find such an array of proud machinery as will be on display in Straffan. As well as the big machines there will be precision engineered model trains against a background of music echoing over the sublime walled gardens. There will be a lot of engineering going on in the steam museum that night with the EVE Larine Occupational Centre from Maynooth working with recyclable material to create wonderful things. The EVE Larine centre works with people with mental health difficulties and its collaborative and imaginative work is well known to watchers of Maynooth’s St Patrick’s Day parade.

It would be hard to match Straffan for an exciting few hours on Culture night but perhaps somewhere equally full of atmosphere is the Curragh Military Museum where an outdoor display will catch some of the atmosphere of soldiers’ bivouacs under the evening skies. The museum opens a window on the military heritage of Kildare with a display of equipment, weapons and kit which represents the evolution of military training and craft over a century and a half.

And, finally, a mobile approach to culture in Kildare. An old friend of this column, Rina Whyte, public art specialist, will be guiding her annual bus tour viewing the varied and impressive range of public art across the county from the iconic “Ball” at Monread to the bog-oak horses outside Kildare and much else in between across the motorways of the country.

After reading the foregoing appetising menu for culture night in Kildare 2014 the reader will want to find out more about where, when and how to take part. The answer here is to contact the Culture night co-ordinator Sam Keely at Kildare County Council Arts Service, Riverbank, and Newbridge on 045 448328 or go online at Leinster Leader 16 September 2015, Looking Back Series no: 399.



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