Emigrant talent on display as Samhain comes to Stockholm
A stunning festival of Celtic culture showcased the talents of the Irish community in Stockholm, writes Philip O’Connor
A stunning festival of Celtic culture showcased the talents of the Irish community in Stockholm, and helped show Swedes that an Irish Samhain is so much more fun than American-style trick or treating.
With Sweden having no great history of Halloween, the stage was set for the Celts to reclaim Samhain as part of our heritage and to share it with our neighbours here in the city we now call home. Doing so might give it a bit more meaning than dressing-up, candy and pumpkins.
On Friday night, this manifested itself as the second Samhain Culture Festival, held at the sold-out Stallet Theatre in Stockholm, featuring music, drama and dance performed by artists from all over the world.
The festival is the brainchild of Wicklow native Brian Burns. Part travelling troubadour, part pied piper, Brian inspired those around him to join in and perform; in Brian’s world, there are no “ordinary people”.
Everyone has some talent. He wasn’t wrong, and fittingly for such a mystical time of the year, the evening was packed with moments of alchemy as the performers combined to produce moments of magic.
The Irish Dance project – featuring Nordic Feis champion dancer Carina Olsson – opened the show, before Swedish duo Rolling Waves performed a couple of tunes.
And so it went. Singer/songwriter Keith Hearne stunned the audience with a soulful rendition of Van Morrisson’s “Into the Mystic”, there was virtuoso guitar and songs from Kieran O’Loughlin, the powerful voice from the relatively tiny Sharon Buckley from Cork.
There was the rare sight of six All-Ireland banjo titles on stage as Brian Friel and Brian Carolan fired off a short set of reels and jigs before Sweden’s own Blarney Pilgrims performed a few rollicking folk tunes.
The drama element was provided by the Spuds and Sill Theatre Group, who performed the chilling Burning of Bridget Cleary and excerpts from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
This night was not about culture alone, and all the proceeds from the tickets sales went to Ny Gemenskap, a charity that helps the homeless in the Swedish capital.
Burns explained that he and his fellow musicians began to notice a growing problem with homelessness in the city a few years back; as they would make their way home from gigs late at night, they noticed a marked increase in the amount of people sleeping rough.
Perhaps aware of our own vulnerability as immigrants here, the Irish community have supported the charity ever since.
As if to strengthen the bond between the two communities, folk legend Francie Conway – whose wife comes from the Swedish town of Falun – performed an English-language version of Ulf Lundell’s Öppna Landskap.
The Swedish speakers in the crowd joined in to sing a few verses in their native tongue of the song widely acknowledged as the country’s alternative national anthem.
As the hair rose on the back of my neck, my mind went back to the Irish soccer fans singing the Fields of Athenry in Poland – this micro-moment as two cultures came together was no less powerful.
Finished with his MC duties, Burns strapped on his guitar to take the stage with his band, the beautiful tones of Sandcastles giving way to a bawdy Whiskey for Breakfast. Then it was time to get all the performers up on the stage to close with The Mason’s Apron, fronted by the dancers.
As the lights came up the air buzzed with goodwill, excitement and amazement at what we had just witnessed.
With the exception of Brian and a handful of others, all those that performed have day jobs; music and art and drama is what they do in their spare time, but their performances were no less professional for that.
Throughout the night Brian had explained the relevance of Samhain as a time of change, of celebrating the light before entering the darkness of winter, only to emerge again.
We entered the darkness of the Stallet theatre expecting to be entertained, and emerged several hours later enlightened as to the kind of talent commitment to our community that exists right under our very noses here in Stockholm.