The postmaster's big idea for a tiny Mayo village


Bofeenaun in Co Mayo has one church, one school, no pub and a unique classical music programme, writes LORNA SIGGINS.

THERE is a single road sign in the county of Mayo to the village of Bofeenaun, which has one church, one school, one hall and no pub. 

Nestled under mighty Nephin mountain, it was named after the “both” or hut of St Finaun, who founded an abbey, and it was on the route of the French marching to the “races” of Castlebar in 1798.

Last night and on Saturday, the village was the scene for two small but perfectly formed classical concerts. However, distinguished Scottish violinist Iain King and his friends don’t need any Ordnance Survey maps or GPS systems to find it, perhaps because Bofeenaun found them first. Six years ago, King, who has performed with the English Chamber, London Philharmonic and many European orchestras, began playing music with a few friends in the parish church.

It started out as one concert in St Mary’s Church, organised by Bofeenaun postmaster Thomas Rowland.

He admits that, at the time, people “thought he was a bit daft”. Rowland’s sister, Joan, is married to Iain King, and they moved to Ballina almost nine years ago. “I just thought it would be great to take advantage of his talent,” Rowland says.

Glaswegian Robert Irvine, who has been principal cellist with the Academy of St Martin-in-the- Fields and with Scottish Opera, and is a founder of the Chamber Group of Scotland, returned for his sixth sell-out visit to Bofeenaun.

Performing with him and King’s 10-year-old daughter, Catherine, were Katie Clemmow, pianist and oboist with the London Symphony, Philharmonia and the London Mozart Players, and her partner Gareth Hulse, oboist with English Opera, the London Philharmonic, and a founder member of London Winds.

As we arrived, the musicians were “backstage” in Rowland’s kitchen, with pots of tea, slices of fresh brown bread and smoked salmon set out before them. Rowland was dictating some credits on the page of a school copybook to his daughter, Bridgette. He laughed quietly as he found a misprint in the concert programme.

The musicians chatted about where they were last week – one in the Royal Albert Hall and six nights at the O2 in London. No one seemed too worried about the concert starting time. “Well, it’s a bit like Greece,” quipped King.

The audience filed into the church bearing cushions, on Rowland’s advice. Everyone received a warm handshake from the committee of Fr James Cribbin, Pauline Leonard, Thomas Harte, Tom Jordan and Bernie Reilly at the door. Rowland – nicknamed “Ticketmaster” by Fr Cribbin – hovered to ensure everyone had seats, or pews, before the programme started with Handel’s rousing Queen of Sheba.

The quartet moved into Beethoven, Mozart and Shostakovich, giving brief introductions to some of the less familiar pieces by Clara Schumann, Marin Marais and Bucalossi – “the only person in the whole world you can’t google as he is so unknown”, King quips.

Introducing Felemy’s Little Boat– more commonly known as Baidín Fheilimí– Irvine said it was one of the most beautiful airs he has heard.

The musicians love the intimacy of the church, and its acoustics. “Those shoebox church designs are the best,” they say.

At the interval, there was wine, cheese and tea provided by the Bofeenaun Women’s Group. Somehow, the advertised “20 minutes” ran on a bit. A pink tinge of sunset hovered over Nephin as the audience filed back into the church.

“We don’t do Sunday nights in case there might be a funeral,” Rowland explained. He gets no Arts Council funding, no support, apart from one sponsor, Blue Hills Consulting Engineers, and local advertising helps to cover the cost of the concert programme. At just €20 a head, the takings go to the local community.

Fr Cribbin is looking forward to travelling from his home in a nearby hamlet, Glenhest, with several priest colleagues to hear the master, Leonard Cohen, in Dublin this week.“But it’s just as hard to get tickets for this,” he notes.