On May 17th, the Kennedy Center hosted the opening of “Ireland 100: Celebrating a Century of Irish Arts and Culture,” with Vice-President Joe Biden and Ireland’s Taoiseach Enda Kenny in attendance.
The evening’s special preview to an almost three weeks of cultural celebration was a fitting opening, offering an intimate experience of what was to come as the Irish Arts and Culture Festival showcased modern artists from the performing, visual, dance and music realms, each paying respect to Irish traditions new and old. The National Symphony Orchestra also joined artists on stage throughout the night.
Renowned actress Fiona Show, serving as host and director for the evening, delivered a compelling performance of Yeats’ “Easter, 1916” (“A terrible beauty is born”), which fully captured the feeling of the festival: at once a commemoration and a celebration. Now, 100 years since the Easter Uprising of 1916, a look back at the event shows how it changed the course of Ireland’s future and marked the start of a transforming nation.
The audience was captivated by pianist Barry Douglas as he played a nocturne composed by John Field, and not a moment was lost as singers followed in quick succession. Anthony Kearns, one of the three Irish tenors, sang “Down by the Salley Gardens”; Mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught had everyone on the edge of their seats with her thrilling rendition from Falstaff; and returning traditional, Iarla Ó Lionáird transported all to Ireland through his haunting song “Taim Cortha o Bheith im’ Aonar im’ Lui,” while large screen background images of Ireland completed the scene.
Dancer Colin Dunne gave a nod to the traditional again with some clog dancing, which makes up part of his devised mixed media show. The night wouldn’t have been complete without performances including the fiddle and the traditional Irish Pipes, which again conjured images of rolling green fields, dales, and meadows of Eire. Led by blind musician Amy Campbell, the music charmed the audience.
The performances were entertaining — and the venue was fitting — as former president and proud Irish-American John F. Kennedy was fiercely proud of his Irish roots, and the bravery of his great-grandfather Patrick Kennedy, who boarded a ship from the docks of New Ross to set sail and make his fortune with nothing more than his faith and desire for liberty.
With that historical note in mind Vice President Biden reminded the audience, “Tonight, in this great house of culture that bears his name, we celebrate that shared history in the expression that has always been found in the arts and performance.” It was later revealed by Enda Kenny that Biden would be “coming home himself to Ireland,” with plans to travel to there later in June. His trip will be a mix of official engagements and personal visits to County Louth and County Mayo, the home of two of his paternal relatives who emigrated to America in the 19th Century.
But wether you’ve Irish heritage or not, you won’t be disappointed in Ireland 100 — and you’ve still a few days to check it out for yourself! The festival will run until June 5, including performance from the artists at the launch… and so many more.