Thursday, 30 March 2017

My 'Memory Cushion' of May.

Earlier today I visited a friend of mine for a quick coffee before work. She had a gift for me which I wasn't expecting. A cushion! Not any old cushion but one that she made herself in recent days. You see this friend lost her mother in January.
Her mother was also a friend of mine. Someone I've known all of my life and someone I had the pleasure to call 'friend' for the past 20+ years. May died in January this year, on her 97th birthday. She is, was, and most likely will be, the oldest friend I'm ever likely to have.
I can call her my friend because she invited me for tea, she told me stories, she baked me bread, and she scolded me loads. Everything a true friend does.
I have many fond memories of May but my favourite is of one Easter Sunday approximately 10 years ago (maybe a little less). We all had Easter Sunday lunch together. Easter Sunday is a very special day for my family as our extended family all meet up and spend the afternoon and evening together annually. A very special, and very treasured occasion.
On this Easter Sunday prior to my annual family gathering, I had lunch with May and her family. That lunch was spent talking about Easter many years ago. Easter when May was a little girl. May told me that day all about what she and her brothers got up to on Easter Sunday and about their Easter fire and Easter egg hunts.
What struck me most that day was the fond memories May had, memories she treasured of her time as a little girl with her brothers. Her family. She instilled in me even more importance of my much loved tradition at Easter.
I am very fortunate to have gone to meet and stay with one of those brothers since that Easter Sunday. I holidayed with May's wee brother Vincent in Scotland. And the time I spent with him was spent listening to stories of he and May and their other siblings as children. The love between them all was endless and it oozed from them.
So this cushion which Annmarie gave me today, is no ordinary cushion. It's a little piece of May which I will keep and treasure forever. This cushion has a little piece of May's headscarf, her skirt and her blouse. And there's even a button from her cardigan on it. A little piece of May is with  me forever. And that is something very special. Just as May was someone very special.
Some gifts really are priceless. My cushion is one such gift.
Annmarie has made a selection of these cushions for herself and her family and friends. These enable all of us to keep May with us forever. She's not just in our memories now. She's on my sofa too.


Leaving Cert ENGLISH Revision workshops

The WRITE STUFF is hosting a number of Leaving Cert ENGLISH (higher level and ordinary level) Revision workshops over the coming weeks (Easter holidays). These workshops will help give you an in-depth understanding of the texts on the English course and also help with writing skills.
Workshops are scheduled for April 8th at Warrenview Manor, Muff and April 20th at St. John Bosco's Community Center in Donegal Town, and then a Hamlet workshop at Warrenview Manor, Muff on Friday 21st.
These will all benefit your understanding of the set texts and poems. Why not come along and avail of this Revsion during Easter 2017.
Other workshops can be arranged at different locations.
For further details, contact Grainne on 0863148541 or E:
Booking is essential for all workshops as places are limited.
Check out The WRITE STUFF for details and costs of all workshops.


The Workshop Coffee Co.

Muff is a small village in North West Inishowen and is a little treasure trove at that. Nestled just outside Derry city it really is the gateway to Inishowen en route from the city. Many people have been passing through it for years, but since last summer, more and more people are stopping over here just for a cup of coffee, bite of breakfast, lunch, and more. Thanks to the arrival of Inishowen's trendiest, most welcoming coffee shop, The Workshop Coffee Co.
Having opened during Muff Festival 2016, it really has become a coffee lovers favourite ever since. Living here in the village, it saves myself so much time travelling and indeed expense. Being a blogger and freelance writer I find myself spending lots of time in coffee shops meeting, interviewing and in free time, just hanging out with friends. Now I'm able to do all that in my own home village.
I've had friends from London, Birmingham, Dublin, Galway, and more nearby, all come along to enjoy our new facility in Muff. I've worked in here, I've lunched in here, and I regularly just coffee in here.
I've even had Joleen from the Henry Girls there for an interview with Irish Music Magazine. No doubt I'll be taking many more along to enjoy the fabulous coffee surroundings at The Workshop Coffee Co. in the coming weeks, months and indeed years to come.
If you're passing through the village any time soon, do take time for that coffee break and see just what this wonderful establishment has to offer. You really won't be disappointed.


Sunday, 26 March 2017

Linger at An Grianan Theater

Saturday night normally means a trip to the local and home again. Nothing unusual or untoward on my average Saturday night. Last night was very much one with a difference. Theater is normally a week night visit for me, but this occasion allowed it to be a weekend one. Linger from Ériu, is the critically acclaimed contemporary Irish dance work from former principal of Riverdance, Breandán de Gallai. de Gallaí and Nick O'Connell, really did put Saturday night in Letterkenny into a whole new zone. One which had the audience entranced in their seats and taking in every breath from the two male dancers on stage.
I couldn't take my eyes of the dancers for even a second. One just couldn't miss a move, a step, even a breath. It was so captivating.  de Gallaí and O'Connell are two male dancers at opposite ends of their dancing careers and yet last night, they were very much two male dancers in their prime. This immersive work explored identity, sexuality and ageing, all unfolding through a rich tapestry of music, movement, live drawing, photograph and film. This offered a visceral aesthetic, the mercurial movements of youth juxtaposed with the more considered gestures of the less young. This performance made us all reflect on the passage of time and who we are at different stages during that passage.
de Gallaí told me a few weeks ago that this show, "is therapy. We both went through the same issues and in this we delve into a very hurt place to generate feelings and emotions. This theatrical piece tells the story of two men going on an odyssey."
Last night everyone in the audience were on that odyssey. I alongside everyone else in the auditorium were reading experiences from our own lives as we watched this spectacle unfold. Emotions were high at every turn.
This was possibly the first time I've sat through a show in many years where one really could have heard a pin drop. Such was the focus of every audience member on the stage.
The themes of this show really are universal and everyone will take something different from it. We all try to be someone we're not to please others at some time in life. With Linger we learn the importance of becoming our authentic self.
The dancing last night was something I've never seen before. It was such a mix and yet so utterly powerful psychologically. It's an Irish dance at heart and yet so very contemporary. Musically there was jazz, classic, traditional to tango. It really did have it all. And yet the focus never left these two male bodies as they used the entirety of the Letterkenny stage. Every muscle, every ripple in their bodies was captured. The eye was never allowed to leave.
Last night I went on an emotional roller-coaster. There were so many sad times, but the overall message was hope. There will always be hope, but there really shouldn't always be such sadness. Through dance, de Gallaí has introduced us to a little piece of him. To a little piece of identity history. To a little piece of what his world has been/is, like. Linger really is an exploration of themes one never expected to see through dance.
de Gallaí and O'Connell excelled on the stage last night. A very deserved standing ovation was awarded. This is theater at its best. This is Irish theater at its best.
Loved it from start to finish.


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Arbutus at Encore: Millennium Forum

Having been to the theater last night to see the delightful Wonderland, I returned to the same venue this lunchtime. But not to see a production on stage, but to taste some delightful food on the plate.
Arbutus at Encore is the new restaurant at the Millennium Forum. Formerly Encore at the Forum, the new multi-cuisine setting is offering lunch, dinner, coffee and drinks.
I had a lunch meeting there earlier today and I was long overdue trying this menu. I wasn't disappointed. It has a wide selection of starters, lite bites, main courses and just generally something for everyone. All at affordable prices too.
I went for an old favourite, chicken gougons and vegetables. Gougons can be tricky and at times, tiny. These were everything but. Chunky pieces of chicken and served with a delicious selection of veg. It really did hit the spot and set me up for the remainder of the working day.
Arbutus at Encore provides a lovely serene setting to have a quite lunch and you can browse the theater advertisements and perhaps find a show coming soon just for you. There really is a wide range to choose from.
Next time you're in town for a lunch, why not make it a Theater one and check out the new, exciting menu at Arbutus at Encore.
Lunch is served daily 12-3pm Weds - Saturday
Evening Menu
2 courses & glass of wine only £20
Available for all shows.
Private Room available for christenings, first communions & private dining.
Tel: 02871 372492

I certainly enjoyed mine. You might just do likewise.


Wonderland really is wonderful and more

Frank Wildhorn's Wonderland opened on the Derry stage last night at the Millennium Forum. A modern adaptation of Alice In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, this musical really does take you on a very personal journey.
This contemporary retelling of the story presents single Mum Alice unhappy in the contemporary world. It's her 40th birthday and she receives a letter from her ex-husband that he is to be remarried. On the same day she gets fired from her job. A White Rabbit appears to her and her daughter Ellie. Their neighbour Jack is also in the scene and then they all go off with the Rabbit. In Wonderland Alice, Ellie and Jack meet up with the Mad Hatter, Caterpillar, Dormouse, March Hare and the Queen of Hearts.
The tale of Wonderland, and indeed the tale of all our lives then unfolds through music and more.
Prior to going to the show last night myself and a friend went for a glass of wine to a local bar. There we were discussing life in general and how it's up to us to take charge of our lives and make them the best that we can. We were going quite deep into conversation about the importance at our age regarding being happy with ourselves and 'who' we are. Life doesn't last forever and so it's of utmost importance to believe in ourselves and do what makes us happy here and now.
As we sat together throughout Wonderland, without saying a word, we were both getting goosebumps unknown to the other. We both were experiencing very real emotions and tears were near. As the show ended I really did feel like crying. As my friend said to me, "I really want to cry", I realised this had indeed affected her to the extent it had me.
Wonderland takes us on a musical journey from which no one is left out. It's a journey we all travel in life. The journey to be ourselves: to be 'me'. Alice is unhappy in her life. She was forced to live a life to suit other people and put the real 'her' in a pocket. She lived her life to please others and ended up not pleasing herself and alone and unhappy. I'm sure not one person in the auditorium last night has not, or does not know someone who has done just this in life.
Through the music and the song, Alice and the cast of Wonderland take us on a journey of language which encourages us to believe in the power of magic and in the power of change. We all have the power to change who we are and what we want to be. It's believing in our ability to do just that which is difficult. Alice and friends showed us all last night that it really is possible to be who you really are. Alice had to go through the 'looking glass' to find her self-belief.
Michelle Pentecost excelled last night in her role as Alice. The Wicked cast member really did have the Derry audience enthralled. Naomi Morris was simply outstanding as Ellie. My favourite song of Ellies had to be 'home'. Home really is where we feel comfortable and content. Stephen Webb as Jack taught us the true meaning of being a 'hero'. It's not the big things in life that make you heroic, it's the little things. As for the Mad Hatter Natalie McQueen, words fail me. Entertaining, funny, brilliant, fabulous outfit, she rocked. Loved her from start to finish.
The only downside of last night was that Wendi Petters, the Queen of Hearts wasn't more on the stage. Peters voice reached pitches I never knew existed. She never faltered in her singing (and that was singing) but Wendi, I want those shoes!!
The White Rabbit, Dave Willetts, Dormouse, Cat and all the gang were equally outstanding last night. For an opening night this really was a flawless performance.
Each and every character in Wonderland had a moral message for us all. Each and every song in Wonderland had wonderful advice for us all. Each and every element of Wonderland just blew me away.
I read a few reviews of this show prior to last nights performance and some were rather mediocre. One said it lacked substance. Another that it lacked great music. I've no idea where these folk were from, or if they even saw this show. This show is a hive of magic, music, song, language, and of course it has the happy ever after love story.
As I traveled home last night I really was on an emotional high (and yes I really did only have that one wine early in the night). I was still experiencing goosebumps as I got in home. I was still emotional as I went to bed.
Perhaps it's my line of work, continually encouraging children to believe in themselves and in who they are. I encourage them to believe in what they think and to always trust their own thoughts. My wee kids club The WRITE STUFF Kids Club is all about creative writing and reading but at it's core is the fundamental belief in the 'self'. Wonderland showcased it all last night.
Wonderland will take you on a magical journey and show you that it really is possible to be the real you.
The song titles alone are inspirational: I will Prevail; I am my own Invention; Once more I can see; Together......
Everyone needs to go though the Looking Glass in life. Finding your looking glass should be top of your list. My Looking Glass was university 10 years ago. It was then that I really found the real me. It was then that I really found what I wanted to do. It was then that I started to believe in 'me'. What's your Looking Glass? Go through it soon before life passes you by. Alice did, so should you.
The New York Times said of this show: An Inspirational Musical. My overall thoughts: Inspirational with every word, this is the best show I've ever seen on the Derry stage.

Wonderland is showing at Millennium Forum Derry until this Saturday night. This really is mindblowing. Go see it.


Friday, 17 March 2017

At home in Biddy's on St. Patrick's Day

It really was just like being at home earlier today as I ventured along to Biddy's O'Barnes on Barnesmore Gap, near Donegal Town. It's a road I travel frequently and continually say I must stop off in Biddys, but alas it wasn't until today that I finally made the trip. So a little work was involved, but that's irrelevant when one considers the welcome one got on arrival at the pub.
Now owned by Aaron Slevin and Texas born wife Megan, this really is a little haven to visit.
Famous for it's Stag and Hen party stopovers, this bar is so much more. With a simple menu of soup and a roll, a selection of sandwiches and snacks, it's just like Granny's parlour used to be - warm fire's a burning, kettle on the boil, and a story always ready to be told. Such is Biddy's O'Barnes bar. Today they also had shamrock cookies home made for the kids and bacon and cabbage for the adults. These little touches didn't go unnoticed.
Megan welcomed both myself and husband today and I even got the 'grand tour' of the building. And yes, I fell in love with the quaintness, quirkiness and homeliness of it.
The pint of Guinness was pretty awesome too. And on St. Patrick's Day it somehow tasted just perfect!
Biddy's is filled with stories. Each nook and cranny has a story all by itself. Whilst walking about with Megan earlier today, I met a number of local folk: some staff, some just neighbours who pop in. And everyone had something lovely to tell me. One young man was even explaining why a 'three legged stool' is more balancing that a 'four legged stool'. And it made sense. Even on St. Patrick's Day, there's something new to be learned.
Biddy's O'Barnes was the first pub in Donegal to get it's licence in 1903, and indeed one of the first to get such in Ireland.

Although owned by the O'Callaghan family from the 1800's right through until 1990, it is now in the most capable hands of The Slevins. This young couple have been at the helm now since November 2015 and are very much at home here.
Megan and Aaron have a friendly welcome for everyone who comes through the door. As I spent two hours there this afternoon, I was in awe at how in that short time, they welcomed a large group on way to Bundoran for the weekend, a hen party and then a wedding party. Nothing was too much for these two folk and their staff. The staff and the Slevins are clearly one big happy family. It oozes from them that they are not only a business but very much a family at heart. Everyone who visits becomes part of that family. It was just another day at the 'Inn' and although it was raining heavy outside, it really was shining in Biddy's.
As I left Biddy's O'Barnes this afternoon, it was with  a much lighter step: I had finally visited the pub I had been planning to for most of 20 years. But today I was glad I left it this long. Today I met the modern day owners. The couple who are destined to keep the character, the quirkiness of this special place, and yet somehow it is also very much in the contemporary world.
Although a little off the Wild Atlantic Way drive, it is in fact on the road that provides a shortcut to Inishowen should you want to take a little detour en route. Nestled between Croaghconnelagh and Croaghonagh mountains, this really is an idyllic spot for a 'pit stop' for lunch, afternoon snack, or even a pint or two.
Next time you're on the road through Barnesmore Gap, take an hour and pop into Biddy's. You really won't regret it. I'm already looking forward to my next visit, and it certainly won't be too long before I return.


Thursday, 16 March 2017

Children's Writing for St. Patrick's Day 2017

Children from The WRITE STUFF Kids Club in Buncrana composed a series of stories this evening at Tullyarvan Mill for St. Patrick's Day. I'm sure you'll enjoy reading them just as much as I did.

Laura Lavery (9)
The Day I met a Leprechaun
It was Sunday and I was in my school yard playing catch with a ball when I saw a rainbow and the ball suddenly dropped out of my hand and I ran, and ran. And ran. But I got there finally. But then I saw a green flash running past me. I thought of all the green things. Oh, but then I thought of a
leprechaun. I knew it was a leprechaun because it was just past St. Patrick's Day. It then came out from behind a tree. It said nothing. But then it did a dance. And so I carried on.
The End.

Anna O'Donnell (9)
The Day I found a four leaf clover
One day I was walking in the park. I looked down and what did I see? A four leafed clover! I picked it up and put it in my pocket and started to walk home.
On my way home I went into a shop to get the bread Mum wanted. Just then the shopkeeper said, "you get a free ice-cream because you are my one millionth customer." "This clover is lucky", I said and I took the ice-cream, bought the bread and said "goodbye."
When I was nearly home I saw a teddy on the ground. He was so cute so I took him home. I'm going to keep this clover on me forever I thought.
When I got home Mum said I could bake a cake. A chocolate cake. So I did. 30 minutes later the cake was baked and it was delicious.
And the luck just kept going on for ever and ever.
The end.

Doireann Healey (10)
The Day I found a four leaf clover
"Lily!" Sarah whined "I'm hungry!" Lily jogged across the kitchen, tipping many pots and pans along the way. The girl paused, and stared at her lime-coloured apron. It was covered in baby food and many other things Lily didn't dare think about. The words "Lily's childminding service" were faded and barely visible.
"Right", Lily panted, opening the back door. The green house lay in the distance, the sun shining on the glass. As she slouched through the garden, a single object caught her eye. It was a four leaf clover, and it was blowing in the wind. Lily slowly made her way towards the plant, her hand trembling.
How was this possible? The ground of the garden was made of sand, because Lily thought that it would be a good idea to let the kids play. But all they want to do is watch TV.
"Wow.." The girl gently picked the clover, completely forgetting about lunch. Lily strolled inside again.
As soon as she slid open the door, Sarah screamed and kicked in her high-chair. "Men!" she wailed. "Outside door."
The girl sprinted to the front door, confused. Two professional looking men stood there, holding a giant ticket. it read €100,000 and had that little star on top. My heart stopped. And it was all because of that four leaf clover.
The End.

I'm sure you will surely agree what wonderful pieces of work these really are. The children has approximately 30 minutes to pen their stories earlier this evening and genius they all were.

Happy St. Patrick's Day 2017 from all at The WRITE STUFF Kids Club. 💚


Friday, 10 March 2017

The Sweethearts of Swing: Derry launch

I was a virgin....or so I thought. Of Swing music that is! When Orla Mullan contacted me a few weeks ago about her new venture The Sweethearts of Swing, I was intrigued. It certainly isn't my first love in music but I thought why not? I'll see what it entails. Orla told me that herself and two friends, Kat Reagan and Naomi Rocke had formed this new group I was drawn in immediately. There was just something about it. I wasn't sure what but I wanted to know more. I spoke with Orla over a week ago, and more recently Kat and Naomi. I was equally impressed with all three ladies and their reasons for coming together with this ensemble. Each seemed so passionate about the undertaking and so I was sold. Well, I think I was. I definitely wasn't certain until a few short hours ago.
Myself and two friends ventured to The Belfray Country Inn shortly after 8.30pm last night and were immediately impressed with the venue. A superb spot (shall definitely return).
The Sweethearts of Swing came on stage shortly after 9pm. The remainder of the night totally blew us away. I genuinely had NO idea of Swing music, The Andrews Sisters or nothing from the 1940's 50's etc. But very soon I realised I knew a whole lot more than I'd realised. As soon as they embarked on the infamous 'Mr Sandman' and I heard their outstanding harmonies I was well and truly taken back in time. I genuinely didn't expect this. I knew the song, and I loved it. As Don't Sit Under the
Apple Tree, Putting on the Ritz, Little Things Mean a Lot and more followed, I was transported back to an era I believed I knew no music from. I was shocked. I was singing, swaying, dancing in my seat, smiling and definitely in another world. One I really felt at home in. These ladies had waved some crazy magical wand and I was in musical heaven. Everyone was.
And then my climax culminated...a Dirty Dancing of my all time favourites...Be My Baby was in full Swing. I wanted to get down on all fours, just like 'Baby'. As it was 'water' in my wine glass, I decided to refrain!! Another time I might not!
Orla, Kat and Naomi all did a number of solo songs. They each excelled in such. Those voices are something you expect on the West End Stage, Broadway and beyond. But we were in Derry, and so were they. Mindblowing in every such way.
However, there was something else which stole tonight for me. I am an avid believer in the power and the importance of 'friendship'. This oozed of that Derry stage tonight. You could feel it from these three ladies up there. As Orla introduced Kat for Kat's first solo, she did so saying "She is a very dear friend but she is also one of the most talented people I know."  When Kat introduced Naomi she said "Her voice is absolutely divine." And then as Naomi introduced Orla, it was to the words, "Our vintage vamp, one of my closest friends. She is so kind and her voice is simply spectacular." Friendship is not only present between these three ladies, it is first and foremost between them all. I love it.
 Tonight these gals gave us Swing at it's very best. They gave us an insight into the music and life of The Andrews Sisters. But yet they gave us so much more. We got Latino, we got Bette Midler, we even got Christina Aguelira (modern turned swing). These ladies really did have it all.
As for the dancers on that dance floor, they stole many moments tonight for us all. Jealously certainly prevailed for me when it came to the dance. So I haven't got a 'note' and I haven't got a 'step', but I had an ear, and that was enough for tonight. I was able to listen, hear and enjoy some outstanding musical harmonies, some fabulous songs from an era I genuinely thought I knew nothing about.
But most of all I was entertained in a way I never expected. Dramatics on the singing stage, on the dance floor and throughout the venue in general.

The Sweethearts of Swing really did transport me back to an era I really do know little about. But thanks to that outstanding performance I learned a little bit about it. I fell in love with it. And I really do want to hear more.
Orla, Kat and Naomi all told me in recent days that tonight would be 'Special'. It was.....
And as for my being a 'virgin' of Swing Music...I am that no more!!
If you get a chance to go see this trio, just take it. You really won't regret it. I don't.


Thursday, 9 March 2017

Sweetheart Naomi on The Sweethearts of Swing!

It's now less than 24 hours until The Sweethearts of Swing launch at The Belfray Country Inn, Derry. This new act will showcase the music and more from the 1940's and promises to be a night to remember. Having caught up with Orla and Kat in recent days, it was time to see just why Naomi was part of this new and exciting act.
"I was looking for something in my life and career that I could really get my teeth into, as well as something that I could take a better creative control over. To be honest I had been looking for people to join me in some sort of musical venture but I wasn't quite sure what that was. So when the opportunity arose I jumped at it: it was perfect, in fact it was exactly what I had been looking for. The fact that I could get to utilise my voice and harmony ability in such a way, with two great friends, never mind total professionals, was such an exciting prospect.
I have always loved the WW2 era myself, having played characters in plays set in that era, I loved the fashion, hairstyles and the romanticism that came along with it all. Not forgetting of course the incredible sound of the big band style. So all in all, it felt like the stars had aligned to make this happen at this time in my life.
The icing on the cake really is that I get to experience all of this with two woman whom I love dearly and although I have worked professionally with them both before, you don't really get to truly know people until you start a business with them, and it is amazing how close you can become so quickly.The beauty is that we all have to bring something different to the table and we are all able to take on various roles within the business side of the group, never mind vocally. Thankfully we are able to swap between harmonies within our song list, which really makes us all feel like we can use different parts of our voices as well as being able to be showcased equally which is important. Kat has taken more of a role as Musical Director, although we all have a say in what songs we sing and who sings what, Kat takes on the harder work of arranging the music if needed and sending out our harmony lines to us with her piano skills. Orla is our chief admin woman: she is super organised and I would describe her to be like our liaison officer, she is great when it comes to contacting others and having a great rapport with everyone. Orla likes to call me the technical wizard, which I love, because to be honest that came as a bit of a shock to me. I make the posters and deal with the technology side of the music and any other computer needs of the group. So it really is a joint effort all round.The best part of all of this is of course, when it all comes together and we get to perform. The feeling is just incredible, but it is made even better by the reaction we have had from the audience. Seeing older people with that glint in their eye, knowing that so many memories are sparking up and on the other side, seeing young people thoroughly enjoying the chance to dance in a way that they may never have before and experiencing a snippet of a time past. It makes what we are doing even more special."
Special is the word that all three ladies have used when I've approached them about this venture. So I guess I just have to wait until tomorrow night now to decide just how 'special' this really is. Now, where is that red lipstick?


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Women Aloud NI celebrate International Women's Day 2017

This week will see Women Aloud NI celebrate International Women's Day with a series of readings over a number of days. Check out their facebook events  to see the wide selection of literary activities on offer.

The Derry event is hosted by the Literary Ladies and will feature readings from, among others, Freya McClements - WriterFelicity Mccall, Claire SavageClaire Allan, Eimear O'Callaghan and many more. This will be held later today at Aras Cholmcille, The Columba Heritage Center.

For more information on other events today with Women Aloud NI, see their fb page at Women Aloud NI

How wonderful to see so many events hosted by and delivered by ladies in our community.


Pink Ladies on International Women's Day

TToday is Internatioinal Women's day and there is a wide array of events being held to mark this important annual occasion. One such event is the The Pink Ladies Cancer Support Group this evening at Little Acorns Bookstore in The Yellow Yard

As part of INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY the PINK LADIES CANCER SUPPORT GROUP will be hosting an evening of readings from their creative writing group on Wed 8 March from 6pm-8pm in THE YELLOW YARDPalace Street, Derry.

The group will be reading poems and prose on the overall theme BE BOLD FOR CHANGE with writings about Mothers, Inspirational Women, Hairstyles and much more. 

Featured writers will include Beverley CaldwellMargaret CassidyMaureen CollinsClare CreganJacquie Loughrey, among others.

GUILDHALL PRESS will be giving away complimentary copies of their best-selling book EVE: A Celebration of Creative Women (2006) in LITTLE ACORNS BOOKSTORE at the event, and free during the day with any purchase of books by Irish female authors. 

Light refreshments will be available at St Jude Coffee Cafe. All welcome to what promises to be a very enjoyable celebration of women of all ages and walks of life.

It's certainly going to be well worth a visit. Pop along from 6pm.


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Kat from Sweethearts of Swing

Kat Lewis tells me about her motivation behind The Sweethearts of Swing. With the Derry launch this coming Friday night, March 10th, at The Belfray Inn, Derry, I was keen to hear just why Kat is so keen to be part of this genre of music.
"I've loved the music of the Andrews Sisters, ever since I was introduced to it in choir practice with Chattanooga Choo Choo", she told me. " I then went and borrowed a cassette tape from the library and played it over and over until I had to give it back. I just loved the blend of the harmonies and the sound of the instruments.

After I graduated from the Royal Academy of Music, I tried to set up something like this in England but the timing wasn't right for us and it just fell apart. I carried on with very mainstream work doing TV, Musical Theater and straight theater but I decided to 'retire' at the start of 2016. I just felt that it was time for me to take creative control of what I was doing and I wanted to reawaken my passion for the arts. It was time to take this ambition off the shelf and form a three piece girl group. I put a post on Facebook and Naomi was straight in there wanting to know about it. We'd worked on panto before so I knew that Naomi has a fantastic voice and is a total perfectionist, like myself!!!. Then
Orla, who I've been close friends with for years, was on the phone to me and asked how things were going and if we were still looking for a third person. Naomi and I were absolutely delighted, as we had assumed that the drive from Derry for rehearsals would be asking too much, but Orla is one dedicated woman! So from there we started putting the music together and arranging the harmonies and we started doing a few gigs to test the waters. Everything was going well, so we did the Belfast launch in November, which sold out! We couldn't believe it! The response from people has been better than we ever could have hoped for. So many people got in touch to tell us how special the night was, that it wasn't like any other night, that the music had made them feel like they'd stepped back in time and the main theme was how much enjoyment everyone had gotten out of it. This is the main reason why I love to perform. The feeling of knowing that you're making a positive impact on someone's day or week is absolutely brilliant, because that, to me, is what life is all about really."

This show is really sounding like something special. This rock chick and trad fan is very looking forward to a night with a difference this coming Friday. Tickets are priced at just £12 on the night or £10 presale. Sounds like a real bargain. Doors open at 8pm and the show starts at 9pm. I'm certainly hoping to have a 'swinging' time...are you?


Friday, 3 March 2017

Local Talent wanted for West Side Story musical

Are you aged 14-21?  Interested in acting, singing and dancing?  The North West’s premier arts venue is looking for you!

The Millennium Forum will be holding open auditions on Thursday 9th and Wednesday 15thMarch 2017 4pm-8pm for its youth production of the hit musical, West Side Story which will run at the theatre for three nights from 26th to 29th July. A host of leading roles are up for grabs including Maria and Tony as well as numerous Ensemble roles. 

David McLaughlin, Chief Executive of the Millennium Forum and Producer of West Side Storyencourages everyone with an interest in performing to audition:

“In keeping with our commitment to developing local talent, we are looking for young performers to fill a range of male and female roles.  Anyone with an interest in acting, singing and dancing is encouraged to audition.  Who knows - it could be the start of a promising career in the theatre for some local performers, as many of our previous Youth Musical cast have already gone on to pursue their dreams in performing arts.  Dennis Grindle, who played Tony in our first production of West Side Story, went on to star as the first Jimmy Rabbett in the West End production of The Commitments.

Rachel O’Connor, who played our Sandy in Grease in 2013, went on to the finals of the hit television show, The Voice UK, which led to her landing a role in Michael Flatley’s new show, Dangerous Games, in the West End.  Her Grease co-star, Dylan Reid, who played Danny, has just finished a hugely successful run in the hit musical, Once, which went on to tour Korea. Dylan has also recently been seen on the UK television show, Let It Shine, auditioning for a part in the new Gary Barlow musical. Many people will also remember Mairead Carlin from our first production of Les Miserables, who has now achieved global success with the hit show, Celtic Woman.”

Daryl Moore, Education & Outreach Officer added:

“We are calling on male and female 14 – 21 year olds who can act, dance and sing. We hope to find both new people who want to join us and also young people who have auditioned previously. At the audition you will be required to sing (a song that’s not from West Side Story) and deliver a short two minute contemporary monologue.  If you do get a recall, it is vital that you can commit to rehearsals from June right through to the public performances in July.”

Those who make the final cast will become part of an unforgettable project performing West Side Story on the Forum’s stage for three nights, 26th to 29th July.

Based on a concept by Jerome Robbins and originally produced on Broadway by Robert E Grifith and Harold S Prince, by arrangement with Roger L Stevens, this classic musical is brought vividly to life by the Millennium Forum Youth Musical Theatre Group.  

If you are aged 14 – 21 and believe you have what it takes to be onstage in this new production ofWest Side Story, make your way to the Forum for the open auditions. 

The auditions will take place at the Millennium Forum on Thursday 9th and Wednesday 15thMarch 2017 4pm-8pm Following intensive rehearsals, West Side Story will be staged at the Millennium Forum from Wed 26th to Sat 29th July 2017.

This 2017 amateur production of West Side Story is presented by arrangement with Music Scope UKThis project is supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and proudly sponsored by Derry News.


Thursday, 2 March 2017

World Book Day Ireland with The WRITE STUFF Kids Club

The WRITE STUFF Kids Club has its home in Muff, Co. Donegal. However it also has bases in Buncrana, Letterkenny, Greencastle and Derry. Workshops are held in all areas to encourage children to down screens and delve into their imagination, create stories, tell stories, read books and talk booky things. Its a hive of imagination and creativity for children aged 5 to 15. Over the past week, children at the workshops have all been celebrating World Book Day 2017. Booky bookmarks were made, new book covers were created and numerous stories were written about how the children would feel when they met their favourite book character. Check out The WRITE STUFF Kids Club facebook page where you will find a selection of videos where the children read their stories. They really are amazing.

Another exercise we did at two venues was group story writing. One child started the story and then passed it to the next. At our Muff group last Saturday a group of four young ladies (aged 7-9) did the following story (you can see/hear them reading it over on the fb page).

Once upon a time there lived two children. They loved to read books. Every day the read lots of books. Their favourite book was The Famous Five. One day they went for a walk and met Anne.
Anne said, "do you have any ice-cream?"
They didn't have any ice-cream so Anne went upstairs to her bedroom. On her way there, she saw a box of marshmallows. She took five of them. Then she heard someone coming so she ran all the way up to her room. But they caught her.
"What are ou at Anne?" they said. "You were told not to eat those marshmallows because we're almost out and the shops are closed." "I'm sorry" said Anne, "they were just so tempting." Anne started to cry. "Don't cry Anne they said."
The end

Earlier today at Tullyarvan Mill in Buncrana our senior group of approximately 12 children wrote the following story. These kids were aged 7-11.
One day there was a talking dog. He never ever stopped talking. I said 'stop' but he just kept talking. I went to get help.
"What is it?" the Vet asked, as I burst through the double doors. My face was scarlet and I was panting.
The Vet asked what was wrong? I said the dog was talking. The Vet said that's impossible. A dog cannot talk.
"But it's true" I said, and then I brought the dog in to see him. The dog started talking and talking and talking. Eventually the doctor shouted 'STOP!' The dog stopped but he never stopped for me. This doctor is magic.
The dog stayed like this all day. Then I tok him home but then when I get home he started to talk and talk but then he stopped.
I was shocked after all that time. He finally stopped and I nearly fainted.
 And that was the story of the talking dog.
The End.

World Book Day is all about encouraging people of all ages to read. It highlights the importance of books in our lives. Over the past week I have encountered numerous children of all ages with a passion for books. They have amazing imaginations and it's all thanks to the books they read. If it's one gift you give your children, make it the gift of books and reading.


Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Linger - a contemporary Irish dance work, is on its way to Derry.

Lïnger is superb: a must-see full-on theatrical show … intensely moving … technically brilliant … breathtaking” The Skinny, Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016…“Tender and brave” Judith Mackrell, The Guardian

Lïnger from Ériu is a critically-acclaimed contemporary Irish dance work involving former principal of Riverdance, Breandán de Gallaí and Nick O’Connell, two male dancers at opposite ends of their dancing careers.  This ground-breaking theatrical experience received stellar reviews and sell out success at home and at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016, and is now back with an eight venue tour across Ireland, including a visit to the Millennium Forum Derry, with an evening  performance 14th March.
Choreographed and directed by de Gallaí, this immersive work explores identity, sexuality and ageing, unfolding through a rich tapestry of music, movement, live drawing, photography (Declan English), and film (Terry O’Leary). The piece offers a visceral aesthetic, the mercurial movements of youth juxtaposed with the more considered gestures of the less young. Lïnger harnesses this contrast, making us reflect on the passage of time and who we are at various junctures of our lives.

Although Irish dance is a choreographic starting point for Lïnger, de Gallaí is influenced by many dance genres, and what unfolds on stage is a new style of Irish dance that is both contemporary and provocative.  The soundtrack ranges from classical music to traditional, from tango to jazz.  

His artistic ethos is inspired by choreographic genius Pina Bausch and her perspective on dancers - "I’m not so interested in how they move as in what moves them.”  By simultaneously maintaining the traditional Irish dance legacy and emphasising the expressiveness of the dance, de Gallaí strives to bring a fresh perspective to the art form.

He explains: "I grew up in the competition scene and subsequently became principal dancer with Riverdance. When I left the commercial performance world, I wanted to focus on exploring the capacity of Irish dance.  I wanted to see what the dance could do in terms of evoking emotions, and use its expressive potential to address issues and themes rarely explored in traditional dance."  

De Gallaí continues:

"Lïnger is a meditation on masculinity, a concept that can mean many things, and it aims to leave the viewer a little closer to understanding its complexity. Lïnger is biographical and it comes from quite a sad and painful place, but it resolves into something quite hopeful. It was a very cathartic experience to make the piece and it’s always very satisfying to perform."

This North West Culture Gal was fortunate to catch up with de Gallaí earlier today and find out just why Linger is something special. And I wasn't disappointed. Just where did this dance show spring from and what can we, the Derry audience, expect in a few weeks time?
"I'd been making pieces in modern dance for a few years with Nick O'Connell", de Gallaí told me. "I knew that something special was happening. When I chose dancers, it's important that they believe in the work and in the dance. I was very moved by a solo piece Nick had done recently. Nick was dealing with some personal challenges which I had dealt with ten years previous. We put these challenges into this theatrical show."

So then is this show a type of therapy I wondered? "Yes it is therapy. We both went through the same issues and here we delve into a very hurt place to generate feelings and emotions. Sometimes this can be left too long and one begins to 'linger' - hence the name of this show!"
"This is a theatrical piece and it tells the story of two men (one man at different times) going on an odyssey. But when the audience see this, they will also read experiences from their own lives up to this stage. Hence the show has a universality to it."
I asked de Gallaí how he feels it is to become closeted in an identity and unable to identify with the real self. "We sometimes engage in identities to become a version of us whom others are comfortable with. This show will show how we shed that projected identity and become our authentic self."
I told de Gallaí during our conversation that one of my most treasured quotes from Shakespeare is 'to thine own self be true.' Linger seems to be showcasing just this.
Breandan de Gallaí is no stranger to Derry. He attended the 'Soal School of Irish Dance here in the city and has very fond memories of it. "Mary from Soal was a special teacher. We always spent time in Derry. This is like coming home. Derry is very important to me and the Millennium Forum is such a beautiful venue. Coming to Derry is important is so many ways for me."
De Gallaí danced with River Dance for 9 years, so he's no stranger to the world dancing stage. This is different he tells me: "this is more theatrical and it's framed on my own life."
I for one am looking forward to seeing this life unfold in dance on the Derry stage mid-March. Are you?

Linger performs at the Millennium Forum on Tues 14th March.  Tickets are now available from the Box Office.  Telephone 71 264455 or visit for bookings.