Over 100 people turned out on Thursday evening to enjoy a unique evening of story telling and music from writer Liz Weir and musician Ciaran Mulholland.
Using the acoustic surroundings of St Columb’s Cathedral for the event, ‘All for the Dead Man’s Penny’ was based on the theme of World War 1 and focused on a fictitious young soldier, who marries across the religious divide and becomes a father, but goes to war and is killed.
The story is told in the narrative style through the eyes of a teenage girl keen to find out about her family, who visits an older female relative. The story told my Ms Weir mixed history and a literary representative of the experiences of many young Irish men who committed themselves to fighting for a cause greater than them. Over 200,000 Irish volunteers joined up to fight in the First World War. A colossal 49,000 young men lost their lives in the First World War. Their service came at a time when Irish nationalism was growing and the Easter Rising of 1916 saw a change in mood within the country. The survivors returned to a land which had been totally transformed socially and politically.
The story Ms Weir told was inspired by a lady with Alzheimers, and although there was no charge for the event donations to the Alzheimers Society were taken up, and Ms Weir and Mr Mulholland raised £338 for the charity.
Commending both artists for staging the event in the city, The Dean of Derry, Very Rev Dr William Morton, said: “I am delighted to have this wonderful event hosted in St Columb’s Cathedral, particularly following on from the major exhibition in the Chapter House last November, and the lecture series, marking the centenary of the outbreak of The First World War.
He continued: “I greatly appreciate the kindness and generosity of Liz and Ciaran in so graciously giving of their services to stage this production. I extend hearty thanks to all who came along on the night, and I commend the support of the retiring collection for The Alzheimer Society, a tremendously good cause.”
Liz Weir is a highly acclaimed storyteller and writer from Northern Ireland. She is the author of numerous children’s books, including ‘When Dad Was Away’ and has written scripts for television animations. Her accomplishments include being the first winner of the International Storybridge Award and three nominations for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.
Ciaran Mulholland is an accomplished fiddle player, having performed throughout the UK and Ireland with other notable artists such as Jim Maguire and Gordon Johnston at the Pan Celtic Folk Club and with Sean Maguire at a celebration concert. His playing style is highly rooted in traditional Irish and Scottish music.
Speaking ahead of the show, about what inspired her to write the piece, Liz said: “I was asked to do a commission for a festival over in England in Shropshire and it was on the theme ‘Forever young’ and it was set in the time of World War 1 and I happened to meet a wonderful lady called Pearl Logan, who was with one of the Alzheimer’s Society groups and she told me the story about her Great Uncle who had gone off to fight in World War 1.
“She showed me the Dead Man’s Penny, which was the bronze plaque the family received after, sadly, he was killed, so I created a fictional story, much of which happens in the city, and I have interwoven that with an Irish folk tale. So it is terrific to be doing it here in St Columb’s Cathedral,” said Liz.
Music for the event was provided by Ciaran Mulholland, who started playing the fiddle at the age of 11 when he found a violin under a bed in his grandmother’s Belfast home.
In 1990 he was a finalist in the BBC Radio 2 Young Tradition Award, and after moving to Lancaster, he began to play regularly with Jim Maguire and Gordon Johnson at the Pan Celtic Folk Club.
A regular fiddle player for the Haste to the Wedding ceilidh band in Larne, he plays both Scottish and Irish music and is a familiar face on the ceilidh circuit in Northern Ireland and further afield.
He is also a music teacher to learners of fiddle-craft and those at intermediate level.
Asked how he came to write the music for the show and from what sources he took his inspiration, Ciaran said: “Well, we started with one piece, which ends up at the end of the set and then I started to take music of the north west, Donegal and all across to Antrim and tried to adapt it so it had a bit of the sound of the north west as well as reflect the tale that is going on in the story at each stage.”
He described the Cathedral as “an absolutely amazing space” in which to perform.
A video of Lis and Ciaran talking about the show is available.