40 years of Spink Comhaltas – personal reflections
“Verba volant, scripta manent – spoken words fly away, written ones remain.”
“Why are you doing this?” is a question I was asked a few times over the course of this project to document the history of Spink Comhaltas. There were many reasons.
I’ve always been interested in history. I looked at trophies and wondered “what was the story behind that person?”. I saw people who had done significant work in the branch before I joined, and I had some appreciation for what they did, but after a few years, they had moved onto their next chapter, and the next group of parents did not know, or appreciate, what these people had done. But mostly, because I felt there was a story to tell, or at least to start to tell, about Spink Comhaltas.
We emphasize to our students that it is important to understand the tradition behind our music. I think that should also be true for our branches.
For any organization to continue for 40 years is a significant milestone. It is even more so for a voluntary organization, where no volunteer is paid, each does their best at the time in the circumstances they faced, and each tried to hand the branch over in better shape to the group who followed them.
And so, while this book is a History of Spink Comhaltas, it is also just the start of what I hope will be a continued story.
I am not sure how many other branches across Comhaltas have been able to put together their own history – within Laois, I know that Portarlington branch had a comprehensive history written up by Shirley Conway and her late husband Gerry about 10 years ago. As time goes by, it becomes more difficult to document branch histories, but having gone through the process, I would certainly encourage every branch to consider putting down on paper what is available.
There are too many people to list to whom I am indebted to in the production of this book. However, special thanks to Labhrás Ó Murchú for arranging the very important financial support to underwrite the research and production of this history book. More importantly, the support and encouragement he provided to proceed with this project was very helpful – particularly when the research process was challenging. Thank you also to the present Committee of Spink Comhaltas for their support and encouragement, and for their on-going commitment to write the next chapters of Spink Comhaltas.
‘Ní bhíonn in aon rud ach seal. Everything passes, nothing remains the same.’
The project to collate and write the history of the branch has been insightful. I have learned that the branch had a rich and varied history, long before I became involved. That was good to learn, and a reminder that every group builds on the legacy left to them by previous groups.
I have learned about the enormous contribution from individuals who were too modest to speak about it until I teased it out of them.
I have also learned that the heart of Spink Comhaltas since its foundation has been the mothers of the children in the branch. By and large, women have made the branch what it is. They have held the majority of the leadership positions over the years, and speaking for myself, the only reason I could make my contribution to the branch was because of the support of my own wife, Ethna. I suspect the same may be true of any of the other men who have held leadership positions over the last 40 years.
As I step away from a direct leadership role in Spink Comhaltas, I am reminded about the importance of succession planning. I know from talking to each of the previous chairpersons of the branch, their biggest concern was to hand over the branch in good shape, and to have a new leadership group who are set up to lead the branch into the next chapter. Leading a branch in the modern era has different challenges to the past – with greater regulatory and governance requirements, insurance, child protection, GDPR, a much higher cost base to cover – and greater competition from other artistic and sporting organisations, not to mention higher expectations from parents.
So, the messages I have tried to leave with the next leadership team include the following: think big, to believe in themselves, to respect the past, but not to be bound by it. Continue to adapt and grow. Success can be as hard to manage as failure – that’s a good problem. Make the decisions you believe are the best for the branch, the members, and especially the student musicians. Take advice but have the courage to make your own decisions. Invest in the long term, and don’t get discouraged by short-term setbacks or disappointments. If the process you are working is good, then the results will follow. Be generous to support others if you can. Always be developing your successors. And keep the photographs and documents to write the next chapter of this history.
I consider it a privilege to have been involved in Spink Comhaltas and Laois Comhaltas. To everyone I have gotten to know across Comhaltas over the last number of years – thank you, and I look forward to seeing you in a different capacity at the next event – be it the Fleadh Cheoil or a small music seisiún.