It is a major milestone for any organisation to celebrate 40 years in existence, particularly for an organisation which is reliant on unpaid volunteers who do the work for the love of Irish music and for the sake of promoting it amongst generations of children.
Spink Comhaltas was founded on 22 November 1983. This was celebrated at a major book launch setting out the branch’s history on paper for the first time. Writer, and former chairman, Lawrence Vesey noted that while Comhaltas had a great track record in preserving the tradition of our music, song, dance and storytelling, and honoured the tradition of great composers and performers, the actual volunteers and branches who make it all happen often get forgotten about. This is mainly because such volunteers do not seek the limelight or attention for themselves, but also because records and memories fade or get lost over time.
Padraig Duffy, a National Trustee of Comhaltas, was the guest of honour at the book launch. He welcomed the publication of the book as an important artefact – not just for the capture of factual aspects of Comhaltas in Laois, but also for the rich stories and memories which were captured too. Padraig noted the depth of research in the history book, running to 350 pages and 80,000 words, a reflection of deep research and interviews over the period of 12 months by the writer. He noted that perhaps this great initiative by Spink Comhaltas would encourage other branches in Laois, and further afield, to consider putting together histories of their own branches.
The event itself was a celebration and an opportunity for old friends to meet again, in the context of music. The event opened with the lighting of a special candle dedicated to the memory of all past members of Spink Comhaltas and friends of Spink who performed with us on many occasions. Special mention was made of the founding members of the branch, past teachers, the talented Aisling Murphy from Offaly who played with a senior Spink orchestra in 2018 and 2019, and especially for Cathal Clooney who passed away during the pandemic, and who would have been one of the performers at the event if he had still been alive.
The continued existence of the branch was celebrated in a ceremony where all of the past chairpersons, or representatives, brought up symbols of different aspects of the branch over the 40 years. Awards from Comhaltas were also presented to past selected officers and teachers, as representatives of all volunteers, to thank them for their contribution and generosity.
The main part of the evening was based around music from Spink’s current and past members, with U12, U15 and U18 musicians performing on stage to a capacity audience. A special regathering of an U18 orchestra who last competed for Spink in 2011 took place, and this senior group gave a memorable performance. Finally, the most recent group of senior musicians closed the evening with a lively session of music which ran late into the night.
Lawrence thanked the current branch leadership for their support in producing the book and congratulated them on their continued growth. This is now opening a new chapter. The growth in student numbers has seen music lessons move to a larger, modern venue in Scoil Mhuire in Abbeyleix which offers the opportunity to provide additional classes and specialist tuition. He noted that while Spink musicians had achieved strong results in competitions over the last 40 years, the single most important message coming through in the book was the friendships developed and lasting from people’s time in Spink. He encouraged the current generation to continue making “great memories”.