Whenever the Kilkenny village of Tullaroan pops up in conversation among ‘non-Tullaroanites’, the chances are that two names immediately spring to mind: hurling heroes Lory Meagher and Tommy Walsh.
In this particular newspapering parish, another native of those parts, namely long-serving scribe Tom Young, is another one readily associates with the hamlet, home to the county’s oldest GAA club.
But there’s more to Tullaroan than a production line of hurlers and the odd estimable reporter. Take local resident Noreen O’Neill, a Munster Express/Dooley’s Hotel Heritage and Culture Award winner, for example.
Over the past quarter century, Noreen has kept a shoulder firmly to the wheel of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann at local, county and provincial level.
“I’m the chairperson of our branch at the moment, am sectetary of the county board and am the auditor of the provincial council,” said Noreen, who won our inaugural ‘Cultural Individual’ award.
If that’s not enough, she is also responsible for inviting overseas groups for the annual Kilkenny Celtic Festival, held in the city over the first weekend of October.
Noreen informed this column of her many roles in the most humble of manners. It’s a bit like Declan Kidney telling you he’s the coach of the Irish rugby team without mentioning the Grand Slam and the unbeaten year that they remarkably achieved.
“It’s time consuming work, but it’s become a very enjoyable part of my life,” she added, before explaining how she came to answer the Comhaltas call.
“I got involved initially through a set dancing group that I joined about 25 years ago. The man that was teaching us at the time wanted to revive the group in Kilkenny which, at that time, was dwindling, but that move led to re-establishing the Comhaltas branch in Kilkenny and we took it from there.”
And from that seed a mighty cultural oak has grown, with the 100-strong Kilkenny Comhaltas membership currently boasting two different performing groups – Ceoltóirí Kilkenny for the adults and the junior Siamsóirí Kilkenny.
“We’ve got a lot of kids and adults involved with us, a lot more than what we had say, 10 years ago,” Noreen continued.
“We have music classes every Thursday night, right throughout the winter…and that’s really all down to having the performing groups, where the people who are coming through the classes get a chance to get involved, perform and travel.
“We also have a very popular Irish show during the summer with Ceoltóirí Kilkenny in Kilkenny Castle. Added to that, we also perform at events and functions in Kilkenny, particularly where event organisers are keen to showcase traditional Irish entertainment to foreign visitors.”
Both adult and senior groups are also invited to foreign festivals annually, a massive perk of getting involved with Comhaltas.
“Membership has broadened a lot of our horizons!” said a smiling Noreen, who re-iterated an earlier comment about the nature of her work – all voluntary, it’s worth pointing out. “It’s just incredibly enjoyable.”
As our chat drew to a close, asking Noreen to pinpoint the most enjoyable element of her involvement with Comhaltas left her momentarily stumped – in the best manner possible!
“There are so many ways I could answer that question,” she began.
“The touring and the travelling gives me a huge deal of satisfaction – to go and take a show abroad and perform in another country on another stage and play our national anthem, to take our culture abroad and promote Kilkenny and Ireland is just fantastic.
“That to me is what it’s all about. The enjoyment of seeing what audiences get from what we do and the enjoyment which our performers get from putting on a show is just tremendous.”
Noreen’s commitment to the traditional cause would, no doubt, have won the late Liam Clancy’s approval. “Keep the home fires burning,” might well have been a thought he’d have shared with Noreen had their paths crossed. No doubt, she’ll do just that.