It was upon the back of a trailer on a then chilly May bank holiday weekend in 2015 that Arklow Music and Arts first emerged, a concert showcasing just some of the talent in the community. Four years on, countless hours spent fundraising, begging, borrowing, recycling old into renewed, the May bank holiday weekend in 2019 was one of celebration, and a landmark arrival as AMA proudly opened The Asgard Theatre, Arklow’s first black box style performance space above Kenny’s Of The Harbour public house on Arklow’s Lower Main Street.
Due to the unique intimacy of the venue, the opening weekend celebrations were spread over three evenings, with a traditional Irish music evening opening proceedings on Friday evening. The official opening of The Asgard Theatre was performed on Saturday evening, with the red carpet rolled out and the glitz and glamour of just some of Arklow’s finest talents performing.
Fr. Michael Murtagh performed a blessing upon the theatre, followed by James Kearon with a powerful rendition of “Asgard II”, a wonderful poem penned by local historian, Michael Fitzgerald, setting a high bar for the rest of the evening. Stunning performances flowed continuously with an enthusiastic audience loving the new surroundings and a state of the art sound system earning the plaudits and approval of all, as Avril O’Toole, Eoin Hayden, Karla Tracey and Denise Brennan filled the theatre with some beautiful sounds.
The youth of today, our stars of tomorrow, were represented with Bri-Elle Finn and Fionn Vigors showcasing their talents, while the somewhat more experienced duo of John Bonner and Georgie Byrne combined to perform a delightful jazz number. A moment’s poignancy followed with Ború’s Tommy Breen dedicating his and John Nolan’s stunning delivery of “The Lonesome Boatman” to the late Johnny Byrne, and John Hogan Junior, former colleagues. Masters of their craft, we were indulged with the talents of Denis New opening the second half of the show with his pipes, and All Ireland champion harmonica player Denis Nolan. Patricia Graham’s mandolin was beautifully accompanied by John Nolan, whose gift and guile with a guitar is always a wonder to behold. Niamh O’Connor’s violin took the audience on a nautical route, with a beautiful playing of the theme from “The Onedin Line”. Kiera Broe was enthralling with a dance improvisation routine, and we were also treated to some gorgeous big sounds from Naoimh Penston, Zena Donnelly, and Leslie Dowdall. Saturday’s landmark concert concluded with a repertoire of tunes from the Arklow Silver Band, bringing the audience to their feet.
Sunday evening’s concert started once more with James Kearon’s reading of “Asgard II”, and then Cruinniú set the tone for the evening with a gorgeous selection of songs. Classical guitarist Michael Stedman indulged the audience with sounds more commonly found on the Iberian Peninsula before Sara Clancy hit the heights, accompanied on harp by Hilda Browne. Avonmore Musical Society took centre stage, with Jennifer Lee’s delicious version of “If I Loved You”, from ‘Carousel’. Members of the cast from their recent production, “9 to 5 The Musical” then performed a number of songs from the show.
Denis New again opened the second half of the show, followed by Patrick Bracken’s nautical “Somewhere Beyond The Sea”. Youth very firmly took centre stage with both Caoimhe Ní Chonchúir and Sean Fox performing excellent self-penned numbers with a confidence belying their youthfulness. Eimear Harper, another immensely talented name for the future, performing alongside her father, Fran, opted also for a song she wrote, and the ringing endorsement all three youngsters received spoke volumes. Percussionist Tony Byrne showcased his many talents with a display of instruments and sounds. The Harper Family filled the air with an array of marvellous traditional Irish music, again most of it self-penned, and the evening was rounded off with a superb display from the Breda O’Connor School of Irish Dancing.
AMA chairperson Yvonne Kenny enthused after an immensely successful opening weekend, “we would have loved to have invited more people to the Asgard, such was the interest and the demand for tickets.” She added, “It has been a wonderful weekend for music in Arklow with the opening of the theatre, even though we only showcased a small percentage of the talent that thrives here in the town. I cannot thank enough all those people who have supported us this far, particularly those who sent us cards, flowers, and donations. I also want to thank Declan and Liz from The Harbour Bar, who answered our call and supported us when we first asked the community for a performance space. As someone once said, ‘if you build it, they will come…’ In the weeks ahead, we hope to show as many people around the theatre, and have already taken some bookings. They can find us on Facebook or through our website at arklowtheatre.com.”