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Céad mile fáilte and welcome to Féile Róise Rua!

This inaugural festival is the culmination of many hours, weeks and months of discussion and organization by the Féile committee, a newly formed voluntary group interested in perpetuating the memory of Róise na nAmhrán and in sharing the wealth of song and story associated with Róise Rua and Arranmore Island.

The central part of the festival’s ethos is to celebrate and nurture unaccompanied song, the essence of Róise’s legacy. The festival is not so much based on performance as on the sharing of songs, tunes and stories that might otherwise be lost. Hence the essential activity will be of unaccompanied singing sessions at various locations on the island.

In addition to these sessions, the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA) will kindly facilitate the provision of a pop-up archive on the island for the duration of the festival. For this facility the festival committee is extremely grateful and perhaps we may aspire to a more permanent facility in the future, to assist other scholars and students, and spread further afield the culture and traditions of Róise Rua and Oileán Árainn Mhór.

This inaugural event is extremely fortunate in having such a line-up of highly talented and well-known singers and speakers and these talents will be shared particularly at a Club na Féile special concert on the Saturday night. We wish to make it clear, however, that contributions of unaccompanied song and story will be welcome from all who wish to participate and attend at the various sessions throughout the weekend.

Photo of Róise Rua Copyright National Folklore Collection

a little About Róise rua

Róise Rua or Róise na nAmhrán was born in 1879, daughter of Thomas Coll from Sheshkinarone, Dungloe, and Maighréad Ward from Cloghcor, Arranmore Island. After her father’s untimely death in 1883, her mother remarried, this time to Antain Gallagher, also known as An Búistéir, from Arranmore Island, and moved back to Arranmore. The island remained Róise’s home for the rest of her life, apart from periods of time she spent each year between the age of 9 and 29, working as a seasonal labourer in the Laggan area of East Donegal and tatie-hoking in Scotland, like many other islanders. Róise’s stepfather, An Búistéir, was a great storyteller and people flocked to their house to hear his stories. Her mother, Maighréad, had a great repertoire of songs, which she passed on to Róise during her childhood. Later Róise, herself, became well known on the island for her singing, and people would often visit her home ‘ag airneáil’, to hear her songs and the tales associated with them.

Róise was relatively unknown outside of Arranmore during her lifetime. It was Pádraig Ua Cnáimhsí, a local school teacher, who first drew attention to her wealth of song and story in 1951. He began writing her biography, based on her own telling, and painstakingly transcribed the words of 86 of her songs. He also wrote to the Irish Folklore Commission, requesting help in making audio recordings of her music. As a result, Seán Ó hEochaidh, from the Folklore Commission, came to visit Róise in 1953, and transcribed 67 songs, as well as stories and background notes in manuscript form. He returned again four months later with Proinsias Ó Conluain and Jimmy Mahon from Raidió Éireann, who spent a week on the island recording 60 of Róise’s songs for a radio programme. These recordings may have been lost entirely, if it were not for Cathal Goan, who salvaged them in the early 1990s and released 25 of Róise’s songs on cassette and subsequently on CD, under the title Róise na nAmhrán: Songs of a Donegal Woman (1994,1996). These recordings have since become a valuable resource for singers in Donegal and all over Ireland.

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