I love a good wood. The green, enchanting natural beauty that makes you feel alive, whatever the weather. In a few days time, one particular wood will also make you laugh, smile and feel warm inside. Killinthomas Woods, near Rathangan is the place to be on Sunday. If you don’t know it, go through the town and it is on the right at the roundabout. There may even be a signpost.
It is a place where I go with a friend to walk the dogs, burn a few calories and put the world to rights with my old pal Collette. If the trees could talk, we’d probably be arrested. We’re not the only ones who love the place. They hold special memories for the current Mayor of Kildare, Fiona O’Loughlin.
Having spent her childhood in Rathangan, she is deeply rooted in the area, as was her father Jimmy. “Dad was born and reared in Cappanargid as was his father before him. Whilst he loved travelling and adventuring he loved Rathangan”. Jimmy’s father Joe was on the very first Kildare County Council in 1898 and was a magistrate in the poor law union.
With the most beautiful woodland in the county right on his doorstep, Killinthomas was a place that he went to regularly. “He walked there daily, enjoying the chats with all he met. When the bluebells were up, it was his favourite time of the year”. The flowers are almost up and the wild garlic carpets the floor. That time is now.
When her father passed away two years ago, he left a big hole. “Jimmy was a huge personality in the lives of so many,” she shared over coffee. “He was proud of Kildare and so neighbourhood focused. He raised money to turn a local church into a community centre”. He also was a creative man and wrote, ‘Straws On The Wind’, a play about the effect of industrialization on a small town.
When he died, his family wanted to do something positive to celebrate their father’s life. Taking the three things that he cared about, community, nature and culture, they created ‘Bluebells And Buskers’ two years ago. It’s a great afternoon, set against the backdrop of the woods and a moving tribute to a much-loved man.
Mayor Fiona is no newcomer to organising events. She has been involved with festivals before. Bealtaine and Junefest in Newbridge, and in her hometown of Rathangan, Lughnasa. But it was her brother Brian, the driving force behind the day, who came up with the name for the event. ‘Bluebells’ for the flowers that carpet the woodland floor and ‘buskers’ for the variety of artists and performers who are dotted around the walkways.
“When we started it two years ago we expected 200 to come and almost a thousand turned up. It was a magical day for all of us”. This Sunday, walk along the pathways and you’ll discover performers: singers, poets, musicians sitting beneath a tree or around a corner and what better way to spend an hour or two. Leo, Pat and Claire will also be manning a BBQ, and Fiona’s Mother Mary and friends will be supplying tea and cakes.
On Sunday evening, the community centre will be opening at 8pm with music from local band “Bun os Cionn”. “Everybody’s welcome and admission is free. It’s a very special day, and an emotional one. It’s one that Dad would have really enjoyed,” she told me. Back in the 1970`s Jimmy spearheaded the task of building the centre for the town and fundraised for it. One of his last wishes was to help refurbish it. To date Bluebells and Buskers has raised a whopping €10,000.
This year, the proceeds will go towards the kitchen. “It’s almost complete, it is a fantastic asset to our town,” said Fiona. The icing on the cake will come later in the year when in November, to mark what would have been her father’s 80th birthday, the Rath Players will perform ‘Straws On The Wind’ in the newly refurbished centre. “He cared about it so much”. I doubt that there will be a dry eye in the house.
Sadly last summer Rathangan suffered another loss when another Jimmy O`Loughlin from Kilmoney passed away. Fiona explained, “He was a cousin, friend and neighbour and as a community we are bereft of the two Jimmy’s”. As a tribute, this year the event is in memory of both men.
Performers at Bluebells and Buskers have ranged from local school children to country and western singer Whizz O Rourke. The audience has enjoyed an eclectic mix of operatic performances from Philip Scott and rock and roll from Pud Barrett. There has been classical guitar from Conor O’Mahoney and a little poetry thrown in too. Frankie Lane will be a new artiste next week. But he’s not the only new kid on the block.
Yes, prepare to be amazed because I’m going to be performing. Singing, dancing, juggling or maybe swinging from a tree, I’ll not disclose. I have ruled out my children’s suggestions of fire eating and sword swallowing, along with tight rope walking and belly dancing. I was going to do something dangerous on roller-skates, maybe even knife throwing, but health and safety stepped in. I might need an assistant. I’m looking forward to taking part and hope that the audience will be patient with me.
Dust off the diary, sharpen the pencil and mark in this Sunday, 3rd May at 2pm. Head for the beautiful Killinthomas Woods. Bluebells and Buskers is a wonderful excuse to bring the whole family down to get outside and experience a little bit of magic.
Fiona O’Loughlin put it well, “It is a little bit of everything that is good about where we live and who we share it with. It’s an opportunity to be in a beautiful place, be entertained by local people, enjoy fresh air and one another”.
See you there.