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BAFFLE’s 13th Festival - 2009

In October 2009 the thirteenth BAFFLE festival took place, one that will go down in the annals as a very successful series of events, with the Turn a Blind Eye theme having inspired some truly brilliant poems and performances.

The festival was launched by Donegal born Caoimhe Ni Chonchoille, of RTEs Nuacht, who spoke to the audience as Gaeilge agus bearla, switching from one to the other with fluidity and style. She presented Loughrea Mayor Pat Hynes with a framed poem, written in honour of Loughrea hero Michael Farrell, a boxer who went on to become the Canadian Lightweight champion in 1910. The verses were written by author Vinnie Caprani, who enthralled those who attended the BAFFLE brunch with a moving portrait of the champion and an account of their long years of friendship.

Presentations were also made for the Primary School Irish poetry competition with Muireann Ní Bhaoill taking first prize and Ellen Ní Mhurchú coming second. Clare Kelly was announced winner of BAFFLE’s new ‘BEBO’ competition for second level students.

Appropriate to the boxing theme, the elimination heats of the poetry competition were redesignated Round One and Round Two and these were held on the Friday and Saturday nights in Harney’s bar. On both occasions the judges were Mark Conroy and Peggie Gallagher, with Mark having returned for the third time as judge and Sligo-based Peggie returning to Loughrea, having appeared as a guest poet last year. Those who attended on the Friday night had the added pleasure of a performance by Neev (Kennedy), who sang her own compositions and accompanied herself on the guitar.

At the end of two hard-fought nights, the judges put 17 competitors through to the ‘Knock Out’ on the Sunday evening.

On Saturday morning in the library, poet and lecturer Gerard Hanberry gathered a lively group for his creative writing workshop, encouraging all to be critical of their own work and to keep writing, even when inspiration seems not to be in the air. Enjambment was in the air, though, and you can look it up if you’re not sure where the legs are meant to be!

On Saturday afternoon, Baffler Thomas Glendon led a dedicated band around Loughrea Cathedral. Whereas many people know of the cathedral because of its outstanding stained glass windows, Tom, as a sculptor himself, gave a fascinating guided tour of the stonework and carvings in the building, as well as an informed tour of the cathedral museum. None of us who were there will ever see the cathedral in the same way again – he really opened our eyes and our minds to the marvellous treasures that occur above eye level!

The BAFFLE Brunch took place in the Loughrea Hotel, where two score sat down for breakfast and then were treated to a very entertaining peroration by Mr Eamonn McNally, followed by the 2008 poem that took him into the final and won him the coveted People’s Choice award, plus the highly entertaining poem he wrote on the 2009 theme. The outgoing BAFFLE Bard, Lorna Brown, read some of her work and then the guest writer Charlie Connelly explained how his last-but-one book, Attention All Shipping, was voted one of the UK’s favourite audiobooks, second only to Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and even ahead of Harry Potter. He gave an entertaining account of the places he visited while touring all the areas mentioned in the sea area forecast, and then touched on some of the historic routes he’d walked as a basis for his most recently published book, And Did Those Feet? To complete the brunch session, Vinnie Caprani, as mentioned above, gave a moving portrait of his old friend and the inspiration for the festival theme, Michael Farrell, a notable champion, despite being short of stature and blind in one eye.

The next venue, following the Brunch, was Loughrea’s beautiful Carmelite Abbey, in support of The Loughrea Lions Club who were hosting the Irish Youth Choir in a performance entitled ‘Generation Now’. Among those who sang with the choir was Christopher McDonald, whose parents are both members of the BAFFLE committee. The performance could only be described as being ‘magical’

The Knock Out round of the competition was also, of course, the Grand Finale. The compere of the evening was a special BAFFLE favourite, the incomparable Declan O’Brien, and he towered over the hundreds assembled in the ballroom of the Loughrea Hotel from the newly refurbished pulpit. He introduced Gearóidin Breathnach, a fine sean-nós singer, who regaled us with song and story from her native Donegal, before bringing on the principal judge of the competition, James Harpur. James is no stranger to BAFFLE, having hosted workshops and been a judge in both 2007 and 2008, and this year he came back with the 2009 Michael Hartnett award under his belt. James gave a reading from this collection and also talked about his appreciation of BAFFLE and how much he admired what it does. (Which went down well with all concerned!)

The final piece of musical entertainment was provided by Loughrea’s own Tony Callanan, singing some of his own compositions, including one which revealed the secret that he is, in fact, Elvis in disguise. (But you mustn’t tell anyone.)

After a break, the competition got under way and the standard was of the very highest, with the performance element being the strongest that this particular Baffler can ever remember.

Eventually James Harpur, whose deliberations had been aided by Peggie Gallagher, returned and gave a masterly series of comments on each of the final 17 poems. Encouraging, perceptive and sensitive, James hit the right note and then went on to announce the winners of the top three prizes: Margaret Hickey in third place, Cathleen Healy took second place and the People’s Choice award, and the hugely talented Peter Goulding is BAFFLE Bard 2009. Peter, who lives in Co Meath is a former winner of the Political Satire prize at the Strokestown International Poetry Competition. Cathleen came third last year, and was so inspired by that success that she travelled up from Co Cork again this year to take second prize.

Peter now joins the glorious ranks of those who have fought and won on the field of BAFFLE and his name will be inscribed on the BAFFLE turnip. That is a perpetual trophy, but Peter took away with him a mini-turnip that bears a striking resemblance to Al Turnip. Hmmmm!

All in all there were 52 poems performed in the competition and the following is a list of those who qualified for the Final ‘KNOCK OUT’ stage on Sunday night. (Listed in the order they performed):

Ian McDonald, James Kennedy, Margaret Hickey, Peter Goulding, Michael Coye, Joe Kelly, Vikki McNally, Cathleen Healy, Kevin Corry, Sarah Clancy, Ray Gately, Anne Marie Kennedy, Joe Conmy, Susan Lyndsy, Mags Treanor, Joe Kennedy, Pat Lawless.


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