By John Fitzgerald
CALLAN has been hitting the news for the wrong reasons lately, with intense media scrutiny on the closures of three newsagent, groceries and the proliferation of vacant premises and empty shop fronts.
But rays of hope are shining through the fog of despair and dilapidation.
A major boost has been news that the Town and Village Renewal Scheme is to allocate €72,000 to a clean-up of the King’s River, as outlined in a Reporter story.
This is hugely significant as it will boost local tourism and help to alleviate flooding problems.
Another positive amidst a plethora of grim negatives is the glowing jewel that is Fennelly’s of Upper Bridge Street.
Bucking the trend of closure and despondency, the former pub turned art and heritage hub continues to draw support for its ever expanding repertoire of musical, literary and visual art activities, apart from the attraction of a top class café.
Its Harvest Sunday event saw the capacious courtyard packed with people of all ages who converged on the former farmyard to press apples for juice in the quaint old fashioned way.
Exotic equipment was acquired to facilitate the time-honoured process and after hours of heaving and squeezing and turning of cranky old levers, the throng of exhausted volunteers sat back and sipped apple juice.
They conversed and sang as they drank under brooding autumnal skies that threatened to unleash mayhem. Happily the heavens retained a sufficient touch of benevolence.
There was face painting by local artists, a spooky film was shown in Fennelly’s little cinema and clay ovens flamed to life, producing quintessential home-made pizzas and other culinary delights.
Nothing went to waste. After all the juice was extracted, the pulp was carefully set aside to be fed to livestock.
The apples were supplied by orchards in the greater Callan district and further afield.
Some apples were collected by a team led by Etaoin Holohan, curator of the success story that is Fennelly’s Creative Space.
Etaoin and her Apple Picking Commandos harvested at Maiden Hall, Bennettsbbridge, assisted by Suzanna Crampton, the acclaimed photographer, artist, and breeder of rare pedigree sheep.
Etaoin thanked Suzanna and enthused: “We had a wonderful day of windfall gathering, ram staring down, puppy cavorting, cooking-pear picking, stall power washing, dove fluttering, alpaca spotting, cat cuddling, and gate climbing.”
A few days after Harvest Sunday apple pressing, Fennelly’s hosted a major musical treat.
A legendary Japanese saxophonist and film maker arrived in Callan as part of his Irish tour.
Following a screening of his latest short film, Katsuri Yamauchi gave a mesmeric solo performance in Fennelly’s Kitchen.
There was barely standing room as this artist who enjoys iconic status in Japan wooed on sax with a series of haunting tunes.
Then Katsuri moved to the courtyard where an even bigger audience applauded a mind blowing musical improvisation featuring Yamauchi and a Dublin band.
Revellers danced and jived al fresco, heedless of the howling wind and drizzling rain that accompanied Yamauchi on sax, Fergus Cullen on keyboard, clarinet, guitar, Damien Lennon on bass and Jamie Davis on drums.
If anything, nature’s intervention added to the zany appeal of the music.
The revellers had dressed appropriately for the occasion, so nobody complained about the weather.
Open fires blazed in courtyard barrels throughout and the aroma of mouth watering food prepared by chef Aoif Holahan sweetened the turbulent Callan air.
The super talented man from Tokyo praised Fennelly’s for its professional olde worlde ambience and said he loved his stay in Callan.
Among his delighted audience, some hoped that the sense of boundless joy and optimism brimming in the old pub, courtyard might spill over…and breathe life into the town’s economic recovery.