It’s good to be back!

Conal Creedon tells AISLING MEATH about how lockdown affected him, and his first gig back, alongside his old friend John Spillane, in a place that’s close to his heart — the Beara Peninsula
It’s good to be back!

REACHING OUT FOR A CONNECTION: Conal Creedon missed interaction during the lockdowns

IN January, 2020, writer Conal Creedon was enjoying a few days in Switzerland, having been invited to speak at the James Joyce Foundation centre for Irish studies at Zurich University.

“It was such a fantastic few days,” he recalls, “the city was fascinating and I vowed to return in the spring.”

Little did he know then that it was going to be his last live public appearance for some time, and that so much creative engagement was about to come to a screeching halt.

“I remember being at the Cabaret Voltaire club and having a fleeting conversation about this thing called ‘Coronavirus’,” says Conal. “But the general feeling at that time was that it was just a storm in a teacup, we’d all get a cough and move on.

“But then, within weeks, the world was in lockdown.”

The pandemic has affected each of us in different ways, not least those who have lost loved ones. For Conal, it has been a time to count our blessings.

“Truthfully, I always think of the horrific reality of ordinary everyday people who live in war zones or seriously underdeveloped countries,” he says, “and I just think how lucky we are here in Ireland. I’m all for affecting change but I really don’t have much time for whingeing.

“Covid or no Covid, my heart sinks when I think of what it must feel like to be a person or a family living in long term Direct Provision during this past while.

“I imagine a scenario in 20 years’ time when we will all cheer when a sportsperson, artist, academic or musician who has been raised in Direct Provision raises a trophy or wins an award for Ireland, so I think we can avoid much of the finger- pointing and ‘Who did what-ery’ of the future by actively solving the problems of the present.”

Of course, the pandemic has also affected the arts, a case close to Conal’s heart.

Conal Creedon in his beloved Beara Peninsula, where he will be doing a music and storytelling gig with John Spillane on August 28
Conal Creedon in his beloved Beara Peninsula, where he will be doing a music and storytelling gig with John Spillane on August 28

“During the pandemic, I realised that almost everything we do is all about the white noise of human interaction, that sense of low level contact with other living beings, which is very important for our wellbeing,” he says.

“I really missed, most of all, the casual conversations with relative strangers, and of course I dearly missed the interaction with my close confidants.”

One of Conal’s closet friends is the songwriter John Spillane, with whom he has creatively collaborated over the years. He is looking forward to doing so again in August at ‘Wild Atlantic Glamping’ on gorgeous Bere island.

“Myself and John have been friends for the best part of 30 years,” says Conal. “He played All The Ways You Wander at my father’s funeral at the North Cathedral back in 1999.

“We started collaborating around 20 years ago, and since then it has developed in a very organic way. We toured China together in 2013 with nothing but a guitar and a bag of scripts between us. Sharing a slow plane to Shanghai was a great test of a friendship, but we came out of it with flying colours.”

Conal is really looking forward to the August gig with John, when the pair head west.

“I’m absolutely so excited about it. My mother’s people are from Beara, my father’s people are from Iveleary and John’s roots are in Bantry, so it’s like the perfect triangulation of a homecoming.

“Beara means so much to me personally with my maternal family coming from Adrigole, It’s an extremely soulful place for me, and I am delighted to be doing my first post lockdown gig there.

Conal and John kept busy during lockdown streaming online shows from the Opera House and the Everyman Palace in Cork, as well as a video for ‘Inclusion Europe’.

They are currently rehearsing their full performance and Conal says John leaves no stone unturned to ensure their concert is tightly tuned.

“In fairness to John, he leaves nothing to chance, he’s got a great capacity to ‘Give it one more go!’”

When it comes to writing for Conal. there is no full stop. His last book, Begotten Not Made, won several awards and prestigious nominations and he has another one ready to roll off the presses. Pancho And Lefty Ride Again will be available in October.

At the moment, he also has two new books and a stage play on his mind.

“I’m certainly not looking for inspiration for what to write next. I’m looking for time and space to write what’s in my head.” he says, and that’s something to look forward to indeed.

Music and storytelling with Conal Creedon and John Spillane, August 28, at Wild Atlantic Glamping.

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