Saluting the great Charles Macklin

Oct 13, 2013, 11:31 AM

Charles Macklin’s long life bookended two pivotal points in Irish history. Born weeks after William of Orange's 1690 triumph by the banks of the Boyne, he died the year before the 1798 Rebellion, just shy of 107. A giant of the London stage, his life had all the ingredients for a great play – lust, greed, murder, envy, ambition and talent. Not the sort of fellow you might think should be honoured hundreds of years later, but thankfully he is.

In the Actors' church of St. Paul's in London's Covent Garden, all of the good and the great actors have plaques on the walls in their memory. On the right hand side of the church is one of the more prominent memorials to the 'father of the modern stage' no less. In theatreland, Macklin has both a street and a hallowed plaque to remember him.

His hometown of Culdaff puts on an annual festival in October saluting the man. Now in its 24th year, the current festival that finishes up today was a great success. Nearby Enniskillen has managed to establish an annual Samuel Beckett festival on a tenuous connection relating back to his time at school there. It has the money behind it, but Macklin has soul and what it lacks in big budgets and marketing, it makes up for in generous hospitality and a vibrancy that warms the heart.

At the centre of the festival is local historian Dr. Sean Beattie, a one man publishing machine who launched his latest book, 'Donegal in Transition' on the opening Thursday night. Weeks ago, he launched a monumental book called 'The Atlas of Donegal' which he co-edited and wrote several chapters on. The man is 73, but has the stamina and looks of a man in his early fifties and he shows no signs of slowing up. I’ll be very disappointed if there isn't another book from the good doctor by Christmas!

Another stalwart of the festival is Dessie McCallion. Another walking encyclopaedia, he literally becomes one on the Saturday of the festival with the Great Macklin Walk. It’s Dessie at his best – out in the open, explaining the flora, the fauna and the folklore as he ventures along with forty or so followers. Never didactic, just full of stories and mischief and good humour; he has been the peninsula’s best ambassador for years.

The backbone of the festival though firmly rests with the talents of the McGrory family who run the legendary McGrory’s of Culdaff. Anne is a networking supremo and has that natural welcoming charm that makes a visit there worthwhile. John ensures the music for which it is famous, keeps on coming in and Neil is the one who likes to go for detail, be it local heritage or rigging up the Backroom for a concert. It’s a formidable combination and together it ensures that the venue is known throughout the country. On Friday night alone, they had master guitarist Carl Verheyen of Supertramp fame playing with his band.

Another McGrory, Deirdre Devine, is a local artist who has written a book on local artist, Willie Doran. She was lucky enough to have known Willie in the years up to 1979 when he came back to live and work in his native Culdaff. Willie’s talent ranged from landscape to portraits, but also cartoons, signage and remarkably, converting sods of turf into resplendent Irish homesteads. All were on display in the Wee Hall in an exhibition called ‘101 Recollections of Willie Doran’. They’d missed the centenary in 2012, but this was no Room 101 – look out for the forthcoming Joe Mahon TV special on Willie’s talents.

On the Saturday of the festival, there were two creative workshops run by Maureen Boyle and Malachi O’Doherty respectively. Malachai’s morning slot entitled ‘Telling your own Story’ was on writing a memoir, something he is adept at doing having written four. The key question to be asked was ‘what lesson did I understand from such and such an episode happening to me?’. It made for a lively two hours which flew by in no time. Maureen’s class entitled ‘Building a Paper House’ focused on the notion of home and pl...