WEB SUMMIT BUSINESS

Web Summit, RDS  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Web Summit, RDS Photo: © Michael Fisher

The main hall at the RDS complex in Dublin was a hive of activity during the Web Summit. Presentations being made on various stages. I immediately noticed the stands of some major players in the world of business: Microsoft, PayPal, Verizon, Bing and a host of others including media players such as the Irish Times and RTÉ. But walking through to the next hall is where I found the real activity and what I thought was the most interesting part of the event.

Presentations at the Web Summit  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Presentations in the Startup Village Photo: © Michael Fisher

This was the Alpha Startup Village. No large stands as in traditional exhibitions. Instead, each exhibitor was standing beside a board which had a poster with the name and some details of the company and on the wooden shelf underneath, there was room for one laptop. This is where new companies are born and bred. These exhibitors are young entrepreneurs all with different apps to promote and looking for investment. Much of their time here is spent networking and when two of them separately stopped me for a chat (seeing my media badge), I was happy to speak to both companies about their stories.

Gaylord Roukine of ilooove.it  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Gaylord Roukine of ilooove.it Photo: © Michael Fisher

Interested in mountain climbing? Then Gaylord Loukine from Namur in Belgium has just the app for you: http://climbing.ilooove.it/ is designed to help climbers around the world to share their passion for the sport, to discover new spots for climbing and also to make new friends in what they hope is an inspiring way.

Bastien Sannac of meludia.com   Photo: © Michael Fisher

Bastien Sannac of meludia.com Photo: © Michael Fisher

The other app I was introduced to promises a new perspective to help you understand music. Bastien Sannac is the founder of http://www.meludia.com/login which employs twelve people and is based in Paris.

WEB SUMMIT: DUBLIN

RDS Dublin: venue for Web Summit Photo: © Michael Fisher

RDS Dublin: venue for Web Summit Photo: © Michael Fisher

Entering the Royal Dublin Society headquarters in Ballsbridge I wasn’t sure what to expect from the web summit. Pre-summit publicity suggested there would be 10,000 people from over 90 countries gathered in the various halls, a big increase on the few hundred at the start four years ago when Paddy Cosgrave and his team began work. Was it just a big PR exercise for Irish and international technology companies, or was it a chance for app developers, many of them young graduates, to do business?

Main Stage at the Web Summit, RDS  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Main Stage at the Web Summit, RDS Photo: © Michael Fisher

It was certainly a major logistical exercise and the hotels and restaurants in Dublin are no doubt benefitting from the influx, although having to cope with water supply problems doesn’t do much to promote the interests of the capital. I noticed there was another major gathering in town: at the National Conference Centre, the International Air Travel Association is holding the third World Passenger Symposium with some 650 delegates. So Dublin is certainly attracting plenty of business.

Múirne Laffan, Head of RTÉ Digital  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Múirne Laffan, Head of RTÉ Digital Photo: © Michael Fisher

The RDS complex was bustling with summit participants packed into various halls. It was late on that I discovered the impressive main stage, where An Taoiseach rang the bell for the US NASDAQ stock exchange this afternoon, the first time it had been opened on Irish soil. I found the RTÉ lounge in a good spot in the main hall. Managing Director RTÉ Digital Múirne Laffan was there and she had been one of the speakers this morning on digital marketing, examining the topic ‘Content is King’. I notice there was some criticism on social media about the low percentage of female speakers at the summit.

(to be continued)

JONATHAN AITKEN ON THATCHER

Jonathan Aitken at the Belfast Festival at Queens Photo: © Michael Fisher

Jonathan Aitken at the Belfast Festival at Queens Photo: © Michael Fisher

Jonathan Aitken spent over an hour regaling the large audience in the Great Hall at Queen’s with his insights into the political career of the late Margaret Thatcher. But perhaps more interesting were his anecdotes about the family life of the Thatchers, based mainly upon his three year relationship with Carol Thatcher in the 1970s.

Stephen Walker interviewed Jonathan Aitken at the Belfast Festival Photo: © Michael Fisher

Stephen Walker interviewed Jonathan Aitken at the Belfast Festival Photo: © Michael Fisher

BBC reporter Stephen Walker guided him expertly through his 700-page book,  Margaret Thatcher: Power And Personality, published by  Bloomsbury Continuum. This is one of the shorter works on the former Prime Minister and is some 200 pages less than Volume One of Charles Moore’s authorised biography ‘Not for Turning’, published after her death in April.

Margaret Thatcher by Jonathan Aitken Photo: © Michael Fisher

Margaret Thatcher by Jonathan Aitken Photo: © Michael Fisher

Extracts from Aitken’s work have already been serialised in the Daily Mail and if you want some idea of the stories the former Conservative MP told in Belfast on Sunday, fresh from appearances in Ilkley and Guildford, then you can read them here and here.

Audience at the Great Hall in Queen's University Photo: © Michael Fisher

Audience at the Great Hall in Queen’s University Photo: © Michael Fisher

From his first meeting with Margaret Thatcher when she was a junior shadow minister in the mid 1960s, during her time as leader of the Opposition when he was a close family friend, and as a Member of Parliament throughout her years in power, Aitken had a special insight into many of the public and private happenings in the life of the woman dubbed ‘The Iron Lady’.

Jonathan Aitken with his books Photo: © Michael Fisher

Jonathan Aitken with his books Photo: © Michael Fisher

Aitken told the festival audience that in her heart Mrs T was a unionist but her head told her that a political arrangement over Ireland was worth pursuing and this led to the signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement in November 1985. Just a few months after surviving the IRA Brighton bomb during the Conservative party conference in October 1984, she set up a back channel for contacts with the Sinn Féin leadership. Central to reaching the Agreement was the relationship between Robert Armstrong, her Cabinet Secretary and his Irish counterpart Dermot Nally.

Jonathan Aitken at the Belfast Festival at Queen's  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Jonathan Aitken at the Belfast Festival at Queen’s Photo: © Michael Fisher

From his unique vantage point, Aitken shed new light on many crucial episodes of Thatcherism, including her ousting of Ted Heath, her battles with her Cabinet, the Falklands War, the Miners’ Strike, and the build up to the plotting within the Conservative Party that brought about her downfall. In this biography, Aitken has used material from his own diaries and a wealth of extensive research including ninety interviews with statesmen like Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger and Lord Carrington to many of her No.10 private secretaries and personal friends. His book conveys a fascinating portrait of the most influential political leader of post-war Britain, who was liked by many but also loathed especially by republicans in Northern Ireland because of her stance over the hunger strikers.

Jonathan Aitken at the Belfast Festival  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Jonathan Aitken at the Belfast Festival Photo: © Michael Fisher

Aitken has written a dozen books. In 1997 he lost his Parliamentary seat. Then he faced a charge of perjury and perverting the course of justice, and in 1999 was jailed for 18 months. He tells an interesting story about the time he left prison and soon afterwards received a welcome invitation to join Denis Thatcher for lunch at his London club.

Looking at Aitken’s own life story is also interesting. He was born in Dublin and Taoiseach Éamonn de Valera attended his christening in 1942. Aged four, he was admitted to Cappagh hospital for treatment for tuberculosis and spent a few years there in the care of the nuns as an in-patient until the age of seven when he was able to rejoin his parents in England (Wikipedia).

One of Jonathan’s twin daughters, Victoria, flew over from London to hear his talk and this was her first visit to Belfast. I hope she got to see Wish, the new face of the city, created specially for the festival, as she departed from the City airport.

DAMN THE CIRCUS

Damn the Circus in Belmont Park Photo: © Michael Fisher

Damn the Circus in Belmont Park Photo: © Michael Fisher

One of my duties as a volunteer with the Belfast Festival at Queens was to attend the performance by Tumble Circus called ‘Damn the Circus’ at Belmont Park in East Belfast, which was on for two nights. The following weekend it moved across to the Falls Park in the West of the city, an example of the Festival organisation seeking to reach out into other parts of Belfast apart from the leafy suburbs of the Malone Road. I enjoyed the performance by the three members of this far from traditional circus.

Damn the Circus Tent in Belmont Park Photo: © Michael Fisher

Damn the Circus Tent in Belmont Park Photo: © Michael Fisher

This was not one of the events for which I was blogging. The volunteer that evening was Colin Hassard,  a Festival Ambassador, and I reproduce his review here from the BFQ Festival Blog page:

“The small-top in Belmont Park provided the setting for Damn The Circus, a three person performance of tragic-comedy theatre set behind a dazzling and distinctive display of circus and artistic spectacle.  From the opening scene of acrobatic strength, poetical monologue, and foreboding harp, we were aware that this would not be the circus as we know it.

As narratives of family, life and reality were subtly explored, the audience learnt how each performer aspires to something bigger and better, from joining Cirque Du Soleil, to working with Enya – all portrayed with comic frustration at their current situation.

Damn the Circus in Belmont Park Photo: © Michael Fisher

Damn the Circus in Belmont Park Photo: © Michael Fisher

The show was interwoven with familiar songs by artists such as Snow Patrol and Johnny Cash, yet these propelled the narrative and to have Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit eerily plucked by harpist Ursula Burns as the acrobats taunted gravity high above the stage, only added more tension.

Acrobats Ken and Tina clearly had a deep and trusted understanding, yet it was Tina’s solo aerial silk performance that provided a personal highlight. As she wriggled and twisted through the red curtains only to repeatedly tumble and be caught at the last moment, you could hear the audience’s gasps before their enthralled laughter.

Damn the Circus in Belmont Park Photo: © Michael Fisher

Damn the Circus in Belmont Park Photo: © Michael Fisher

Damn the Circus was a unique and refreshing take on circus traditions and provided wonderful entertainment”.

Damn the Circus at the Belfast Festival at Queen's

Damn the Circus at the Belfast Festival at Queen’s

BARN DANCE FOR LIONS

Barn Dance Photo: © Michael Fisher

Barn Dance Photo: © Michael Fisher

Most Lions Clubs have a ‘tail twister’, an officer and the ‘pep master’ of each Club. His duties (I think I should add the alternative ‘her’ as well) are “to instil enthusiasm and good fellowship in the meetings, and to keep harmony. (S)He is empowered to impose, as well as collect, fines from the members. There shall be no appeal from the tail twister’s decision in imposing a fine, and he (she) may not be fined except by the unanimous vote of the members present.

Meet the new 'tail twister' of Monaghan Lions Club...!  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Meet the new ‘tail twister’ of Monaghan Lions Club…! Photo: © Michael Fisher

Well it looks like Monaghan Lions Club who have several female members just got themselves a new tail twister, judging by the fellow I saw standing beside the stage at their barn dance tonight (Saturday 26th October) in Tyholland Community Centre. I think he said his name was Wayne….

Burger and a hat all for €7: good value in a good cause! Photo: © Michael Fisher

Burger and a hat all for €7: good value in a good cause! Photo: © Michael Fisher

Anyway he was one of the many all dressed up in cowboy/cowgirl attire. The appropriate dress for the night appeared to be jeans and checked shirts for the men and a variety of outfits for the ladies, most of whom brought along hats. The Club was also selling a variety of hats for €4 for those who wanted to enter into the spirit of the occasion.

The Outlaws Photo: © Michael Fisher

The Outlaws Photo: © Michael Fisher

It was an enjoyable evening dancing to The Outlaws as Monaghan Lions Club revived their barn dance fundraiser in aid of Club charities. The Tyholland Centre doubled up as the barn and a marquee was erected alongside to serve as the ‘saloon’, serving drinks and burgers. Plenty of prizes in the raffle as well, including a number of pairs of tickets for forthcoming Ireland rugby international matches.

Aidan Clerkin at Monaghan Lions Club Barn Dance Photo: © Michael Fisher

Aidan Clerkin at Monaghan Lions Club Barn Dance Photo: © Michael Fisher

On arrival, Aidan Clerkin was on stage, providing a variety of country and Irish music and doing his best to encourage them to dance, but it was a while before the crowd found their dancing shoes. The main act was The Outlaws from Castleblayney in County Monaghan. They comprise of Sean Hughes, JJ McCourt, Brian Walsh and brothers Craig and Adam Davis, who are both grand nephews of Irish country legend Big Tom McBride.

Michael Fisher, Belfast Lions Club supporting the Monaghan Lions event Photo: © Evelyn Fisher

Michael Fisher, Belfast Lions Club supporting the Monaghan Lions event Photo: © Evelyn Fisher

Plus brilliant fiddle playing by Diane Traynor. who brings her own style and glamour to the band and her fiddle playing skills and sweet singing range enhance the band’s appeal. It’s just a pity that when they came to perform a ‘Siege of Ennis’ dance that there were only a few takers.

Monaghan Lions Club carry out projects throughout the year in service of the community. At Christmas, they hold an annual food appeal in conjunction with St Vincent de Paul. The Club meets on the first and third Monday of every month at 9pm at the Westenra Arms Hotel in The Diamond, Monaghan.

Monaghan Lions Club Poster

Monaghan Lions Club Poster

DERVISH

Cathy Jordan of Dervish  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Cathy Jordan of Dervish Photo: © Michael Fisher

Just back from a great concert by Dervish at the Elmwood Hall in Belfast as part of the 51st Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queens. One of the highlights came at the end as part of the encore demanded by the audience. Cathy Jordan sang unaccompanied the ballad Slieve Gallion Brae, a song about a townland in the Sperrin mountains in County Derry, near Ballinascreen. Great that she was able to do so with the audience maintaining complete silence as they listened to her voice.

It is a song that Tommy Makem revived and one that Cathy reproduces on her website.

SLIEVE GALLION BRAE (traditional)

My name is Joe McGarvey as you might understand

I come from Derryginnet and I own a farm of land

But the rents were getting higher and I could no longer pay

So farewell unto ye bonny, bonny Slieve Gallion Brae

As I went a walking one morning in May

To view your fair valleys and your mountains so gay

I was thinking of your flowers all going to decay

That grow around ye bonny, bonny Slieve Gallion Brae

Oft times have I wandered with my dog and my gun

And travelled your valleys for joy and for fun

But those days are gone forever and I can no longer stray

So farewell unto ye bonny, bonny Slieve Gallion Brae

Oft times in the evenings and the sun in the west

I roamed hand in hand with the one I love best

But the dreams of youth have vanished and I am far away

So farewell unto ye bonny, bonny Slieve Gallion Brae

It is not the want of employment at home

That caused the poor sons of old Ireland to roam

But the rents are getting higher and I can no longer pay

So farewell unto ye bonny, bonny Slieve Gallion Brae

Farewell to old Erin, a land that is so green

To the Parish of Lissen and the cross of Ballinascreen

May good fortune shine upon you when I am far away

And a long farewell to bonny, bonny Slieve Gallion Brae

BFQ: PHILIP HAMMOND BLACKBIRD

Cathal Breslin, Philip Hammond and Sabrina Hu Photo: © Michael Fisher

Cathal Breslin, Philip Hammond and Sabrina Hu Photo: © Michael Fisher

The imaginary musical trill of the blackbird filled the Harty Room on Sunday. Not the bird itself but rather the beautiful sound of the flute played so well by Sabrina Hu, accompanied by her husband Cathal Breslin on piano. They were performing a new work by Belfast composer Philip Hammond, entitled ‘An Londubh’, the Irish word for blackbird. It was part of the 51st Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s and was staged by the Belfast Music Society as part of their Northern Lights Mini-Fest.

Cathal Breslin, Professor of Piano, University of Memphis  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Cathal Breslin, Professor of Piano, University of Memphis Photo: © Michael Fisher

Cathal had the score stored on his iPad and with wifi technology was able to flick effortlessly from one page to the next. There was an interesting contrast with a similarly named piece (‘Le Merle Noir’ by Messiaen) which Cathal and Sabrina played first. Philip Hammond explained that his composition was intended as a companion piece for the 20thC Frenchman’s work. But his starting point was very different.

Philip Hammond explains his new work: An Londubh  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Philip Hammond explains his new work: An Londubh Photo: © Michael Fisher

Hammond told the audience that rather than the real birdsong, he created a fanciful play between flute and piano , with what he thought a blackbird might sing, if it was so inclined. The main origin of the piece is an ancient Irish air, arranged by Edward Bunting. It was published in the third volume of such arrangements in 1840. He has included it note for note at the end of the work, a fusion that works well. The other influencing factor for Hammond comes in the shape of a poem, written by Dr William Drennan, the United Irishman and friend of Bunting. Drennan wrote it in the grounds of Cabin Hill, near Stormont, when his sister lived there. There is a spot in the grounds called the Drennan stone where he is believed to have rested to seek inspiration. An interesting connection is that Hammond is a former music teacher at Cabin Hill, when it was the preparatory department for Campbell College.

Sabrina Hu  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Sabrina Hu Photo: © Michael Fisher

Cathal Breslin is from Derry and met Sabrina when they were both studying in Manchester. They are now married, with two young children, and are based in the United States, where Cathal is Professor of Piano at the University of Memphis, Tennessee. They have performed together internationally since 2001 in many of the world’s main concert halls. Five years ago they founded and developed the Walled City Music Festival in Derry.

Belfast Music Society Northern Lights Mini-Fest

Belfast Music Society Northern Lights Mini-Fest   Photo: © Michael Fisher

Their performance began with A Sonata for Flute and Piano by Poulenc, followed by a piece for flute by Ravel: a habanera, which is a  Cuban dance. Cathal who said he was always interested in the correlation between words and music then played another Ravel piece for solo piano, Ondine. There was a lovely mixture here of loud and soft notes. Sabrina played a piece composed by Debussy for solo flute, Syrinx, named after a nymph of Greek mythology. Then came the two blackbird pieces, with particular interest in the composition by Philip Hammond.

Cathal Breslin & Sabrina Hu Photo: © Michael Fisher

Cathal Breslin & Sabrina Hu Photo: © Michael Fisher

The second part of the programme consisted of a Brazilian traditional piece arranged for flute and piano: Choros. The duo followed with Piazzolla’s History of the Tango, a fascinating journey through time as they described it. The Argentine composer brought the tango from the world of the night club to the concert hall. The first part was set in a bordello around 1900, followed by a café in 1935 when the mood becomes more romantic and atmospheric, for listening rather than dancing. Part three is a 1960s night club when the tango merges with Bossa nova. The fourth and final part is set in the modern day concert hall setting of classical music. A very enjoyable performance.