Sean McCarthy Festival

Locals in Finuge are gearing up for what promises to be a magnificently musical weekend in celebration of the late Sean McCarthy.

The Sean McCarthy festival is a Finuge institution that is now reaching the second decade of its annual offering of music and festivities to celebrate the balladeer who produced such famous songs as 'Shanagolden' and 'Step It out Mary'.

The weekend kicks off on the Friday, with a concert at 8.30pm in Finuge's Teach Siamsa with trad stars. Visitors to Teach Siamsa can try their hand at jigs and reels on the Saturday as there is a dancing workshop from 1pm-2pm.

The night will conclude with the Sean McCarthy Ballad Competition at 8.30pm where balladeers will compete for the top spot with their original compositions. On Sunday Teach Siamsa will be the venue for another great performance. The festival will wrap up on the Monday, with a rambling house in Finuge's Thatched House, where ceol agus craic will go on from 3.30pm and there will be a barbecue in McCarthy's beer garden from 5pm.

Sean McCarthy wrote 164 songs, an autobiography, several stories, articles, poems and newspaper columns.

He was a soldier, labourer, MC, storyteller, broadcaster, singer and all round entertainer. A visitor to that part of Kerry during the August weekend wouldn’t have to ask any questions about its famous son.

His memory is kept alive every year since 1992 by the Sean McCarthy Memorial Festival. It consists of competitions, Ballad-sessions, storytelling and a bog-walk; all the things that Sean loved.

Sean McCarthy was one of ten children. He was born in the village of Finuge a few miles from Listowel, County Kerry, on 05th July 1923.   He didn’t ever make any secret of the poverty as he was growing up. In a radio interview in 1987 he said, “ the only saving grace was the imagination.” (In one of his articles he wrote, “My uncle Jim was as honest a man as hard-times would allow.”)

He started school at five years old.  Brian McMahon, his teacher remembered, “merry mutinous eyes where gaiety and an absolute freedom of the spirit had wondrously mated.” 

In his first song, written when he was seven with a little help from his uncle, “the tailor” Roche, he professed his superior intellect;

Another focus of the festival is to promote the writing of ballads and to encourage the art of storytelling. Over 1,000 original ballads have been submitted for the ballad competition since 1994.

The committee erected a bust in memory of Sean at Finuge Cross and have purchased and preserved Sheehan's thatched house, which is now one of the few traditional thatched houses surviving in any village in Kerry. The house is used extensively for community and social activities throughout the year.   

When a passing stranger sees the bronze bust in the quiet hamlet of Finuge, County Kerry does he or she ask if it is commemorating a local, a soldier or a literary figure. In fact it commemorates all three. When we hear Shanagolden, Red Haired Mary or The Beating of the Drum do we think of the author?

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