Leitrim songstress Eleanor Shanley
What's your idea of a perfect day, or perfect weekend in Leitrim?
A perfect day/weekend out in Leitrim would start with a walk. Fresh air and stunning scenery. A lunch with my family at home. Call in for a chat with our neighbours Pat and Peggy Flynn. A visit to The Leitrim Design Centre in Carrick-on-Shannon to see works by our local artists displayed. A show in The Dock Arts Centre. A good session in Cryans and of course round it off with a visit to either of our two pubs in Keshcarrigan, Gerties Canal Stop or McKeons. I love to catch up with friends and we always have a good chat and a laugh. Guaranteed fun in Keshcarrigan!
Who has made the greatest contribution to Leitrim in your lifetime - and why?
Our singers and musicians of long ago. People like Neans Fitzpatrick who was one of the first Irish women ever to record in America and her brother Phil who wrote our anthem Lovely Leitrim. The people who handed down the tradition making our music special. Our song/music collectors and sharers. We are lucky that our County Council had the foresight to set up The Leitrim Equation project so we know our music is safely preserved for future generations. Because of this initiative, as part of the Leitrim Equation and with the help of music collector Fr John Quinn we discovered many musical gems dating back to the 1700s.
What's your first Leitrim memory?
I have many memories as a child in Leitrim. Visiting our Grandmother, Ellen Casey, every Sunday and meeting up with aunties, uncles and cousins so it usually ended up with a sing/song. That’s what influenced me most on the path to the career I have now. I remember my first performance on a stage at An Tostal in Drumshanbo. I sang The Dying Rebel. I’m very happy to see the tradition of the Tostal continue. The show in Mohill was always a great place to meet loads of people.
As a child it has bitter/sweet memories. Sweet memories for the fun and the social gathering and bitter because it was at the end of the school holidays and there was that feeling that we had to go back to school very very soon. Although school in Marymount College in Carrick was enjoyable. I had some great friends there and teachers, Frankie Watson in particular who was a wonderful English teacher and gave my a great love for poetry and prose. Tony McGowan and Padraig Noone had a big influence on me when I spent a year in Drumshanbo Vocational School. They picked up on my interest in music and nurtured it.
They were part of the first band I was ever in along with Tommy Guihan. I also have very fond memories of competing in Scor and various singing competitions.
What's your favourite part of the county - and why?
Keshcarrigan where I was born. It is beautiful part of the county. We’re surrounded by lakes and rivers. And the Shannon Erne Waterway winds it’s way past the village.
What do you think gives Leitrim its unique identity?
Because of our history we have a great pride in ourselves as a people. Leitrim people are extremely loyal. Wherever I go in the world doing concerts I always mention Leitrim and I am always happy to find Leitrim
people turn up in the most unusual places. I did a concert with Garadice in The Sugar Club in Dublin before Christmas and I’d say 50 percent of the full house were from Leitrim. This was due in no small measure to the input of The Leitrim Peoples Association and the Leitrim Supporters Club min Dublin who are great for spreading the word when I gig in Dublin. We have a County full of great music, art and drama unique to Leitrim.
What about a local walk - or view?
My favourite walk is to walk up across Sheebeg and look over to Sheemore. To look down at Kesh Lake and Lough Scur. The view is stunning. It is the perfect walk, never dull and ever changing with the seasons. That’s where I find peace.
What's the biggest challenge facing the county today?
To maintain our county, keep it litter free, keep the scenery unspoilt by unnecessary development.
If you had the power to change one thing in, or about Leitrim, what would it be?
I would love to see more music, dance and art on our curriculum for schools. It’s a hugely important part of our education but unfortunately it tends to get pushed to the bottom of the list. The arts should never be considered an ‘after school’ activity where only those who can afford to pay for lessons or have access to transport can avail of them. This is an all island problem unfortunately.
Eleanor will be performing at Gortletteragh Community Hall on Saturday, 18 May with Garadice (John McCartin, Padraig McGovern and Dave Sheridan) and Mohill Festival, St John's Church with Mike Hanrahan on Friday, August 2.