by Cecily Lynch © 2016
The Feis is a peculiarly Irish institution. (It is pronounced 'Fesh'). The Eistedfod in Wales bears the closest relation to it. However, the Irish Feis extends to six or eight weeks and is based on competitions in various art forms: singing, reciting and the playing of instruments. Over the six weeks of the Feis, twelve thousand performers strut their stuff on the stage; the majority are under 18 years.
It had been almost 60 years since I had been in the Feis. As a skinny and shy teenager I had performed in a verse-speaking group. We had, unfortunately, come last in that competition. I had resented this humiliation and had vowed never to set foot in the Feis again.
Now hoary and grey, scarred by the many battles of life, poisoned by bitterness and grief, I pulled back the entrance curtain. The theatre was half-full. Children ran around. Grandmothers abounded. Teenagers were decked out in outlandish garments. Parents hovered anxiously. No, nothing had changed in the intervening years
Competition 38 was announced. A stream of children mounted the small stage, stiff with nervousness and stage fright. They assembled into formation. I waited, remembering my own nervousness all those years ago. The teacher rapped the desk. And suddenly the hall was filled with angel voices, rivalling the seraphim and cherubim rising, rising, swelling, rolling, like a sweet spring tide. It was, in one word, glorious. I was rapt, entranced. Stream after stream of children mounted and performed their piece. Boy sopranos. Sang like violins. Little girls in frilly dresses lisped the harmonies in the seriousness of childhood concentration. More and more young children ascended the steps, their treble voices mounting to the heavens. More and more streamed up to the stage, their clear voices rising like birdsong.
And there I was, the cynic, who had come to mock, to laugh, to be sarcastic about the doting parents, the fawning grandparents, there I was smiling in delighted joy, elated, transfixed, and transported by the intent gravity of the children, as they sang their hearts out in the untroubled land that is childhood.