A Musical Journey from Limerick to Donegal

Image of personÁine Doolan is originally from Killaloe, Co. Clare, and for the past two years she’s been working with our music service, the Donegal Music Education Partnership (DMEP), which is managed by Martin McGinley. She teaches piano, keyboard and ukulele, and conducts the Letterkenny Junior Choir. Now as she prepares to head off to Cambridge, England, in September, she reflects on a busy and challenging time in Donegal.

In August 2019, I moved from Limerick, where I worked as a music tutor with the wonderful Music Generation Limerick City, to the wild landscape of Donegal. It was all in the name of love and bird watching, as my partner took up an opportunity to work here as an ecologist, with a focus on marine birds.

When I arrived, I had one cappuccino with Martin McGinley and the next day I found myself in the epicentre of the DMEP – the office at the Regional Cultural Centre. It was here that I gained a deep insight into the amazing work of the DMEP. I was impressed by the commitment of everyone involved, and how the staff and music tutors worked in partnership with parents across all the different centres across Donegal (a big county!). Everyone seemed to have a passion for music and there was great communal spirit. They had a genuine interest in creating musical opportunities for the young people of Donegal.

Such interest and hard work are familiar to me and my own ethos, and it was all incredibly infectious and inspiring. It certainly shaped my role in the DMEP over the last two years.

Work in National Schools

Music Generation in Limerick City has a fantastic programme in national schools. The DMEP encouraged me to develop and bring a similar programme to Donegal. This programme kicked off in October 2019, and was a great success. Students in twelve schools, scattered across north Donegal, created and recorded their very own original songs, all the while learning the mechanics of music.

In March 2020, however, the pandemic arrived. Suddenly we were all experts in Zoom. And then the ukuleIe came to the fore.

In the summer of 2020 I ran a short but successful ukulele course for the DMEP. John McIvor, the DMEP administrator, hopped on his motorbike and physically delivered ukuleles to people’s homes, and I delivered the tuition online.

In September 2020, it was time to put the thinking caps on and find a COVID-friendly way to bring music back into the National Schools. The ukulele was the way to go. It isn’t too expensive, which meant that every student could have their own. The ukulele is also an accessible and fun instrument for children to learn as they begin their journey in music.

This programme took off with great steam and all of a sudden I had 180 ukuleles to tune. Word was stillImages of students spreading, and 180 turned into 237. A wonderful tutor, Anderinna Gooch, hopped on board the ukulele train and took on a couple of schools. Of course COVID did not make it straightforward. After Christmas, we were back to remote teaching, hosting almost thirty students at a time on Zoom.

Here I need to take a minute to send my appreciation to all the schools involved.  All the Principals, teachers and students took this switch to ukulele in their stride and worked incredibly hard to get the programme up and running and showed great enthusiasm throughout.

We eventually made our way back into the schools and thankfully got to finish the year in person in each school setting. The programme has been a great success and will be continuing in 2021-2022, with more schools showing interest.

We had great fun this year with the ukuleles and the students have learned so much through playing the ukulele, exploring the music fundamentals and different genres, and of course playing as an ensemble.

Letterkenny Junior Choir

I have worked with several choirs during my musical career in Clare and Limerick, and I’ve been delighted to take on the role of conductor of the Letterkenny Junior Choir when I moved to Donegal. We were together only a few weeks when they performed in An Grianán Theatre at the 2019 DMEP Christmas Concert.

This performance truly cemented the group so when March 2020 rolled round, I knew I had to find a way to keep them singing together. Zoom rehearsals became the new normal’. I have to congratulate the choir members and their parents for quickly adapting to this method and learning how to recordImage of students themselves beautifully at home.

This meant I was able to put together a video of the choir for the DMEP’s online concerts at Christmas. The Letterkenny Junior Choir also recently performed a rendition of Here Comes the Sun for the DMEP online concert in honour of Sister Concepta. I just hope that the Letterkenny Junior Choir and all choirs can return to rehearsals in person in September.

As the song says, ‘The time has come for me to go/ I’ll bid you all adieu’. Cambridge beckons. It has been a busy two years in beautiful Donegal, a place I have grown to love. I hope you enjoyed reading the snapshot of some of the work I have done with the DMEP. I look forward to seeing all that the DMEP does next.

Áine delivered the DMEP ukulele programme in Ayr Hill NS (Ramelton), Cranford NS, St Joseph’s  NS (Rathmullan), Scoil Naisiunta Glasain (outside Creeslough), Faugher NS and Ballymore NS (both between Creeslough and Dunfanaghy). Anderinna Gooch delivered the programme in Scoil Naisiunta Duchoraidh agus Scoil Naisuinta Cholmcille, Baile na Finne.