A time in Tilting
Feile festival connects and nurtures a community’s Irish heritage
With the guiding light of a rustic lamp and an inflated buoy tied around his leg, Dan Murphy guides the crowd in full mummer attire through the dark and winding roadways of Tilting.
As the crowd make their way to the next shed for more music, poems, drinks and laughs, the green, white and orange colours of Ireland’s flag are hung high and flailing across the community.
The evening shed crawl is the staple highlight of the Feile Tilting Festival, where participants venture from shed to shed, each one filled with guitars, accordions, and a variety of voices reciting old songs and performing original recitations.
No matter how crowded the shed fills or how many drinks are chugged and clanked together, a quiet voice emerging from the crowd to recite a poem of the older times is enough to bring the entire room to an attentive silence. As a voice recites an original poem about the local hockey rivalries of his childhood, the crowd nods and laughs along as the same memories return to their minds.
Festival committee member Maureen Foley says these shed crawl moments go to the very heart of the heritage and sense of community the Feile festival is intended to retain.
“There’s more to heritage than the tangible like buildings, fences, and gardens,” said Foley. “So much of our heritage is in the intangible – the oral stories, the songs, they’re just as important.
“This really carries that flame on.”
Now in its ninth year, the Feile Tilting Festival is continuing work to preserve the Irish heritage and traditions of the Titling community. The festival also brings in many from Ireland, Newfoundland and Labrador and beyond to partake in the celebration and maintaining of culture.
The Tilting community and festival has earned such a reputation for preserving the traditions of the Irish who settled there, that Foley says many visitors call Tilting more Irish than Ireland.
“I think that’s because of, up until the late ’60s, every community here was pretty isolated,” Foley said. “That meant our accents, our stories, our songs and traditions, the little things and sayings, all of that culture was easy to retain because of the isolation.
“People here are very proud of their heritage, and rightly so.”
The man often called the driving force of the festival, Dan Murphy, says the festival initially came about through a partnership between Ireland and Tilting. With help from the Ireland Business Partnerships and a focus on community radio, the festival held its first run in the fall of 2009.
While it first centred largely on formal events like educational workshops, Murphy says with time the festival has focused more and more on informal celebrations like the shed crawl, dances, and public readings and recitations.
“Because for so many people this is a way of coming home, the big thing is just to get together and reconnect with friends and family,” said committee member Wanda McGrath. “When we have visitors from Ireland, they are often so shocked to hear all these songs of their childhood that we also grew up with in Tilting. It all really brings people together.”
Murphy and McGrath see the use of community radio as another key component to strengthening the bond of the community. Largely run by Fred Campbell and Cyril Burke, the online and FM radio show is broadcasted throughout the festival, recording live events and replaying recorded recitations and events from previous years.
“We have people who were with us nine years ago who are no longer here, but we have still have their voices,” said McGrath. “My grandmother is no longer here, but we have her voice on the radio telling us what it was like growing up 90 years ago. And without community radio, I don’t think we would have retained that.”
With local authors like Burke and Roy Dwyer and many musicians and performers, the festival provides a full showcase for local talent and ability.
Seventy-year-old Marie Bryan receives continual requests to perform during the festival. After the passing of her late husband Walter, Bryan has continued his legacy by performing many of the traditional Irish songs her husband was known for belting at gatherings and holidays.
As Bryan travelled from shed to shed for the Friday night crawl, songs like “Alone in a Workshop” were a staple request. Bryan says she proudly carries on these songs in the same acapella and oral tradition of the families that first passed them down.
“My husband’s father and his aunt use to sing that song, and he was known to sing it after,” she said. “When he got sick before he died I began singing some of his songs. Now, everybody always asks me to sing that song.”
For Murphy, the display of local talent like Bryan’s is what continues to astound him with each festival run.
“The amount of talent in Tilting is amazing,” he said. “We have many published authors, so many singers for such a small community.
“It’s a testament to the Irish genes.”
Passing the flame
Running from Sept. 20-23, this was the first year the festival was run without any government funding.
The committee see their ability to pull the festival off on fundraisers and volunteer support alone a testament to the passion and dedication of the Tilting community.
As well, Foley and McGrath have noticed a growing support from the younger generation of the Tilting area in recent years.
“You always worry about passing on that flame, and in the past few years we’ve noticed more younger people coming home and taking part in things,” Foley said. “I think after a while young people see our generation still keeping this up and they want to carry it on. They see how important this has all become.”
By taking a modern spin in preserving these old traditions, the Tilting community is hopeful the Fiele festival will continue to deepen its roots into their own ancestry and heritage, and that the bond of this small rural community can only strengthen with each passing run.
“We don’t realize how lucky we are to be in a rural community, where values are still there, where the music we listen and the stories we tell all come from within our own community,” said Murphy.
“The festival is one of the flowers that blooms from that rural lifestyle.”
More photos can be found online at www.lportepilot.ca
Maureen, left, and Phil Foley at their locally-iconic shed in Tilting. The shed is just one of four used during the Friday evening, Sept. 21, shed crawl of the Feile Tilting Festival.
Jim McGrath details the history of significance of the Second World War American radar base in Sandy Cove at the Tilting slipway. His speech included many anecdotes and recorded history of the relationships and effects left on the Tilting community from the American military presence. McGrath says his 25 years of local history research must have cost him thousands of dollars in phone calls.
Cyril Burke handles the soundboard and hosts the community radio program offered during the festival. The radio show plays both live events and recorded interviews and performances from previous years of the festival. The service was offered on FM radio and through the website ryakuga.net.