FAMILIAR faces from the stage mingled with young, aspiring actors as Barnstorm Theatre Company marked it’s 21st birthday at a mayoral reception in city hall last Wednesday.
Mayor of Kilkenny, Seán Ó hArgáin praised the company’s founders for their persistence ‘in taking that first step and in sticking with it through thick and thin since then’.
“Philip Hardy in particular has often been a challenging and sometimes critical voice in seeking and protecting the vital funding for the arts in general, but for theatre in particular which is so vital. As public representatives, we need these voices so that we as the representatives of the citizens of Kilkenny are informed and encouraged to lead that fight.
“I am very proud of the fact that we have fought to protect arts funding in the current difficult times. Far from the arts being an expendable luxury at this time, they are in fact fundamental to the protection and enhancement of our mental health in particular. Many of the issues being tackled by Barnstorm are now on the increase and never was it so important to protect the role that the arts can play in opening our eyes to these issues. I hope Barnstorm continues until its hundredth birthday and may it always challenge us, be bold in every sense and cajole us out of our comfort zone,” he said.
The Mayor commended the company who has ‘made a unique impact on all of the children of Ireland who have been fortunate enough to see their work and who have also played a central role in the cultural life of Kilkenny in that time’.
“As a teacher, I arrived in Kilkenny in 2002 and one of my first tasks was to bring my fifth class group to a Barnstorm performance in the Watergate Theatre. I was simply blown away. At a time when the Social Personal and Health Education part of the curriculum was in its infancy and when the controversy about the Stay Safe programme, which now seems so ridiculous was still in full flow, I was to witness a company who were very carefully and cleverly dealing with the issues which the formal education system was struggling with. This struggle was a combination of fear of tackling the issues and also the lack of skills which teachers and indeed parents suffered from at the time. Barnstorm stepped up however and faced the issues head on. These included bullying, the changing structures of Irish families, the arrival of immigration in our society and other issues fundamental to the proper development of our children and our young people,” he said.
!Ironically as we today see the publication of the wording of the long-promised referendum on children’s rights which will deal with a number of these issues, we can also reflect on some of the most basic rights which children and young people have. In the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child for instance, Article 13 says that every child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice. Surely no group in Kilkenny or indeed in Irish life has done more to protect and promote this right and I hope that Barnstorm will long continue to do so,” he added.