Musical traditions in harmony as East meets West in Clare
MUSIC has proven to be a universal language for a collaboration that merges Ukrainian and Irish tradition.
Kseniya Rusnack fled her home after the war reached the Ukrainian capital. She now lives in Lisdoonvarna, where her talent for music has drawn her into the region’s thriving trad scene. Alongside leading Irish harpist Paul Dooley based in Ennistymon, Kseniya performed at Willie Clancy Summer School and recently wowed audiences at Glór in Ennis.
Kseniya, born in the Cherkassy region in central Ukraine, is a musician and singer. She credits the bandura, a folk Ukrainian string instrument, opening the world of music to him. The outbreak of war saw Kseniya flee the capital, Kyiv, with his mother, five-year-old son and a few prized possessions, including his bandura.
“Since the outbreak of hostilities, we have left Kyiv to visit relatives in the Cherkasy region,” she said.
“We have been in Ukraine for a month because we thought everything had to stop. But every day was a difficult ordeal – constant air sirens, lasting up to four hours, planes rising in the sky and rumblings, explosions were heard… Nervous tension increased. It was psychologically difficult. Problems began to arise with the supply of products to stores. It was just impossible to continue living like this, and I was worried about my five-year-old son.
Kseniya described the decision to leave as “not easy, but necessary”. Fleeing from the war, they took with them only the most valuable, a minimal set of things – a shoulder bag with documents and a bandura. They reached the border with Poland on an evacuation train, then stayed in Warsaw for several days where volunteers helped secure plane tickets to Ireland.
“I dreamed of visiting Ireland because I not only own a bandura, but also a harp,” Kseniya said. “That’s why Ireland got me interested in culture, the art of music and the Irish harp. I never could have thought that I would be here and could have this cultural experience.
Since April, Kseniya has been living with her son and mother in a hotel in Lisdoonvara. She described it as “a wonderful place, fabulous nature around, friendly people and a very calm and hospitable atmosphere”.
How Kseniya discovered the region’s traditional music scene is, she admitted, “quite an interesting story.” “Quite unexpectedly I met a harpist from County Kerry, who informed me that a well-known musician, an expert in the old Irish harp, Paul Dooley, lives near my home in Clare” , she said.
“I was very enthusiastic about meeting him, and our acquaintance turned into a joint creative activity, rehearsals, joint musical creation and an exchange of experiences.”
As an academic and classically trained musician, Kseniya appreciates both Ukrainian and Irish traditions. “As a university classical musician, I like to play in different musical styles, but especially in Ukrainian folk music, the music of Ukrainian and contemporary composers,” she said.
“Traditional Irish music impresses and fascinates. It’s a beautiful and unique legacy of the Irish people and I’m happy to have the opportunity to join and play music.
Paul invited Kseniya to play Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy in July and it’s an understatement to say their performances created a storm of appreciation.
Folk songs were performed by a friend of Kseniya. “Rada, who was able to participate, shared his musical works and Ukrainian folk songs,” Kseniya said.
Fresh from a performance in Glór, Ennis, as part of a series called ‘Just the Two’, curated by broadcaster Paula Carroll, Kseniya paid tribute to Paul’s talent and guidance.
“Paul’s playing skill, finger dexterity and energy are incredible,” she said. “Listening to his music, one immerses oneself in the exciting world of sounds that touch the strings of my soul. Therefore, making music together is a powerful exchange of musical energy, of musical culture, which is the property of such different but spiritually united peoples, the countries of Ireland and Ukraine.
Fiona McGarry has joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Previously, she worked for various radio, print and online titles including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald.
Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the director of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also taken advantage of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti.
She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series about the work of the Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Midwest. Fiona also teaches in the journalism programs at the University of Galway.
If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona, you can email her at [email protected] or telephone 065 6864146.