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Magic and mythology in fab Fennelly’s

by John Fitzgerald

FENNELLY’S of Callan was the venue for an offbeat presentation of Arán & Im, a performance by travel writer/broadcaster Manchán Magan in which he enthralled the audience for 70 minutes,

The show was his own peculiar take on the history and mythology of Ireland, and his passion for the Irish language.

This was a demanding theatrical venture, but Manchán managed to go through all the stages of baking a loaf of traditional Irish sourdough bread in between offering his pearls of wisdom, and insight into our misty Celtic past. 

He paid homage via quirky anecdotes and recitations to over 4000 years of milling and baking on this island.

Darkness fell over Fennelly’s Courtyard as the performance opened, and then the rain started to fall, first as a light drizzle, turning to heavy showers that continued to the end of the show. 

Though the audience was sheltered by canopies these were buffeted by squally winds and the rain drenched a few patrons. 

Manchán Magan’s one-man show


But while most of us sat protected in our winter gear, Manchán was undaunted by the elements.

He seemed to revel in the darkness and downpour.

Nobody cared too much about getting wet, so engrossed were everyone in the story of how the Irish arrived here all those thousands of years ago, of the ancient Fianna and  the pre-Christian race of deities called the Tuath Dé Danann and the abiding power and beauty of our native tongue. 

 Manchán cited many of the magical Gaelic words and phrases that add different shades of meaning to our lives, the landscape, and the vast universe.  

It was a bit disorientating at times, as he switched abruptly from expounding on the origins of belief in fairies and other mythical creatures to throw another handful of flour into the bowl and add water.  

Not that the dough needed any more water because the rain was pelting down, making little rivulets in the courtyard and rustling the carpets of withered autumn leaves.  


Manchán frequently stepped out from under his canopy, heedless of the torrent, the rain dripping from his face and clothes as he exulted in the richness of Gaelic or the appeal of naturally fermented hand-made bread.

He recalled how in ancient times the divide between this world and other dimensions was thinner than it is now, with alleged visitations from the ‘other world’ deemed an everyday occurrence.  

Interestingly, he explored how the supernatural supposed fables of the past are to some extent being validated by the latest scientific discoveries. 

He hinted that there is more to the age-old beliefs in the supernatural than mere superstition. 

Advances in Quantum Physics may be talking us away from 19th century materialism and back again to an acceptance that the universe may be a magical sort of place after all, something our ancestors took for granted. 

Electrons disappearing in one location and reappearing in another is not so far removed, he mused, from what passed for magic and otherworldly phenomena in our Celtic past.

Food writer Tom Doorley with Etaoin Holahan


Manchán added the finishing touches to his baking

He made a cross on the top of the loaf and reminded that this was done in the old days to ensure that any fairies inside it could escape before it was cooked to avoid being burned alive.  

Some wondered if the fairies had been at work during his performance because the rain stopped and the wind fell silent at almost the exact moment that Manchán took his final bow. 

Everyone got a slice of sourdough bread on the way out of Fennelly’s and some home=made creamery butter to spread on it. 

The presentation was the second major Saturday boost to Fennelly’s. 

Earlier, the Irish Daily Mail‘s YOU magazine carried a glowing review from leading food writer Tom Doorley. 

He lavished praise on the café/arts hub, enthusing about the ‘coziness, culture, and community’ to be found at Fennelly’s. 

He enjoyed his meal, noting the “great colours and explosions of flavour on the plates.”

So it’s a good place to dine…or be entertained.

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