The Gathering is a day of networking, showcasing good practice, discussion and feedback on the festival as we look ahead to 2024. It provides us with an opportunity to hear about the challenges and needs of the organisers, showcases interesting and inspirational events from the previous festival, and provides practical supports for local organisers.

This year’s event will take place in the beautiful surrounds of the National Gallery of Ireland and will bring together the Bealtaine community of organisers, artists, partners and supporters to look at different issues of community, diversity and new directions in our work.

We are delighted to announce that our keynote speaker is Conny Groot, Cultural Generation Foundation and Schaduwhelden, Netherlands, please read her biography below.

We’re also looking forward to hearing about issues facing organisers around the country and how we can better support you to plan fantastic events for Bealtaine 2024.

Topics and speakers

  • Introduction by Dr. Tara Byrne, Arts Programme Manager and Bealtaine Festival Artistic Director, Age & Opportunity
  • Keynote address, Diversity Works Both Ways: Reciprocity is Vital , Conny Groot, Director of Culture Generation Foundation and Schaduwhelden, Netherlands.
  • Case studies: Building Temporary CommunitiesKaty Hewison, Dance Limerick, Emerging Artist Creators by Richie Keane, Fatima Groups United, The Power of the Collective by Catherine Marshall, Na Cailleacha.
  • Considering the New: Circus for Older People, by Lucy Medleycott, Irish Street Arts Circus & Spectacle.
  • Focus groups discussion and feedback.
  • Launch of the Creative Enquiry Report (Cork) & performance excerpt from ‘Built on Bridges’ which will feature dance soloist Kevin Hayes, and the Mayfield Men’s Shed Choir directed by Susan McManamon.
  • Panel discussion: Diversity in our work – how can we avoid tokenism? Chaired by writer, activist and educator Oein DeBhairduin and featuring Carmel McKenna, Creative Programme Director at Munster Academy of Irish Dance , Han Tiernan, Unshrinking Violets (Bealtaine 2023) and Kevin O’Shanahan, Music Alive speaking about the Creative Enquiry project, Cork.
  • Closing thoughts from Laurence McKeown, writer and recipient of the 2023 Age & Opportunity Creative Ageing Writing Award

A light lunch will be provided as part of your ticket.


Conny Groot is the Director of Culture Generation Foundation and Schaduwhelden in the Netherlands and also works as an independent programme developer. Her passion is to generate both cultural and social impact by stimulating the exchange of narratives through film, music and storytelling. Some of her notable projects include ‘Strange Guests’ intergenerational talent development programme between Dutch, German and refugee talents; ‘Silver Screen’ intergenerational film festival; and the ‘Music Generations’ exchange programme which brought together young migrants with older people who were born in the Netherlands.

Katy Hewison is a dance artist choreographing, teaching and exploring creative practice with communities, in particular with young children. As the leader of DL Bridge, she initiates new projects and activities, and co-creates with communities of place or interest to share the transformational power of dance. Katy is interested in creating spaces which are supportive and accessible. In May 2023 Katy choreographed The Golden Flood of Memory in collaboration with an intergenerational community group, an experience full of joy, curiosity and belonging which she is looking forward to share further with you at the Bealtaine Gathering.

Initiated in 2021, DL.BRIDGE is Dance Limerick’s public engagement programme, which provides new pathways for individuals and communities to connect through dance. It extends opportunities for people to create new dance projects that are relevant and meaningful to their lives as individuals and as part of a community. DL Bridge continues to grow, connecting with all ages, in various groups, schools and communities across the city and county.

Richie Keane is a Community Development Worker at Fatima Groups United Family Resource Centre. He has partnered with Bealtaine Festival for several years. He is passionate about access and participation in arts and culture. In 2023 Fatima Groups United won the Creative Lives Ireland Award 2022. They were also successful with an Artist in the Community Award from CREATE working with artist Veronica Dyas.

Catherine Marshall is a curator, art historian and writer. Former Head of Collections at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (1995 -2007), she has lectured at TCD, UCD and the NCAD and was Visual Arts adviser to the Arts Council’s Touring Experiment, 2007–8, She was co-editor of the Twentieth Century volume, of the Art and Architecture of Ireland, Yale University Press, 2014.

She is a founding member of Na Cailleacha, a collective, composed of eight women artists dedicated to examining issues of ageing, creativity, collaboration and gender as we age.

She was awarded an honorary doctorate in the History of Art by University College Dublin in 2019. She has curated exhibitions all over Ireland, and also in China, the USA, Canada and Britain.

Recent curatorial projects;

  • Na Cailleacha… Speaking of Paula Rego, The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon, April 30th to July1st 2023.
  • Manar Al Shouha and Pat Curran, Cashel Arts Festival, Cashel, September, 2023.
  • Women and War, Opera House Wexford, October 2023.
  • Most recent Publication;
  • Irish Art 1920–2020 Perspectives on change, co-edited with Yvonne Scott, Published by the Royal Irish Academy, 2022

Lucy Medlycott is Co-founder and current director of the Irish Street Arts, Circus & Spectacle Network, a membership organisation which aims to celebrate, advocate, grow and sustain these collective art forms. Prior to this she cofounded and established Bui Bolg Carnival Arts Company in Wexford.

Lucy has been chair of the County Wexford Community Forum, director of the Wexford Arts Centre, member of the steering committee of Circostrada, held a position on the County Wexford Development Board, the Local Community Development Committee, the County Wexford Economic Dev & Enterprise SPC and is a current member of the Royal Society of Arts.

Creative Enquiry is a project that creatively explored fresh approaches to arts engagement with older people in 2019. Three artist-residencies were hosted by three organisations: Cork Midsummer Festival, Music Alive and SIRIUS with the support of Cork City and County Councils, Age & Opportunity and the HSE.

‘Built on Bridges’ Performance will feature dance soloist Kevin Hayes, and the Mayfield Men’s Shed Choir directed by Susan McManamon.

‘Built on Bridges’ is a large-scale dance performance originally presented at Cork Midsummer Festival 2023 as part of Helga Deasy’s Cork City Dance Artist in Residence Programme at Dance Cork Firkin Crane with support from Cork City Council and the Arts Council. Directed and choreographed by Helga Deasy, the work explores themes of home, identity and migration in connection with Cork City and features an ensemble of professional dancers as well as an intergenerational community cast including a group of local children and the Mayfield Men’s Shed choir.

In 2019 choir conductor Susan McManamon, choreographer Helga Deasy and witness writer Arnold Thomas Fanning collaborated with the Mayfield Men’s Shed Choir during their residency with MusicAlive as part of Creative Enquiry / Arts Council Invitation to Collaborate Scheme. Through voice and movement, they explored the song ‘Statio Bene’ written by Liam Christopher O’Leary, one of the choir members.

The themes of identity and belonging, referenced in this song gave inspiration to the creation of ‘Built on Bridges’ and Helga was delighted to continue collaborating with Susan and the choir through her Dance Artist in Residence Programme at Dance Cork Firkin Crane 2021 – 2023 and to invite the Mayfield Men’s Shed Choir to perform as part of her 2023 production. The excerpt of ‘Built on Bridges’ that will be performed at the Bealtaine Gathering features dance soloist Kevin Hayes, and the Mayfield Men’s Shed Choir directed by Susan McManamonwith ‘Statio Bene’.

Oein DeBhairduin is a writer, activist and educator with a passion for preserving the beauty of Traveller tales, sayings, retellings and historic exchanges. Oein is the author of the award-winning Why the moon travels and Weave. He is the Traveller Culture Collections Development Officer with the National Museum of Ireland and seeks to pair community activism with cultural celebration, recalling old tales with fresh modern connections and, most of all, he wishes to rekindle the hearth fires of a shared kinship.

Han Tiernan (they/she) is a researcher, producer, writer, and visual artist based in Dublin, Ireland. Their key area of interest is contemporary Irish LGBTQ+ history and expanding voices within the Irish LGBTQ+ community. Most recently, Han co-produced the Unshrinking Violets: 50 Years of Lesbian Activism programme with artist Francis Fay for the Age and Opportunity Bealtaine Festival 2023. As well as a discussion day and film screening, the programme included an exhibition of lesbian activism on which they were the lead researcher with research support from Dr Ger Moane and Cara Holmes. Han has also coordinated initiatives such as REWINDRECORD (RFR) initiative; an expansive series of talks, tours and workshops to develop creative responses exploring Irish queer history and contemporary queer representation in a local context. Since September 2021, Han has been the Editorial Assistant with GCN (Gay Community News) Magazine.

Carmel McKenna has been involved in Irish dance for over five decades. She is a fully qualified Irish dance teacher and holds a Master of Arts in Ethnochoreology and a Master of Business in Human Resource Management. As Principal and Creative Programme Director at Munster Academy of Irish Dance which she founded in 1997, Carmel specialises in the co-development of first-of-a-kind inclusive, adapted Irish céilí dance programmes for people living with dementia, wheelchair users, and older adults. Through the Social Sciences ConneXions Research Institute at the Technological University of the Shannon, she acts as co-supervisor for interdisciplinary research in dance/movement and its application in social care and wider health humanities settings. Carmel also regularly presents on Irish dance from practitioner and research perspectives at national and international conferences and symposia.

Kevin O’Shanahan is a musician and graduated with a Bachelor of Business Studies from Waterford Institute of Technology in 1993. Since then, he has worked on a diverse variety of participatory and socially engaged music/arts and health-related projects.

During the 1990’s he worked with Waterford Spraoi festival and developed a practice characterised by collaboration. He recorded and performed on a wide variety of music and arts projects and was a founder member of experimental music/performance groups, such as King Kong Company.

Since 2000, his practice has focused on working in mental health and older age health contexts. He is a founder and Director of MusicAlive and has received numerous awards from the Arts Council for work, including Egress – an audio visual artwork produced with visual artist Marie Brett and the Alzheimer Society of Ireland. Kevin was awarded an MSc from University College, Cork in 2013, for research into the benefits of participative, music making to mental health recovery outcomes. He has published papers and presented at conferences in Ireland and abroad.

As a mental health nurse, Kevin Works as a specialist in recovery and the arts for cork mental health services. He is co-founder and manager of 49 North Street – an innovative mental health, and well-being initiative in Skibbereen. He is the founder/curator of the annual West Cork Feel Good Festival. Kevin remains musically active in an eclectic mix of creative projects, such as The Claddagh Rogues, Gamelan Spréacha Geala, The Happiness Ensemble and the 49 North Street Céilí Band.

Laurence McKeown is a former republican prisoner (North of Ireland 1976-1992). During that time, he took part in the protests for the return of political status and spent 70 days on hunger strike in 1981.

In later years he was heavily involved in the development and delivery of the prisoners’ own educational programme and from 1997-1999 was in charge of it. It was during that time he co-founded the prisoners’ magazine, ‘An Glór Gafa/The Captive Voice’ and subsequently, ‘Nor Meekly Serve My Time’, a book clandestinely written within the prison that contained accounts from 28 prisoners about the five years of prison protest, 1976-1981, which culminated in the hunger strikes.

Since his release Laurence has written extensively about the prison experience – in a doctoral thesis (published in 2002 titled Out of Time), a feature film (H3), a play (The Laughter of our Children), and numerous articles and book chapters. His recent prison memoir, Time Shadows (2021), covers the first five years of his imprisonment detailing his experiences on the blanket protest and hunger strike.

In December 2018 Salmon Poetry published Laurence’s debut collection of poetry titled Threads.

Over the past 15 years Laurence has collaborated with Kabosh Theatre, Belfast who have produced several of his plays including Green And Blue (which is due to tour again soon, taking in venues in Ireland, Britain, the US and Canada). The play is based on an oral archive of serving RUC and An Garda Síochána officers and explores the realities faced by the individuals who patrolled the border during the height of the conflict. The play has previously been performed in Dresden, Paris, and London as well as several tours in Ireland.

Laurence’s previous plays with Kabosh include Those You Pass on the Street which toured to almost 50 venues across Ireland and in July 2016 was selected as part of the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown – the largest and oldest arts festival in South Africa. It was the only play selected from Ireland.

Laurence co-founded the Belfast Film Festival in 1995 when it began as the West Belfast Film Festival before expanding to become city-wide in 2001. He remains a member of its Board of Management.