Orla Colgan Ahern was nominated by Bernadette Kiely to feature in the Citizens of Limerick campaign saying, “She is an absolutely inspiring conductor, her choir recently won first prize at Cork Choral Festival and this would not be an unusual occurrence for her. A real Limerick treasure; she is an exceptional talent.”
“I’ve been teaching music in Laurel Hill Coláiste for almost 30 years now and I’ve been involved in choirs and choral singing and as a chorister. I’m involved with the Laurel Hill Coláiste choir; there’s 120 in it, 12-18 year olds.”
Orla originally moved to Limerick when she was a child. “We all moved down together when my father got a job in the University of Limerick. We were here when the university was only one building, Plassey House, and we played there as children. That sense of something exciting happening in Limerick and that sense of growth was always with us really.”
Now Orla is raising her family in Limerick, “I have a husband and three children here and they are all involved in arts music and sports. My brothers are here as are my parents.”
“What is it about Limerick that I really love? I thought to myself it is the spirit of Limerick. I love the river and I love different things but it is that spirit of Limerick that is hard to define but there is a passion and there is a pride there and you can see that spirit in sport and you can see it in everything we do really in the arts, in music, in choirs and you can see it in all the literary greats that come from Limerick with musicians and composers like Seán O’Riada, Mícheál Ó’Súilleabháin, Bill Whelan and Gerald Barry. There is a lot going on. We are a city that has come through a lot of adversity and that spirit remains undiminished.”
This fighting Limerick spirit is something Orla is quite proud of.
“After all the city has been through to think that we are in the position to bid for Capital of Culture that is amazing. It fills me with incredible pride. It is art and culture that rises us above ourselves and in a sense we punch above our weight. Really don’t we?” Orla takes this pride with her wherever she goes, “If I’m ever taking choirs away to competitions I tell them to remember where we are from and we are representing our city.”
In recent years Orla feels Music Generation have done a lot of positive work for Limerick’s youth, “Music Generation have been a big part of the school and I’ve seen how they work and it has been tremendous in the past three years. They have brought this freedom of creativity, to say ‘it’s okay everyone can be creative.’ It’s not intimidating for those who don’t play an instrument. Music Generation just come in and say ‘look we are all creative, we just have different voices’.”
“I work with young people primarily and when I thought about the bid and culture in Limerick I thought that the focus on youth is really important. There are a lot of very talented people in Limerick and they are so generous with their talent, they nurture and mentor our younger generations. People like Mike Finn, Myles Breen, Máire Keary Scanlon and Kathleen Turner are all working with young people, developing and nurturing them and that’s the future really.”
Orla feels that exposure to the arts is incredibly important for young people as “it only takes one minute to ignite a lifelong passion.” Inclusivity is also an important aspect of her work; she cherishes every voice in her choir and she too is cherished for her work inspiring and nurturing Limerick’s young singers.
While the bid process did not go Limerick’s way, Orla is still optimistic about the future of arts and culture in Limerick “Such a pity about the bid but the bidding process itself showcased the wonderful talent, creativity and cooperative spirit that define Limerick. Nothing is lost!”