New Lanntair director: ‘It’s not just about Stornoway’

The new director of An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway, Sean Paul O’Hare, has arrived with a 25 year background of running similar facilities and major festivals in Ireland.

Sean Paul with President Michael D. Higgins at the opening of the Piper's Garden
Sean Paul with President Michael D. Higgins at the opening of the Piper's Garden

Originally from Belfast, he brings a strong attachment to Gaelic culture, to outreach into the rest of the island and a passionate belief in “how the arts can make an impact, particularly in rural areas”.

Sean Paul’s introduction to Stornoway coincided with the recent HebCelt festival.

He says: “I’m glad I came that week rather than the week after because it gave me a view of the talent that exists on the island. It was a real family festival with a great inter-generational mix of people”.

Through the festival ceilidhs held in An Lanntair, he also got an early insight into the building’s potential. “It was great to see the place packed out every night and everyone having a great time with local musicians very much in evidence. I have a huge interest in traditional music”.

Appointed after the early departure of his predecessor, Sean comes from a different background with a lot of relevant experience. He intends to spend his first few months looking at how An Lanntair operates and listening to new ideas.

“I tend to come as a blank canvas”, he says. “The centre belongs to the community and I want to know what they think.

" I want to be sure that everyone feels comfortable coming into the place. I want the artists and musicians coming to us with their ideas.

“I’m not precious about the physical building itself so much as the impact across the whole island. It’s not just about Stornoway. We’re a resourced organisation and it’s just as important that we are out there working in the community”.

He started his career as a community worker in Belfast which led him into becoming director of Féile an Phobail, described at the time as “the biggest community arts festival in Europe”.

He says it was “very much about regenerating places that had been through hard times” and grew into a celebration of diversity as well as cross-community dialogue.

Sean’s other roles included director of the Seumas Ennis Arts Centre in Naul, County Dublin, which is described as “Ireland’s biggest little venue”.

When he left that role, the local newspaper, the Fingal Independent, wrote: “In four-and-a-half years, Sean Paul O'Hare has overseen perhaps the greatest period of development of the Seamus Ennis Arts Centre in its history, bringing big name acts to a new outdoor performance space at the centre and expanding the centre's role across the arts, making it so much more than a music venue”.

Sean Paul said that from a personal point of view, the highlight in that role was when President Michael D. Higgins opened the outdoor space, named the Piper's Garden. Most recently, was director of the Westport Arts Festival in County Mayo.

It is a significantly different hinterland from any of his predecessors at An Lanntair. “I was aware of what was being produced here and how it was supported”, he says.

“When the job came up, I was interested because I could the see the opportunity for the arts to make a massive impact on the island”.