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H   E   L   L   A   S      E   N   S   E   M   B   L   E 


Hellas Ensemble is the brainchild of the Greek and Irish bouzouki players and composers, Nikos Petsakos and Martin Coyle. It was formed during a collaboration with the Northern Irish author, journalist and Hellenophile, Bruce Clark, who, for his services to Greece, has recently had the rare distinction of being awarded the Order of the Phoenix by the Greek government.

Bruce, speaking on Seamus Heaney and Greece at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace, thought that Seamus Heaney’s ‘Sonnets from Hellas’ would illustrate the poet’s love of Greece and its influence on his writing. He approached Nikos Petsakos and Martin Coyle, who had been collaborating on music drawing from the cultures and traditions of both Ireland and Greece. Together they set about composing pieces which would reflect the spirit of the poems in all their moving detail and vivid imagery.


Since the inception of the ensemble it has evolved over time, headlining at Irish Wings Festival, Paxos, to the stage of the Abby Theatre, Dublin and performing a sold out collaborative show with The Ulster Orchestra presenting the works on a much grander scale with new arrangements from Paul Cutliffe. 


Hellas Ensemble is composed of a cast of Irish and international musicians and combines strings and woodwind:

Nikos Petsakos - Greek Tri-chordo Bouzouki

Martin Coyle - Irish flat-back Bouzouki

Robert Peoples - Viola and Violin

Lucia McGinnis - Irish Harp

Marc Forbes - Double Bass

Paul Cutliffe - Uilleann Pipes, Clarinet and Whistle

Amanda Koser - Flute

1. Into Arcadia Hellas Ensemble
00:00 / 03:23

It was opulence and amen on the mountain road.
Walnuts bought on a high pass from a farmer
Who'd worked in Melbourne once and now trained
Through a system of pipes and runnels of split reed
Known in Hellas, probably, since Hesiod -
That was the least of it. When we crossed the border
From Argos into Arcadia, and farther
Into Arcadia, a lorry load
Of apples had burst open on the road
So that for yards our tyres raunched and scrunched
But we drove on, juiced up and fleshed and spattered,
Revelling in it. And then it was the goatherd
With his goats in the forecourt of the filling station,
Subsisting beyond eclogue and translation.

2. Conkers Hellas Ensemble
00:00 / 04:33

All along the dank, sunk rock-floored lane
To the acropolis in Sparta, we couldn't help
Tramping on burst shells and crunching down
The high-gloss horse-chestnuts. I thought of kelp
And foals' hooves, bladderwort, dubbed leather
As I bent to gather them, a hint of ordure
Coming and going off their tainted pith.
Cyclopic stone on each side of the path.
Rings of defence. Breached walls. The looted conkers
Gravid in my satchel, swinging nicely.
Then a daylight moon appeared behind Dimitri
As he sketched and squared his shoulders like a centaur's
And nodded, nodded, nodded towards the spouses,
Heard but not seen behind much thick acanthus.

3. Pylos Hellas Ensemble
00:00 / 03:56

Barbounia schooled below the balcony -
Shadows on shelving sand in sandy Pylos.
Wave-clip and flirt, tide-slap and flop and flow:
I woke to the world there like Telemachos,
Young again in the whitewashed light of morning
That flashed on the ceiling like an early warning
From myself to be more myself in the mast-bending
Marine breeze, to key the understanding
To that image of the bow strung as a lyre
Robert Fitzgerald spoke of: Harvard Nestor,
Sponsor and host, translator of all Homer,
His wasted face in profile, ceiling-staring
As he schooled me in the course, not yet past caring,
Scanning the offing, Far-seeing shadower.

4. The Augean StablesHellas Ensemble
00:00 / 03:32

My favourite bas-relief: Athene showing
Heracles where to broach the river bank
With a nod of her high helmet, her staff sunk
In the exact spot, the Alpheus flowing
Out of its course into the deep dung strata
Of King Augeas' reeking yard and stables.
Sweet dissolutions from the water tables,
Blocked doors and packed floors deluging like gutters...
And it was there in Olympia, down among green willows,
The lustral wash and run of river shallows,
That we heard of Sean Brown's murder in the grounds
Of Bellaghy GAA Club. And imagined
Hose-water smashing hard back off the asphalt
In the car park where his athlete's blood ran cold.

5. Castalian Spring Hellas Ensemble
00:00 / 02:50

Thunderface. Not Zeus's ire, but hers
Refusing entry, and mine mounting from it.
This one thing I had vowed: to drink the waters
Of the Castalian Spring , to arrogate
That much to myself and be the poet
Under the God Apollo's giddy cliff -
But the inner water sanctum was roped off
When we arrived. Well then, to hell with that,
And to hell with all who'd stop me, thunderface!
So up the steps then, into the sandstone grottoes,
The seeps and dreeps, the shallow pools, the mosses,
Come from beyond, and come far, with this useless
Anger draining away, on terraces
Where I bowed and mouthed in sweetness and defiance.

6. Desfina Hellas Ensemble
00:00 / 03:03


Mount Parnassus placid on the skyline:
Slieve na mBard, Knock Filiocht, Ben Duan,
We gaelicized new names for Poetry Hill
As we wolfed down horta, tarama and houmos
At sunset in the farmyard, drinking ouzos,
Pretending not to hear the Delphic squeal
Of the steel-haired cailleach in the scullery.
Then it was time to head into Desfina
To allow them to sedate her. And so retsina,
Anchovies, squid, dolmades, french fries even.
My head was light, I was hyper, boozed, borean
As we bowled back down towards the olive plain,
Siren-tyred and manic on the horn
Round hairpin bends looped like boustrophedon.

All words - Seamus Heaney from Sonnets of Hellas - Electric Light Series








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