The Galway Arts Festival Experience

The festival season is one of the only things that make being stuck in Ireland for the summer worthwhile. Longitude had been and gone, so too has the Street Performance World Championship in Merrion Square and it was still another month to the Electric Picnic. That meant only the annual Galway Arts Festival was there to whet the appetite of the festival lover.

Galway 1
The Irish Times has called the Galways Arts Festival “the biggest, most exciting, most imaginative explosion of arts activity this country has”, and they’re not far wrong. It’s a special festival in a special little city. World-class theatre, performance, music and visual art descend on Galway for a two-week spectacular, giving an already artsy city even more of a bohemian sheen.

Friday Evening, Spanish Arch

Galway Arts Fest - Claudia & Piper, Spanish Arch

I made it across to Galway for the last weekend myself. The weather was unexpectedly sunny arriving in on Friday evening. So on checking into my hostel, I grabbed my camera and headed down to the Spanish Arch for some dusk photography. After getting some light trails and long exposure shots, I wandered up towards Shop Street to soak up the festival atmosphere. Street entertainers were out in force, though knowing the main action would be the next day, I decided to rest up and turn in for the night.

Oxfam Campaign Bus, Eyre Square

Galway Oxfam Bus 1

First up the following day was checking out Oxfam’s double-decker bus for their ‘Even It Up’ campaign. Parked on the corner of Eyre Square, it illustrated how just 80 people – enough to fit on the bus itself – have the same wealth as the bottom half of the world. It’s a crazy, crazy place we live in. It’s also always good to see festivals have a bit of social conscience too.

A Girl’s Bedroom, NUIG

Galway Arts Fest - A Girl's Bedroom

I met up with a friend then headed for the Bank of Ireland Theatre on the NUIG campus for something I’d been looking forward to since I heard it was on – A Girl’s Bedroom, by Irish playwright Enda Walsh. Ballyturk (starring Cillian Murphy) and The Welworth Farce (staring Brendan, Domhnall & Brian Gleeson) were two of Walsh’s plays I’d seen before, so I knew to expect something a bit out of the ordinary. It didn’t disappoint. We were ushered into a typical little girl’s bedroom where we listened to the voice of an absent narrator (‘Love/Hate’s Charlie Murphy). She told a story about running away from home and the tension of her parents’ middle-class marriage, all the while the bedroom darkening as her own memory of her girlhood room fades from memory. Ironically, the play itself stays in the mind long after viewing.

Art Shows

Galway Arts Fest - A Long Awaited (Patricia Piccinini)

We then looked in on a couple of art exhibitions. First up was the very original Australian artist Patricia Piccinini. She creates fantastical models out of silicone, fibreglass and human hair (donated by friends) that look like the strange inhabitants of a Middle Earth-type parallel universe. Very interesting if slightly unsettling.
After a long walk down to the docks, we looked in on ‘Borders’, by the Russian artist Varvara Shavrova. The exhibition of paintings and related video works concerned activity along one of the longest borders in the world, between Russia and China. The show is ideally located in a building on a pier, perfect for evoking the travelling/borderline theme. It also seemed fitting to be seeing this in Ireland, at the very opposite edge of Europe.

Mick Flannery at the Roisin Dubh

Galway Arts Fest - Mick Flannery & Band

Next up was a pizza refuelling pit stop and on to one of my favourite music venues, the Roisin Dubh, for a performance from the mighty Mick Flannery. The Cork native has established himself alongside the likes of Damien Rice and Glen Hansard as one of Ireland’s best singer-songwriters. It was no surprise then to find the gig had sold-out. Fortunately not before I’d managed to snap up tickets!
Flannery has more than a hint of Tom Waits in his husky growl and poignant song-writing. Though for someone from Blarney, he really doesn’t have the gift of the gab. His lack of banter and stage presence becomes a running joke; an introductory story to ‘I’m On Your Side’ is abandoned after a bungled attempt and playful heckle from the audience to “just play the song Mick!” The self-deprecating charm is lapped up by the crowd. And when you have songs as good as ‘Get What You Give’ and ‘The Small Fire’, it’s all too easy to win audiences over.

Galway City Museum & Home

Galway Arts Fest - Cardboard Banjo Busker

The rain-gods had decided we’d been having it far too good weather-wise and let loose the next day. There was nothing for it but to look for shelter in the Galway City Museum. The artsiness of the weekend didn’t let up there with exhibitions on literature (WB Yeats) and art (Louise Bourgeois), as well as the permanent displays on Galway history – archaeological, social and cultural. A fascinating place to spend a few hours.
And that was that for my weekend in the City of the Tribes. Another great experience for the Galway Arts Festival memory file.

This guest post was written by festival lover and aspiring photographer Cian Doherty, who spent a weekend in Galway with some Adventure Packers last weekend. All photos copyright of Cian!