Galway Theatre Festival



That’s right blog enthusiasts – the festival spirit that Galway is famous for is starting to rear its wonderful head and with it, the first signs of summer are in the air! (yes, we get summer here. And no, the weather doesn’t improve much. Well apart from that one week where the sun will split the stones and you’ll see enough pastey Irish men to do you for a lifetime, other than that, I apologise for my country’s temperamental weather!). But what we lack in Mediterranean climate during the summer, we make up for in European bohemian vibes! The months of April to September are basically a litany of festivals for every possible discerning taste, but I have to admit, the arts festivals are my favourite amongst them! They bring a wonderful energy to Galway as well as people that want to explore and find out what makes the city tick. And what better way to do this than through the arts! That’s what makes travelling to the city for the arts so inviting, it’s like feeling the heartbeat of Galway all around you, and you can’t help but get swept up!Galway_Theatre_Festival_Kinlay_Hostel

This year’s Galway Theatre Festival, the 9th for those of you counting, is the perfect example of this. Galway’s own indigenous artists mingle with those from further afield to showcase an eclectic programme, full of the different varieties of the performing arts. But it is the situation and nature of Galway itself that allows for this diversity. Galway is basically as far west as you can go in mainland Europe (I’m looking at you Cabo da Roca, Portugal) and people from incredibly varied backgrounds settle here. It has become a melting pot of experiences and voices, and this makes it the perfect hub to nurture all these different forms of art and self-expression.

The Festival kicks off on 29th of April and runs until 7th May, and let me tell you, you’re not gonna be bored in Galway for those dates! A few shows pre-empt the festival on the 27th and 28th, one of which is The Blue Boy presented by the GTF guest artists, BrokenTalkers. The company has already toured extensively within and beyond Ireland with the show, but due to a huge demand the show is being mounted again. Although it deals with the experiences of men and women who were incarcerated as children in Catholic residential care institutions, the show is highly physical and multi-disciplinary, so it promises an unforgettable theatre experience. The opening bank holiday weekend of the festival further highlights a hugely diverse range of theatre and art, with productions such as My Poet Dark and Slender by MmmTheatre, TURF by The Rowan Tolley Company, Sisters of the Rising by Christiane O’ Mahony and Expectations by Sarah Hoover. These range from devised theatre based on a Padraic O’ Conaire poem, an installation art piece about, well, turf!, a play centred on two women’s involvement in the 1916 Rising and a durational performance art piece. These pieces are taking place in theatres and spaces all across Galway city, so check for all the details (as well as all the other shows I haven’t mentioned here!)

Featured during this weekend as well is the Dance Theatre Triple Bill that’ll be in An Taibhdhearc theatre on Middle Street. There are 3 shows on as part of this (in case you didn’t know what triple bill means :P), 2 of which your humble blog writer is involved in! I’m directing and choreographing a show called GHOSTS, a dance piece based on The Divine Comedy by Dante Aligheri, which is on the 30th April and 1st May at 4.30pm. We’re also performing it under the banner of #wakingthefeministswest, which if you haven’t heard of, go and look it up right now! I’m also doing it under the name of my new theatre company, Sonar Theatre, so if you’d like to keep up to date with what we’re up to, follow us on Twitter @sonar_theatre or find our facebook page! And then from directing and choreographing, I’m performing in a show called eXXcYpt (said like “except”) at 6pm on the same dates (I’m gonna be a busy man!). eXxcYpt is a movement piece created by Jérémie Cyr-Cooke and myself, about the Irish and English languages and their influence upon each other, both historically and culturally. Basically a great day of theatre altogether and you guys should all definitely come and support us and be great 😛
But everything I’ve mentioned here is just a tiny tiny taster of what the whole festival has to offer. Ones to look out for for the rest of the festival are Always Alone Together by Game Theory, Mary Mary Mary by Fregoli Theatre, Wasted by NoRopes Theatre Company, a series of events by #wakingthefeministswest and the show with my personal favourite title, What Good Is Looking Well When You’re Rotten On The Inside, by Emma O’ Grady. It’s set to be a wonderful few days in Galway and the first injection of summer festival fun! So please check out the website, support the artists and have a wonderful time while doing it! You can get tickets for the shows at, or just ringing The Town Hall Theatre on 091-569777. Hopefully I’ll be seeing your lovely faces in a theatre some time soon 😉 See you next week for regularly scheduled blogging!

– Martin at Kinlay Reception

Nora Barnacle’s House

While it’s true the buildings of Galway do make up a large part of its history, with their differing architecture and powerful presence, this blog has so far neglected one of the most important aspects of the city’s history – the people. For every ornate carving or ruin of city wall, there is the story of the person who made it or lived in it. Judging by the kind of people that are in Galway in the present day, the ones centuries ago must have been quite the characters! But there is one particular landmark in Galway city which is so linked with its former inhabitant that it in fact still bares her name. That place is of course the Nora Barnacle House on Bowling Green, a two minute walk from the end of Shop Street, across from St. Nicholas’ Church.
Nora Barnacle could indeed be one of the most influential figures in Irish writing, and those of you with literary leanings have probably come across the name before. Nora Barnacle was the wife of James Joyce, the celebrated Irish writer who was a leader in the European avant-garde movement. She was often cited as his muse, several characters in his books being based off her and her experiences. Perhaps the best known of these characters is Molly Bloom, wife to Leopold Bloom in the odyssey Ulysses. Her famous words, “yes I said yes I will Yes” finish off the marathon novel, a wonderful tribute to Nora herself, a woman of ambition and certainty in Joyce’s eyes. In fact, the date on which Ulysses is set, June 16 1904 (now called Bloomsday) is that of their first date. It is clear she had a huge influence upon his work and supported him in his creative efforts, which wasn’t always easy in a relationship fraught with poverty and alcoholism on Joyce’s part. But she remained true to her name, Joyce’s father proclaiming, “Barnacle; she’ll stick to him” upon hearing Nora’s surname for the first time. But before she became wife and muse to Joyce, she was a native of Galway and every muse has to grow up somewhere.

The house on Bowling Green was Nora’s childhood home where she lived until 1903. Her early life was fraught with hardship before they settled in this house with her mother, uncle and 6 other younger siblings. She had been sent to live with her grandmother, Catherine Mortimer Healy, in 1886 and stayed until 1889, beginning school at this time. By the time she had completed school in 1896, her mother had thrown their father out as a result of his drinking and subsequently separated. In that same year, a teenager called Michael Feeney who she had fallen in love with died of typhoid and pneumonia, followed 4 years later by the death of another boyfriend Michael Bodkin. It was also a fight with her uncle about dating a Protestant boy called Willie Mulvagh which caused her to leave for Dublin in 1903, where she met James Joyce the following year. And this house in Galway city was the hub of all the activity! It was built in the 1800s and consisted of two rooms and a tiny back yard with the ground floor room serving as a kitchen, dining room, and often a bedroom. Cooking was done over an open fire, in pot ovens and on large griddles. Water was drawn from a pump across the street as the house did not receive its own supply until the 1940s.The upstairs room was a communal bedroom, meaning that all 8 people staying in the house were crammed into 2 floors of the smallest house on the street! Within a year of meeting in Dublin, Nora and James eloped to Europe, where they would eventually settle in Trieste in Italy, far from her native Galway. They would have two children there, Giorgio and Lucia who would visit Ireland and in fact enter into Nora’s old home. In 1909 Joyce in fact met his mother-in-law (even though him and Nora would not actually marry until 1931) Annie Barnacle in the house, penning a letter later to Nora saying how they had been received with open arms. Nora would sadly only ever visit Galway once again, as on this second visit troubles to do with the Irish War of Independence would cause Nora to never want to return. She ended up settling in Zurich in Germany after Joyce passed away there in 1941, herself dying in 1951 due to renal failure at the age of 67.
After Annie Barnacle passed away in 1940, the house became derelict in the following years. In 1987 however, it was purchased by Sheila and Mary Gallagher who turned it into a visitors’ centre. They returned it to its turn of the century condition and over the years thousands of people have visited the landmark. Sadly however, the house will not be open this year to visit due to financial reasons. The house remains with a plaque outside designating it as Nora’s birthplace and any Joyce/arts enthusiasts should still visit – how often do you get to say you stood in the exact same place as one of the world’s most influential writers? The people of a place are what mostly make it unique, and Nora Barnacle is the prime example of this. One little house on an inconspicuous street in a city on the west coast of Ireland is a wealth of historical and artistic inspiration – come to our city and see what other histories you can come across, they’re just waiting to be found! That’s it again for this week, see you lovely readers again soon!

– Martin

Shop Street, Galway

In all of the blog posts so far, the places talked about have had some element of secrecy about them; places that to look at, their sense of history would not be immediately apparent. This is true of much of Galway; a thriving, bustling (it’s not quite New York alright, but it is busy!) city that it could function solely as that. You could hop from bar to bar and just get swept up in the festival atmosphere most of the year round, missing the hidden layers of the city. But if there’s one place in Galway where the contemporary life of the city and its history are snuggled up together in harmony, it’s on the city’s main commercial centre, Shop Street. To miss the sense of history floating around it, you would literally have to walk head down, hood up, ears blocked, eyes closed and hope the city’s vibes somehow still do not make their way into your consciousness somehow! But one does not overpower the other – history and contemporary life colour each other just enough that the two co-exist incredibly well in Galway.

There is one quite prominent marker of the history of Galway on Shop Street, that being Lynch’s Castle, half way down the road. Remember those 14 tribes that ruled Galway after Grand Daddy de Burgo lost his power in 1484? Well the Lynch family was one of the most powerful amongst them and this was their seat of power. Due to the fact the building has been renovated over the years, with a large extension being added in 1808, the exact date the castle was built is unknown, but is estimated to be around the end of the fifteenth century/ start of the sixteenth. The castle is a prime example of Gothic Irish architecture despite the fact it has been renovated throughout the years. Certain elements of different architectural periods have been added to it – the orderly Georgian windows added in the late 19th century for example. The outside of the building also has the seals of some important historical figures imprinted on it; King Henry VII, King of England from 1484 to 1509 and The Earl of Kildare that finally ousted the de Burgos in 1504. However, nestled in among the seals and gargoyles, you’ll find an incredibly odd carving, that of a monkey holding a baby, That’s right. A monkey holding a baby. Legend says there was a fire in the castle and the pet money of the family saved the baby from a fiery end. The carving is there to honour this heroic monkey…now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.
For its historic past, the castle now has a very modern function however, that of a bank. In 1930, Allied Irish Bank acquired the building and renovated it to its former glory. The ground level of the bank can be visited and its history is displayed in panels on the walls. This is indicative of many of the businesses in Galway however (not that we have hordes of fire and rescue monkeys in every shop), but that the very modern businesses veils their history. Many other stores along Shop Street have been in existence for a long time, like Fallers Jewellers and the clothing store Anthony Ryans, 137 and 107 years old respectively. Many businesses along the road are family owned also and have been passed down from generation to generation. Galway’s modern facade of a bustling city sits perched atop a wealth of history and personal identity, giving it that unique blend of the old and the new.
A stroll down shop street is not only a feast for the eyes, but the ears as well. The city is well known for its buskers, who come from all corners of the world to mix with local talent, creating a wonderful sense of performance and community on the city streets. Everything from singers to puppeteers and musicians to mime artists are sprinkled up and down the street, at all times of the day (I live on Shop Street so I can attest to this. The 1am rendition of Abba’s Fernando is particularly riveting). These artists hit peak season at the same time that Galway does – during the Galway International Arts Festival and Galway Races. You will hardly be able to sustain a single thought as you walk down the street, some different aspect of architecture or artistry attracting your attention.
And where are most people who walk down Shop Street going I hear you ask? If it’s after 8pm at night, it’s towards Galway’s Latin Quarter. Just off Shop Street is where you’ll find some of Galway’s most thriving night life. The Quays and The Spanish Arch Hotel attract a huge amount of revellers, spilling out onto the streets in high season, making it difficult to even get from one end to the other. Some beautiful restaurants are clustered in the area too, catering to all kinds of tastes and appetites – Quay Street Kitchen, McDonagh’s Fish and Chips, Gemelles, Fat Freddys. You could spend a whole week in that street alone trying the local specialities!

Galway does indeed have many little secret nooks within its boundaries, but Shop Street is a huge declarative statement about the vitality and mixed nature of the city. Whether it’s a trip centred around finding out about Galway’s history, going on a shopping spree, checking out the local artistic talent or expanding your waistline by eating and drinking from one end of the day to the other, Galway caters to it all, and on just one of its streets! It blends its past and its present beautifully, really creating that bohemian and laid back vibe that Galway is famous for. And the best thing is, it’s only a 2 minute walk from us here at Kinlay! So if you’re looking for a chilled weekend away or a busy one hitting all the pubs and clubs, then Galway (and specifically Shop Street) is the place for you! That’s it again for your installment of places around Galway this week, and if that wasn’t enough for you, there’ll be more next week! You lucky things 😉 See you then!

– Martin at Kinlay Reception