Ireland on a Working Visa #7

April 26th
A guy who’s lived in Galway for some time told me that, compared to spring and summer, in winter the Galway cultural calendar is as bleak as the landscape. “The only thing to do here is go to the pub,” he said. Granted, that’s the main Irish pastime in any season, but spring and summer end winter’s cultural hibernation, and instead of just spending all your recreation time in the pub, you at least have the option of checking out all the festivals, concerts and other events that suddenly abound.

One such event is The Cúirt International Festival of Literature, or Cúirt ’00 for short (‘Cúirt’ is pronounced ‘court’), which attracts writers from all over Ireland and from all over the world. Running Apr. 24-30, the days and evenings at Galway’s Town Hall Theatre are an epicenter of readings, debates and lectures.

A flip through the schedule shows a week packed with events, from talks with writers who write primarily in Irish, poetry readings, a debate over whether or not Northern Ireland has its own culture, talks on and readings of crime fiction, and a forum on Israeli and Palestinian literature. I end here only for the sake of moving on, but I think you see that there’s plenty going (but with time enough left for the pub: Cúirt’s last event, at 7:30 p.m. on Apr. 30, is ‘Last Orders’: ‘The final get-together for the die-hards takes place in Brennan’s Yard Hotel, the Festival Club, for repartee and entertainment.’)

Galway is not only the site but the epicenter for many happenings, from literary festivals such as Cúirt, to good ol’ fashioned concerts. Here’s a list of some of them:

  • Galway Early Music Festival (‘Volta 2000’), May 11-14 in Galway City. Music, dance and costume from the 12th to the 17th centuries, including workshops, concerts and street performances.
  • Fleadh Nua 2000, May 25-29 in Ennis (Co. Clare). Traditional Irish music, song and dance.
  • Cat Laughs Comedy Festival, June 1-5 in Galway. Features Rich Hall, Dom Irrera, Rene Hicks, Johnny Vegas, Phill Jupitus, Ardle O’Hanlon, Jimeoin, Jason Byrne, Colin Murphy, Deirdre O’Kane, Fred McAulay and “Apres Match.” There’s also a cartoon and film festival!
  • Castlebar Blues Festival, June 2-5 in Castlebar (Co. Mayo).
  • The Green Energy Festival, June 2-5 (dual venues in Galway and Cork). Galway’s Castlegar Sportsgrounds will be played by Moby, Fun-Lovin Criminals, Counting Crows, Van Morrison and Robert Plant’s Priory of Brion. (These bands will also play Cork’s Munster Showgrounds.)
  • Galway Arts Festival, July 18-30. Includes a program of international theatre, a parade, and international street theatre (apparently with lots of Aussies).
  • Witnness, Aug. 5-6 at Fairyhouse Racecourse (Co. Meath). Sponsored by Guinness (hence the double ‘n’) and featuring Paul Weller, The Undertones, Picture House, David Gray, Travis, Beck, Ocean Colour Scene, Happy Mondays, Death In Vegas, Groove Armada and others.

    And this isn’t all that Galway has to offer. Walking the streets on any day, performers are playing their instruments or, sometimes, even doing street theatre. Then, of course, there are the trad sessions in local pubs (more on that later). For those interested not just in seeing a show or listening to a concert, but who would like to learn some new skill or art, classes abound for every interest from didgeridoo to salsa dancing to reiki to foreign languages to yoga – just look around the city for fliers.

    For more information on Cúirt and the arts in Galway, check out the Galway Arts Centre. For listings of festivals and other Galway area events and venues, pick up The List, a free fortnightly publication distributed all over town.
    Grit of Greer Comes to Galway
    Perhaps this year’s most anticipated Cúirt event was a lecture by Professor Germaine Greer, whose 1970 book The Female Eunuch is considered one of the canonical works of feminism.

    Did I want to go to her lecture? Do the Irish drink Guinness? Of course I did, as did my friend Jacinta, but unfortunately for us the IR £7 tickets sold out before we had even arrived in Galway. Jacinta and I did get in, though – by standing on the steps outside the Town Hall Theatre and asking people for spare tickets until we each found someone who did.

    I’ve been curious about Greer’s talk – ‘Always challenging and controversial,’ says the Cúirt schedule, ‘Greer is usually categorised as a writer of non-fiction: the intriguing title of her lecture is The Impossibility of Non-Fiction‘ – since I first read that description. ‘What could she be talking about?’ I kept wondering.

    Looking through my notes, I don’t want to bore you by rambling on about everything Greer said, and you don’t have to worry. My notes, at best, are sparse; in two and a half hours, a few scribblings spread over a few pages are all I have.

    But that’s more a testament to Greer’s speaking ability than to my adeptness at note-taking, as I spent the majority of her lecture, along with everyone else in the theatre, laughing so hard that the rest of my energy went to keeping me in my seat.

    Once on-stage, Greer told us that she’s “pissed off” – her words – at non-fiction for trying to be something it is not: total, comprehensive truth, correct down the last most minute factual detail. “No human life is text. Life is life. Text is text.”

    This is the focal point of her lecture, that no writing, be it cookbook, gardening book, travel writing (ahem), biography or autobiography (and Greer rails especially against these last two genres), is a comprehensive representation of its subject – especially if that subject is a person.

    Long after Greer left the stage, Jacinta and I were still laughing, but so was pretty much everyone else in the theatre. Unfortunately, this is one of the few Cúirt events I can attend, but at least I got to this one. (Moral of the story? If it’s sold-out, start asking around.)

    Whatever Galway may be like in the winter, I’m glad I’m here for spring and summer, and however bleak and empty the cultural calendar may have been before, there’s nothing like a dose of Germaine Greer’s fire to thaw things out in time for May.