I’m back home again – listening to Back Home Again being played on piano, oddly enough. But the trip has gotten me into the habit of taking photographs. I’m in O’Connor’s of Salthill, one of Galway‘s most attractive pubs, decorated with an eclectic, obsessive, and possibly mildly deranged eye for detail. Bicycles, old cameras, and all manner of crockery are suspended from the ceiling and walls. This is the fireplace; above it, as if to dry, hangs underwear .
The lighting is from oil lamps with bulbs fitted, dozens of them, These are augmented with old illuminated adverts – including, though I’m sure it has to be illegal, ones for cigarettes. Perhaps they get away with it because such brands as Player’s No.6 are no longer available. Just at the bottom here you can see part of one that says “Virol – anaemic girls need it”. No idea what Virol was, but I can’t imagine it sold a lot with copy like that.
Anyway I can recommend O’Connor’s of Salthill. Actually, I must get here more often myself.
Excuse me if I’m a little taciturn and incoherent here, I’ve just driven from my home in Galway to Ballybay in County Monaghan, some 270 km (170 miles). All right, I’m sure that’s not very impressive if you’re the sort of American who drives that far just to find some shade, but it’s the furthest I’ve gone since I learned to drive just a few months ago.
The second furthest I ever drove was around Connemara, yesterday.
I enjoyed it, but now I barely have the energy left to trace out words on the phone screen. And tomorrow, I party all day. So better get a little oblivion time in.
Well we knew the weather was about to change, so we spent the last fine day on a trip to Connemara, our local semi-wilderness.
View from Ballynahinch Castle. This used to be the home of the Martyns, one of Galway’s ruling families. It’s now a pleasant hotel, as low-key as it is up-market. We stopped for coffee and considered booking a suite for the weekend, but a quick search through our pockets for change failed to produce the necessary €1,260.
The destination really was the journey. Which is just as well because by the time we reached our ostensible objective the weather had given up on us. You’ll just have to imagine what this beach would’ve looked like in the sun.
If you’re like me you probably thought last summer’s Project ’06 was a triumph. The energy and sense of community that the Festival had in its heyday was back in force. This was surely the way forward.
And like me, you would be wrong. Project ’06 was a complete failure.
The point of the Project was not to show that great things can be achieved when people work for free, or even that there is a huge amount of good stuff going on that the Festival doesn’t include. We already knew that. The point was to change the Arts Festival, to make it again the vital force it once was.
What the Festival originally achieved is pretty much taken for granted now, but it changed Galway. Culture really can make a vast difference to a location. You have to remember that in 1978, Galway was on no part of anyone’s cultural map. The John Hinde postcards called us “Gateway to Connemara”, and that faint praise was painfully true. The only reason most visitors even passed through here was because we had the only bridges south of Cong.
That changed, and it was changed by artists. People mostly in third level education, at NUI,G and GMIT (then UCG and the RTC), who decided they could put on the show right here.
Druid pioneered it, proving you could be from Galway and still be famous around the world. But the Arts Festival made Galway famous in itself, changing its image from a dowdy, decaying place forgotten by everyone except Americans searching for the graves of their ancestors into somewhere people wanted to be and to live. Even when conventional industries were folding, Galway had new ideas and opportunities that kept the economy growing.
In recent years though, the Festival’s role has changed fundamentally. It still does an excellent job of bringing global quality performances to Galway, but that was only a part of the original point. It was also expected to help the cultural life of Galway develop. Not only is the more tourism-orientated Festival of today not so good at promoting Galway-based arts, it has reached the point where it’s actually becoming harmful to them. At the one time of year when local performers and artists might be able to make some decent money, venues and equipment are unavailable to them. Of the little money there is available from sponsorship and government funding, a huge wedge goes to international acts that are already better funded in their countries of origin than we dream of.
The main request of Project ’06 was that a small proportion of funding and facilities be ring-fenced for the arts in Galway. The Festival however seems unreceptive to the idea, apparently unwilling to become directly involved. They would prefer if something like Project ’06 continued as a “fringe” festival. But that would do nothing about the current competition for resources, and it ignores the fact that a huge voluntary efforts like ’06 are not possible every year.
Besides, Galway’s artists should not be the fringe event in their own city. That would be to miss the whole point. A Festival that’s all about bringing in great acts to watch is just more television, another thing to be passively consumed. The reason the Arts Festival was once great is that it wasn’t something just happening here. It was something Galway did.