Tourists and art aficionados crowded the streets of Galway City for the 30th annual Galway Arts Festival during the last two weeks of July.
Despite the rainiest summer Ireland has seen in years, the street performers were out in full force. Colorfully dressed mimes posed as statues, the tunes of local musicians echoed through the streets, and theatrical groups such as The Gombeens Theater troupe gave free performances of satirical comedies.
Festival highlights included an art exhibit by Sean Lynch, whose work explores a wide range of forgotten historical subjects, and an exhibit of women war photographers. Traditional music sessions at the Róisín Dubh pub hosted bands such as Moonshine, Brian McGrath and local hero John Faulkner.
Evening concerts featured a mix of American, English, Cuban, Canadian, Scottish and Irish bands. Among some of the most popular shows were Alabama 5, The Divine Comedy and Laura Veirs.
As if all this weren’t enough to keep a person busy, the festival offered many world-class theater and literary readings.
The performance of Brian Friel’s Philadelphia Here I Come was profoundly moving: the story of a young man in the 1950s excited at the prospect of leaving Ireland for America, yet struggling with past regrets and fears at giving up all he has ever known and loved to venture into the unknown.
The New York-based The Team gave a refreshingly unique performance of Particularly in the Heartland, a new play that invited audience members to participate in the show while challenging them to question what it means to be American in a changing world.
Among the most popular theater shows were Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater’s performance of Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited, and the debut of Patrick McCabe’s brilliantly disturbing new play The Revenant. McCabe was on hand at the Radisson Hotel to give a chilling reading from his new novel Winterwood. In what was probably the best opening in the festival’s history, McCabe began in characteristic offbeat style by playing 1960s rock music for several minutes without a word of explanation and then launching into a reading of selections from his earlier book Gems of the Emerald Isle. He finished up with excerpts from Winterwood and, to judge by his reading, the novel is no less haunting or intense than McCabe’s critically acclaimed novel The Butcher Boy. ♦