Monday, 21 July 2014


In the past your scribbler has been guilty of clinging to a vision of what the Galway Arts Festival used to be, rather than coming to terms with the inevitability of change.

When the Snapper became a Chelsea fan she displayed such partisan zeal it frightened me a little.

“Ah, but I’m a convert!” she explained. “You’ve been a Chelsea fan all your life. Converts are always a bit more crazy than those born into it.”

This blow-in became a convert to Galway back in 1992. Unlike the locals who see Galway city and county as the ever-changing backdrop to their lives, I realise now that I took an emotional snapshot of the place I first arrived in, burning into my brainbox an image of this place at that time.

It was gone forever before I exhaled, yet foolishly still I yearned to replicate how I felt in the anarchic atmosphere of the Saw Doctors in the Big Top, or how I wondered at the sight of a giant Noah shooting water from his fingertips at the parade spectators. 

This year the festival offers The Waterboys in the Big Top and hopefully Macnas will parade in the Autumn, so all is good with the world, yet it is those early formative moments that give birth to one's own nostalgia.

So for several years this colyoom struggled against the Galway Arts Festival changing, moaning about the price of seats, groaning about how few local artists were being included, bewailing the lack of street theatre and bellyaching about the loss of connection the city had with its major festival.

Misguided as it may have been, mine was not a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Indeed, I wonder if we would have our excellent current Fringe Festival ( had not Project 06 made such a powerful case for the people on the streets.

Despite all my rants, I am and have always been a huge fan of the Galway International Arts Festival, (née: Galway Arts Festival). Along with countless other international blow-ins, one of the reasons I fell in love with this place was the respect it afforded the creativity that thrives here.

There are those who joke that Galway City is the graveyard of ambition. To them I say “Poppycock!” partly because it’s an apt word, but also because it feels good.

Hell, I’m going to write it again:


Compared to my native city of London, where genius can live and lose a life invisible, Galway embraces artistic endeavour with open arms.

Thankfully, I am now no longer expecting the Arts Festival to connect with the city as it used to. For ages it hurt me that Galway had turned from an Arts Festival City into a city with an Arts Festival, but now, given the Arts Festival’s ongoing success, I understand that was inevitable.

The Arts Festival left home years ago and just as a person might turn to their clingy parents at the age of 36, in an effort to appear even more independent of the city, it has announced that it shall now be known as the Galway International Arts Festival.

It’s not a huge change, but it is puzzling and apparently pointless.

Of course the Galway Arts Festival is ‘international’ - it always has been! Under the artistic direction of Paul Fahy, the festival attracts all manner of exciting and talented creativity from around the globe.

Having lived in San Francisco, Melbourne and London, I know internationality when I see it, and Galway has internationality by the busload; by the rental cars and camper vans; trains and taxis and planeloads of people travelling on coaches. We’ve foreign students living here learning English and more foreign students studying at our internationally renowned universities and colleges.

A portal to both the Mediterranean and the New World, Galway’s harbour has drawn international music, wine and art to the city for centuries, yet to be truly international, a place and its people have to emanate from a strong core culture that can be shared, spread and adapted. Galway's great strength lies in the way it blends its unique character with international ingredients.

Restaurateur JP McMahon performed the entire cycle single-handedly. Acknowledging Galway’s manifold links with Spain, he introduced authentic Spanish tapas through ‘Cava’, while his Michelin starred ‘Aniar’ bought Galway international recognition, solely using ingredients from the local area, or ‘terroir’.

Entrepreneur Kevin Healy has worked tirelessly to bring top international comedy acts to Galway, while our own Druid Theatre strut the stage at the English National Theatre and Macnas export their talent worldwide.

Sometimes it’s easier for blow-ins to see the magic of a place. Locals find it hard to feel pride in their home’s intrinsic worth. The beautiful ancient heart of this city: preserved, alive, vibrant and authentic, now for some reason branded ‘The Latin Quarter’.

Why not the ‘Medieval Quarter’ or ‘Old City’?
Why look abroad?

There is much in Galway to be proud of and more for which it is internationally famous. Beyond songs about the sun setting on Galway Bay and a certain Galway Girl, loved worldwide by generations three apart, Galway is universally loved for its unique cocktail of craic, beauty, history, creativity, racing madness and mad weather.

A city truly international to its core, Galway shares its own culture while borrowing from others. When you naturally possess such fine attributes, surely you don’t need to state the obvious.

Why the need to remove our Arts Festival one step further from the city of its birth?

Why is ‘Galway’ not enough?

All praise to the festival for its success, but in the same way that an open flower will flourish so much longer if nurtured by healthy roots, it might be prudent for the Arts Festival to love the city back.

Given the weighty matters of the day, I’ll admit that the inclusion of the word ‘International’ in the Galway Arts Festival might justifiably be deemed unworthy of debate. It’s just that when you love something, feelings matter.

©Charlie Adley

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