Lifestyle – Ciaran Tierney hears how new talent mingles with the stars during a uniquely Galway event
In theory, it probably should not even work. A city with a population of just over 75,000 people, which has yet to see the completion of its own art house cinema, somehow manages to transform itself into a major hub of European and world cinema for six days each July.
Professionals attending bigger, glitzier festivals in Cannes and Berlin talk with bated breath about the delights on offer at the Galway Film Fleadh, which celebrates its 25th birthday next month. There are no red carpet premieres, but Hollywood professionals love the way they can rub shoulders with amateur enthusiasts and ordinary film fans over a few drinks at the famed Festival Club at the Galway Rowing Club.
For six days and nights, the Town Hall Theatre is packed with people attending screenings of documentaries, features, and shorts from all over the world. Every year the festival manages to unearth a few new gems while established global stars enjoy the informal atmosphere around an event which has grown enormously, but still manages to retain an intimate feel.
“The Fleadh has maintained its ethos over the last 25 years, which is that we want to be small, not in terms of the scale of the event, but we want to be intimate and informal. The Rowing Club is the festival club. There isn’t an ‘us and them’. Everybody is mixing and mingling. It’s so informal and relaxed, I think that kind of reflects the city of Galway itself,” says Managing Director Miriam Allen.
She believes it’s a huge bonus for the festival not to have a red carpet or glittering, champagne-fuelled launches. Film people from all over Europe and North America love to contrast the six days of mayhem in Galway with the glitz and glamour of Cannes.
Last year, there seemed to be one standing ovation after another at the Town Hall. Programmer Gar O’Brien gave world premieres to Pilgrim Hill, set in rural Kerry; Good Vibrations, a celebration of the Belfast punk scene during The Troubles; another Northern Irish film called Jump, and King of the Travellers. Each of them delighted capacity audiences as the Film Fleadh became a launch pad to greater things.
Irish film-makers now aim to finish their work in time for the Fleadh. It was the festival which gave Dublin film Once its first screening before it went on to win an Academy Award, the place where Garage featuring Pat Shortt was first shown to an audience, and where The Guard (starring Brendan Gleeson) received a rapturous reception after being filmed in the West of Ireland.
There have also been premieres for some brilliant documentaries down through the years. Richie O Domhnaill’s The Pipe (about the ‘Shell to Sea’ protests in Mayo) and the Oscar nominated Five Broken Cameras, set in an occupied Palestinian village, were both screened to Irish audiences for the first time at the Town Hall and both received standing ovations at the Fleadh.
Since its humble beginnings back in 1988, the Fleadh has always aimed to encourage new Irish talent. There was no Irish Film Board back then, the screenings took place in the ramshackle Claddagh Palace on the way to Salthill, and the Festival club was in a tent nearby. It just seemed to ‘click’ perfectly into place and the Galway bash became an annual pilgrimage for hundreds of committed film fans.
“The thing I like about the atmosphere around the Town Hall is that if you want to dress up, you can do that,” says Gar. “There’s such a great buzz and atmosphere outside, the whole thing is so informal, with all walks of life there. It’s a huge draw for us. Cannes is one thing, but people come here knowing it’s going to be so much more relaxed and informal, and that they can get some business done.”
Miriam and Gar both went to Dublin for a private screening of Pilgrim Hill with young Kerry director Ger Barrett last year. Barrett borrowed money from his local credit union to complete the film. There were only six people at the screening, including Ger’s parents and the local parish priest, and they were all in tears afterwards. It has given Miriam and Gar a huge lift to see Barrett’s career take off since the first public screening in Galway last year.
“We’ve always had a kind of punk rock or DIY ethos,” says Gar. “I think Pilgrim Hill was really satisfying for us, to see it not only getting a general release across Ireland, but the progress Ger has made, the people he has met. The way he’s been picked up internationally. That’s something we picked out. It all came from the Fleadh. For it to just to explode and his talent to be recognised since that first screening, that’s just an amazing part of the job!”
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.
Folk duo launch What Will Be Will Be
Folk duo Niall Teague and Pádraic Joyce are launching their new album What Will We Be, a blend of folk, Americana and acoustic music, this Friday, May 19, at 8pm in An Taibhdhearc.
The success of their well-received 2020 release Taobh le Taobh, as well as recent successes at the Pan Celtic and Oireachtas Song Contests, spurred the duo on to record this new album which represents many years of collaboration and musical development.
It features Niall and Pádraic on vocals, harmonies, and acoustic guitars, Maidhc Ó hÉanaigh on double bass and Neil Fitzgibbon on fiddle. The catchy title track, What Will We Be, features contributions from percussionist Jim Higgins (The Stunning, Christy Moore, Paul Brady) and haunting, driving melodies on vocals, guitar, and fiddle.
Themes of love and hope are woven through Come Away with Me which features interplay between piano and fiddle as well as rich vocal harmonies.
People, places, and broken dreams are celebrated and lamented on Martin and Tom, Guitar Gold, Memories of You and Achill Island. The influence of David Henry Thoreau’s novel Walden features on the tracks Simple and Wise and Walden, with the beauty of nature, escape and simple pleasures at their core.
The album moves from minimalistic folk ballads such as Galway Ghost to swirling, string-laden arrangements on the song Neptune, both of which are influenced by maritime tales from Galway. Much of the work on this album was supported by the Arts Council, including work with musical arranger Eoin Corcoran and the string ensemble Treo.
The album will be launched this Friday, May 19, at 8pm in an Taibhdhearc. Tickets €22, plus booking fee at Eventbrite.ie.
All roads lead to Dunmore as town tunes up County Fleadh
Dunmore is the place to be this weekend for lovers of traditional music, as the Galway County Fleadh will take place there from this Friday, May 19, to Sunday, May 23.
It is 10 years since Dunmore last hosted a fleadh and the local Comhaltas branch, which has re-formed since Covid, is looking forward to facilitating this gathering of music, song, dance and craic.
The official Opening Concert will take place in Dunmore Town Hall this Friday at 8pm with the acclaimed Mulcahy family from Limerick. Mick, Louise and Michelle are well known throughout the country, thanks to their live performances, television appearances and numerous CDs. They were the winners of the TG4 Gradam Ceoil Grúpa Ceoil Award for 2023. Tickets for their concert can be purchased on the door and a great night of music is promised.
Two days of competitions will kick off this Saturday at the town’s Community School, with more than 1,500 competitors taking part. Participants will be hoping to qualify for the Connacht Fleadh 2023, which will be held in Ballina, County Mayo, from June 23 to July 2.
Competitions for those aged Under 10, Under 12 and Under 15 will be held in a large variety of instruments on Saturday, as well as in singing and Comhrá Gaeilge. Sunday’s competitions will be for the Under 18 and Over 18 ages groups, as well as in dancing.
On both days a large entry is expected for Grúpaí Cheoil and Céilí Band competitions across all age groups.
Seventeen Comhaltas branches from across Galway will have participants in this weekend’s competitions, which will result in a large number of visitors to the Dunmore area.
Members of the public are welcome to attend the competitions, which offer a great opportunity to hear and see the talent on display. There will be sessions in local pubs over the weekend as well and everybody is welcome to attend these.
For more information on the County Fleadh, go to www.galwaycomhaltas.ie.
Piano concert rescheduled for Tuesday
Music for Galway’s concert with renowned Swiss pianist Cédric Pescia which had been due to take place on April 27 but which had to be deferred, will now take place next Tuesday, May 23, at 8pm, in the Emily Anderson Concert Hall at the University of Galway.
This concert of German classics with Bach at its core, will brings the Bach element of Music for Galway’s 41st season to an end.
This world-class pianist who won the famous Gina Bachauer International Artists Piano Competition, has a repertoire that spans many eras from baroque to contemporary and he is widely known for his elaborate programmes. Cédric Pescia describes music as ‘language and movement at the same time’.
Audiences will have a chance to experience his soft, clear touch as he performs a programme for solo piano that will include classics such as Schumann’s popular Waldszenen (Forest Scenes), a suite of nine short pieces, and the penultimate of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, No. 31. These pieces will be interspersed with French Suites by Bach.
■ Ticket for Cédric Pescia’s concert are available at www.musicforgalway.ie, or by phone 091 705962 and on the door on the night. They cost €20/€18. The price for fulltime students of all ages is €6 while MfG Friends can avail of the friends’ rate of €16.