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Adventures of a young writer in Galway during the 1970s

Judy Murphy

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Arts Week by Judy Murphy

Belfast-born poet and critic Gerald Dawe, Director of the Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing at TCD, recalls life in Galway and the publication of his first book in 1978.

The flat in Abbeygate Street was up an alley between a boutique and the Roaring Twenties pub. For its day, in the early 1970s, it was quite spacious given what was generally on offer in Galway City to the slowly burgeoning population of university students, nurses, young professionals and the floating number of visitors who never left – drifters from a previous time whose lives seemed in some magnetic attraction, earthed to the city, without any visible means of financial support or sign of a day’s (or night’s) work.

Others – barmen, actors, street photographers, visitants, musicians, perpetual students, stall holders, Army cadets, ones ‘in from the country’, student medics, civil engineers, those ‘doing a B.Com.’ – all shared a life of Riley in the Cellar Bar, the Tavern, the Skeff’ and the Castle Hotel, no one more so than myself.

Supping up the summers, which did seem to stretch into late October, and covering up our heads when the drenching rains swept in off the Claddagh Basin and drifted along the canal-ways to be met with downpours drifting in along the Corrib into Newtownsmyth and the Salmon Weir Bridge, life was good.

I spent some time at this particular interface, above the Court House, in what was then the City library, reading 19th century Irish novels and memoirs, and slipping off in my mind’s eye into the streetscape down below – the small but elegant bridge, the eel nets and traps, the racing waters, and the calm canal bank, literally under the window of the reading room.

Occasionally a swan would glide by out of the ordinary ebbing light of a winter’s afternoon. The imposing Cathedral looked so imperiously out of place in this wonderland.

These few streets, approaches in to the old city, where my true first belongings and beginnings; they became my home. I grew up there, an inner landscape as much as a neighbourhood: The Four Corners, Lynch’s Castle, Market Street, Abbeygate Street, Upper and Lower, as far as Woodquay, its perfect little park, the rowing club and those magnificent railway pillars – symbols of high summer. Not a home from home, but my new found land.

There was Jimmy Cawley who sold clothes second-hand, his mighty Chaucerian face atop a Crombie coat and heavy scarf, beamed through the murky morning light; the undertaker who would recite at the drop of a hat the death scene of Dickens’ Little Nell; the humane Heaney brothers whose butcher shop kept the wolf from our door on a couple of occasions; the little shop that only two people alone could stand up in, and of course, the original Sally Long, who emerged from behind a door to the long low bar like a figure out of the mythological past.

The shops were homes as well which meant that when we all surfaced after the streets were aired. We had at least that in common – we lived together: an unpredictable mosaic of lives and histories who shared a very old part of the very old port and market town of Galway.

It could have been Genoa as far as I was concerned. The romance never ended. Nestled within the city walls sat St Nicholas Church with its solitary trees and lopsided gravestones and railings and the curiously named Bowling Green where Nora, Joyce’s girl had stayed, and on the site of a Convent (so I was told) The Connacht Tribune.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Galway poet’s new chapter as debut novel hits the shops

Judy Murphy

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Elaine Feeney....debut novel.

“I hated school so much I thought if I could be a teacher, I could make it a bit better,” says novelist and poet Elaine Feeney about her day-job as an English and History teacher at St Jarlath’s College in Tuam.

The Athenry woman certainly has made it livelier and more relevant. Her students who were studying Hamlet for this year’s Leaving Cert departed from the text to give the troubled prince psychotherapy sessions, with different boys taking on the roles of Hamlet and the therapist as they explored the plot. Elaine laughs as she recalls how they got totally caught up in it. There’s always an entry point to good writing, she says, adding that she loves Shakespeare – in part because of the soap opera element to his drama.

“You can compare it to the latest episode of EastEnders”.

The Handmaid’s Tale by contemporary Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood is also on the curriculum. Her novel might seem more relevant to the boys, especially given its global success since being adapted for television. When Elaine learned that Atwood would be visiting Galway in early March this year for a Galway 2020 event, she asked the organisers if it would be possible for the class to meet her and discuss her work. That’s what happened and 25 young men in their school blazers spent three hours discussing the novel with Atwood.

Elaine lectures in Creative Writing at NUIG and has been involved in the university’s project archiving the stories of the survivors of Tuam’s Mother and Baby home. So, watching her students engage with a woman whose books deal with the misuse of power and oppression of women was a great moment.

It’s an example of how far she’ll go to give the students the best preparation for exams and for life. Elaine has a great relationship with them, something she’ll miss next year as she takes a career break to promote her own novel, As You Were, published by UK company Harvill Secker.

Read the full interview with Elaine Feeney in this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Arts Festival is still giving it socks!

Judy Murphy

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Galway International Arts Festival Chief Executive John Crumlish and Artistic Director Paul Fahy, sporting their Irish Socksciety GIAF socks outside the Festival Gallery at William Street as details were announced of the Festival’s Autumn Edition. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

“This is not a July festival as people know it, moved forward. It’s a different creature” says Artistic Director of Galway Arts Festival Paul Fahy about the organisation’s ‘Autumn Edition’ which is being held in reality and virtually in September and October following the cancellation of the July 2020 Festival due to Covid-19.

The aim is to bring live audiences into performances in a safe way, “to re-ignite that spark between live art and audience”, while also using digital platforms to reach those who might not be able to attend live events due to Covid-19.

He’s understandably excited about Mirror Pavilion, a major installation by artist John Gerrard commissioned by the Festival for Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture.

It will launch in Galway City’s Claddagh Quay on September 3, and will also be in Derrigimlagh Bog in North Connemara for October.

Gerrard is known for spectacular, large scale outdoor works such as Western Flag in California’s Coachella Desert and this work will be one of the largest outdoor installations ever in Ireland.

It will consist of three walls and a roof made of reflective glass while the fourth wall is an LED screen.

Two new artworks will be presented in the Pavilion; Corn Work at Claddagh Quay and Leaf Work at Derrigimlagh.

These connect with their specific setting, with Corn Work reflecting the power of the River Corrib and the many mills and industries it powered in bygone days.

Leaf Work, in the vast spaces of Derrigimlagh is a lament for the environmental damage that’s been caused to the world in the past century.

See full line-up and story in this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

‘Home’ is theme of diverse Clifden Arts Festival

Judy Murphy

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‘Home’ is the theme of year’s annual Clifden Arts Festival, which runs from September 12-23.
The event will explore the concept of home, as well as showcasing Ireland’s diverse arts community with a wide variety of shows and performances,
“The physical place of birth holds a special place within us, while for others it isn’t physical but rather the feelings, the emotion, the character, the people and the culture, that shape it and make it,” explains Festival Director Brendan Flynn of the decision to focus on home. “We hope to capture that feeling and explore a sense of home and how it is unique for each of us.”
The strong line-up at this year’s Festival includes headline names, some familiar and others new to Clifden.
The RTÉ Concert Orchestra and RTÉs ConTempo Quartet will both make the journey West, as will other big names in Irish music including Aslan, Máirtín O’Connor, Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill, Martin Hayes, Bill Whelan, Lisa Hannigan, Declan Nerney, Frankie Gavin and Fiachra O’Regan, Seán Keane, Charlie McGettigan, Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny and Paddy Glackin.
Poets and Aosdána members, Paul Durcan and Rita Ann Higgins will also take part, while Mayo novelist, EM Reapy, whose novel Red Dirt, set in Australia, which won the 2017 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, will read with Sligo-born Galway-based poet, Michael Gorman.
There’s a one-man play, Padraig Potts, by Séamus O’Rourke and a drama about Constance Markievicz, written by journalist Mary Kenny and performed by Jeananne Crowley.
On the comedy front, award-winning Danny O’Brien will bring brings his Lock In show fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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