Lifestyle – Founder of Galway Arts Festival Ollie Jennings tells Judy Murphy how the germ of an idea grew into such a headline event
If someone in Garbally College, where I went to secondary school, had said I’d be running Galway Arts Festival in 1985, everyone would have laughed,” says Ollie Jennings. They’d have been wrong. Not only was Ollie running the event in ’85, but he had spearheaded its establishment in April 1978, when the first Arts Festival was held in a pop-up venue in Galway City.
Ollie’s involvement with the arts began in 1974 when he “organised a concert and got a bit of a bug. I liked it and kept going.”
The concert was in the then UCG. Ollie had gone there as a BA student having abandoned a Commerce degree in UCD – he’d done well in exams but didn’t like it. He also spent time studying journalism and a year in a public service job in Carlow. Then, in 1972, he followed his sister to Galway where she was a medical student.
He had “a lovely year, just reading,” but had no interest in academic life.
“Then I fell into a house in Fairlands Park called Comhludhar (Company or Together), where everybody was doing something, being involved in Friends of the Earth and stuff like that. There was very little music in Galway and in February 1974, I organised a gig with (traditional group) Ceoltóirí Laigheann and got 200 people in the Aula.”
Support came from a local group which they’d named Ceoltóirí UCG. They later went on to become De Dannan.
In May 1974, having hitched to Tipperary to a Chieftains’ gig and persuaded Paddy Moloney that the ground-breaking band should do a Galway show, Ollie sold 950 tickets for a Leisureland concert.
Next up was a stint as auditor of UCG’s Arts Soc, following Garry Hynes, who then went on to co-found Druid.
Arts Soc had an annual budget of £300 which allowed Ollie to host events such as an art exhibition with Dublin artist, Brian Bourke and readings with up-and-coming poet, Seamus Heaney.
He was supported as auditor by college friends including Pat Reid, Kieran Corcoran and Conall MacRiocaird – they then decided to broaden their remit.
“We regrouped downtown and renamed ourselves Galway Arts Group,” recalls Ollie. “We had two objectives. One was to organise a Festival and the second was to establish an Arts Centre.”
Broadening their base meant they could apply for Arts Council funding and that’s what happened. The two organisations subsequently diverged – the Arts Centre in Dominick Street has run Cúirt for many years.
By then, Ollie was living in a house in St Mary’s Row with like-minded people, including Ted Turton (who later became Festival Director), Gaby Froese, and Jim Raftery, where the group ran a wholefood co-op. Mary Coughlan was a frequent visitor.
“There was a coalition of people who put the first festival together in April 1978.”
The Festival base was a pop-up arts centre where Sheridan’s Cheesemongers are now. Events included exhibitions by Laura Vecchio and James Coleman, whose installation of a crying baby alongside an Irish flag, had previously featured in the ground-breaking Dublin exhibition series, ROSC. It cost £400 to show it.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
Exploring the merits of moving into the west
Broadcaster Mary Kennedy has an abiding image of those early mornings when she’d set out from Dublin at the crack of dawn to begin work on another day’s filming down the country with Nationwide.
“I always liked to go in the morning rather than stay there the night before – so I’d be on the road early. And from the moment I’d hit Newland’s Cross, all I’d see was a line of traffic of people trying to make it from home to their workplace in Dublin,” she says.
These were people whose day began before dawn to get their bleary-eyed kids ready to drop at a childminder along the way, so they could be on time for work – and then race home to hopefully see those same kids before they went to sleep.
But if the pandemic had a positive, it was the realisation that work was something you did, not a place you went to. As a result, many people finally grasped the nettle, moving out of the city and sometimes even taking their work with them.
Which is why Mary – busier than ever since her supposed retirement from RTÉ – is presenting a new television series called Moving West, focusing on those individuals and families who have, as the title, suggests, relocated to the West.
One of the programmes comes from Galway, where Mary met with Stewart Forrest, who relocated with his family from South Africa to Oughterard, and Carol Ho, a Hong Kong native who has also settled in Galway.
The TG4 series also stops off in Sligo, Mayo, Kerry, Clare, Roscommon and Leitrim.
Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie
Community’s tribute to one of their own – saving final cut of turf after his passing
A local community responded in force to the death of one of their own – a man who had given so much of his life for the good of the parish – by paying one last practical tribute to him last week.
They lifted and footed his turf.
John Geraghty – or Gero as he was known – lived for Gaelic football and he’d filled every role imaginable with the St Brendan’s GAA Club since he came to live in Newbridge in 1983.
He’d cut the turf before he died last Tuesday week, but there it lay, until his old GAA friends organised a bunch of guys – made up of the football team, friends and neighbours – to meet in the bog last Wednesday evening to lift and foot/clamp John’s turf.
“Upwards of 50 fellas from the community showed up,” said St Brendan’s chairman Gerry Kilcommins.
Which was just as well, because, as Gerry acknowledged, John – himself a two-time chairman of the club in the past – had a lot of turf cut!
“It took up an area around three-quarters of the size of a standard football pitch,” he said.
Not that this proved a problem, given the enthusiasm with which they rolled up their sleeves for their old friend.
They started at 7.30pm and had it done at 7.55pm – that’s just 25 minutes from start to finish.
Read the full, heartwarming story – and the St Brendan’s GAA Club appreciation for John Geraghty – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie
Liver donor dad would do it all again in a heartbeat
It is nearly two years since Paddy Browne gave his daughter Sadhbh part of his liver to save her life. And just ahead of Father’s Day, he reflects on how he would do it all over again in a heartbeat, without a single moment’s hesitation.
After an initial testing time in the first six weeks when they beat a path to the intensive care unit after the operation in St King’s Hospital in London, Sadhbh has never looked back.
“She’s thrived and thrived and thrived. She skips out to school every day. She loves the normal fun and devilment in the yard. She’s now six and started football with Mountbellew Moylough GAA, she loves baking, she’s a voracious reader – she’ll read the whole time out loud while we drive up to Crumlin [Children’s Hospital].”
But it could have all been so different.
Sadhbh from Mountbellew was diagnosed with Biliary Atresia shortly after she was born. She quickly underwent major surgery to drain bile from her liver. It worked well until she reached three years old when an infection caused severe liver damage and she was placed on the liver transplant list.
She was on a long list of medication to manage the consequences of advanced liver disease. While she lived a full life, she would tire very easily.
Paddy was undergoing the rigorous process to be accepted as a living donor when one of the tests ruled him unsuitable. His brother Michael stepped forward and was deemed a good match.
Then, further tests revealed that Paddy was in fact eligible for the operation and the previous result disregarded as a false positive.
Read the full, uplifting story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie
Organ Donor Cards can be obtained by phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050. You can also visit the website www.ika.ie/get-a-donor-card or download a free ‘digital organ donor card’ APP to your phone.