Culture vultures descend on feast of the arts
AROUND half-a-million people sampled culture around the country last night to mark Culture Night 2010. Hollywood legend Maureen O'Hara returned to launch a local arts festival in the area of Dublin where she grew up.
People visited cathedrals, galleries, theatres and other free cultural venues which opened late around Ireland.
Culture Night, which began as as a small event in Dublin's Temple Bar, now reaches out as far as the islands of Tory and Inis Meain.
A record 132 venues offered a diverse cultural mix, with highlights including a tented street party and guided tours at the Irish Museum of Modern Art; readings from renowned literary figures, such as Dermot Bolger; a performances by the 18-piece big band Dublin City Jazz Orchestra at Central Bank Plaza; and visits to the Book of Kells at Trinity College Library.
By 8pm last night organisers reported that 1,700 had visited the Freemasons' Hall, 3,000 people had viewed The Book Of Kells and 6,500 had attended a live event in Meeting House Square in Temple Bar. Another 2,700 visited the Guinness Storehouse in St James's Gate.
One aspect of the celebrations which organisers said would improve future Culture Nights would be to block off traffic from more streets in the capital to aid pedestrians.
Maureen O'Hara (90) was greeted by a large crowd when she returned to the Dublin suburb where she spent her childhood. She was born Maureen Fitzsimons in Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh.
Organisers of the Ranelagh Arts Festival had assumed that she would remain seated to address the crowd.
They were wrong. Given a seat and having been introduced to the crowd, she was soon on her feet.
"They told me I could sit down if I wanted to, but you don't like someone saying that to you, so I'll stand," she told the crowd.
Soon she was recounting to a captive audience how she had grown up in Ranelagh amongst a family of six children, speaking of local neighbours she'd known and quizzing the crowd on her former school in Milltown.
"I could stand here and talk to you all night but I don't know whether you would thank me for it. My last message to you is always try and do something with your life and be proud of yourself.
"I hope God gives me enough years to come back many times more and visit 'dear old dirty Dublin', as we used to call it when we were kids."
Greeted by local children, the movie veteran was also presented with a Shamrock Rovers scarf by some former team players who attended the ceremony. Ms O'Hara's father, Charles Stuart Parnell Fitzsimons, was a part-owner of the club.
"Rovers won two nights ago. It was wonderful, I'm always checking how they do," she said.
Dermot McLaughlin, CEO of Temple Bar Cultural Trust, the organisers of Culture Night, said: "There is a great atmosphere in Dublin City. The city is alive to the sound of culture. It looks like last year's numbers will be repeated and early trends suggest that there might even be an increase.
"People, families, children have taken to the streets this evening and voted with their feet for more culture.
"Culture Night is Ireland's largest platform on which to showcase the country's strongest asset, our culture -- in all its diverse forms.
"Tonight, I've seen artists open their studio doors, Meeting House Square is packed with families enjoying dancing and music.
"Everyone working in culture and the arts in Ireland has faced huge economic and other challenges in the last year, yet despite this difficulty, Culture Night has expanded from 11 regions last year to 20."