Wednesday 24 July 2019

Time to call for a break before people get truly sick from the festival bug

With Galway in the grip of another celebration, is too much to ask for a spell of peace and quiet, asks Olaf Tyaransen

Galway International Arts Festival
Galway International Arts Festival
Galway Girl Nicole Cole, cover girl of this year’s Programme for the Galway International Arts Festival. Photo:Andrew Downes

"Everything being a constant carnival, there is no carnival left" - Victor Hugo

The closing credits roll on the Galway Film Fleadh this evening, and thank God(ard) for that. I'm sure I won't be the only local relieved to see 'The End'. Seriously, movie lovers are such a messy, inconsiderate and dietary reckless bunch. All this week, it has looked as though it's been constantly hail-stoning popcorn on the city's streets.

Everywhere you went, the kernels were scrunching unpleasantly under your feet, sticking to the soles of your shoes, and totally destroying the red carpets. And whose dumb idea was it to put those red carpets everywhere anyway?

The bars were fairly nightmarish, too, especially given that they'd only just cleared out the last lingering drunken poets, novelists and playwrights from the recent Cuirt Festival of Literature. Usually places like Neachtain's, The Front Door, Massimo and The Quays are jammed full of people quietly bitching about each other, which is proper order and how bars are supposed to be.

During the Film Fleadh, they're all full of poseurs loudly pitching each other: "So basically my film will be a kind of surrealist cross between The Sound of Music and Basic Instinct 2 - but set on a nuclear submarine." It's enough to make you lose the plot. Anyway, it'll all be over bar the, em, shooting tonight (none of these movies ever get shot).

Of course, with the City of the Tribes always being up for a party, no sooner has one festival ended than another one kicks off. Described as a "creative collision of performance, music, visual art, theatre and spectacle," the Galway International Arts Festival lasts for two whole weeks. A creative collision? That'll be members of Macnas slipping on mulched popcorn and banging into each other during the street parade.

Or at least it would be if Macnas still held a street parade. Apparently, the money just isn't there to hold that kind of free event anymore. Such are the realities of art and commerce. Everyone's taking a haircut nowadays anyway. That's why there's a fringe festival this year.

You could blame the philistine bean counters but, in fairness, it's not as though the artists themselves are above any monetary concerns. What was it Oscar Wilde said? If you had a group of business people and artists at a dinner party, all of the business types would be talking about art, and all of the artists would be talking about money.

Anyway, I digress. Truth be told, I actually quite enjoy the Arts Festival. Galway is known as the graveyard of ambition, and the seething jealousy of some of the local wannabes as they encounter real-life actors, musicians, writers, performers and suchlike can be a real joy to behold. It also means that everybody goes back to quietly bitching in Neachtain's again. Which, as I've already stated, is how things should be in Galway pubs.

No sooner has the Arts Festival ended than the Galway Races begin. All bets are off with this one. It's like a mad race to the bottom. The city becomes a giant vomitorium, you can't get a seat in a restaurant (not even Supermacs), and the hospital emergency rooms - or rather room - jam up with weeping women in silly hats who've slipped on their impractical stilettos.

Still, it was far worse in previous, more affluent years. The Fianna Fail tent was an affront to everybody (who couldn't get in), and all the buzzing choppers would give you flashbacks even if you'd never served in Vietnam.

You'd think Galway would deserve a break after all of that, but no, there's more - much more. You want festivals? Well, you've definitely come to the right place. To name just a few, there's the Baboro International Arts Festival for Children, Galway Early Music Festival, Galway Food Festival, Galway Jazz Festival, Galway Theatre Festival, Galway Sessions, The Spirit of the Voice Festival, and the Vodafone Comedy Carnival. Frankly, it's all gone well beyond a joke.

We've even got a festival to celebrate saltwater bivalve molluscs. Speaking of the Galway Oyster Festival, I'm reminded of the time a visiting unionist politician threw up in the corner of the tent. Some wag took in this unedifying spectacle and wryly commented: "Oyster says no!"

There's actually no escape. People have fled the city limits only to realise that they're essentially surrounded. The whole damn county is infested with the festival bug. There's the Tuam Arts Festival, the Roundstone Summer Fest, the Clarenbridge Oyster Festival, the Ballinasloe Horse Fair, Clifden Arts Week, and many more besides. Even the Aran Islands aren't safe.

They have Tedfest. But that would be an ecumenical matter.

Anyway, like many Galwegians, I'm obviously suffering from festival fatigue. Which gives me an idea. There's a short window towards the end of November when there doesn't appear to be anything on. So we should throw a festival to celebrate a break from festivals. Plaster the city in blank posters. Print up a programme that only features ads. Sell tickets to non-events. Erect some big tents, but don't have any gigs. People can go in, buy an overpriced beer, and just breathe huge sighs of relief.

We can call it the Galway Lesstival. So come along, pay up, and celebrate the fact that everybody needs a break sometime.

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