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‘It’s great to be out again’ – Culture Night brings joy back to young and old, plus relieved artists

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Lennox Smyth (3) dances with his mum Anna while enjoying Culture Night at Temple Bar Square. Photo: Frank McGrath

Lennox Smyth (3) dances with his mum Anna while enjoying Culture Night at Temple Bar Square. Photo: Frank McGrath

Lennox Smyth (3) dances with his mum Anna while enjoying Culture Night at Temple Bar Square. Photo: Frank McGrath

An impromptu disco was under way as the Bee Gees’ Staying Alive blasted out to accompany the juggler’s swift antics. Hips wagging, heads swaying irrepressibly, the crowd at Meeting House Square in Dublin’s Temple Bar soaked up the joy of being together. It has been a while.

Always a night to remember, Culture Night this year was rightly titled ‘Come Together Again’. It signified a proper celebration. The return of the artistic community to their beloved craft. A gesture of defiance towards the authorities who had urged them to retrain in the teeth of the early days of the pandemic. A gesture of gratitude that their old life awaits.

A symbol of hope and a return to normality. A vehicle for fun and laughter. A reason to meet up and enjoyably amble the streets. Culture Night was all these things – and much more. Truly it was good to be back.

With just 200 allowed in to Meeting House Square at a time, a large crowd queued patiently around the block waiting to be admitted.

Jerry Fish and children’s author David Rudden were performing a comic and dramatic version of Gulliver’s Travels which had young children round-eyed and in stitches, unaccustomed to the razzmatazz of a proper live show.

Anna Smyth and partner Peter Kinsella had brought their children Lennox (3) and Bowen, nine months. “It’s just great to be out again,” said Anna.

It was the mantra on everybody’s lips last night.

For Caitriona Brophy and her mother Maura, from Ballinteer in Dublin, it was their first time in town in months, they said.

“We were a bit wary of the crowds but it is fine. We treated ourselves to Burdocks fish and chips so we’re enjoying ourselves,” said Caitriona. “There’s a nice atmosphere around.”

Back performing for the past month, Jerry Fish said he can see the confidence gradually returning in his audiences.

“It’s wonderful to see how much we are appreciated and to know that we are important to society,” he said.

While Brian Hogan of band Kíla admitted it’s been a challenge to remember how to prepare for a live gig. “I forgot what I used to bring along,” he laughed. But he, too, was just glad to be back. “Lots of us had highs and lows during the pandemic. The band tried to keep in touch on Zoom but it was hard. It’s impossible to record online,” he said. 

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At the amphitheatre in Woodquay, tinsmiths James Collins and Tom McDonnell from the Traveller community were showcasing their craft which is in danger of dying out completely.

Passed from father to son down the generations, the craft goes back to the first or second century AD with early examples in the National Museum.

Pavee Point is hoping the skills can be revived for the modern age amongst the community since items like the jugs and a mug called ‘a ponger’ are becoming increasingly valued by a new generation which recognises their unique worth alongside other Irish crafts.

“It makes the best cup of tea. I don’t use anything else,” declared James.

And there was plenty more in the capital – with a children’s reading of Ulysses in the James Joyce Centre, a free trip on the historic Liffey ferry, Dublin Bus hosted pop-up performances of The Commitments by original members of the West End cast, as well as numerous readings and exhibitions.

In all, 1,200 free events took place around the country, reflecting the diversity of culture in Ireland today.

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin said the event was “a much-needed opportunity to celebrate our rich and diverse culture and arts sector”.

She said it was important to acknowledge that most of the events scheduled are to be held in-person, marking a major turning point in the road to recovery.

“I would like to commend the Arts Council, local authorities and arts groups throughout the country who have, despite continued challenging circumstances, provided a wide ranging and extensive programme of events for us all to enjoy online and in-person.”

While director of the Arts Council, Maureen Kennelly, said many of the organisations and artists who are taking part in Culture Night are stretching themselves again after a difficult 18 months.

In Cork, the Circus Factory returned with the Pitch’d Circus Street Arts Festival, with performances at Coal Quay, Grand Parade and North Main Street throughout the evening.

In Galway an atmospheric audio-visual experience within the grounds of St Nicholas’ Church saw ambient, electronic and experimental sounds play alongside a special light installation curated by Brendan Savage, artistic director of Galway Festival of Light, with music by DJs Cían Ó Cíobháin and Lolz.

The Hunt Museum in Limerick staged a Children’s Speaker Corner in the front courtyard with the challenge to the young to spell out what they would do “If I were Mayor of Limerick”.

The Alchemy Music concert in Wicklow celebrated some of the county’s finest musicians, while Donegal’s An Grianan Theatre presented an evening of events for Culture Night, including a tongue-in-cheek potted history of Ireland by Manny Man Does the History of Ireland on Stage.

And of course, there was plenty online for those who haven’t tired of the virtual experience, with Leinster House, while intriguing online installation Signal to Noise Loops V4 by Stephen Roddy used data from noise censors placed around Dublin city to reflect the transformation of the capital during the pandemic. 


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