10 weird and wonderful things to do on Culture Night...
As cultural organisations all over Ireland prepare to open their doors to the public tonight, Pól Ó Conghaile picks 10 of the best places you can visit - for free.
So I'm sitting at a desk.
Nothing unusual there, you might say. But this is no ordinary office desk. This is a desk equipped with a gazillion buttons and faders, oozing so much rock n' roll pedigree that my tour guide says it could be in the National Museum.
I'm in the inner sanctum of Windmill Lane Studios, sitting at a 72-channel Neve VR Legend desk that has funnelled raw sounds created by U2, Kings of Leon, The Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga and countless others into gargantuan rock classics. It's the highlight of my tour - a preview of this evening's one-night-only offering - and a real wow moment.
That's the beauty of Culture Night. Held once a year, the all-island event celebrates culture, creativity and the arts in Ireland by encouraging venues of all shapes and sizes to extend their opening hours and stage creative events to encourage the public inside.
This year, 350,000 people are expected to visit museums, galleries, historic houses, artists' studios and cultural centres all over the country - and best of all, they'll visit them for free.
I love the access Culture Night provides - the chance to step inside hallowed halls and venues that are normally off-limits, or to experience events that would never otherwise take place. As well as tonight's tour, for example, Windmill Lane Studios is also staging two intimate concert performances by 1990s rockers Relish… for a handful of lucky punters inside Studio 1.
That's just the start of it. Here are 10 of the most eye-catching events...
1. Cork by Currach
Here's a chance to see Cork City like you've never seen it before - from the deck of a 40-foot Bantry Bay Longboat or a Naomhóg currach at Lapps Quay. The traditional boats are handcrafted by Meitheal Mara, Cork's community boatyard.
Details: 6-8pm; 021 4316813; www.meithealmara.ie
2. Befast's Big Gigantic Drum Circle
The Big Gigantic Drum Circle does pretty much what it says on the tin - bringing 350 drummers together for the unofficial start to Culture Night in the city. It promises to be the biggest, most interactive event of the night, letting everybody know the party's started...
Details: 6.30-7.15pm; www.culturenightbelfast.com
3. Night of the Robots, Galway
Make your way to the Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland this evening - in the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at NUI Galway - and you'll find a super selection of cute and cutting-edge robots on display. Not to mention all sorts of retro-tastic computer classics.... like the original Commodore Vic 20 home computer.
Pride of place goes to HERO 1, an R2-D2 lookalike. HERO1 was the first mass-produced robot capable of interacting with the environment, with programmable sensors allowing it to detect light, sound, motion and obstructions. It could also sing, move and pick up objects... amazeballs!
Details: 7-8.30pm; 087 293-5106; www.nuigalway.ie/culturenight2014
4. Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin
"Windmill Lane is an iconic building with a rich musical heritage," say rock band Relish, set to play two cosy concerts in the Ringsend studio tonight. "It was an honour to have recorded some of our debut album there, sharing history with U2, the Rolling Stones, AC/DC and many more. To be invited back to play in the building is such an honour it just blows us away."
There's no need to pre-register for the studio tours, but tickets for the gigs (at 8pm and 10pm) will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.
Details: 5pm-10pm; 01 668-5567; windmilllanerecording.com
5. Freemasons' Hall, Dublin
Think of the Freemasons, and secret handshakes, covert rituals and conspiracy theories come to mind. The reality is rather different (well, apart from the secret handshakes) - as visitors to Freemasons' Hall on Molesworth Street may well find out tonight.
The main event sees a small ensemble from the National Youth Orchestra performing, but don't miss the chance to step into the Grand Lodge Room. With its velvet thrones, studded leather benches and gilt-framed portraits of bigwig freemasons, this is one of the most striking Victorian interiors in the capital.
Details: 6.30-8pm, 01 676-1337; www.culturenight.ie
6. Hospital Shop Window Festival, Limerick
Launching on Culture Night, this clever festival turns dormant and functional shop windows into showcases for the visual arts. Local historian Michael O'Connor will be also be giving a talk on the question everyone wants answered: Why is Hospital called Hospital?
Details: 7-9pm; hswy.weebly.com
7. Sand Pit Excavations in Kilkenny
Dig a little deeper into Kilkenny's medieval heritage with two workshops allowing participants to excavate a very special sand pit. The aim is to bring a bit of fun to the process of an archaeological excavation, and attendees should dress for wet and muddy conditions...
Details: 01 296-8190; culturenight.ie
8. A Secret Gig, Cork City
Lisa Hannigan is playing "a unique location" in Cork City for Culture Night. Details are scant, but we do know the event is being organised by Cork City Council and the Triskel Arts Centre, that the venue will be intimate, and that tickets were available by competition only. Sounds intriguing…
Details: 10pm; www.facebook.com/corkcityarts
9. After Dark at Kerry County Museum
Dig up a skeleton, stroll down a medieval street and explore 8,000 years of history… all in a single evening. Culture Night events at Kerry County Museum include traditional music by Sliabh Mish Comhaltas and a special exhibition by the Cíar Quilters.
Details: 6-10pm; 066 712-7777; www.kerrymuseum.ie
10. A surprise Le Cool Experience, Dublin
Le Cool Dublin's walking tours break with convention in showcasing the city as it is, rather than as it used to be. The 'surprise' is that those attending will only discover on the night where they will visit - but you can expect pop-ups, new openings, collectives and other 'of the moment' living culture experiences… if tickets haven't sold out.
Details: 6.30-8.30pm, email@example.com
Culture Night takes place all over Ireland tonight. For more information, see www.culturenight.ie.