THE 10th anniversary of the Skibbereen Arts Festival carries with it some weighty themes like the Great Famine, but the programme launch at the Riverside on Tuesday night was pure country.
Riders on horseback, men in buggies, and people wearing cowboy hats and chaps, were there to draw attention to the fact that this year’s street party on the opening night of Friday, July 27th is ‘Once Upon a Time in the West.’ Over the last three years, Skibbereen Arts Festival staged a brilliant O’Donovan Rossa pageant in 2015, a Sgt Pepper’s party in 2016, and a Saturday Night Fever dance-off in 2017, so, this year, people will need little or no persuasion to dress up and party like it’s 1888.
The arts festival was officially launched by the well-known photographer John Minihan and the vice-chairman of the West Cork Municipal District, Cllr Joe Carroll (FF), said a few words too in praise of a group of volunteers who work very hard for their love of the arts, and their love of Skibbereen town. ‘Skibbereen Arts Festival has become one of the great success stories,’ said Cllr Carroll, who – with a nod to the programme – added: ‘look at the stars that come here every year.’
On that subject, Declan McCarthy – who runs the festival together with his brother Brendan McCarthy – casually announced that ‘the very special mystery guest’ who will be appearing with Lúnasa at the annual Canon Goodman Concert at Abbeystrewry Church on Thursday, August 2nd is none other than Natalie Merchant – one of the biggest folk rock singers in America.
Some people might not know her music, but it is hard to credit that a few steps down the road from The Southern Star office there will be a concert featuring Natalie Merchant. Another woman – also a fan – turned and with a similar sense of awe mouthed in disbelief: ‘Natalie Merchant. In Skibbereen!’
The beauty of this year’s programme – which is generously supported by Cork County Council, Skibbereen Chamber of Commerce, Field’s of Skibbereen, Keohane Readymix, The Southern Star, as media partner, and Brian Carmody, who has, according to Declan, ‘done well in America’ – is that it has it all: theatre, poetry, film, exhibitions, installations, workshops, walks and talks too.
The programme features the world premiere of Rua Breathnach’s play ‘Welcome to the Stranger’, which is about Asenath Nicholson’s account of the famine, and a concert on Sunday, July 29th featuring Rosanne Cash, daughter of the legendary singer, Johnny Cash.
As part of the festival, Jack Field, who is from Skibbereen but now works as a street artist in Dublin, is going to paint six murals of famous people from Skibbereen who have passed on, and a children’s project called the Skibbereen City Project – involving 14 local schools – promises to be a must see too.
Declan McCarthy noted that the people of Skibbereen have been generous in giving their premises – especially the main venue at Abbeystrewry Church – to the festival.
‘One thing I have noticed, over the years,’ he added, ‘is that quite often we have gone into a property that has been vacant for a couple of years, taken it over, put something on there, and then all of a sudden that property is not vacant anymore, so, in that respect, we have been good for the business life of our community.’
• See Life section pages 25 and 28 for more.