Culture Round-Up Sept 15

It’s been a busy September and I haven’t gotten around to blogging very much so I’m going to do a bit of a round-up…

First up, Elemental Arts & Culture Festival (11-13 Sept) seemed to be a success. There was a definite buzz around the city centre and lots of family friendly stuff, which was lovely. I got to a few things as well.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 23.12.34I really loved the documentary, Alive Inside. I’d really recommend it if you get a chance to see it online or on DVD. It follows a social worker called Dan Cohen, who runs a non-profit organisation called Music and Memory. They go into healthcare settings, mostly nursing homes, to show how to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss. The film shows how music can benefit those suffering from dementia, severe mental illness and conditions like MS. They supply headphones and iPods loaded with music, preferably a person’s favourite music. At a basic level, it can give them a pleasurable break from routine but it can also help them remember things, connect with the outside world and ultimately, improve their quality of life. It highlights issues with healthcare systems globally and the way we treat our aging population. But it deals with music as an element of culture, how we experience it and the interplay between music and feelings. It is truly amazing the way people reacted to music i.e. Alzheimer’s patients who didn’t normally communicate are suddenly alert and even singing and dancing in some cases. It begs the question: Could a ‘prescription’ of music be as effective (or more effective) as drugs? It’s a combination of uplifting and heart-breaking but well worth a look.

On the Saturday, I got along to the Fab Lab to see Love Letters from Limerick—an exhibition of traditional sign-writing and the art of hand painted lettering. Local sign artist, Tom Collins, is involved and visiting sign-artists, Sean and Kayleigh Starr, took part too. The pieces on display are very cool—a lot of distinctive signs and decorative items like embossed mirrors. There’s also a new sign that has been created for the project and erected on the side of a building on William Street reading ‘Everybody else is doing it so why can’t we?’—presumably in honour of The Cranberries’ album of the same name. The exhibition is running until this Friday, October 2.

I also called into the Hunt Museum to see Father Browne’s First World War—an exhibition of photographs by the Cork-born army chaplain. He ministered to troops at the Somme, Messines Ridge, Paschendaele, Ypres, Amiens and Arras. Some of his photos were stunning. I loved the immediacy of the trench and battlefield shots. By the way, the superb, Ranks: A Limerick Industry, is the Hunt’s current exhibition. Blurb is: “The Ranks flour mills were at the heart of Limerick for generations. This exhibition celebrates and explores the role of Ranks in Limerick’s history through stories from the local community.” If you’re in town and at a loose end before 25 October, I’d urge you to go and see it. I saw it before and it’s quite touching. It’s a huge part of Limerick’s industrial past but the personal accounts are nice.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 21.24.25Also during Elemental, I had a look at Third Bridge by Andrew Kearney and Deirdre Power in Ormston House. The exhibition was “based on the collective action taken in 1983 by then first year students at Limerick School of Art and Design to construct a ‘third bridge’ over the Shannon, built from 180 polystyrene bricks, strung together, bracelet-like, by two 185 meter-long nylon ropes”. The effort “exemplified what Suzanna Lacy would later refer to as ‘new genre’ public art”. Mostly consisting of photos documenting the project, I thought it was very well put together and illustrated an interesting period in the city’s history. I would’ve loved for more photos to be in colour but it’s likely they were shot on black and white film. If they weren’t, I feel an even split between colour and monochrome would have been better but it was still a great show.  

I saw the play, Charolais, that night in 69 O’Connell Street. Told from the perspective of lovelorn farmhand, Siobhán, and a rather snooty French cow, it was very clever. Written and performed by Noni Stapleton, the black comedy is a tale of homicidal jealousy between a woman and a prize cow (literally). The solo performance was excellent—particularly when she was playing the part of the animal—and the writing smutty, raw and hilarious in parts. It premiered in Dublin Fringe 2014 as part of Show in a Bag—an artist development initiative of Dublin Fringe Festival, Fishamble: The New Play Company and the Irish Theatre Institute. I’ve seen some brilliant plays arising out of Show in a Bag including Bandit, Fight Night, The Wheelchair on my Face, Counter Culture and Connected.

The following Friday (18 Sept) was Culture Night and again, there was a fabulous buzz around the city centre with all the events going on. I called into LCGA, Limerick Craft Hub, the Hunt Museum, the Fab Lab and the Milk Market but the highlight was an Open House initiative at 4 Patrick Street. The building, formerly a shop before it was boarded up as part of the ill-fated Opera Centre Project, was also the birthplace of famous Limerick soprano, Catherine Hayes. You could only step in to see a limited shop floor space but then a young local soprano read a little bit about Hayes’ global career and sang excerpts from arias from operas Hayes performed in. It lasted 10-15 minutes max but it was a perfect slice of culture. I love the concept of Culture Night (and late opening of galleries/musuems could happen a little more often BTW). The hope is that it encourages people to seek things out on some of the other 364 days of the year.

To top September off, I was invited along to see Waiting in Line by local theatre company, Honest Arts, at the Jonathan Swift Theatre in UL last week. A sharp commentary of Ireland’s social welfare culture written by Pius McGrath and Tara Doolan, I thought it was observant and funny with strong performances. McGrath was particularly impressive. The set design was amazing; no surprise that it was nominated for an Irish Times Theatre Award. The settings were projected onto the background (with realistic animations) using 3D mapping technology. This innovative technique is possibly the future of set design and suited the fast pace of the piece very well. Honest Arts garnered positive reviews for production, The Mid-Knight Cowboy, at the Edinburgh Fringe and Waiting in Line showed at the Toronto Fringe Festival. This vibrant, young company is a definite ‘one to watch’.

Kate O’Brien House begins a new chapter

KOB house watchI’m sad to announce the demise of a regular (okay, irregular but still present) item on the blog—Kate O’Brien House Watch.

The need for progress reports is over because, in a hugely positive development, people are living there now so it’d be creepy to carry on. Not that I ever used binoculars or anything! It’s actually hard not to notice Boru House on Mulgrave Street because it’s quite distinctive.

21519001_1The imposing childhood home of celebrated Limerick writer, Kate O’Brien, has had quite the journey over its life to date. Built in 1880, it’s a stunning piece of architecture—a huge, detached, two storey, red-brick Victorian house with lots of period features (see more pics of it in better condition here).

I don’t live far from there and I’ve spent nearly two decades walking past it so I couldn’t help but see a gradual deterioration in its condition over time. It was put up for sale and I assumed that no-one was living in it full time anymore.

KOB house-best Like many vacant houses, it became a target for vandalism, illegal dumping and maybe even squatting and other anti-social behaviour. It was damaged by a fire (or fires) and I really thought it would be razed to the ground some night. I did a post in 2011 showing it at an all time low.

For years, it has been the subject of attention from local politicians, people involved in the arts scene and media. Limerick Civic Trust appealed for it to be preserved and possibly turned into a museum about the author. A relative of the former owners (a conservation architect) even weighed in, offering to investigate options for its preservation and use. There were a lot of suggestions that it should have a cultural or civic use. See archived articles/features about the house/author here.

KOB House-newBut unfortunately, nothing much happened until it was sold in 2012 for around €80,000-85,000 to a private buyer. From then on, the outward appearance of the building started to change and improve. There were tradesmen about the place working. The fading red of the gates and decorative metal railings was painted over with a deep blue. Glass appeared in the windows again. Things were looking up.

Then, when blinds and furniture appeared it was obvious that people were living there, which was another step forward after so many years sitting empty. For all the suggestions put forward, it seems it is destined to be someone’s home again.

IMG_0434IMG_0436In fact, the house is split into apartments. I randomly came across a listing for the two bedroom ground floor flat on the property website, Daft.ie. I’ve included a few screenshots so you get the gist of what the interior is like. It looks like a very sympathetic restoration.

 

IMG_0435It looks like many of the original features of the house have been maintained but some aspects have been modernised i.e. you’d rather that the all important bathroom and kitchen facilities wouldn’t be Victorian-inspired!

Anyways, it’s great to see Boru House restored. Any tenants are lucky to be living in a house with such a rich past. Kate O’Brien was born there in 1897 and no doubt, had experiences/memories that were put to good use in her stories and perhaps even cultivated her writing skills as a young woman there. Hopefully, this important piece of Limerick history will now be preserved for generations to come. Now, much like Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, my watch is over.

Work progressing on Kate O’Brien house

KOB house watchRenovations are progressing at the childhood home of famous Limerick writer, Kate O’Brien, with some more visible changes over the last fortnight.

Since I live nearby and pass regularly, I hated seeing Boru House go from a regal landmark to a house in a poorer and poorer state of disrepair.

 

Vandalism and minor fires made things worse and it seemed as if it would go to rack and ruin. I wrote about it several times in posts, here and here.

KOB house-bestIt was bought in January 2012 and soon after, the most obvious exterior revamp was the railings and gates being painted a dark blue—covering up the bright red. I also saw some work being carried out on the cornice on the imposing bay window. The newest additions are windows on the upper floors, which make a super change from the ugly hoarding. There is also work being done on the striking exterior stone masonry features and pillars.

KOB House-newIt was revealed in May in The Limerick Leader that the buyer was Ballysimon born businessman, David Maxwell Fitzgerald. Originally put on the market for €350,000 five years ago, he seemingly paid €80,000 for it.

Anyone anxious about the fate of Boru House surely breathed a sigh of relief when it emerged Mr Maxwell Fitzgerald is a former chairman of the local branch of heritage body, An Taisce and a long time member of the Georgian Society.

He said there is no rush to find the house’s purpose, “it will have a reason to be and we are engaging with some very interesting people on this”. He added that thankfully, the house was structurally sound and the roof was in a very good condition.

New insulation, replacing windows and doors and repairing damage is also on the renovation programme. I spotted some beautiful fireplaces through the windows and I have it on good authority that there are some great period features in the house. The 3,000 square feet includes seven bedrooms and four extra rooms in the attic.

It would make a lovely addition to the cultural offering here as perhaps a literary museum, library or writing centre. But whatever the purpose, I hope it will be used and/or lived in…did I mention I’m available as a house-sitter?! Annnnnyway, I look forward to seeing the activity continue and will apply my uncanny skills as a spy/stalker to keep readers updated.

Ranks exhibition at the Hunt Museum

Limerick has had many booming industries over the years but one prominent example was flour milling. The company, Ranks Ltd, played a vital role in this booming trade and is currently the focus of a fascinating exhibition in the Hunt Museum at the moment.

Ranks came to the city in the 1930s and continued here for over 50 years. The colossal Ranks mill (part of it is in the photo on the left) on the Dock Road was a city landmark and countless local people worked there including my great-grandfather, my granduncle and my uncle. Many families had several generations work there and it was very much a part of the community.

The exhibition—a collaboration between the Limerick City Archives and the Hunt Museum—is not only a factual catalogue but more a social history with a strong input from former workers and their families.

There are a lot of great photographs on display along with equipment, documents and Ranks paraphernalia from calendars to flour sacks. One of the artifacts was an old bicycle and in Ranks’ heyday, there used to be hundreds of people cycling to work down the Dock Road on any given morning. What a brilliant image!

Also, there’s a really interesting AV presentation made by students from Mary Immaculate College featuring RTE archive footage and interviews with workers. Ranks was one of the first companies to set up a sports and social club; the reminiscences of sports days, dinner dances and outings are particularly poignant. The overwhelming feeling is pride at having worked there, which is touching.

The exhibition is on in the Hunt Museum on Rutland Street until May 31 and is free but if you’ve never seen the museum itself, that is well worth a look. The former Customs House building is beautiful and the Hunt collection covers many eras and genres. At €5, admission is a bargain. It does ‘2 for 1’ deals on Monday and is free on Sundays from 2-5pm.

To learn more about Ranks see the Archive website and the museum website is www.huntmuseum.com.