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’.

Cuisle Poetry Fest this week, Oct 15-19

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 19.12.58Beginning this Wednesday and continuing until Sunday is one of my favourite annual celebrations—the Cuisle Limerick City International Poetry Festival.

I really enjoy hearing good poetry read aloud. Reading poetry by yourself is one thing but listening to a poet reading their own deeply personal work adds another dimension to it and brings it to life. I’ve had the pleasure to be at excellent readings by Theo Dorgan, Paul Durcan and Jackie Wills as well as a particularly memorable event down at the Dance Limerick venue in St John’s Square with Donald Hall, Robert Hass and Penelope Shuttle.

Donald Hall, a one-time Poet Laureate of the United States, reading at Cuisle 2009.

Donald Hall, a one-time Poet Laureate of the United States, reading at Cuisle 2009.

This year Cuisle—which is organised by a dedicated volunteer committee—is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a special five day run, October 15 to 19.

The line-up of poets and speakers features “some of Ireland’s best-loved and most celebrated poets will join guests from sister festivals across Europe”. The list includes: Caleb Brennan, Paddy Bushe, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Tim Cunningham, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Veronika Dintinjana (Slovenia), Gerry Dukes, Tom French, Barry McGovern, Geraldine Mitchell, Conor O’Callaghan, Edward O’Dwyer, Iztok Osojnik (Slovenia), Sam Riviere, Shedman (John Davies from the UK), Bridget Wallace and Macdara Woods.

The festival includes writing workshops, an open mic night, special tributes to Samuel Beckett, and the launch of the annual Stony Thursday Book (this year edited by Peter Sirr). Tim Cunningham will also launch his new poetry volume. There is a substantial education programme, including readings and workshops for schools.

A composed Penelope Shuttle reading at Cuisle 2009.

A composed Penelope Shuttle reading at Cuisle 2009.

A special series of ‘Poetry in Public Places’ events honours Limerick City of Culture 2014. A Door Into The Dark features a dozen artists from Limerick Printmakers have responded to the work of poets who have read at the Cuisle Festival over the past 20 years. Lightboxes, theatrical sets, and text printed onto porcelain are only some of the methods used in this unique collaboration. Look for these along Patrick Street.

Ghost Sonata is a specially created work by Mark Whelan consisting of one long poem written on the windows of Roches Street. Read it together or read it in pieces. Each fragment resonates with its specific location, creating a special experience for each reader.

Poems on the Air is a collaboration with RTÉ Lyric FM, where recordings of poems by Cuisle Festival favourites will be played in various retail spaces throughout October.

Shedman will bring his famous travelling shed to Limerick. In his own words: “My shed is very accessible. Anyone can come in to tell me their shed stories, to bring anecdotes and poems, pictures and photos, recollections and fantasies.”

An animated Robert Hass reading at Cuisle 2009.

An animated Robert Hass reading at Cuisle 2009.

The poetry of Samuel Beckett is a special feature of Saturday’s programme. At 4pm, there will be a performance of Roundelay—a staged reading by the Fourfront Poets and at 7pm Gerry Dukes will deliver a talk on Beckett, followed by noted actor Barry McGovern performing Beckett’s poetry for stage. Gerry Dukes was a lecturer when I was a student in Mary I and he’s not just knowledgeable but quite entertaining as a speaker.

There are lunchtime readings on Thursday and Friday at 1pm (Sunday at 3pm) in the beautiful Captain’s Room at the Hunt Museum. Evening readings will take place at 69 O’Connell Street (former Belltable) on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7pm.

All events are ticketed, on the door, at €5. For the complete schedule and more information, including bios and photos, see

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

Upcoming literary events and launches

Iwant to flag some upcoming workshops, readings and book launches for the WhiteHouse Poetry Revival and Limerick Writers’ Centre respectively.
Tomorrow(Wednesday November 23), there will be a poetry afternoon and workshopin the Hunt Museumat 2.30pm.All poets and their friends are welcome—those whowould like to read and those who just want to sit, listen and enjoy.” For moreinformation, see or contact MCBarney Sheehan at or086-8657494.
The White House Bar will host theirweekly reading/open-mic night that night at 9pm.It’s been on almost every Wednesday night for years now and is still goingstrong. There’s a great atmosphere. It generally features a guest poet, who is Christy O’Donnell tomorrow night and then otherpoets will read aloud too. Christy O’Donnell was born andraised in a family of 13 in Limerick City’sNorthside. “Growing up we were neverencouraged to write at all, instead we were expected to go into the workplaceas soon as we finished school. Christy likes to write rhyming poetry that hassome humour in it but which is also true to life with an emphasis on the punchline. Writing is both for pleasure and the need to deal with human pain on adaily basis and has found that Kilkee is a good place to ‘chill’ and to gatherone’s thoughts for a poem or a short story”. His most recent book was ongangland Ireland and he is currently working on a humorousbook of poetry which is set for release in 2012.
For more information, check out thelocal press and the Whitehouse Bar is also on Facebook.
From The Ribacollection of sonnets and villanelles by Fiona Clark Echlin—will be officially launched thisSaturday, November 26 at 5pm in Upstairs@Foley’s Bar, Sarsfield Street, Limerick. The collectionwill be launched by Dr John McDonagh of Mary Immaculate College.
Born in London, Fiona Clark Echlin (Newcomb) has lived and workedin London, New York, Istanbul and finally Limerick. As well as being a poet, Fiona Clark Echlin is anaward-winning playwright and story teller. Her poems, plays and stories are allcoloured by her background, which has strong roots in the theatre. Best knownas a Performance Poet, she has read and performed her work at a wide variety ofvenues, occasions and festivals in both Ireland and the UK. Her distinctive delivery will be familiar to manyand her voice has also been heard on radio, reading, performing and discussingher poetry and radio drama. Her one-act play, Builders was recently staged atThe Source theatre in Thurles as part of The Inkubator project with AsylumProductions (Cork). She is currently writing a novel.
The Limerick Writers’ Centre will also launch REViVALLiterary Journal No. 21 on Wednesday November 30 at the White House Bar at 8pm. This issue is a special‘Michael Hartnett at 70’ edition and all are welcome to attend.
Upstairs@Foley’sis also the setting of the popular ‘On the Nail’ readings on the first Tuesdayof every month at 8pm. These events alsohave guest readers but writers (from beginners to veterans) can also readpoetry, fiction, stories and play music. Gabhar Theatre Company often presentsa ’10 minute play’ for the audience too.
For further information on all these events, contact Dominic Taylor at

Photo exhibition: Abandoned Mansions of Ireland

There is an interesting photography exhibition on display in the Raggle Taggle space (corner of Henry Street/Sarsfield Street, Limerick) at the moment until November 11.

Abandoned Mansions of Ireland—images captured by Tarquin Blake—is a photographic project spanning three years of research and documentation. The pictures of ruined big houses are from Blake’s bestselling and critically acclaimed book of the same name.

The exhibition is in partnership with the Hunt Museum and the Irish Georgian Society, of which there is a chapter in Limerick.

The blurb says: “Blake documents the end of the landed aristocracy in Ireland and the demise of their country mansions. His beautiful, haunting, images of crumbling ruins convey an indefinable beauty. The images are accompanied by history and folklore, telling of troubled times and private hardship.”

It sounds great so I’m definitely going to check it out. For a taster of his work, there are samples at