Culture assured on every corner for Kinsale arts festival

There’s no shortage of big names participating but Kinsale itself is the heart and soul of this summer’s arts festival, new director Marie McPartlin tells Jo Kerrigan.

LAST night the town of Kinsale revealed the programme for its ninth July Arts Festival, with art, music, drama, dance, words, ideas, and of course, food, packed into nine crowded days. Kinsale always manages to get plenty of well-known names on board — something which took new artistic director, Marie McPartlin, by surprise.

“What I realised very shortly after getting here was that the organising committee was extremely well-connected. I would suggest an event and they would immediately come up with star names for it. People like Sinéad Cusack, Dónal Lunny — someone would always know them personally or know someone who did.

“In fact, the most difficult event for me to organise was the Sci-Art Live feature for the Family Green Day. It’s being done by the multi-award-winning young scientists from Kinsale Community School and trying to sort out the logistics of their other commitments, not to mention the school holidays, with the demands of the festival was almost impossible,” she says.

Londoner McPartlin is well used to organising major events, having worked as an independent programmer and producer for many years. Co-founder and director of the London Word Festival, she has also worked with a number of prestigious music and arts organisations both in Britain and internationally, including the Barbican, Roundhouse, National Trust, Royal Albert Hall, Create, and the Sydney Festival, Australia. But recently — “perhaps it was hearing about The Gathering, I don’t know” — she began to feel an urge to work in Ireland.

“My father came from Leitrim, and my brother and I spent all our summers running wild there when we were young. Then, last year, I went down to the Beara peninsula, which is where my mother’s family comes from. I decided to work my way back along the West Cork coastline, and discovered Kinsale, which, of course, I loved on sight.”

Back in London, fate dictated that she almost immediately saw the job of artistic director for the 2013 festival advertised. “I didn’t hesitate. It seemed like it was meant to happen.”

Even arriving in January didn’t dampen Marie’s excitement. “Kinsale is a stunning location for an arts festival, and I have had so much fun exploring the eclectic places and spaces that make the town so unique. Although it was the depths of winter, when I first moved over, the beauty of the town could not be obscured by the long, dark nights. That stunning landscape, steeped in a rich cultural history, is fuel for even the dullest imagination.”

It’s been hard work all the way for the past five months, she cheerfully admits, coming up with exciting ideas, mulling them over with the board of directors, developing programmes and booking big names as well as unique, one-off quirky events.

“What I have tried to do above all is create this year’s festival from the essential character and nature of Kinsale itself. Rather than simply importing acts and names from wherever, each and every event is in some way linked to what the town is, what its history has been, how it evolved. That makes for a truly organic event.”

She points, for example, to the Wine Goose Chase at Desmond Castle, in which expert Susan Boyle fuses storytelling and wine tasting with 2,000 years of Ireland’s history; and to Oysters & Oddities, a late-night exploration of the strange artefacts to be found in the town’s museum.

Naturally enough, given Kinsale’s undisputed position as the gourmet capital of Ireland, foodie events are well represented on McPartlin’s programme, with famous cooks whetting appetites and tantalising tastebuds. One of the most touching events in this category surely has to be the Come Home For Your Tea day on Sunday, July 7. Special signs in windows will invite you in to enjoy a cuppa and record your memories of what coming home to tea means, while Darina and Rachel Allen will be hosting afternoon tea at The Mill, Professor Alan Kelly will face up to Martin Shanahan of Fishy Fishy in The Scientist and The Chef, and a huge street tea party will welcome all-comers.

Plenty of theatre too, of course, and one of the events about which McPartlin is most excited is White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, the now iconic text by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour. Prevented from leaving his country by military conscription, the young man instead sent his play out into the world with the instructions that it should be read, hitherto sight unseen, by actors with no direction and no set. That, explains McPartlin, makes for an explosively new experience for both actor and audience. Among those taking on that challenge will be Sinéad Cusack, Fionnuala Flanagan and Mark O’Halloran.

Music and dance are well represented, with the coming together of Dónal Lunny, Pádraig Rynne and Sylvain Barou in what will be a memorable concert, as well as Rhob Cunningham, Little Bear and Slow Skies. In a very special event, dancer Colin Dunne will conduct the Irish Chamber Orchestra in medieval St Multose Church with the beat of his feet. That will be in the specially-commissioned Suk Serenade, by Kinsale-born Linda Buckley.

There is so much more that there isn’t room here for the half of it. Maeve Higgins. The Cashell Duo. Classical afternoons in a Methodist church. Chekhov at the Lord Kingsale. Poetry. Art exhibitions. Toy theatre. Workshops. Literary trails. Hidden artworks. Surprise performances. There is literally something going on in every sort of location at every hour of the day and night. “Let’s be practical, you can’t rely on the weather, even in July, and I have tried to ensure that most events can go ahead whatever the skies are doing,” says McPartlin.

* Kinsale Arts Festival runs from Jul 6 to 14. Tickets for all events on sale from today. These can be purchased from the Festival Box Office above Eurospar on Pearse St, Kinsale; by telephone on 021 470 0877; or online at www.kinsaleartsfestival.com, where you can also find details of events. See also twitter.com/kinsaleartsfest.

A flavour of the festival

Appearing at Kinsale Arts Festival will be left, writer Kevin Barry; below left, actors Fionnuala Flanagan and Sinead Cusack; and right, chefs Rachel and Darina Allen.

Sylvain Barou, Dónal Lunny, Pádraig Rynne give the opening performance at Acton’s Hotel, Saturday, Jul 6, followed by a night-time performance of The Tale of the Ancient Lights, a legend of magic and beauty, on the hotel lawn.

Come Home For Your Tea, a whole day of food-related and free family events for The Gathering, incorporates street performances, live music, a street party and Bake Off Competition, children’s workshops, and free fun for all ages. Sunday, July 7.

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit. The intriguing playscript by Iranian Nassim Soleimanpour, will be read in performance by actors including Sinéad Cusack, Fionnula Flanagan and Mark O’Halloran. Jul 6, 8 and 10 at the Friary Church.

Ireland’s Got Mammies, with Colm O’Regan, Lord Kingsale. Sunday, July 7. Bring your mammy.

The Cashell Duo: sisters Anna on violin and Sophie on piano, with a programme of Bach, Schumann, Beethoven, Brahms and more. Parish Church. Monday, Jul 8.

Feet First, a visually stunning new commission for The Irish Chamber Orchestra and Riverdance star Colin Dunne. This is the one where Dunne conducts with the beat of his feet. St Multose Church, Wednesday, Jul 10.

Writers at the Lord Kingsale; Leontia Flynn and others. Tuesday, Jul 9. Kevin Barry, Thursday, Jul 11. Comedian Maeve Higgins at Acton’s, Friday, Jul 12.

Daithí Ó Dronaí and Wyvern Lingo double bill, KFEC Amphitheatre, Friday, Jul 12.

A screening of The Raj in the Rain, an affectionate and bizarre film portrait of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy in their heyday, followed by a discussion with Ruth Dudley-Edwards and Patrick Guinness on Big Empty Houses. Acton’s, Sunday, Jul 14.

Late-night performances and events inside iconic buildings including A Wine Goose Chase at Desmond Castle; a unique night-time tour of the Museum with artists Ffrench and Harte and Dan Canham’s elegy for Limerick’s Athenaeum Theatre, 30 Cecil Street, after dark at The Mill.

Exhibitions will include Once Upon A Time, exploring fantasy and folklore in contemporary painting; The Poetry Project Contained, featuring Ireland’s leading contemporary artists and poets; Now Wakes the Sea, an open submission exhibition for emerging artists; and The Sovereigns: Art and Artifact. This last will include the actual rope bridge with which artists Anne Ffrench and Brian Harte linked two local uninhabited islands to the mainland.

A packed programme for kids focuses on creative, digital and scientific engagement featuring CoderDojo, and the award-winning Kinsale Community School Young Scientists. Also toy theatre, and sea-themed plays like Treasure Island, and The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate.

Banter, hosted by Jim Carroll, is an afternoon of chats on the topics of music, books, art and Bruce Springsteen, popping up at secret venues across Kinsale. You can only find out where to go by checking Twitter or Facebook. Saturday, Jul 13.

An Evening with Rhob Cunningham, Little Bear, and Slow Skies, Friary Church, Saturday, Jul 13.

Closing party with the legendary DJ Kormac. The White Lady, Saturday, Jul 13.

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