Christmas in Cork: Let it Glow, let it glow, let it glow

Joe Stockdale, Artistic Director, Fiona Geary, Scenic Artist, Nisei Kobayashi, Construction Manager and Don Rothwell, Project Manager, all Triangle Productions Ltd., for GLOW Park, in the Marina Commercial Park workshop. Pic: Jim Coughlan

This Christmas will see Bishop Lucey Park transformed into a winter wonderland for GLOW.

 Donal O’Keeffe took a peek behind the scenes and spoke with the team of artists building a mediaeval village in the heart of the city.

It’s a drizzly morning in Cork, but in three non-descript warehouses in the Marina Industrial Park, magic is being woven by a group of designers, builders and artists working flat-out to make this Christmas one of the best Cork has ever seen.

Stepping in from the rain, the visitor is met immediately with an array of wooden houses all built in Elizabethan half-timber style, and scaled-down to child-friendly sizes.

The eye is drawn to what will soon be the centrepiece of GLOW. Last-minute touches are being put to Santa’s house, and looking through the front window, you can see Santa’s bed and bedside locker. 

There’s an old-style gramophone by Santa’s bed, and on the turntable is a very old vinyl record of Bing Crosby’s ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’.

Soon, all of this will be moved to Bishop Lucey Park for a free, family-friendly Christmas festival. 

Joe Stockdale is the artistic director of Triangle Productions, the Cork company charged with turning the People’s Park into what he calls a fantasy world version of Cork.

Joe Stockdale, Artistic Director and Nisei Kobayashi, Construction Manager, both Triangle Productions Ltd. Pic: Jim Coughlan
Joe Stockdale, Artistic Director and Nisei Kobayashi, Construction Manager, both Triangle Productions Ltd. Pic: Jim Coughlan

“When you’re a child, you look forward to Christmas, and when you’re an adult, you look back on Christmas,” he says. 

“Our hope with GLOW is that we’ll create an environment which will delight children about Christmas present, and get adults reminiscing about Christmas past.” 

By the warehouse wall is a version of St Anne’s Shandon spire, the four-faced liar unpainted and the goldy fish not yet goldy. 

Joe notes that Shandon would, strictly speaking, be far in the future of the mediaeval period the Christmas village portrays, but “This is Cork. And it’s Christmas.”

In the background — literally — is a huge drop-cloth, onto which Fiona Geary puts the finishing touches to a painting of a giant chandelier. 

She says this is for Cinderella, this year’s panto in the Everyman. 

An industrial air-drier is blowing hot air at the cloth, to help speed up the drying process. 

All around are huge, carved air-board pillars, painted marble-green.

In Triangle Productions’ office, costumes hang from pegs, and several tables are covered entirely with pixies, hedgehogs, mice and toadstools. Inside the window, curled up cosy and warm, an animatronic marmalade cat snoozes, its breast rising and falling slowly. The cat is Santa’s, and it will soon be rehomed in the big man’s new house in Bishop Lucey Park.

Serge Vandenberghe, Scenic Artist, Triangle Productions Ltd. Pic: Jim Coughlan
Serge Vandenberghe, Scenic Artist, Triangle Productions Ltd. Pic: Jim Coughlan

“Hopefully, we will see approximately 800 people passing through the park every 20 minutes, averaging 2,000 people per evening,” says Joe Stockdale. 

“That should work out at 150,000 over the 12 days.” 

Over a coffee, Joe is joined by Don Rothwell, project manager, and Nisei Kobayashi, construction manager. 

Nisei founded Triangle in 2015, together with Joe and Anton Cullen. 

Nisei says business is way up this year, and he feels the economy has really lifted.

Joe says that for a company like Triangle, which as he puts it, provides “bespoke elements”, the fact that artists like Fiona will work until the tiniest detail is perfect “to offer the bridge between fantasy and reality”, makes all the difference.

Don Rothwell rolls out the original designs for GLOW, and they reveal the pathway through Cork’s winter wonderland.

Visitors will pass through the entrance archways on the Grand Parade — originally located 150 years ago or so at the entrance to the old corn market on Anglesea St — and find themselves in an ice tunnel. 

They will be greeted by the Faerie Queene, in a nod to Cork’s connection with the poet Edmund Spenser, who held estates here.

Then, it’s a walk past the real-life original walls of Cork City, and along a fantasy mediaeval streetscape, past the Pixie Winter Garden, and on to Santa’s house.

A town crier in full costume will guide visitors. Serge Vandenberghe is that crier. 

A scenic artist from Belgium, he has lived here for 25 years. For the role, he has grown a very impressive handlebar moustache.

“Method acting,” says Joe, Don and Nisei in unison.

Visitors will be asked to be keep the noise down by Santa’s house, as he will be sleeping ahead of his marathon sleigh-ride around the world. 

The park’s fountain will be transformed into a North Pole scene. 

From there, it’s onto the Post Office, where Páidi Fhear an Phoist will advise children to be sure to post their letters to Santa early and often.

Then, there will be the opportunity to be photographed for a family Christmas card. 

Visitors will exit onto Tuckey St, through a giant Christmas present, literally back to the present. 

On the Grand Parade is the Children’s Carousel and Ireland’s largest ferris wheel.

GLOW will take place from: Friday 30 Nov to Sunday 2 Dec, Friday 7 Dec to Sunday 9 Dec, Friday 14 Dec to Sunday 16 Dec, Thursday 20 Dec to Saturday 22 Dec. The Grand Parade Ferris Wheel will open each day from 12 noon to 9pm from Friday 30 Nov to Sunday 6 January. (Closed on Christmas Day and closing at 4pm on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.)

The twelve stats of Christmas

A lot of work went into GLOW: A Cork Christmas Celebration, and a lot of material went into making Bishop Lucey Park look so Christmassy.

Here are some of the statistics of what it takes to make GLOW glow.

  • GLOW took at least 1,200 workhours, from 20 artists, designers, carpenters, electricians, engineers and builders at Triangle Productions.
  • Building a child-friendly, scaleddown mediaeval streetscape took over 200 sheets of plywood.
  • Another 2,000 metres of timber was needed to stand that plywood up and to make Cork’s Christmas village real.
  • 50 litres of paint of varying colours went into colouring GLOW in the brightest, happiest hues imaginable.
  • 50 litres of fake snow will flurry through Bishop Lucey Park, helping to create childhood Christmas memories for a whole new generation of children.
  • A further 40 square metres of solid fake snow will cover the ground in the People’s Park.
  • 100 real Christmas trees of different sizes, all recyclable, will decorate GLOW, and 200 metres of Christmas lights will help to decorate every one of those Christmas trees. Triangle Productions uses environmentallyfriendly materials, and have avoided using plastics and tinsel.
  • 100 pixie houses have been built for GLOW, and Bishop Lucey Park will be the Christmas home to reindeer, polar bears, hedgehogs, mice, and loads of other furry animals.
  • 120 metres of picket fencing will mark the path for visitors to make their way through Cork’s winter wonderland.
  • Four separate PA systems will provide the sound for GLOW, and let the bells ring out for Christmas.
  • 100 litres of glue will stick together everything that isn’t screwed tight.
  • 10,000 screws will hold everything else together.

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