Excitement is building ahead of Westival, which kicks off in Westport next week on Wednesday, October 24, and runs until Monday, October 29. The festival was formerly known as the Westport Arts Festival, but Westival is more than a name change – new life and love has been breathed into the programme thanks to new festival director Conor Wilson and his hardworking team of volunteers – some loyal veterans, others newly aboard.
If you thought previous years were jaw-dropping, wait ’til you see the line-up this year. Whether you gravitate towards music, art, theatre, books or all of the above, the Westival programme has it all and more, and all audiences – younger, older and in between – are amply catered for.
“We have so many events, exhibitions and performances to be enjoyed, the six days of Westival will be bursting at the seams with entertainment,” says Wilson. “Whether you find yourself by a fireside session in a pub or outside for one of our many free street spectacles, you are sure to be filled with the charm, the creativity and the craic of this magical time of year.” And the message has certainly gotten out there, with tickets sales flying since the impressive festival programmes hit shop and bar counters.
Westival’s musical offerings run the full gamut of styles, from top-rung trad to the cream of the dance scene.
Ever since it was announced that the legendary Gilbert O’Sullivan would top the line-up, local earworms have been singing ‘Alone again, naturally...’ and ‘Get down’ in anticipation, while the prospect of hearing the heavenly Lisa Hannigan raise the beautifully beamed roof of Holy Trinity Church caused a near stampede at the Westival box office.
News that Chieftain Matt Molloy will launch ‘Back to the Island’ – his first album in 25 years – in the same venue has also spread like wildfire, with hearts fluttering at thoughts of hearing the flautist extraordinaire’s new airs in such a wonderfully acoustic setting.
The Mill Times Hotel will be home to the Westival Club, where hugely popular electro-pop act Le Galaxie are guaranteed to have audiences – both devoted and newly converted – leppin’ about with nigh-on wild abandon.
Galway mixing gurus Daithí and Elaine Mai will also make an appearance at the club, where they will put on a once-off audio-visual show that merges ‘electronic synth, Irish airs and visual graces to create an electronica nirvana with an ambient, soulful deep-house dance vibe’. The same venue will also host powerful and hypnotic UK singer-songwriter Tom Hickox and the charmingly eccentric Ritz Brothers.
Dexy’s Midnight Runners band member Pete Williams will also be in town, and his gig in Westport Town Hall promises to be a real festival highlight. Williams’ solo career has earned massive critical acclaim, and his soulful, passionate performances have secured him a loyal and enthusiastic following – with our own Imelda May one of his biggest fans. His solo third album, H.O.L.L.A.N.D. (Hope Our Love Lasts And Never Dies), was officially released during the summer, quicky drawing comparisons to greats like Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney and Prefab Sprout’s Paddy McAloon.
The theatre line-up includes ‘Shadows of The Táin’, which brings one of Ireland’s most iconic legends to life with old Irish songs, haunting shadow puppetry and dynamic choreography. Atmospheric and evocative, it tells the story of Cúchulainn’s heroic attempts to prevent Queen Maeve and her army stealing the powerful Brown Bull of Cooley.
A more-modern but no-less-dramatic story – Mayo’s attempts to best Dublin at Croke Park – is the stuff of ‘GAA MAAD’. Written and performed by Vickey Curtis and Áine O’Hara, the play explores Irish culture and identity through art, humour and the GAA.
For interactive performance with plenty of audience participation, look no further than the Pop-Up Gaeltacht with comedian and raconteur Aindrias De Staic in Matt Molloy’s. Guests will all be assigned a teach and a bean an tí, and fear an tí Aindrias will guide all through the damhsaí and craic. Agus níl céad Béarla a labhairt!
Festival goers will get the chance to spend an evening with one of Ireland’s best-loved and most-respected writers, Pat McCabe, in Westport Town Hall Theatre. The author of such modern classics as ‘The Butcher Boy’ and ‘Breakfast on Pluto’, McCabe will read from his latest novel, ‘Heartland’, described as ‘a dark and twisted redneck black comedy’, while local musicians will provide tunes to complement.
Stinging Fly Press editor Declan Meade will also be in town to give a talk on getting published and to launch Stinging Fly Stories, a collection of work by some of Ireland’s most-talented contemporary writers.
The annual Open Mic and Poetry Competition will once again draw poets and musicians from all over to perform their work at The Creel at Westport Quay. This year’s event will feature special guests Ingrid Casey and Paddy Moran, and include the announcement of the winners of the hugely popular Westival International Poetry Competition.
There’s also a special Halloween event for young bookworms, with extracts from Heinrich Hoffman’s 1845 bedtime classic ‘Struwwelpeter’ read by Eileen O’Mara Walsh. Perfect for this ghoulish time of year, the book is a collection of gruesome but hilarious morality fables. Grisly tales guaranteed.
The literary line-up also boasts the launch of poet Terry McDonagh’s new collection ‘Fourth Floor Flat – 44 Cantos’; a poetry reading by Galway author and filmmaker Moya Roddy; the launch of ‘Wishbone Moon’, a fascinating anthology of haiku by women from six continents; and a spoken-word slam performance that will see five-minute performances of poetry, fiction, songs and rants compete for points and applause.
The festival’s strong visual-arts programme explores the theme of ‘identity’ in a myriad of different ways. At the forefront is ‘Ipseity’, an exhibition featuring selected work from acclaimed artists Alice Maher, Breda Burns, Emma Bourke, Janet Mullarney, Katherine Boucher Beug and Stevey Scullion. Catch it in the The Westival Gallery on Castlebar Street, in the historic building that once housed Dunnes Stores.
Dublin’s Kevin Kavanagh Gallery is bringing a selection of contemporary artworks to the Custom House Gallery for a group show entitled ‘Island Life’, the same venue will also host the Texaco Children’s Art Collection, featuring a selection of winning artworks by Mayo artists who took part in recent Texaco Children’s Art Competitions.
The much-loved annual open-call ‘McGing’s Exhibition’ returns with the theme ‘I Am’, promising a huge variety of small artworks curated by artists Gráinne O’Reilly, Caroline Masterson and Breda Burns. The launch of ‘I Am’ in McGing’s on October 24 will be followed by a performance by immensely talented Achill singer-songwriter Graham Sweeney.
‘The Six-Word Selfie’, open to all, promises to be great fun. To take part, head to cafe This Must Be The Place on the Saturday afternoon, where you’ll be given a camera to take a selfie and asked to write a six-word story. Your photo and words will then form part of a pop-up exhibition designed to quirkily capture a single afternoon in Westport.
Also on the art menu are exhibitions by David Mach (Green Fuse Gallery), Jane Williams (The Quay Cottage), Jason Goodman (Andrew Stone Gallery, McCormack’s Restaurant), Chanelle Walshe (Westport Town Hall Theatre) and John McAleer (The Clew Bay Hotel), while ‘Portrait of a Local’ will see artists compete in a live art competition, à la Sky Arts’ popular TV show ‘Portrait Artist of the Year’.
The arts will be brought al fresco too, with all sorts of cultural high-jinks and visual spectaculars taking place on streets and in outdoor venues around the town.
Head down to The Quay at dawn or dusk to see Hy Brasil, a fabulous 3D light sculpture that invites viewers to immerse themselves in a moving light and soundscape, while Inferno will use flames, pyrotechnics and mesmerising circus skills to create several performances of blazing firestorm of art, drama and skill at the Octagon.
Other outdoor offerings include a ‘Westival Walkabout’ during which poet Terry McDonagh will read stories and poems as he roams around Westport; flash-mob fiction, with pop-up poetry and surprise storytelling on the streets; a plein-air paint-out with participants painting and sketching outdoor scenes; an interactive Time Travel Tours Walkabout presenting a story of shipwreck and adventure in 16th-century Ireland; and a visual-arts trail around the town with art enthusiast Bryan Duffy, in association with Westport Walking Tours.
Parade and closing party
A massive part of the festival is the annual parade, enjoyed by everyone in the community. This year the theme is seasonally spooky. On the Saturday evening, join over 120 local children as they parade through the streets of Westport bearing Halloween lanterns they created together with renowned artist Tom Meskell. The Inferno fire troupe will take part too, and the parade will snake along a route that culminates at the Octagon with a special Inferno performance.
On the Sunday night, the festival closing party spells Halloween dress-up fun for adults. Westival’s Gráinne-Alien Halloween Ball invites everyone to dress up outer-space style and allow themselves to be transported to Galactica Gráinne – a venue whose location is being kept under wraps and plasma, to be revealed to ticket-holders just before the event. Intergalactic pirate zombies and bizarre alien life-forms will dance the light years away to seven-piece ska-fusion band The Clandestinos, followed by top DJs. A fitting way to end an out-of-this-world six-day festival line-up.
For dates, times and venues, tickets and the full festival programme, including workshops and more, visit www.westival.ie. Please note that the venue for the Gráinne-Alien Halloween Ball has changed from that advertised in the printed programme.