Raising the curtain on creativity


Westival back with a bang for the run up to the bank holiday

Ciara Moynihan

The air is chilling, the nights are closing in and thoughts are turning towards cosy clothes, open fires and stimulation of a cerebral kind – films, books, poetry, theatre, art, music…. Our appreciation of the arts swells when nature goes to sleep, the escapes on offer reminding us of the bigger world out there and brighter days to come.
And now, as we approach winter’s cusp on the Celtic calendar, Westival is once again primed to pull back a colourful curtain to reveal this rich world of creativity.
Westport’s annual festival of music and the arts starts on Wednesday, October 20, and runs through to the end of the long weekend on Monday. After the wholly virtual festival of last year, this year feels more special than ever, with real-world audiences back in real-world venues to appreciate shows, talks, exhibitions and more.   
Needless to say, Westival Arts Director Sean Paul O’Hare is looking forward to seeing festival fans enjoying the programme in person again. “We are delighted to be welcoming back our live audiences to Westport for Westival this year,” he says. “The board and team have pulled together incredibly to create a programme that we hope local people and the many who are travelling to the town for the bank holiday weekend will enjoy.”

Word of mouth
The festival’s partnership with Belfast International Arts Festival (BIAF) last year was so successful that the association will continue this year, with new live and virtual events.
Belfast writers Jan Carson and Lucy Caldwell will visit Westport to discuss the art of short story writing and read from their latest works, while ‘Sea Sick’, a critically acclaimed production about climate change and the state of the global ocean, will be travelling from Canada via Belfast to Westport Town Hall before moving on to theatres in Scotland to coincide with COP26 Summit in November.
The two festivals are also bringing some big names to their digital platforms, including evenings with Colm Tóibín and Damon Galgut, Séamas O’Reilly and Lucy Mangan, and French authors Dominique Barbéris and Gaëlle Josse (in association with Institut Francais and BIAF).
Down at Westport Quay, Tertulia bookshop will be hosting several renowned writers within the festival’s spoken-word programme, including Nuala O’Connor, Elizabeth Reapy and Sophie White. There’ll also be a poetry evening at the Clew Bay Hotel, featuring the winners of the Westival 2020 Open Call Poetry Competition.
One of the main aims of the festival is to create opportunities for new writers and performers, and this year Westival is presenting ‘On the Road to De-Mask-Us’, written and directed by local writer Fiona Hoban. It is Fiona’s first solo production, and she wrote the play during Covid – with many rehearsals held over zoom or in her back garden.
Acclaimed West End performer and singer-songwriter Declan Bennett is also bringing his one-man show, ‘Boy Out The City’, to Westport. An intimate, autobiographical piece in which tragedy and comedy collide as the audience follows Declan on a very personal journey through lockdown, with some high-energy funny moments thrown in.

Visual virtuosity
Several visual-art exhibitions will feature works by leading national and local artists. Mick O’Dea, Brian Bourke and Tim Morris have exhibitions in the Customs House Gallery, while Cathy Hughes’s exhibition ‘Aran Series’ will take place in the Westport Town Hall. Westival has also commissioned several up-and-coming artists to create new work, which will be on display throughout the festival. Watch out too for Tomas Moran’s digital projection exhibition ‘Motion in Flight’.
Pamela Gray will be showing work at The Clew Bay Hotel, while the Westival Hub in the old Dunnes Stores Building on Castlebar Street will feature work by Felix Zaska, Hannah King and William Walsh.
During the pandemic many will have followed Fiona Quinn’s ‘Image a Day to Brighten your Day’ on social media. Quinn shared her daily Westport photography, invited others to do the same – and the results were truly uplifting, and the page now has 2,700 members all over the world. A selection of the work will be on show at Westport Town Library.
Workshops include a photography workshop with award-winning photographer Michael McLaughlin and an art workshop with celebrated artist Jimmy Lawlor. Sorcha O’Higgins’ interactive exhibition will see participants make a collage artwork of someone else’s memory, before leaving their own to be created by another.
For those who like to go a bit wild and get messy, don’t miss the Art Attack Paint Dance with Nicky Dowd and Siobhán Maguire, back by popular demand. And of course the festival would not be complete without the much-loved institution that is the McGing’s Open-Call Exhibition, which focuses on the very best of local art – with submissions this year invited to explore the theme of ‘Yield’.  

In tune
The festival is also partnering with production team Éalú Le Grá to bring a curated selection of live music and DJs, with bands and singers like The Disconuats, Ryan O’Shaugnessey, DJ Fancy Dan and the Renegade Rascals all appearing at the Westival Hub.
A partnership with Westport Jazz Group will see renowned Irish-born, multi-award-winning jazz vocalist and composer Christine Tobin perform at Westport Town Hall. She will be joined by Phil Robson on guitar, Conor Murray on bass, and the fabulous David Lyttle on drums.
The hallowed hall of Holy Trinity Church will be filled with music when Coda perform alongside rising folk star Dani Larkin, who recently supported Snow Patrol. Over in Hewetson Bros Bar on Bridge Street, renowned box player Dave Munnelly – AKA the Bullet from Belmullet – will be playing with Sligo guitarist Shane McGowan.
The Clew Bay Folk Club’s Westival Special at Matt Molloy’s promises to be great fun, and don’t miss The Mississippi Sheiks, Bog Bodies and wonderful local band the Willow Jacks at McGing’s.
With all this and more on the menu – including plenty of street entertainment, family fun and children’s workshops – Westival will certainly help to banish any seasonal bleakness from hearts and minds. Winter is coming, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

For the full Westival programme, as well as more information and tickets, visit www.westival.ie.