Ah, Dublin in the autumn. Europe’s friendliest city suffused with stunning visual arts and world-class theatre, abuzz with amazingly creative literary, music and cultural events. It can only be Dublin Festival Season, which runs from early September to late October every year. Take a hint from WB Yeats, Ireland’s greatest poet. ’Arise and go now’ for a share in the abundant harvest of world-class cultural activity – this season it’s a bumper.
Dublin needs little introduction as an international cultural destination. Famous for towering Nobel Prize-winning figures in the arts, especially in the literary world, daily life in the City of Literature, City of Living Culture, City of a Thousand Welcomes is very much about experiencing enlightening entertainment, artistic adventure and creative discovery.
Speak to any ’ordinary’ Dubliner and you’ll soon get a run-down on the thriving cultural scene in this Gaelic nation’s capital – the magnificent range of art galleries and museums, the architecture, the tours, the historic houses and gardens, the rich tradition, mythology and history. A Dubliner defines culture too by a sense of good conversation and ’craic’. It’s integral to the experience of the city and Ireland.
But that’s just the everyday. Dublin Festival Season, a two month-long series of cosmopolitan and complementary cultural events, racks things up quite a few notches. This year it kicks off with Dublin Contemporary (6 Sept – 31 Oct), the biggest international and contemporary art exhibition ever to take place in Ireland.
Large-scale international art
Modelled on the biennales that take place in the capital cities of the world of international art, more than 90 artists from five continents will be exhibiting. Themed around ’Terrible Beauty – Art, Crisis, Change & The Office of Non-Compliance’, new works and some of the world’s most ground-breaking art from the avant-gardes of the 21st century will be on show.
Creating an ’experimental experience’ for artist and audience, this large-scale exhibition will employ the cityscape as a canvas, using some of Dublin’s great cultural institutions, established museums and galleries, as well as reinvented new locations in spaces not usually associated with art.
There’ll be a titanic sculpture by Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn on show, an installation by eminent Greek artist Jannis Kounellis, and a series of powerful photographs by American Nina Berman portraying a wounded Iraq war veteran.
Other inspirational art to look out for will be new video works by Israeli artist Omer Fast, durational live performance from Dublin-based Amanda Coogan, a major interactive multimedia sculpture by the Chinese artist Wang Du, and an extraordinary large-scale sculpture of a giant squid by German artist David Zink Yi.
Visitors can also expect to enjoy art in the spectacular park setting of Iveagh Gardens and a series of sound works in a warehouse next to the main exhibition hall, Earlsfort Terrace.
Lead curators Jota Castro and Christian Viveros-Fauné are excited by the challenge of the various exhibition sites. Says Castro: "We are not interested in smoothing out the walls, hiding the marks of multiple uses, or turning these unique spaces into a generic series of white cubes. The white cube is a very effective way of presenting a lot of contemporary art, but it is not the only way."
From progressive to acclaimed
Running alongside Dublin Contemporary are two of the biggest events of Dublin Festival Season – the quirky, provocative and progressive Absolut Dublin Fringe Festival (10–25 Sept), and the acclaimed Dublin Theatre Festival (29 Sept – 16 Oct).
Absolut Fringe is Ireland’s biggest multi-disciplinary arts festival. It spans theatre, dance, music, comedy, street and international arts. Highlights this year will include a focus on the very best of Australian theatre, dance and comedy; the Irish debut of Edinburgh Festival sensations Frisky and Mannish; The List Operators and many more cutting edge comedy acts; new Irish theatre including Man of Valour by The Corn Exchange. The festival will be opened by a specially commissioned spectacle created by famous street theatre company Macnas. Check the programme for performances to suit girls’ nights out, shows you can bring a date or your mother to, and street, new, ’real life’ and even free gigs.
With one of the most critically engaged theatre communities in the world, Dublin doesn’t half love its drama. Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival has been running since 1957, making it Europe’s oldest dedicated theatre festival. This is theatre of major international scale with productions by the world’s most highly regarded artists.
In 2010 for example, the Festival presented 363 performances in 22 venues from 10 different countries and this year the city will again blaze with the most invigorating and exciting theatre around. Venues include the famous Abbey Theatre, founded in 1903 by WB Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory, and the Gate Theatre, where Orson Welles, James Mason and Michael Gambon began their prodigious acting careers.
The Irish programme in recent years has featured Seamus Heaney, Roddy Doyle, Brian Friel, Sebastian Barry and Tom Murphy and a new generation of Irish writers including Conor McPherson, Martin McDonagh, Enda Walsh, Mark O’Rowe and Marina Carr have all written for the Festival.
International names associated with the festival in recent years have included Vanessa Redgrave, James Cromwell, Alan Rickman, Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, Tom Waits, Geoffrey Rush, Pete Postlethwaite and Tom Conti.
The 2011 programme includes the world premiere of Juno and the Paycock starring Ciarán Hinds and Sinead Cusack at the Abbey Theatre in a major co-production with the National Theatre of Great Britain; and the opening show at the illustrious Gaiety Theatre, Donka: A Letter to Chekhov, a breathtaking and exhilarating production inspired by Anton Chekhov’s plays and diaries, told with sublimely lyrical wit from one of the world’s most talented troupes of clowns, acrobats and musicians.
The full festival programme will be announced on 26 July.
Tip: look out for ’Festival Feeds’. Each year the best restaurants in the city team up with Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival to offer exclusive menus at unbeatable prices for festival-goers. Food for the soul on a cultural night out in one of the world’s most cultured cities."
Wandering through the cultural canvas of Dublin pub life you’ll inevitably stumble upon spontaneous music sessions and the city’s ’characters’. An Irish pub is a cultural experience in itself, but it’s where you’ll also find the ubiquitous pint of ’the black stuff’.
And during Dublin Festival Season you can celebrate Arthur’s Day in the place where Guinness was born. Look out for big name gigs and smaller bands, and join Dubliners for the worldwide toast to Arthur on 22 September at 17:59.
One of the jewels of the Dublin Festival Season is Culture Night (23 Sept), when thousands of visitors and citizens take to the streets to visit galleries, churches, parks, theatres and museums. The city’s cultural institutions welcome all for all sorts of artistic adventures – many of them free – including exhibitions, literary readings, cinema screenings and lots more special events. Take a tour of Christ Church Cathedral or Dublin Castle State Apartments, or visit Dublin Writers Museum where actor Neil O’Shea will perform extracts from the works of some of Ireland’s most famous writers.
Open House Dublin
There’s also a number of excellent smaller arts events during Dublin Festival Season. The Mountains to Sea Book Festival (1–11 Sept) is very popular, as are Dublin Festival of Fashion (8–11 Sept), the Oktoberfest beer festival (22 Sept – 9 Oct) and the edgy Indie music festival, Hardworking Class Heroes (6–8 Oct).
Architecture aficionados will love Open House Dublin (6–9 Oct). This is Dublin’s built heritage literally throwing open its doors to anyone who wants to look in – all types of building from all periods allow visitors to explore the unique Viking, medieval, Georgian and contemporary architecture of the city. Special tours by professionals and enthusiasts are on offer, all completely free.
Don’t forget the Irish view sport as part of their cultural DNA. Horseracing and golf are massive for instance, and actually Ireland is staging the Solheim Cup in September (23–25), the female equivalent of golf’s Ryder Cup. There’ll be friendly international rivalries and great craic around the city between the European and American fans, with Dubliners in the thick of it.
Some of the greatest sporting fervour in Ireland is reserved for the fast-paced and thrilling traditional games of Gaelic football and hurling. Sports fans will love the GAA Museum at Croke Park, on the north side of Dublin and within easy reach of the city centre, but nothing can quite beat being among the 80,000-strong crowds at a match there.
And wouldn’t you know it, Dublin Festival Season sees football and hurling reach their seasonal climax. The All-Ireland Finals take place at Croke Park in mid-September and the city comes alive with passion and colour. Even if you can’t understand the rules, the excitement and drama will carry you along. It’s bound to. It’s Dublin’s river of culture.
Dublin Festival Season; what’s on in 2011
From the beginning of September to the end of October, visitors to Dublin can experience the very best of contemporary culture in its many facets. The major events in Dublin Festival Season are:
Dublin Contemporary: 6 Sept-31 Oct, www.dublincontemporary.com
Visual Arts; Large scale art installations and gallery exhibitions bring high end art to the capital. This is the first running of this major event which is envisaged to run every five years from 2011.
Absolut Fringe: 10-25 September, www.fringefest.com
Mixed Arts; The Fringe Festival takes over more than 40 venues and celebrates the new and the next, particularly in Theatre and Music.
Arthur’s Day: 22 September, www.guinness.com/en-row/arthurs-day
Music and craic; Big concerts and intimate gigs all over the city, along with a couple of pints of the black stuff.
Dublin Culture Night: 23 September, www.culturenight.ie
A night of discovery as galleries, museums and cultural venues open their doors for free.
Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival: 29 September – 16 October, www.dublintheatrefestival.com
Dublin loves Drama! An amazing array of Irish and international theatre productions.
Open House: 6-9 October, www.architecturefoundation.ie/openhouse
Dublin buildings of all types open their doors allowing all to explore the city’s architecture for free.
There are a number of excellent smaller and growing events including
- Mountains to Sea Book Festival (1-11 September) www.mountainstosea.ie
- Dublin Festival of Fashion, 8–11 September www.dff.ie
- Oktoberfest (beer festival), 22 September – 9 October
- Hard Working Class Heroes (Indie music festival), 6-8 October 2011 www.hwch.net