Galway is most intriguing—at least in the summer, which is the only time I have seen it—early in the morning. This is when trucks make their deliveries to the otherwise pedestrian streets, and when Galwegians, shopping bags on their arms, hurry to do the day’s purchases or, dressed in business clothing, head out to work. The first of the buskers begin to roll up on their bicycles, carting fiddles and speakers and all the rest of their street paraphernalia. At this time of the morning they all look groggy, although they will be lively enough in a couple of hours. Many of the breakfast cafes don’t even open until 9, so tourists tend to eat in their hotels, which I suppose is a safer bet if your sense of adventure doesn’t extend much past the beer gardens that line Quay Street.
I come to Galway most summers for the Arts Festival, a two-week extravaganza of theatre, music and art that fills many city venues. The Arts Festival is bookended by the Galway Film Fleadh and the Galway Races; I haven’t gotten to the Film Fleadh and I would never go near the Races, which reportedly fill the town with hordes of drunken tourists.
This year I saw two plays. Ballyturk was the main draw, a world premiere by the Irish playwright Enda Walsh about, well, no one seems to know what it’s about, and Walsh isn’t talking. I saw it as a combination of Waiting for Godot, except that Godot shows up this time, and Walsh’s meditation on the lonely act of writing. Cillian Murphy is deservedly getting all the accolades (he is Walsh’s actor of choice since Disco Pigs), but the play really belongs to Mikel Murfi, a much lesser known actor than Murphy and the third actor, Stephen Rea. After the play I bought the script and read it through the next day when the play was fresh; I’m going to try to make this a habit.
It seems like there is always one work that makes any effort at seeing art worthwhile. In this case, of the five galleries I visited between two evenings of theatre, Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet was it. Originally presented in 2001, this is a sound installation based on the English composer Thomas Tallis’s masterwork, No Other is My Hope. The installation was presented in the very church-like setting of National University of Ireland Galway’s lovely Aula Maxima, a large empty public room with soaring ceilings and an arched stained-glass window. The installation is forty speakers ranged in an oval, with various parts of the music coming through a constantly shifting configuration of the sound. As the eleven-minute work ebbs and flows, visitors are encouraged to walk around in order to capture both the full power and the individual pieces of the work. During the three-minute interval between the looped presentations, many people in the gallery talked, or left. But, hearing some ambient noise in the room, I went very close to the speakers; the artist had captured the sounds of a performance intermission, with rustling of programs, disjointed bits of conversation and musicians warming up their voices. It felt like a secret gift from the artist to those who were paying particular attention. I could have stayed all day.