Liverpool Irish Festival returns in October with a programme of culture, performance, film, music and talks. Commemorating a centenary since the Easter Rising, 2016 has also seen a profound shift in the way we understand Great Britain and its relationship with the Island of Ireland (and Europe). Post-Brexit, the festival’s consideration of Irish culture’s long-held tension between new and old is of the zeitgeist.
With a longstanding vision to bring Liverpool and Ireland together, this year’s festival focus is conviviality. Running 13-23 October it’s an opportunity to explore contemporary and traditional elements of Irish culture and often the tension arising between the two. Through collaboration, cross-discipline and partnerships with arts organisations, cultural institutions and social centres across Liverpool and Ireland, the festival explores what being Irish means at home and abroad.
There are newly written and performed plays by first time playwrights and newly imagined tales and performances of old stories and traditions. We have emerging musicians exploring modern takes using and adapting traditional instruments. Performances and discussions centred on the cornerstones of Irish culture and heritage, as well as how they affect today’s Liverpool Irish and Irish citizens, amidst exhibitions, sessions and activities that remind us of the rich cultural wealth of Irish history, its present and its tomorrow. Highlights in 2016 include;
Three Plays: Riders to the Sea, The Shadow of the Glen and Purgatory at the Treasure House Theatre at the World Museum explores the theme of the undead and how the Irish peasantry’s relationship between the living and the dead has been full of mysticism and myth. Originally performed as a trinity of plays by the RSC, Alsop Drama take the three one act plays, by John Millington Synge and William Butler Yeats to consider rural life in Ireland in the early twentieth century, and how superstition and folklore influenced relationships with the spirits, the living and past.
Music comes in the form of fiery live performances and great singer songwriters. Damien Dempsey, from Dublin’s North Side, offers a one off chance to see him perform his unique album, No Force on Earth, commemorating the Easter Rising of 1916. “Psycho ceílí” comes from The Logues (County Tyrone) and their “whiskey soaked folk” with electric live performance, contrasting the fiery and exciting Rackhouse Pilfer who bring their blend of rootsy Americana and folk. This Dublin four-piece perform using a wide range of instruments, including uilleann pipes, concertina, Russian accordion, fiddle and guitar. After their storming performance in 2014, We Banjo 3 return with their modern take on Irish old-time bluegrass.
Marking the centenary of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as Young Man, a panel including HE Ambassador to Ireland, Dan Mulhall, Professor Frank Shovlin of the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies, Dr Katherine Mullin from University of Leeds and Professor Andrew Gibson of Royal Holloway, University of London discuss its significance and legacy.
In response to the centenary and commemoration of the Easter Rising in 2016, the festival features;
Liverpool Lambs, an original production written by Peter King (descendent of the King Brothers, volunteers who travelled from Liverpool to Ireland for the Easter Rising) and Steve Nolan, who retell the little known story of the Liverpool men and women who played a role in the Uprising. Performed at the Unity Theatre in Spring, Northern Soul described it as “accurate and evocative”, telling a story many have forgotten. An exhibition of artefacts and family documents and photographs of those Liverpool people is at Central Library with a discussion with its researchers reflecting on Liverpool’s Irish history. The Gaelic League and the Easter Rising is a lecture by Tony Birthill, Secretary of the Gaelic League, exploring Liverpool’s import to Irish cultural revival and revolution.
Throughout the festival there continues a programme of exhibitions, tours, talks and traditional Irish music sessions at various venues in the city. The festival’s popular family events return including the full family day at Museum of Liverpool and the family ceili.
Emma Smith, who leads the festival says:
“Conviviality has been at the forefront of my mind since joining the festival. Irish culture is lively and friendly and chimes with our Liverpool-ness, yet this year’s referendum demonstrated a seismic social shift that we must consider - and reconsider - when we think about Irish culture, what it means to be Irish, and what it means here in Liverpool.
“The Easter Rising centenary reflects on stories of Liverpool people who stated a claim for their Irish-ness, at times risking everything. Post-Brexit we are witnessing many British people clamouring to reinstate their Irish citizenship and retain EU nationality. Stories resonating from 100 years before connected with us this summer, and cause us to question: is the nature of being Irish in Liverpool more than an historical connection? What is it to be Irish? What will it mean to be to be Irish next year? Or in a 100 years? We hope to pose these questions to our audiences, to start conversations and provide safe spaces in which we can discuss, understand and develop friendships”.
Find out more on the Irish Festival website