Review of the Shorelines Arts Festival in Portumna, County Galway

Last Thursday I attended the opening of the Shorelines Arts Festival in Portumna,County Galway in Ireland. I have been a Facebook stalker of the festival for quite sometime now, and this year I fulfilled my dream of attending the event, not just as an attendee and viewer of all the local talent, musical and artistic, but as a guest at the literary brunch. Pinch me, I must be dreaming!

The interior of the Irish Workhouse Center- Portumna houses artwork and sculptures by local artisans. (Image Source: Shorelines Arts Festival Portumna Facebook Page)

The interior of the Irish Workhouse Center Portumna houses artwork and sculptures by local artisans. (Image Source: Shorelines Arts Festival Portumna Facebook Page)

The art work and sculptures on display in the gallery set up in the Portumna Irish Work House Center was an eye opener. Two large rooms filled with art work, bog art sculptures and wood carvings among many others were testaments to the myriad of talents available locally in and around Portumna.

My favorite was the painting of the blue tractor and the bog oak sculpture entitled Riding the Waves. Just too heavy to take back to America, this time. But I’ll sort something out for next year.

I was delighted to meet the author of Braided Loves, Ger Burke, and also the great poet, Patrick Deeley. Each read from their books; Ger Burke read a few pages from Braided Loves, a story about Teresa Goldstein, a sexually repressed, heavy drinking teacher and author. Patrick Deeley read from his collection of poetry, Groundswell. My particular favorite was A Man from Derrybrien – a horse of a man.

The festival boasted international musical talent such as Luca Bloom, and internationally renowned poet, Paul Durcan. The tickets to attend both of these events were available to purchase online prior to the opening of the festival, and I should have availed of this opportunity. On the nights of these events there was standing room only. So next year I’ll purchase tickets online well in advance.

Cafe Conversations by Greg O’Connor was a peek into the lives and minds of three women reuniting in a cafe after many years of being apart. Once-upon-a-time friendships have now developed into underhanded put downs, one ups, and the odd swig from a vodka bottle when no one is looking. When the ladies vacate the cafe two inebriated gents come in and give us a litany of vocabulary words for “drunk.” It reminded me very much of the famous Parrot Sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Interior of Portumna Castle, venue for the staging of JM Synge's Riders to the Sea (Imahe source: Shorelines Arts Festival Portumna Facebook page)

Interior of Portumna Castle, venue for the staging of JM Synge’s Riders to the Sea (Image source: Shorelines Arts Festival Portumna Facebook page)

Rider’s to the Sea, the one-act play by J. M.Synge was performed by the Half-Day Thursday Drama Group and directed by Jim Hynes.

Without playwrights like Synge the colloquial and poetic dialogue of the Aran Islands would be long forgotten. The group performed it beautifully and brought the pain of the loss of a loved one to life.

Both Cafe Conversations and Rider’s to the Sea were performed in Portumna Castle, a beautiful venue.

The Grave Art Tour by local historian and archaeologist, Christy Cunniffe was absolutely fantastic. I knew that my hometown was rich in history, but it wasn’t until Cunniffe decoded the symbols on graveyard headstones that I fully appreciated how steeped in history the town is. I mean, who knew that there was a Freemason and possibly high Anglican buried at the Cistercian/Dominican Friary in Portumna? I certainly didn’t.

I just love the Irish sense of humor. As Cunniffe showed art work depicting Noah’s Ark on an ancient gravestone, a voice from behind me said, “Sure, it’s no wonder! That’s the wettest place in the parish!”

Another favorite was the showcase of three short films played in Seamus Hayes pub. Irish Folk Furniture by Tony Donoghue, winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s best animated short 2013. The second short film was Bye Bye Now, “a short documentary film that recalls the past importance of phone boxes in Irish life,” produced and directed by Aideen O’Sullivan and Ross Whitaker. It certainly brought a tear or two to my eyes.

Still from the short documentary film, End of the Counter (Image Source: End of the Counter Facebook page)

Still from the short documentary film, End of the Counter (Image Source: End of the Counter Facebook page)

The third and final film was End of the Counter produced by Portumna native, Aisling Ahmed. The film chronicles the beginning of self-service grocery stores in Ireland and how customers adapted to the change. The film won Best short Documentary at The Galway Film Fleadh.

The idea of strolling around a shop with your own basket and picking up your groceries yourself was so strange to people that often you had a woman taking a loaf of bread or some other item out of another shopper’s basket. The shoppers were accustomed to handing their lists to the shop owner and having them locate each item.

The films were so popular among festival attendees that additional show times were added, and I had to make four attempts at viewing the films. Well worth the wait though!

Another favorite were the vintage tractors and model farm display at the Portumna Irish Workhouse Center. What is it about model villages that makes me linger and hunker down? Maybe it’s the acute attention to detail on these small-scale models. Fantastic display.

Lines Learned by Heart, a recitation competition of poems written prior to 1937, held in Horan’s Pub, was won by a 92 year-old! How’s that for a good memory!

The Low Stool Sessions in Curley’s Pub was a celebration of songs, poetry and music of days gone by.

Local musician Miriam Donohue displayed her talents and sang songs from her new album Bookmarks. I was lucky enough to get a copy of Miriam’s CD, thanks to my secondary school English teacher Roisin O’Brien.

Here’s a  sample below. Well done Miriam. Just lovely, and reminiscent of Sarah McLaughlin, one of my favorite female vocalists.

There were so many things to see and do that I just couldn’t get to them all, regretfully. The weather was spectacular, which really contributed to the high spirits of all, but somehow I think the artistic and musical talent present at The Shorelines Arts Festival in Portumna would have shone through and brightened even the cloudiest of days. I’ll definitely be back for more next year.

Check out the slide show below to see the beautiful venues and surrounding countryside of Portumna, County Galway, and of course the colorful nets that adorn the river Shannon in celebration of The Shorelines Arts Festival 2013. Once again, well done to all involved.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Signing a copy of The Foundling for David Todd, a visitor from England and attendee of The Shorelines Arts Festival

Signing a copy of The Foundling for David Todd, a visitor from England and attendee of The Shorelines Arts Festival.

Here I am reading the excerpt I read aloud to attendees at the Literary Brunch.

The Foundling

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