‘This will be Colm Meaney’s first time on stage in Ireland in 40 years’: Galway arts festival unveils 2023 line-up

Galway International Arts Festival 2023, which takes over the city in July, also includes DruidO’Casey and the edge-of-the-seat acrobatics of The Pulse

“We’re trying to get people to go on holidays in their head,” says Galway International Arts Festival’s chief executive, John Crumlish. “Try things, experiment, enjoy.” He’s speaking ahead of the launch of the 2023 festival programme, which promises to be a full-on extravaganza of spectacle and surprise, with a rich blend of Irish and international talent plus dashes of the intimate and the experimental.

“We’re supposed to be about creating experiences,” Crumlish says. “And, wow, what an experience to create.” He is referring to Druid’s forthcoming 9½-hour production of Seán O’Casey’s Dublin Trilogy – The Plough and the Stars, The Shadow of a Gunman, and Juno and the Paycock – which, under the direction of Garry Hynes, headlines the festival.

DruidO’Casey is a bold move, although the success of DruidMurphy and DruidShakespeare suggests this one will find an eager audience. The cumulative effect of immersing yourself in the world of a playwright’s words, with a stellar and diverse cast – here including the Druid regulars Aaron Monaghan, Marty Rea and Rory Nolan, as well as the newcomers Gabriel Adewusi, Tara Cush and Sophie Lenglinger – can be mind-altering.

“We’re still living in pretty uncertain times,” Crumlish says. “We still need to get out there and celebrate.” Paul Fahy, the festival’s artistic director, adds, “We were struck by people’s eagerness to get out and get stuck in.” He says that although 2022 saw record attendances, this year they’re hoping for even more international visitors.


As a double act helming Ireland’s most highly regarded arts festival, Crumlish and Fahy go way back. “We both started on the festival separately, volunteering,” says Fahy, whose first programme as artistic director was in 2006. “I was making tea down the Claddagh Hall.”

“And my first job was to mind a gate,” Crumlish says. “I wasn’t even given humans to mind, just a gate that nobody went near.”

These days the gates, turnstiles and box office are kept busy, with shows such as the Druid Debuts regularly selling out within hours. These rehearsed readings of new plays have introduced such gems as Sonya Kelly’s Furniture and Geraldine Aron’s My Brilliant Divorce to the world. The Debuts programme for 2023 will be announced in June, but you’ll need to have booked before then to be sure of a seat.

Seats shouldn’t be a problem at the new (temporary) Festival Theatre, at Galway University’s Kingfisher Hall. The sports hall is being transformed into a 1,000-seat theatre to host The Pulse, by the Australian acrobatic circus troupe Gravity & Other Myths. With almost 70 performers, including a thirty-strong choir, it is, as Fahy says, “edge-of-the-seat stuff. You’re hardly drawing breath at what they’re physically capable of achieving.”

In a quieter register, the Galway stalwart Enda Walsh is back with another of his Rooms. The claustrophobic boxes in which small audience groups encounter monologues of misery, despair and recollections of those pivotal moments when it all went wrong have toured to London and New York to great acclaim.

“Changing Room was unusually positive,” Fahy says when I suggest that there may be only so much cumulative gloom we can manage, even when it is eloquently written and excellently acted. “It had an upbeat message, and it was a thing of great beauty,” he says while laughingly confirming that the 2020 Room may have been an outlier. This year we’re in the Cloakroom, voiced by the actor Zara Devlin, who will also appear in DruidO’Casey.

Another Enda Walsh play, this time a revival from 2000, features a spot of celebrity casting, as Colm Meaney takes the stage with his daughter Brenda Meany in Bedbound. “This will be Colm’s first time on stage in Ireland in 40 years,” Fahy says. The play, which is being staged by Landmark Productions and the festival, will transfer to the 3Olympia Theatre, in Dublin, in August.

Also appearing in the strong theatre programme, Luke Murphy’s award-winning hybrid dance work Volcano returns in four episodes. Premiering in the 2021 festival, for audiences of just eight people, it has expanded this time to take the stage at the Mick Lally Theatre. See the episodes over four days (just like a soap opera) or binge-watch the omnibus edition on July 29th.

It’s one of the biggest outdoor features we’ve ever presented. It’s 9.5 metres high, this extraordinary beast, winding its way though the streets

—  Paul Fahy, the festival’s artistic director

Michael Keegan-Dolan’s How to be a Dancer in Seventy-two Thousand Easy Lessons will be at the Black Box Theatre, while The Life & Times of Michael K, based on the novel by the Nobel laureate JM Coetzee, combines theatre, music, film and puppetry, in a collaboration with Handspring, the puppet company behind the British National Theatre’s acclaimed adaptation of the Michael Morpurgo book War Horse.

Galway International Arts Festival is also renowned for its free events; this year, Dragon, by the French company Planète Vapeur, will take to the streets of the city on July 21st. “It’s one of the biggest outdoor features we’ve ever presented,” Fahy says. “It’s 9.5 metres high, this extraordinary beast, winding its way though the streets.”

Visual art is always a surprise strength at the festival, given that the city still doesn’t have a major gallery space to call its own. Notwithstanding the Trojan work of organisations such as G126 and the Galway Arts Centre, there has long been a significant lack in the infrastructure. Conversations are ongoing at the former An Post building that the festival first renovated as a spectacular gallery in 2019. “We’re progressing it,” Crumlish says. “In principle it’s there, and we’re working with them to figure out the footprint.”

This year the Scottish artist David Mach returns for another epic installation. This time it’s to be The Oligarch’s Nightmare. Regular festivalgoers will recall his Precious Light, from 2012, which featured a huge crucifixion sculpture, and 2018′s Rock’n’Roll, where the artist had the tech team carve a hole in the gallery floor, before adding a broken-down boat, car and caravan to the mix. That’s the great thing about Galway: they don’t seem to have the word “no” in their vocabulary when it comes to artists’ ideas.

Diana Copperwhite’s Onomatopoeia tours from Louth’s Highlanes Gallery, while in the Photo Museum Ireland-curated Unusual Gestures, Lorraine Tuck casts her lens over her family, who live with autism-spectrum disorder and intellectual disability. The works on show have a beauty, and haunt with their gentle yet insistent call for acceptance and inclusion.

The packed programme also includes the music headliners Pavement, plus The Saw Doctors, Martha Wainwright, Kettama, The Coronas, Susan O’Neill and Fat Freddy’s Drop, among others, as well as a strong programme of ideas-inducing talks under the First Thought banner. Many events are free; for others, tickets start at just €7.

Galway International Arts Festival runs from Monday, July 17th, to Sunday, July 30th