Kilkenny Arts Festival aims to stretch legs as well as minds

The Marble City is bracing itself for mayhem and merriment, not to mention an estimated 45,000 visitors

Clowns on the Parade. Clouds inside St Mary’s Chapel. Bold geometric shapes at the Butler and softly resonating glass sculptures at the National Craft Gallery.

Kilkenny is this morning bracing itself for the 10-day outbreak of mayhem and merriment – not to mention an estimated 45,000 visitors – that the arts festival brings to the city every summer.

"One of the joys of programming a festival in Kilkenny is that the medieval city is so intimate," says festival director Eugene Downes. "No venue is more than 10 minutes' walk away from any other."

But Downes and his team, plus hundreds of local volunteers, some of whom have been involved since the festival began 41 years ago, are hoping this year’s programme will inspire audiences to stretch their minds as well as their legs.


‘Beyond labels’

“We’re moving beyond labels and categories,” he said. “We’re mixing it up both with the artists and with the audiences. The idea is that the flow from place to place will be mirrored in a flow from art form to art form. We aim to create a sense of energy so that that creative spark is bouncing from corner to corner of the whole artistic pitch.”

On paper, at least, that energy looks set to explode.


In a city which has always prided itself on its classical music heritage, there’ll be baroque opera and Beethoven string quartets, while the Marble City Sessions will find trad superstars The Gloaming collaborating with a jazz guitarist, a clarinettist and a dancer.

So whether it's former Irish ambassador to the UN Richard Ryan delivering the Hubert Butler lecture tonight, or Shakespeare's Globe Theatre performing Much Ado About Nothing on an outdoor stage, or Architects of Air providing an indoor meditation space among the glowing corridors of their giant inflatable maze, for the next week and a half Kilkenny will be, not just an artistic city, but a veritable world of the arts.

Arminta Wallace

Arminta Wallace

Arminta Wallace is a former Irish Times journalist