Year of culture: Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture line-up revealed

Search for 2,020 people for community cast for Olympics-style opening spectacle

Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture, the largest and most complex cultural event held on the island of Ireland, will start on February 1st with a week of “fiery celebrations” in Co Galway towns and villages.

Events throughout the year will involve more than 1,900 events across 154 projects, 170 partnerships and collaborations with local, national, European and international artists and cultural organisations from more than 30 different countries.

The opening week will include a large public spectacle in Galway city on February 8th, produced by Water Works, a company which has created events for the Olympics, including London’s.

The opening will involve a community cast and creative director Helen Marriage said at the launch of the programme on Tuesday that they are looking for 2,020 people to take part.


Galway 2020’s full programme unveiling was marked with an aerial spectacle in Eyre Square, by French aerialists Gratte Ciela and Galway singer-composer Anna Mullarkey.

The launch, by Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, Galway 2020 chairman Arthur Lappin and creative director Helen Marriage, follows more than 18 months of controversy, including funding problems and several high-profile departures last year, including of creative director, chairwoman and board members.

In January this year Galway 2020 appointed UK arts management company Artichoke, led by Ms Marriage, as creative director, a role vacant for almost eight months.

The programme will be based around the four fire seasons of Ireland’s ancient Celtic calendar: Imbloc, Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain.

Events around themes of landscape, language and migration will thread through the year. It will include 30 projects celebrating the Irish language; 125 world premieres and 135 Irish premieres.

Migration, in terms of Irish history as well as European cultural diversity, will be explored against the backdrop of Galway, a city that Ms Marriage pointed out where 24 per cent of the population was born outside Ireland.

Josepha Madiga said it was “an exceptional opportunity to highlight to an international audience, not only the strength and vibrancy of Galway’s culture and creativity in all its many forms, but the importance of our place in Europe.”

The European Capital of Culture (ECOC) is a national designation and the initiative, which began in 1985. Galway won the Irish designation for 2020 in 2016.

Some 2020 highlights include:

  • A Connemara mountain landscape will be illuminated as an epic spectacle by Finnish light artist Kari Kola.
  • Druid Theatre takes Ireland's greatest 20th century one-act plays to towns and villages across Galway county.
  • American artist David Best, of Burning Man fame, will create a major new work with young people from Derry and Galway.
  • Giant Mirror Pavilion by Irish artist John Gerrard, set first in the Claddagh basin and later in 4,000 year-old Connemara bog.
  • Dramatic new interpretation of literary epic Gilgamesh by Galway master storytellers Macnas, written by Marina Carr and designed by Julian Crouch.
  • Margaret Atwood as part of t International Women's Day celebrations.
  • J M Synge, a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival, co-founder of the Abbey Theatre, celebrated in new festival in Galway and Aran Islands.
  • Homer's Odyssey presented on tour of beaches of Galway.
  • Crossing the Line Festival, a pan-European festival of work made by Irish and European artists with intellectual disabilities.
  • Galway will join with Boston, Belfast and Nashville to host concerts by transatlantic stars of country, blues, gospel, folk and bluegrass.
  • Galway's multiple music and theatre festivals will participate in Galway 2020 with enhanced programmes.
  • Unsung Project to explore, through light and sound, the lives of mothers and children who lived and died in Tuam mother and baby home.

The full Galway 2020 is available at

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times