Galway 2020: Poet Rita Ann Higgins compares it to Dante’s Inferno

Higgins calls for team of local artists to be appointed to provide creative lead

Galway poet Rita Ann Higgins has said her city has left it "too late" to appoint a new artistic director for its controversial European capital of culture 2020 project, and should set up a team of artists to provide a creative lead instead.

Ms Higgins, who is a member of Aosdána, has also called on the Galway 2020 board to “take the project by the scruff of the neck and come out fighting”.

The poet has compared the project’s current state to the nine circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno in a new piece of work she has published this week.

The poem, entitled “Capital of Cock-a-Leekie Inferno (9 circles of 2020 Hell)”, tracks the course of the project since Galway secured the European capital of culture designation in 2016, and focuses on recent funding cuts to artistic groups accepted for the bid book.


The project, which has lost a creative director, a chief executive and two high profile board members, has declined to comment on the signalled cuts to arts groups, averaging between 30 and 40 per cent and over 70 per cent in at least one case.

The cuts prompted Druid Theatre to pull its major production listed in the bid book, though it said it would discuss a smaller production as yet to be identified.

Ms Higgins refers to the budget cuts when she wrote of how:

“They were deserting the sinking inferno

and getting their backs slapped as they ran.

In the final circle of 2020’ inferno,

the ringmasters and mistresses

using whips made from horsehair

herded all the Bid Book makers into

the hottest room in hell

and told them they had to chop

lots of percentages off their original projects.”

She wrote of the final circle of hell where “no one mentioned Poem or Painting or Play and there was no art of any kind” in the “land of empty”.

‘Capital of fools’

Ms Higgins predicted two years ago that Galway would be “crowned the capital of fools” when she was commissioned by the 2020 project to write a poem, which she entitled “Our Killer City”.

She told The Irish Times that the west coast was "coming down with artistic expertise . . . it is in the ether", and a team of artists could provide a creative lead which the project urgently needed.

“It is an insult to artists to try to cut funding and tell them to put on the Galway jersey, and an insult to bring in expertise from elsewhere, and it is too late now to appoint a creative director when the programme is due to be published next September,”she said.

“I do hope it is rescued, but already there is a sense of “Galway 2020 fatigue” setting in,”she said.

“The board has to take this by the scruff of the neck, but there seems to be a lack of confidence to do so,”she said.

She also questioned how Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan could promise the first €6 million of the Government's €15 million funding in advance of certainty over creative leadership.

Ms Madigan confirmed the first tranche for Galway 2020 at a Budget 2019 briefing last week, but also said she hoped a new artistic director would be appointed in the near future. She said her department was setting up a service level agreement in the next few weeks.

Galway 2020 said it was not in a position to comment on Ms Higgins’s poem. Mayor of Galway Niall MacNelis said he could not comment in an official capacity, but believed in a personal capacity that it was “better to get involved than to be knocking the project”.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times