Just a 45-minute drive from Ashford Castle and The Lodge at Ashford Castle lies Europe’s capital of culture: Galway. An enchanting enclave of Old World Irish heritage—brought to life by colourful boutiques, bardic taverns and famously welcoming people—Galway has always been a spellbinding setting. This year, in honour of being named European Capital of Culture, Galway is reigniting its Celtic roots in a year-long cultural extravaganza celebrating its language, landscape and migration. Here, we explore what’s on offer in Galway in 2020.
Becoming a European Capital of Culture
One of the most prestigious of the EU’s honours is the Capital of Culture award. Commenced in 1985, the initiative is designed to catalyse cultural patrimony in those areas which promote, uphold and laud their unique heritage. Cities crowned as a cultural capital embrace their honorific status through a calendar of inspired events under one theme, bringing together local artists and those from further afield. For Galway 2020, the central focus is Making Waves: a unifying subject matter chosen for its ability to inspire new waves of thinking, working, conversing and partnering. The result: a Galway in deeper connection to its bardic pasts while more embracing of its contemporary talents.
Imbolc (February – April)
The first phase of Galway 2020 is Imbolc, the ancient Gaelic festival marking the onset of spring and celebrating the lengthening days. Throughout the first week of February, the entirety of Co. Galway enjoys an itinerant fiery festival travelling from the extremities of Clifden and An Spidéal, Tuam and Athenry, before its final instalment is set up in Galway City’s South Park on 8th February.
This ceremony of Olympian proportions commemorates the retreat of winter’s darkness. Throughout the journey, villages light up and join the chorus of flame with a raucous cheer as the festival moves on. In Galway City, the Uachtarán na hÉireann—or President of Ireland—is the guest of honour, while, all around, Galway’s artists pay tribute to the area’s legacy and future.
Beyond the opening ceremony, Imbolc is about epic sights and druidic revelries. During this phase, the celebrated outdoor arts specialist Kari Kola will decorate Galway’s low-lying landscapes with his light-filled Savage Beauty installations, paying homage to the role of light that was so important to Galway’s ancient heritage. Meanwhile, Druid: The Galway Tour will bring to the stage the greatest local literature.
Bealtaine (May – July)
Bealtaine is the Gaelic festival of May, dedicated to the fiery spirit of summer. In Galway 2020, Bealtaine will be welcomed through a deep connection to local agriculture— Galway is famous for some of Ireland’s choicest harvests—as well as explosive bonfires and floral fireworks.
Bealtaine’s headline is Project Baa Baa, a programme championing the irreplaceable role sheep have played in Galway’s heritage, from their environmental to their cultural influences. Farmers, woolworkers, artists, musicians and world-renowned chefs will all come together to create the pan-media Project Baa Baa.
Other Bealtaine highlights include Galway’s Early Music Festival. The poignant twangs of Ireland’s string instruments are revered the world over and this festival celebrates Galway as a crossroads for traditional Irish bards. Meanwhile, Gilgamesh stages a retelling of the world’s oldest epic. The project transports far-flung mythology and infuses it with new Irish spirit in the form of oral storytelling.
Lughnasa (August – October)
Lughnasa marks the harvest season and its plentiful crop. Its name derives from Lugh, the Gaelic god of warriors, craftsmanship and the arts. Traditionally a time of great activity and industry, Lughnasa in Galway 2020 focuses on the county’s diverse yet singularly spirited communities. Basking in the warm glow of late summer, City of Light, City of Sanctuary, will flood Galway with a wave of ethereally beautiful lantern floats. A moving metropolis reflected in the calm waters, the installation represents Lugh’s role as saviour and a nod towards the prevalent issues of displacement felt by so many around the world. Meanwhile, Fire Garden will celebrate the long summer season with a huge-scale alchemical installation around one of Galway’s most recognisable monuments.
Samhain (November – January)
Samhain is the bridge between harvest season and the winter months, a time when the Otherworld, home of deities and the dead, lingers close at hand. It is a time of mourning and mystery, deeply linked to reflection and anticipation. The evergreen enchantments of local Irish culture are the focus of this season. Otherworld will explore Samhain’s wintertime themes with a focus on swirling embers, smoke and the Celtic roots of Halloween.
Meanwhile, Oireachtas na Samhna festival will bring together Ireland’s literary and oral elite in a celebration of traditional bardic heritage. Accompanying, West World focuses on Ireland’s—and Europe’s—most recent literary trends.