Yes, more about Kilkenny. I just can’t get enough of this city!
Every August, for the past 40 years to be precise, there is an Arts Festival in Kilkenny City that is second to none. I first discovered this festival in the early 80’s but since moving to the United States have sadly missed countless great Art related events held for 10 days in August. Not this past year however, and here is a little slice of what I got to see and do!
During the festival Kilkenny is ALIVE all day and into the wee hours with theatre, dance, painting and sculpture exhibitions and installations, workshops, street performers, historical walks, poetry readings, singing performances, film and video. In other words if you wanted to get high on anything to do with The Arts, this was the time and the place to do it.
I was interested in finding out more about what was going on in the short film and video world and I spent one very rainy day running around Kilkenny with my two kids trying to give all of us a new experience and a crash course introduction into the world of video art. It was a hard concept to explain so the best way was to see as much examples of how something like a painting and a movie could collide to create a sort of moving still life!
This could have all been done in a very high-brow and serious way but I assure you, it was not the case. If I had told my kids, who kept me company the majority of the time, I was going to drag them to a series of say four medium-length to short films which dealt with the difficult relationships that exist between time, space, our imagination and reality, or perhaps a 1 minute film where a binary opposite world to ours exists, I would have been walking the streets solo.
That would have been a problem because the thoughts of going to some of this stuff even intimated and scared me. I needed someone to be brave for, so, the days I spent in Kilkenny were peppered with other activities, like great food, fun with sisters and my kids, shoe shopping, castles, churches, a medieval round tower and ended with 10 Italian saxophonists dressed in kilts dancing in the street!
That day I spent flitting about in the rain with my two lovely children was one of the most memorable days of my life. After a great lunch at Cafe Sol we started at the Castle and worked our way up High Street until the exhibits closed for the day. The first stop was at a film exhibit called Sea Of Tranquility by Hans Op de Beeck who is a Belgian artist of high regard. I loved stepping in from the rain and the bustle of the streets to this quite place in the bowers of the castle, where we had to find a seat in each of the four rooms that were pitch black, and watch what I can only describe as super-surreal moving images. Check him out for yourself!
The one thing I really wanted to see was this short film (under 1 minute I think?) of a women standing silently in a white space when she is all of a sudden pummeled by a black liquid that sends her tumbling to the ground. She gets back up and then continues to be attacked again from different angles. The last scene is of her dragging herself up and standing defiantly to her feet, determined to be ready for anything. I read this description, and it ended with a warning that it might be disturbing to some people. Of course that made me what to see it more, and we barely made it to Roth House on time. We literally raced up the stairs of this beautiful building and were accosted with this film. We were mesmerized and watched it loop and play again three times before being told that they really had to close up for the day.
That day we managed to see about 8 different video installations and on the day we were joined by the lovely sisters, June and Mimi, we made them see the one with the woman drowning in the ink of life, (they were dumb-struck too!). After such thought-provoking stuff we needed wine, dessert and some mindless shoe shopping.
I have yet to talk about the really beautiful St. Canice’s Cathedral and 9th century round tower that plunges heavenward located beside it. When I visited the first time I was with my daughter, and as we scaled the inside of the tower to the very top via sets of steep wooden steps that zigzagged their way from one inside wall to the other, we bemoaned the fact that no one was with us to share in the adventure.
So naturally when we found ourselves back in Kilkenny during the festival we were compelled to making everyone see the view from the top of the tower just as we had. And, like so many other things in life, when you live in a place you often overlook what is in your backyard for places that seem more exotic or exciting, which is the reason why my sisters (and I, until days earlier) had never taken the time to see this beautiful set of buildings at the top of Coach road in Kilkenny City until that day.
It was miraculously, another glorious day with blue skies, and after meandering the back streets we climbed the steep hill to the big black gates into the graveyard and church. St Canice built the original church in the 6th century, and after many changes, cultural and political, the church that stands on the site today is 13th century. The massive and fully intact 100 foot (30 meters) round tower beside the cathedral is however 9th century and is one of only two towers in the country that can still be ascended.
It was a rare treat and I didn’t mind swallowing my fear of heights and small spaces for the privilege yet again. However, the three sisters would have done well not to wear dresses for the steep climb but we tried to keep our snickering and sarcastic remarks to a minimum to reduce the risk of laughing too much and falling on each other.
I thought this tower an architectural marvel and it was hard to imagine the undertaking it must have been 1100 years ago. There were all sorts of theories as to it’s uses, but today it is thought that it was a place where monks could warn the people of the town of danger, or a call to prayer, by ringing a bell from one of the strategically placed windows that circled the tower from the bottom to the top. It also may have been used to house precious manuscripts and church valuables as well as being a bell tower. The whole country is dotted with these stone structures reinforcing the powerful part the church played in irish life.
After taking in the view from the top we could not leave without a peek into the cathedral. The most dominating thing for me was the impressive collection of funerary monuments of past bishops, dignitaries, as well as several of the owners of Kilkenny castle. As I studied them I was sorry my friend Mario was not with me to expertly translate the latin and give me more insight as to why there was a dog at the Knight’s feet or what their ceremonial clothes signified? (He will be in Ireland in May or June, so hopefully then!)
On the day of the tower visit with the whole family, and after checking out the castle where a magician performed on the Great Lawn, a stroll over to the stable yards opposite the castle that has been transformed into a wonderful art center, and walked through the many studios and exhibits, to finally having dinner, we were exhilarated and exhausted all at the same time.
It was dark on the walk back to the car and we were distracted by a huge crowd and commotion outside of the castle walls. As tired as we were, we did not want to miss out on the dregs of the festivities so made our way towards the din. The place was hopping with saxophone music and it was coming from a group called BadaBimBumBand, a group of about 10 Italian men (might have been 1 girl?) dressed in kilts, colorful tights, hats and dark shades. They looked like a cross between a pipe band on parade day and a ska band akin to Madness.
They were playing what sounded like a crazy version of Klezmer music while marching and dancing the crown down the street. One guy was banging on a big drum and it boomed to the rhythm of the brassy saxophones. I found out that they are a major player in the European street music scene and it was not hard to see why. They were loud, entertaining and talented.
Of course I bought one of their CD’s knowing that when I was back in the States and longed to relive one of my days in Kilkenny I could put it on and turn up the volume.