Galway is a city on the west coast of Ireland and is well known throughout the world as being the venue for the Galway Races, a seven-day horse racing festival. And who hasn't heard the song 'Galway Bay' made famous by Bing Crosby?
But in recent years, Galway has appeared on the world stage as a centre of culture and the arts. This is largely because of the success of The Galway Arts Festival which is now a two-week event and is one of Ireland's biggest international festivals.
It was founded in 1978 and over its 33 years it has grown in size and reputation and now showcases many top international artists and Irish performers in music (popular, jazz, classical and traditional), theatre, visual arts, dance, comedy and much more. The Arts Festival has been instumental in putting Galway on the world map as a cultural centre of excellence.
Over the years, some of the famous artists who have featured at the festival include: Philip Glass, Primal Scream, Blondie, Joni Mitchell, The Kronos Quartet, David Hockney and The New York Dolls.
Theatre is a huge part of the festival and every year there are performances by many of the big Irish and International Theatre Companies. Macnas, which was founded in 1986, is a local theatre company which stages performances in the theatre but it has become famous for its street performances which can have up to 400 participants. The annual Macnas Parade at The Galway Arts Festival is a fabulous spectacle which celebrates fantasy, history and creativity on the streets. The local Druid Theatre Company has become a major force in the theatre world and has put on performances all over the world. The Abbey Theatre as well as many companies from abroad put on performances at the festival.
Dance is another major element of the festival and visiting international theatre and dance companies have included The Royal National Theatre, The Royal Court, Michael Clark Dance Company and Hofesh Shechter Dance Company.
In 2010 over 160,000 people attended events during the two weeks and a large proportion of these were visitors to Galway. Some of the highlights in 2010 were: Chekov's 'Uncle Vanya' performed by Bristol Old Vic Theatre Company, 'Freefall' performed by The Corn Exchange Theatre, 'Political Mother' (Part dance show, part heavy-rock gig) by Hofesh Shechter Company, The Human League (Synth pop's first international superstars), Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, The Divine Comedy, Rodrigo Y Gabriela and of course the spectacular Macnas Parade.
The 2011 Galway Arts Festival is scheduled for 11th to 24th of July and, despite the country's economic difficulties, huge crowds are expected again. Pop icons of the 70s and 80s, 'Blondie' are due to make a reappearance, having already put on a dazzling performance there in 2008 with Debbie Harry singing some of her great hits including 'Heart of Glass' and 'Hanging on the Telephone'. Other acts scheduled for this year include Bell X1, an Irish rock band with a reputation as brilliant live performers. Another huge act due to perform is US hip hop legends De La Soul who will be joined by the jazz, funk and New Orleans sounds of the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.
The full programme for the Galway Arts Festival will be announced on May 26th but already it is looking like another great success. Intending visitors would be advised to book their accommodation as early as possible because all hotels and bed and breakfasts tend to be fully booked for those two weeks. Some visitors remain in the Galway area after the festival because the Galway Races, which is a seven-day event comes almost immediately after the Arts Festival.