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Oh Kilkenny: How great thou art

by John Fitzgerald

FEW PLACES, if any can do an arts festival quite like Kilkenny.

Cat land with its medieval ambience that includes its very own castle straight out of a Grimm’s fairy tale truly is the expert.

Whether turning wood on a lathe or turning heads in superlative dramatic or musical performances, artists enchanted audiences at all venues selected for the galaxy of creative delights.

A highlight of the festival has been the wacky take on Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.

The principal character, Prospero, is a sorcerer, but acclaimed actor Eleanor Methven cast spells of her own in her portrayal of the wily old wizard, cunningly drawing the audience into her magical world of spirits, monsters, love, and betrayal. 

Kilkenny Castle under a blazing summer sun might have seemed a challenging location for scenes that included a ship being tossed on a turbulent sea, with the blackest of menacing clouds swirling overhead. 

But in the finest tradition of exceptionally gifted acting, Methven and the entire cast banished the real world of the grassy park with a vivid evocation of Shakespeare’s tumultuous images of sorcery, cataclysmic upheaval and romance.

Della Walsh of Alura Crafts


They suspended disbelief to the point that one entered unknowingly into the parallel world of this hallucinatory play. 

Martha Breen as the spirit Ariel was suitably wispy and ethereal, gliding effortlessly through the scenes. 

The sad monster Caliban came to life thanks to John Cronin’s wicked depiction of the character and Gillian Buckle was the impeccably poised Miranda, Prospero’s young daughter.

One wondered what Shakespeare would have thought of the production, given that in his day women couldn’t act in female roles. 

Men and boys only could thread the boards, leading to the farcical situation where strong female characters had to be played on stage by boys or men dressed up as women.

Kilkenny Castle Park witnessed a cheeky reversal of that silly misogynistic convention, with one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated characters so brilliantly portrayed by a woman.  

The performance was magical in every sense of the word.

From the other worldly Castle Park, my head still infused with notions of high capped towers and gorgeous palaces, I opted for something completely different. 

I dropped in to see the woodturning and arts and and craft exhibitions at Ormonde College.

Teresa Carroll and her hand felted pictures


A more down to earth class of talent was displayed here, but I found another kind of magic at work.

Hand crafted pieces such as clocks, lamps, bowls, and a bewildering range of decorative carvings are testament to talented people like Bobby Lynch, Ciaran Walsh, Gabriel Wall, Harry Reid, John Flynn, Paddy Murphy and Padraig Phelan. 

All eye-catching wooden wonders were fashioned from locally sourced timber. 

The woodturning displays were interspersed with dazzling arrays of personally designed jewellery. 

Another stall showcased some of the most alluring scarves and wraps you’ll find in the western hemisphere.

Canice Ryan’s digital photography caught my eye too, especially his Brewery Collage that travels back to the halcyon days of Smithwick’s Brewery and St Francis Abbey. 

There’s something for everyone at Kilkenny Arts Festival. I’ve only touched on a few features that took my fancy. 

If you haven’t already savoured this internationally feted event, you have until August 14 to give it a go. 

You won’t be disappointed.

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