AS the crow flies we are the nearest city to Dublin. Indeed, there are many who regard Liverpool as the 33rd county of the Emerald Isle. And no more so than at this time of year when the Liverpool Irish Festival gets under way.
But wait, this year it's not entirely the same now. First off, it's much bigger. Second, there's a new director and a programme that's much broader in scope than your bog standard diddly-diddly fest.
Starting today but gathering speed at the weekend and throughout next week, LIF stretches to ten days with 64 events. The full programme can be downloaded here.
But first, new director Laura Naylor has put together an impressive, packed schedule of contemporary Irish happenings - elecrtronica and traditional music, arts, dance, theatre, exhibitions, food, drink, football, talks and tours. There's even a bit of occult for Halloween.
A spokesman told Confidential: "Her big aim was to ensure the festival represents as much about the contemporary Irish culture and its links with Liverpool as well as those traditional ones. It's the reason why the Festival is so big this year."
And in among the usual ceilidhs and table-banging, some seriously high profile events. Like the English première of one of Seamus Heaney’s final works, Five Fables, at FACT. Like a talk by John Larkin QC, Attorney General for Northern Ireland. Like a Gaelic football tournament and a look at Ireland’s part in World War One. There’s also an appearance by the Irish ambassador to the UK.
Described as a beautifully animated set of stories, Five Fables, which shows this Friday (October 25), is narrated by Billy Connolly and set to music by Barry Douglas. Staying at FACT, and in association with Indie Cork Film Festival, some of the best new independent Irish film and animation shorts will be screened over the festival's duration.
And given the year, Irish veterans of World War I will be remembered at a lecture at the University of Liverpool's Institute of Irish Studies this Friday, October 25.
Meanwhile, over at Wavertree Playground, a more vigorous aspect of Irish culture will be on show. The champions of the first ever Roswick Liverpool Irish Festival GAA Cup will be unveiled after a blitz tournament featuring the region’s men’s and women’s Gaelic Football teams in a two-day competition.
The Bluecoat (whose chief exec is Wexford woman Mary Cloake, former director of Ireland's Arts Council) marks the golden jubilee of the foundation of Irish Community Care Merseyside, at which the guest of honour will be Irish ambassador Dan Mulhall. He will be reading from a new book being launched there, Dubliners 100, which marks the centenary of James Joyce's Dubliners with new versions of the original stories by Irish writers.
Other well-known Irish names include Jinx Lennon, multi-award-winning contemporary poet Paul Durcan and Cork singer Jimmy Crowley. Bands such as Moxie, The Gloaming and We Banjo 3 are also in town and the festival also celebrates Irish electronica at Sefton Park Palm House with Shit Robot (main pic, top), Boxcutter and Sertone in a Hallowe'en occult ceremony of Samhain.
Then there are trad sessions in the city’s drinking holes, namely the Edinburgh and Peter Kavanagh’s. The Bog Standards play the Caledonia, while Pogue Mahone’s hosts an all day music and food special on Saturday November 1. In another new venture, Liverpool Community College brings an Irish-infused fine dining experience this Friday at The Academy restaurant. A master distiller will also be offering whiskey tastings at The Belvedere.
Liverpool Irish Festival Wednesday October 23 to November 2. Full programme here.
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