I sometimes think that everyone in Ireland is a performer – singing, playing an instrument, dancing, telling stories… Culture Night is an outworking of this in a once-a-year event across the whole country (in fact, the whole island, including the UK-linked Northern Ireland) and I can do no better than to quote from the official website www.culturenight.ie:
On Culture Night, arts and cultural organisations and venues of all shapes and sizes, including the National Cultural Institutions, extend their opening hours to allow for increased access to the public. Special and unique events and workshops are specifically programmed at participating locations and everything is available free of charge.
Culture Night has grown from a relatively small scale cultural event staged only in Dublin in 2006 to the significant national cultural event it now is, with some 350,000 people visiting museums, galleries, historic houses, artists’ studios and cultural centres across the country. The initiative has captured both the public imagination and the enthusiasm of artists and cultural organisations.
I wonder (puts on psychoanalysis hat) just how much this is to do with being a country that has a history of music, dance and storytelling stretching back for thousands of years. No matter that they have been conquered at various times by the Vikings, the Normans, then later the English, all of that has somehow been absorbed by the original Celtic traditions which have been passed on intergenerationally for so long. Participating, even just as part of the audience, you do get the strong feeling that you are embedded in a Culture (definitely with a capital C!) that is an integral part of the way of life here. To contrast with New Zealand, where some people perform, and some people listen and watch, in Ireland it’s much more spontaneous and seems as natural as breathing. In New Zealand concerts and cultural activities are often a niche activity but in Ireland, everyone joins in, it’s their way of life.
So, as you might expect, Pip and I were in boots and all last Friday night as we wandered the streets of Dublin between 5pm and 11pm, absorbed in and absorbing the craic. We started out with a quick snack – a Sticky Ham and Egg Sandwich and a glass of Pinot Grigio from Meet and Meat, our favourite little wine bar/cafe in central Dublin. (This is not a sandwich as we know it but rather a large filled roll with ham, egg, bacon jam, sauerkraut, pickles, dijon mustard – yum.) We managed half a dozen venues only out of over 200 in Dublin alone that night and we hope some inexpertly-shot video gives you a bit of the flavour of the evening.