About the Festival

Since its foundation in 1974, Kilkenny Arts Festival has gathered many of the world’s finest musicians, performers, writers and artists in Ireland’s medieval city each August.  For ten days, the city’s historic churches, castle, courtyards, townhouses and gardens offer a magical setting for unique collaborations and intimate encounters between audiences and artists.  

From the beginning, classical music has been at the core of the programme, featuring globally acclaimed artists such as Victoria de los Angeles, Alfred Brendel, Jordi Savall, Steven Isserlis, Dawn Upshaw, Nigel Kennedy and Joshua Bell among many others.  Last year, the Festival presented its most ambitious musical project to date: Beethoven's complete string quartets and piano concertos in 12 concerts across ten days. The Festival has also frequently showcased Kilkenny's exceptional local tradition of baroque performance, not least through the performances of Camerata Kilkenny (which was founded at the Festival in 1999) and its co-founders, violinist Maya Homburger and organist/harpsichordist Malcolm Proud.  True to our vision of championing excellence without regard for musical genres, 2014 also saw the Irish debuts of the Basiani Ensemble (Georgia), the Early Opera Company (UK), Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino (Italy) and La Chiva Gantiva (Colombia).   

Over the decades the Festival has staged major open-air productions of Shakespeare, and has recently built on this tradition, hosting from 2012-14 annual residencies by Shakespeare’s Globe in the historic Castle Yard, Ireland’s finest open-air theatrical space.  Other theatre artists presenting work at the Festival in recent years have included the legendary Peter Brook and a residency by the Free Theatre of Belarus.   

Poetry has also featured prominently since the early years in the 1970s, when Seamus Heaney acted as literary curator and brought some of the world’s finest poets to Kilkenny, including Robert Lowell and Sorley Maclean.  Last year, former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins was the Festival’s poet-in-residence, while extraordinary performance poet Kate Tempest gave the Irish premiere of her new album. 

Under the artistic direction of Eugene Downes from its 2014 edition onwards, the Festival has further enriched its music programme with major series focussing on a single composer, and also through The Marble City Sessions, a new cross-genre series of unique musical collaborations featuring a range of artists-in-residence, hosted and co-curated by the great Irish traditional musician Martin Hayes.   In residence last year were  - among others - extraordinary new Irish-music group The Gloaming, jazz master Bill Frisell and cult folk singer Sam Amidon.

Board of Directors

Emer Foley is a solicitor and a partner in Reidy & Foley Solicitors, Kilkenny. The firm has been in practice for almost thirty years.
Emer has also been involved with the following arts organisations in Ireland: Butler Gallery and Barnstorm Theatre Company. She joined the Board of Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2007.

Fergus Cronin

Orla Kelly

Maureen Kennelly

Conor Langton

Anna O’Sullivan is the Director and Chief Curator of the Butler Gallery in Kilkenny, Ireland where she also manages the Butler Gallery Permanent Collection. Prior to joining the Butler Gallery in 2005, O’Sullivan spent over twenty years in New York, first as curator of Performance Art at the avant-garde arts venue Franklin Furnace and then as Director of the Robert Miller Gallery where she curated several successful exhibitions. O’Sullivan has worked with many internationally-renowned artists and artists’ estates to realize projects and exhibitions including Alice Neel, Eva Hesse, Lee Krasner and Patti Smith at the Robert Miller Gallery and Marilyn Lerner, Bob and Roberta Smith, Hans Op de Beeck, Ian Burns, Louise Bourgeois, Werner Herzog, Tony O’Malley, Barry McGee, Jeanne Silverthorne, and Eve Sussman at the Butler Gallery. O’Sullivan has written numerous catalogue essays and published catalogues on Irish artists including Tony O’Malley, Barrie Cooke, Michael Beirne, Gypsy Ray and Stephen McKenna. In 2013, she was the Commissioner and Curator of the Irish Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale with Richard Mosse as the artist representing Ireland. She has been a visiting lecturer at various third level institutions and served on many artist review panels including the Arts Council and Culture Ireland. O’Sullivan graduated from the National College of Art & Design Dublin and also studied at the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program, New York and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Whilst in New York, she was a member of ArtTable Inc. and served on benefit committees for non-profit art spaces such as Art in General and the New Museum of Contemporary Art (1995-2005). Anna has been on the board of the Kilkenny Arts Festival since 2005.

Michael O’Toole

Thomas O’Toole

Isabell Smyth has worked in communications since joining Parliamentarians for Global Action in New York in 1996 where she held an editing and research post.  In 2003, following a stint with Bord Gais, the Dublin Film Festival and An Taisce, she joined the staff of the Heritage Council in Kilkenny taking on the education and the communications brief. During this time she has overseen the development of National Heritage Week, the Heritage in Schools Programme, wide ranging research on Ireland’s heritage as well as a number of publications including Heritage Outlook, opinion pieces and PR initiatives.  She has a BA in Political Science from City University of New York and an MA in International Relations from Dublin City University. 

Biography coming soon



Festival Team

Festival Director Eugene Downes
Festival Producer Olga Barry
Festival Administrator Valerie Ryan
Production Manager Aidan Wallace
Marketing Manager Nollaig Healy
Box Office Manager Cathy Hogan
Development Manager Siobhan Donohoe
Marketing Consultant Annette Nugent
Media Gerry Lundberg PR
Programme Editor Alistair Daniel
Artist Liaison Cornelia McCarthy
Assistant Artist Liaison Hazel Doyle
Marketing Intern Sabine O'Dwyer