Maybe it was the scented planting in the gardens of Butler House, but I’d prefer to think they were drawn to flutter by because of Martin’s lilting airs. Rain may have stopped musical play on Monday, but yesterday the sun smiled on the festival’s Secret Garden Music, and drew crowds in massive numbers. Overrunning his allotted ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ he closed the session with a couple of reels from Galway and Cork to the obvious delight of his audience.
At the castle, David Power set up his uilleann pipes on a bench as far away as possible from the competing Rose Garden fountain. He opened with Slievenamon ( Mountain of the Women) which he told us was a traditional revolution song lamenting the slaughter of the gallant men of 1798 on the slopes of Sliabh na mBan. What we didn’t learn however, was of another horror associated with this famous Tipperary mountain. In 1895, a local dressmaker Bridget Cleary was burnt to death by her drunken family believing her to have been abducted by the fairies and a changeling left in her place. In 2005, I designed Tom MacIntyre’s award winning play – What Happened Bridgie Cleary – which imagines her descent into purgatory, followed by the two men in her life.
Whether John Tuomey found it purgatorial to sit in solitary confinement with prying eyes whilst Mick O’Dea wielded his paintbrushes, we can only speculate on. In the somewhat louche surroundings of the upper room in the Home Rule Club, wearing a black round neck jumper and blue cotton jacket, he had the steely focus we have come to associate with the late Steve Jobs. A few hours later in the Parade Tower, he exhibited an entirely different persona that was surprisingly laid back and amiable.
Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey (known as O’Donnell + Tuomey), were awarded the Royal Gold Medal for outstanding architecture in 2015. Referred to in a Guardian article at the time as ‘ magicians of brick and poets of concrete’ the festival was particularly astute when inviting them to talk about their work, choosing the elegantly restored and redesigned Parade Tower for the lecture. For the record, the architect responsible for this magnificent transformation was Patrick Gannon and it reopened to the public on May the 5th 2000.
A revelation to me was that they had been the architects of one of my favourite buildings in Dublin (and a habitual haunt) the Irish Film Institute. They spoke about ‘ buildings and spaces needing to be in conversation with each other’ and then proceeded to show us four distinctive projects, which clearly illustrated this.
In Ireland, their largest design is the Academic Hub at the Grangegorman Campus in Dublin. In London, for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (aka Olympicopolis Arts Quarter), a 550 seat theatre for Sadler’s Wells and a V&A museum for the digital age. In Budapest, they are reconstructing an entire streetscape behind which will be a new political and economic university, whilst in Shanghai, an opera house with three auditoriums, covering 120,000 square metres.
Despite clearly belonging to the Starchitect fraternity, it was somewhat surprising to learn that very little of their work is privately commissioned. Almost all of it comes through international competitions, and in the light of no doubt many other submissions by leading architects, they remained charmingly phlegmatic, and to wrap up the lecture on a positive note, quoted a line from the female character in Beckett’s Happy Days. Winnie of course maintains a cheery disposition no matter how close she comes to being engulfed by the pile of earth around her. Her view of the world seems to have suited them well.