The first street festival held during the Quincentennial year of 1984 in Galway was organaised by High Street, Cross Street, and Quay Street from April 23 to 29. It was opened by Mayor Michael Leahy with the Army Pipe Band, St Patrick’s Brass band, St Patrick’s Boys' Band, Renmore Brass Band, and the Dockers Fife and Drum Band all playing on the streets. Later that evening, Gerry Macken’s Big Band played to a huge crowd from the back of a large truck which was drawn up across the street at the crossroads.
Looking at the programme today, one is amazed by the number and quality of events the organisers managed to squeeze into that week and how it involved everyone who lived or worked on the streets. There were poetry readings, puppet shows, set dancing workshops, lunchtime concerts, multiple exhibitions of arts and crafts, Louis Stewart and Mary Coughlan concerts, walking tours, a street ceili, traditional music sessions and workshops, cookery demonstrations, talks on local history, a Druid premiere, a fancy dress competition, Shaskeen, and numerous events organised for children.
It was a huge success, thanks in part to the weather, and it galvanised the local community. It was the beginning of the transformation and development of the area into what is known as the Latin Quarter today.
It was the first of a number of street festivals held throughout the city that year. These generated a great sense of local pride and an element of competition where one street wanted its celebration to be better than the other. They also fired up the imaginations of many who came up with novel and creative ideas for promoting their local area.
The High Street/Cross Street/Quay Street event evolved into a children’s festival and ran for several more years. It attracted a lot of attention — our 1986 photograph shows the wonderfully talented Duggan family of traditional musicians from Renmore entertaining a crowd at the cross roads. They are being watched by Mike Murphy of RTE whose live radio show was being broadcast from the streets. The festival also attracted world famous author Roald Dahl who came and signed books and thrilled thousands of children and adults alike. He said in all his travels around the world, he had never seen so much attention to and stimulation of the creative instincts of children as he had in Galway.
So maybe some local communities might consider reviving the street festival idea, preferably with some cultural input, for Galway 2020, possibly emphasising some local tradition, a famous author, musician, artist, actor, a revival of the Siobhan McKenna Memorial Trophy, etc. It could include culture in the broad sense like currach racing in Salthill or Galway hookers in the Claddagh
Finally, Heritage Week runs this year from August 17 to the 25, a chance to catch up on our natural, built, and cultural heritage. There is an extensive programme of events and they can be accessed at galwaycivictrust.ie or at heritageweek.ie Both sites are well worth a visit. Enjoy!