A New York state of mind: Limerick festival exploring links 'one story at a time'

Alan Owens

Reporter:

Alan Owens

Oscar winner Glen Hansard will appear in conversation and performance with Joseph O’Connor at the Lime Tree Theatre as part of I.NY

Oscar winner Glen Hansard will appear in conversation and performance with Joseph O’Connor at the Lime Tree Theatre as part of I.NY

THE Limerick Leader of July 8, 1946, carried details of a special record that declared “by voice and music” Limerick had sent greetings to New York, specifically to the Mayor of New York, Limerick man William O’Dwyer.

The special record to be sent to New York featured greetings from then Mayor of Limerick, Mr J.C. Hickey, plus two Irish airs recorded by “well known Limerick violinist Tadhg Smalle”. But it is the mayor’s message that is interesting, discussing a “spiritual exchange and a great bond” between Ireland and America.

“Today, when there is need for love between nations, that bond is an inspiration,” Mr Hickey told his New York counterpart via the medium of the special record.

“I only wish I could convey adequately our gratification in having one of our own chosen Mayor of New York, one of our own chosen to administrate the affairs of a city which is a nerve centre of today’s world,” he added.

The exchange is interesting in the context of a brand new Limerick-based festival, I.NY, which aims to take a bite out of that rich and deep connection between this country and the Big Apple specifically - by bringing an array of literary, film, theatre and musical talent to the city and wider region in October.

The brainchild of Limerick and Dublin-based promoters David O’Donovan and Aoife Flynn, I.NY sets out to “explore and celebrate the relationship between Ireland and New York” and was supported by Fáilte Ireland, receiving the largest investment given to an event in Limerick since the body’s National Festivals and Events scheme began.

It has also received funding to the tune of €50,000 from the council’s General Municipal Allocation (GMA) scheme and was supported by the JP McManus Fund, developing over two years “from a fascination with and love for both the history and modernity of the Ireland-New York relationship”.

Limerick’s own relationship with New York was the jumping off point for O’Donovan, well known in the city for his music and events promotion - not the least of which was running the Wicked Chicken bar and publishing the Limerick Event Guide magazine.

Manhattan’s modelling of its street layout, thought to have been influenced by Limerick’s Newtown Pery grid system, was a starting point for O’Donovan, who has travelled and worked extensively in New York, when coming up with the concept for the festival which features - among others - Bernie Sanders’ wife and senior political advisor Dr Jane O’Meara Sanders, Oscar-winning musician Glen Hansard, David Bowie’s musical director Gerry Leonard, director of The New Yorker Festival Rhonda Sherman and designer Orla Kiely.

“The first objective of the project was to bring this relationship to life, in venues, on the streets, online - in a central place - credibly, authentically, creatively,” he explains.

“We knew we had to find out where the strongest threads of the relationship were and, as it turns out, through the research that is there, it is culturally, that is what people are most interested in - luckily for us, because that is the part we are most interested in as well, or are most naturally drawn to.”

The festival aims to celebrate that relationship “one story at a time” and create “a place of exchange and engagement” over ten or so days in October.

There will be a number of firsts, from Hansard appearing on stage with Joseph O’Connor at the Lime Tree to discuss the impact and effect New York has had on their personal and creative lives, to Dr O’Meara Sanders appearing at the UCH, to a Gathering event in Dromoland Castle and Symposium at The Irish World Academy of Music and Dance.

“That stretches to putting Glen and Joe on a stage together - ok, there is no New York presence there physically, but both of them, leading Irish artists in their own fields, have both been hugely impacted by New York and have had a large impact on New York,” says David.

“Also the idea that it doesn’t matter if it is them, or Jane O’Meara Sanders and first generation Irish parents, or you and I; I have a New York story as a guy living in Lough Gur, you have one, almost everybody we spoke to, as part of this project, had a story to tell about New York.

“You have that in a far bigger way than you do with London, or Sydney, or Boston - there is a huge Irish relationship with all those places, but this relationship with New York seems to be the largest, both in historical and contemporary terms.

“It is the movies - the imagination. Whether you grew up watching it in the scenes in the Godfather or Serpico or Breakfast at Tiffany’s. People have a certain connection with the city and they all have individual things that they look out for.”

I.NY is intended to be a national and international festival based out of Limerick and Marion Leydon of Fáilte Ireland said it was “delighted to support the I.NY festival in its inaugural year”, adding that would “bring visitors, both domestic and international, to Limerick out of season”. Other confirmed artists and participants include Kathryn Lloyd, Director of Programs at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Damien Dempsey – who launched the festival – Tim O’Connor, Chris Byrne, Qool DJ Marv, Dara O'Cinneide and more.

Selected highlights:

A Gathering

The I.NY festival will play host to two central events during October - a Gathering at Dromoland Castle on Friday, October 13 and a Symposium at the The Irish World Academy of Music and Dance in UL over two days, October 11-12.

The Gathering will be an evening of story, music and exchange, with guest speakers Orla Kiely, Tim O’Connor and Maura Kelly discussing the stories of their history and relationship with New York, and the personal and professional impact the city has had on them.

It is intended as an annual event, where the Irish Diaspora can gather at the end of their visit, eat and drink with friends and relatives from home, and celebrate the relationships revived or made new, say the organisers.

“The Gathering aims to prompts this conversation across the room – and we invite guests to share their individual experience of the Ireland New York story on the night,” explains David.

The Symposium will has as its theme Creative Education: The Increasing Role of Creativity and the Creative Process in Education and will feature two days of open discourse and discussion with guest speakers Dermott Rowan, Professor Sarah Moore and Dr. Jane O’Meara Sanders, and panellists Jean Butler, Trish Long, Dr. Michael Finneran and Mark O’Kelly.

Sanders’ talk

Born in Brooklyn to Irish parents, Dr Jane O’Meara Sanders is a founding member of the Sanders Institute. She was also at the centre of the 2016 American presidential election as senior political advisor to, and wife of, Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders.

Dr O’Meara Sanders will travel to Limerick for the first time to appear in conversation with Joseph O’Connor at the UCH on Thursday, October 12, to discuss 2016 Presidential election, the Sanders campaign and Institute, the Republican and Democratic rivals faced, and the current political climate in America. She will discuss as well her own Irish heritage, her upbringing in 1950’s Brooklyn in an Irish-American home, and the influence of Irish art, music and literature on her life as well as her and Bernie Sanders’ shared story, having grown up just blocks from each other in Brooklyn, but who first met decades later as political candidate and activist in Vermont.

David says: “Jane’s story is fascinating and hopeful and romantic and unique and common, all at the same time. We can't think of a better one to host at this first I.NY festival. We’re delighted she’s coming, as we are to welcome all the artists and speakers and participants who have responded so positively to the idea and to the invitation.”

Bowie’s man

Dubliner Gerry Leonard – musician, performer and solo artist – was musical director for David Bowie from the A Reality Tour in 2003, and a member of the seminal artist’s inner circle for 15 years. He will appear at I.NY in conversation and performance with Professor Eoin Devereux, Assistant Dean for Research in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at UL.

Leonard: The Dubliner who became one of David Bowie’s six-string sidemen takes place in Dolan’s Warehouse on Sunday, October 8 at 7.30pm and promises to be a fascinating event. Leonard has worked with Suzanne Vega, Laurie Anderson, Bowie, Roger Waters, Suzanne Vega and Cindy Lauper. Eoin Devereux invited him to Limerick to speak: “Gerry features on David Bowie’s albums Heathen, Reality and The Next Day. He was the musical director for Bowie’s Heathen and Reality Tours. He co-wrote the songs ‘Boss of Me’ and ‘I’ll Take You There’ on The Next Day,” he explains.

“The event with Gerry Leonard will be in two parts. I will interview Gerry on stage about working with David Bowie. We will talk about writing songs with Bowie as well as touring with him. We will also talk about the making of Bowie’s “return” album – The Next Day. The second part will feature Gerry performing some David Bowie songs as well as some of his own compositions as Spooky Ghost,” he added.

I.NY takes place across a number of venues from October 5 – 15. See www.thisisiny.com for more.