Preview: The must-see highlights at Liverpool Irish Festival

Preview: The must-see highlights at Liverpool Irish Festival

FOR more than a decade the Liverpool Irish Festival has been a melting pot for all the best in artistic talent from all around Ireland and Liverpool.

Old and new acts rub shoulders this year with many acts — such as Christy Moore, Dervish and the ever popular Irish Sea Sessions — who have all played memorable sets in years gone by. That’s not forgetting the popular Young People’s Concert that brings the festival curtain down in style.

There will also be plenty of new shows this year, with films, lectures and début performances from younger artists with authentic Irish roots from the likes of Sean Taylor to Dominic Dunn.

While many events are completely free, a new festival ticketing scheme operates this year that offers punters the chance to multi-buy tickets so they can dart freely across the city while taking in countless cultural highlights over the 10 days.

A late-night festival club is another new addition to this year’s bill, perfect for those that want to keep the party going late into the night. That makes use of The Zanzibar while dozens of other iconic city venues, cultural hot-spots, cinemas and theatres from past and present will be employed.

Indeed the range of choice is what makes the famous festival seem endless in terms of choice: from walking tours to museum exhibitions, a singing class and Sean Casey plays, book launches and free trad sessions; concerts and family-centred activities. There’s something for all Irish tastes.

Damien Dempsey Damien Dempsey

Damien Dempsey

No stranger to this festival, the Dubliner performs an intimate evening slot next Wednesday at The Kazimier in Wolstenholme Square.

Dempsey worked his way up from a tough upbringing in Donaghmede, a Northside suburb of Dublin, and even competed for Dublin as an amateur boxer before shifting his focus on to music.

The singer-songwriter sought refuge in songs by the likes of Bob Marley and with his family’s backing entered a 2FM song contest, which he duly came second in with Cardboard City, a song about his own experiences of homelessness.

Some 16 years have passed since his first commercial single, Dublin Town, during which time he has supported the likes of Sinéad O'Connor, Morrissey and Bob Dylan while busily forging his own chosen path in the music industry.

Dempsey’s 2003 release Seize The Day helped propel him to award-winning mainstream success with two Meteor Ireland Music Awards.

Then 2005’s Shots became Dempsey’s first album to be simultaneously released in Ireland and Britain. The record débuted at the top of the Irish Albums charts and achieved platinum status.

He hasn’t looked back in the years since with his music being well-received in America and released all around the globe.

During the recession in Ireland the folk singer became something of a spokesperson for people suffering with austerity and cemented his place as a true working-class hero.

Damien is joined at the trendy venue by local lad Dominic Dunn, a 16-year-old singer-songwriter from Kirkdale, Merseyside, who includes a contemporary mix of jazz, folk and bluegrass in his burgeoning style.

Andy Irvine Andy Irvine

A celebration of Irish film

A collection of classics and contemporary Irish films run on more than half of the festival’s 10-day programme this year, starting with a series of Irish shorts which screen this Sunday and Monday in the Picturehouse at FACT.

Some of these celluloid shorts — curated by Úna Feely of IndieCork Film Festival — are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them length, with pictures ranging from just three minutes to 17.

Oonagh Kearney’s There’s A Tin Cup Rolling, along with David Quin-directed Furniture, Murder and Love, are both new films made this year.

The former, set around London’s Regent Canal, explores the comparison between the physical rhythms of life on a boat with that of life out on the flat world — charged with the emotional memory of New Years’ Eve on the river.

While the latter crams murder, lust and love in the world of Irish Folk Furniture into about the time it takes to make a real cup of coffee.

These films mix with more established shorts including Dublin filmmaker Lorcan Finnegan’s Foxes, a post-recession tale which tells of a couple who live alone in Ireland’s ‘ghost estates’ populated only by phantom shrieking foxes.

On the Sunday, Jenny Keogh celebrates Irish slang and phrases with How’s About Ye? while an award-winning short called Mechanic is the pick of the day’s offering.

The Wood Street venue also hosts a special set of films based around key Irish revolutionary figures. The series, introduced by Dr Gerry Smyth from Liverpool John Moores University, includes screenings about Bobby Sands and Michael Collins — two much-mythologised historical men who need no further introduction — along with the 1984 feminist classic Anne Devlin, about the life of the housekeeper of Robert Emmet, the leader of the failed Irish Rising of 1803.

A screening of Lenny Abramson’s first feature-length film, Adam & Paul, is another film highlight. The acclaimed Garage director also takes part in an after-show discussion about his works.

Declan O'Rourke Declan O'Rourke

Talks ’n’ walks

There are few things more Irish than a good natter and there are plenty of top spoken word events and excursions to keep you occupied away from the song, dance and films of the festival.

One such event is a free lecture at the Institute of Irish Studies, hosted by Dr Kevin Bean. He will speak about the constantly shifting relations between the church and state in Ireland since 1937.

Another free event across town is led by Tony Birtill at the Museum of Liverpool. The Irish teacher and journalist launches a new publication, The Irish Language in Liverpool, that can be enjoyed after a stroll around the museum exhibition that pays homage to various aspects of the Irish in Liverpool.

In the middle of next week, poet Rita Duffy launches At Sixes and Sevens — a Derry-influenced book which is the result of a collaboration with the renowned local Co. Tyrone-born poet Paul Muldoon, a former winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

The history-steeped Bluecoat is a focal point for many of the talks and the creative hub hosts an afternoon of talks based around the Great Dublin Lockout of 1913 to wrap up this year’s celebrations on the final day of the festival. The Sunday includes contributions from authors, historians and members of the North West TUC who co-host the day.

A glut of Irish Heritage tour events are being staged again this year — both on foot and by coach. Perhaps the pick of the bunch the Bluecoat’s Irish Heritage Coach Tour which takes in spots of historical significance around Jim Larkin, the legendary Irish trade union leader. And you wouldn’t want to miss Jarlath Kileen’s exploration of the life and works of Oscar Wilde, also at the Bluecoat, this Sunday.

Christy Moore Christy Moore

Christy Moore

One of the hottest tickets in town over the 10 days will undoubtedly be Christy Moore. The Irish roots master returns to the Liverpool Irish Festival — with old musical collaborator and pal Declan Sinnott in tow — off the back of sell-out performances in 2008, 2010 and 2012.

The singer-songwriter from Kildare, one of the founding members of Planxty and Moving Hearts, played these shows soon after being named as Ireland’s greatest living musician in RTÉ’s People of the Year Awards in 2007.

This Saturday’s gig — his first of four around the North of England — takes place at the Philharmonic Hall. Moore recently took to Twitter to prove he’s still ready to spring a surprise or two and keep moving with the times.

At the time of going to print, tickets were still available for this must-see set.

Expect the usual treasure chest of songs covering a range of topics from war to mass-unemployment and touching love songs.

Rynne, Lunny and Barou Rynne, Lunny and Barou

Trad specialists

Liverpool Irish Festival has been a home from home for many years to some of the finest traditional musicians working today. This time is no different as the city is once more a hub for a mesmerising line-up of trad talent.

Trio Pádraig Rynne, Sylvain Barou and Dónal Lunny have a new record, TRIAD, to rip through on the opening night at the Epstein Theatre. Their set should jig-start this year’s Irish party in Liverpool while other great shows include Dervish, Lumiere, Sean Keane and The Rambling Boys of Pleasure to name just a few.

The Irish Sea Sessions, the trad super-group, return once more to the festival with a new line-up that this year will fill the Philharmonic Hall stage with acts such as Declan O’Rourke, Mick Coyne and Pauline Scanlon.

Lumiere Lumiere

Thomas McCarthy

The Irish Traveller comes to Liverpool bringing with him a fascinating back story of living and moving around Britain, as well as time spent settled on the well-known Travellers’ site underneath the Westway in London.

The Offaly man was picked up by the folk scene five years ago and carries a unique and intense aura to his stage performances.

Currently appearing with Sam Lee, who has been nominated for a Mercury Prize, McCarthy plays an early evening show at Rodewald Suite, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in a show that is likely to prove one of the alternative picks of the festival.