Galway International Arts Festival 2016: Seven 'First Thoughts Talks' worth hearing

From constitutional politics to Tayto, the festival's examination of identity looks likely to be a real talking point

Galway International Arts Festival, GIAF, 2016, First Thought Talks,


Since 1978, the Galway International Arts Festival has shown the creativity and utterly unique approach to arts and culture the Connacht city has to offer. From world-renowned theatre and belly laughs courtesy of the world’s best comedians to giant insects crawling across Eyre Square, the 11-24th of July promises to once again immerse visitors in the vibe of the Tribesmen.

In association with Newstalk, GIAF’s First Thoughts Talks programme is now bigger and better, after its provocative interviews and soapboxing proved a hit with the festival’s record-breaking 200,000 visitors in 2015.

This year, First Thoughts will ask questions without easy answers, with debates surrounding the issue of identity. A series of talks will examine individuals and societies, and how they intersect on political, personal, cultural, and digital stages.

Across the two weeks, some of the leading voices from the world of the arts – and a few surprising ones who also have plenty to say – will lead the debate and entertainment, raising topics and eyebrows in equal measure.

Here is our pick of the seven most intriguing First Thoughts Talks on this year’s GIAF programme...

  • Looks aren’t everything. Believe me, I’m a model

At 5'10" and having stormed the catwalk of fashion shows all around the world, Cameron Russell isn’t lying when she says she won "a genetic lottery" but her fiercely intelligent skewering of the fashion industry is perhaps her most daring look.

Refreshingly frank, Russell will discuss the role of race and beauty in the unforgiving world of editorial fashion, what it is like to grow up and work within it, and what it is like to be – and strive to remain – one of the most privileged people on Earth because of the way you look.

Wednesday 13 July, 6pm, Bailey Allen Hall, NUI Galway. Tickets: €8.

  • Rewriting a national identity – Can Iceland teach Ireland?

Boasting one of the oldest parliamentary institutions in the world – the Althing having been in existence in some shape or another since 930AD – Iceland is a country steeped in political history. And yet, after overcoming the global financial crisis and weathering the storm of debt forgiveness, the country has just completely rewritten its constitution.

With ideas sourced from the public, Katrín Oddsdottir, one of the members of the Icelandic Constitution Committee will join former Communications Minister Alex White (Labour) to discuss how a country can rewrite its way of life.

Saturday 16 July, 10am, Aula Maxima. Tickets: €8.

  • Personhood: From stem cells to the bus pass, and beyond!

With the average life expectancy of Irishmen and Irishwomen rising year in, year out, the country will soon have to get to grips with taking care of our older citizens. But living for longer doesn’t have to mean living a less fulfilling life.

Chaired by Lara Dungan, a regular contributor to Newstalk’s Futureproof science programme, this lively discussion will feature expert panellists (Prof Abhay Pandit of NUI Galway, Eamon O’Shea of NUI Galway, and Kathy Scott of Census of the Heart) whose day job sees them searching for a better way of life for older men and women.

Saturday 16 July, 11.30am, Aula Maxima. Tickets: €8.

  • All Change? Ireland’s Identity 2016

In a roundtable talk looking at the public and private faces of Ireland’s changing national identity, sociologist Prof Mary Corcoran; drag performer Rory O’Neill/Panti Bliss; and Blessing Moyo, a Zimbabwean immigrant to Ireland who took part in a government working group on reforming Direct Provision, will add their thoughts and opinions.

The discussion will be chaired by Orlaith McBride, the director of the Arts Council of Ireland.

Saturday 16 July, 2.30pm, Bailey Allen Hall, NUI Galway. Tickets: €8.

  • All the world’s a stage – Can theatre define a nation?

In a country whose rebels were made up of poets, writers, and dramatists, theatre has played its role in directing the state of the nation.

Michael Billington, the theatre critic for The Guardian newspaper, is fresh from publishing his new book, 101 Greatest Plays, a tome he says was all about sparking debate. And so he will debate it, facing questions about how plays define national identity, with the help of Cathy Leeney of UCD Drama and Neil Murray, the director of the Abbey Theatre.

Moderating the discussion will be actress Cathy Belton, best known for her work in the award-winning TV3 show Red Rock.

Saturday 16 July, 5.30pm, Aula Maxima. Tickets: €8.

  • The land of Tayto: Brand identity and Ireland

In a lunch break with a difference, Newstalk’s Business Editor Vincent Wall will question what your choice when it comes to a bag of crisps in a vending machine or corner shop says about the state of the nation.

Joining him on stage will be Eoghan Nolan of Brand Artillery/Think & Son, RTÉ’s Muirne Laffan, and Ray Coyle of Largo Foods.

Saturday 16 July, 1pm, Aula Maxima. Tickets: €8.

  • You are what you speak

It’s likely there wasn’t a single student sitting either the Junior or Leaving Certificate across the country that wasn’t able to rattle off the phrase "Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam", applying a little language to a rather soulless exam. But the time has really come to ask ourselves just how does the first language of the country  the mother tongue of a small percentage of its citizens influence our identity, both at home and abroad?

Manchán Magan, a regular contributor to Newstalk’s Right Hook, and Louis de Paor, director of the Centre for Irish Studies at NUI Galway, will have their say.

Sunday 17 July, 3.30pm, Aula Maxima. Tickets: €8.