They say that the best things in life are free … but have you ever tried to buy them without money?
Well whatever about the philosopher’s puzzle about the true meaning of “free”, there are no such doubts about the rich menu of offerings for the Kildare public on Friday night, 20 September, which is by now well known as “Culture night”. Not alone are all the events on offer advertised as being free but they carry the added attraction of making the autumn night sing with musical, cultural, cinematic artistic, and heritage endeavours of all kinds and taking place throughout the afternoon and evening of Friday, 20th.
From Leixlip in the north of the county, to Athy in the south, and from the highlands of Kilteel to the peatlands of Rathangan, the variety is mesmerising.
The co-ordination of the multitude of events across seventeen different venues in the county has been masterminded by Kildare County Council’s Arts Service which once again shows us that some of the best things in life are the result of the priceless qualities of imagination and enthusiasm.
Many of the events have a modern cutting edge about them such as the recording time in the Platform4 Audio studio in Leixlip Library where singer/songwriters are invited to record their ventures into music with the help of a professional sound engineer.
For those with a leaning towards heritage and the county’s history the Culture Night programme is a feast. Starting in north Kildare the atmospheric Russell Library located deep in the corridors of St Patrick’s College is opening the doors on Friday afternoon to its treasures of old books and archives. The Russell library is home to a rare collection of manuscripts, archives and early printed works and a fine example of Pugin architecture in its own right. Then leaving the serenity of the college cloisters be prepared for something more swashbuckling as right outside the college gate, the old Fitzgerald Castle will come to life with a cinematic screening of the movie “Excalibur”. The likes of Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne flashing their swords and shields on screen might well prompt the ghosts of knights and warriors who inhabited the castle in olden times to come to life again.
However for those who don’t believe in spirits of old, something of a rational kind can be explored on culture night by way of the science museum in the College.
Although titled the National Science Museum it is a little known repository of an eclectic collection of pioneering scientific instruments and religious artefacts. The clerical vestment collection includes gold garments presented to the college by the Empress of Austria and the death mask of Daniel O’Connell. Back to ghosts again!
Music is perhaps an underrated characteristic of Kildare’s heritage and yet it can be found all over the county on Culture night. From Comhaltas traditional music sessions in Leixlip and Kilteel to orchestral performances in the rooms of stately Castletown and in the age-burnished pews of Carnalway church, every note on the scale will be represented.
Lesser known strands of the county’s culture will be on display including an exhibition of traveller history and culture in the Volunteer Bureau, Cutlery Road, Newbridge, and the demonstration of traditional cottage living at the Bog of Allen Nature Centre in Lullymore.
Better known, but equally enigmatic, are the public art installations which adorn the motorway embankments through the county. A Public Art Bus Tour will leave the Kildare town heritage centre on Friday evening on a sculptural mystery tour. And mentioning motorways this October marks the 30th anniversary of the Naas by-pass, the first motorway in the Republic of Ireland. A series of talks on Friday at lunchtime in Aras Cill Dara, Naas, will reflect on this instalment in the modernisation of Ireland.
For action on Culture night it’s hard to imagine anywhere more exciting than the outdoor exhibits at the Curragh Military Museum where the skills of night-time camp and manoeuvre will be on display. There will be similar combative manoeuvres on the banks of the Barrow when the battle re-enactors come to Athy Library to take history out of the books and let Irish history battle its way from the stone age to modern times.
Almost as dramatic will be the evening in Áras Chill Dara where performances by the award winning Prosperous Dramatic Society will celebrate Kildare’s well-established twinning with Lexington, Kentucky.
Drama of the period kind will be taking to the stage in the Riverbank, Newbridge when Rebecca Vaughan performs her Elizabeth 1st dramatisation which tries to metaphorically get under the layers of costume to find the real Elizabeth as the performer explores the virgin queen’s struggle to reconcile the desires of womanhood with the duties of sovereignty.
Among the other highlights of culture night are a history walk in Kill and an invitation to visit the gardens and private church at Coolcarrigan House (Coill Dubh). For full details of times, directions and locations pick up a copy of the Culture Night programme – itself something of a collector’s item – in the branch libraries or log on to the all embracing Kildare website at www.kildare.ie/culturnight. Series no: 349.
Liam Kenny writes the weekly ‘Times Past’ column in the Leinster Leader