Declan joins ranks of College’s honoured alumni

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City of Culture Communications Executive Chris McCann on Declan McGonagle’s new mates, Donal Og in town, musical opps and the Guitar Festival this weekend . . .

Current Culture Company Board member (and previously Chair of the City of Culture Steering Group), Declan McGonagle is set to join exalted company next month when he is named as St Columb’s College Alumnus Illustrissumus recipient for 2013.

The award is presented to a past pupil who has achieved something of major significance or has made an outstanding contribution to one or more of the following areas: Arts, Church, Education, Business and Industry, Media, Political Life, Public Service, Science, Society or Sport.

Previous recipients of the award include Bishop Edward Daly, Seamus Heaney, Martin O’Neill, Seamus Deane and Brian Friel. It speaks volumes for Declan’s achievements that he has joined this outstanding group of ambassadors for the city.

Currently Director of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, Declan’s achievements are too numerous to adequately record within the confines of this column.

Declan was behind the extraordinary international success of the city’s first proper art gallery, the Orchard. The template for the city’s diverse, ground breaking arts centres of today, the Orchard was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1987, with Declan himself becoming one of only two curators to be shortlisted for the award.

After leaving the Orchard he became the first director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin when it opened in 1991.

A passionate advocate for his home city, Declan will be formally presented at the Annual Dinner of the College Union, which is scheduled for the 26th of October at the City Hotel.

Everyone here at Culture Company would like to congratulate him on this richly deserved honour.

I have in the past hashed about a Gaelic football field of an odd occasion, generally filling a jersey for reserve teams that were short of players, but I’ve never lifted a hurl other than to puck about with my brother.

Hurlers have always seemed a breed apart to me. The mixture of skill and bravery required to play the game to even the most basic level was always beyond my capabilities. To step onto a hurling field in any line of the team requires courage but I’ve always reserved special admiration for the goalkeepers. Outfield players can at least contest the sliothar at its point of origin. A hurling keeper’s raison d’etre is to get in the road of projectile travelling at over 90 miles an hour - that’s without any padding, and, up until compelled by a recent rule change, no helmet.

But perhaps the bravest thing I’ve ever seen from a GAA player of either code was when Cork custodian, Donal Og Cusack became the first elite Irish sportsman to come out as gay.

Like many male team sports, Gaelic games are not an arena for the thin-skinned, and the GAA is perceived as a fairly conservative organisation. Cusack’s decision to profess his sexuality openly could not have been an easy.

As it turned out the reaction among the GAA community was universally a positive one. Given the numbers of young men and women who play Gaelic games around the country, we can be fairly sure Donal Og is not the only gay player participating in football and hurling at the moment.

Hopefully the Cork man’s decision to go public about his sexuality will mean that in future young players can feel comfortable in expressing their identity.

Donal Og opened this year’s Foyle Pride festival at an event at the Void Gallery on Wednesday this week and his presence should be an inspiration to gay sportsmen and women in the city.

The Foyle Pride Festival continues through this weekend and concludes until Sunday with the crescendo taking place on Saturday with the main festival parade.

Last year, 7,400 people attended the Parade alone and this year will be even bigger and better with 2012’s theme revealed as ‘Exploring Identity’. A celebration of the LGBT community and an important cultural event for the city, it provides a diverse programme of quality entertainment and creativity with mass appeal actively enhancing Derry’s reputation as an enjoyable, welcoming and safe place.

The Foyle Pride Parade itself is a spectacular and colourful event, its carnival atmosphere creating a fantastic day out for all the family on the August bank holiday weekend. It starts at Waterside Station tomorrow at 2pm and heads for the Guildhall.

As for Donal Og Cusack - hopefully by the time the final story of his career comes to be written, the most controversial aspect of it will be his preference for working short puckouts rather than bombing the sliothar as far down field a possible in the traditional fashion, as opposed to his preferences in his private life.

While we’re on the subject of Foyle Pride, Culture Company 2013 and Public Health Agency teamed up earlier this year to develop an initiative called the ‘Extraordinary People Project’. The project brought a series of art projects involving several professional facilitators to several hard to reach groups/communities including older people, the homeless, travelling community, those suffering from mental health problems and those with long term conditions including alcoholism and diabetes.

The LGBT community of the city through Foyle Pride have been active participants in the project, the product of which can be seen across the city this weekend at the Foyle Pride festival. One of the elements of the initiative enabled members of Derry’s LGBT community to work with local comic art collective, Uproar Comics, to produce a comic book, ‘Pride’, which focusses on the issues facing the LGBT community in the city. Over a 10-week period, the group worked on the themes and style of the comic. The comic book will be available free of charge at all Foyle Pride events this year. The group also participated in a six-week flag making course at The Arts Factory at The Gasyard Centre with a local artist and have produced over 40 flags for this weekend’s Foyle Pride Parade.

The reports we have been getting back by those representatives from the city that visited Cavan on a fact-finding mission at the All-Ireland Fleadh have certainly whetted appetites for this city’s hosting of the event this time next year. But while we all anticipate 2013 with a sense of excitement, the summer of 2012 continues to provide its own musical highlights.

This weekend sees the Foyle Theatre at North West Regional College host the10th edition of the City of Derry Guitar Festival and wbring some of the world’s most renowned guitarists to the city. The festival gets underway this evening at 8pm when Carlos Bonell, Gary Ryan, Sean Woods and Sarah Murphy will take to the stage. Early music fans are in for a treat as Tonos Duo will offer a lunchtime recital of baroque and early renaissance music on tomorrow at 1.15pm. Eamonn Sweeney (Baroque Guitar) and soprano Roisin O’Grady will take the audience on a journey back in time with authentic baroque and renaissance music played on period instruments. Other performances will include a solo concert by Gary Ryan on Saturday at 8pm and the Student Gala on Sunday at 7pm.

And music will continue be prominent throughout next week as a key element of the eclectic programme offered by Culture Tech festival that runs from Wednesday to Saturday of next week. With acts as diverse as the Japanese Popstars and Duke Special, the latter performing a free open air gig in Guildhall Square on the afternoon of September 1. Coming off the back of events such as Peace One Day, the Clipper Festival, the Walled City Music Festival and many others, it all speaks of a city with an ever increasingly diverse and exciting musical scene ramping up towards a spectacular summer of music next year.

One of the key benefits of the whole City of Culture project is going to be the opportunity for local artists to work with performers of a global standing. One such opportunity is coming up fast. Hofesh Shechter Company and LIFT are looking for Derry~Londonderry based musicians and dance groups to take part an exciting re-imagining of one of Hofesh Shechter’s land-mark dance-theatre productions.

Political Mother: Derry~Londonderry Uncut will take place in the city next March and is set to be a unique re-imagining of Shechter’s ‘audio, visual marvel’ Political Mother; a big-picture vision of oppression, survival, resistance and existence.

Auditions to be a part of the project will be taking place in the city on the 11th, 12th and 13th of September and with the project offering a fee of £1,750 there’s an amazing chance to earn paid experience working alongside world-class performers while expanding your musical horizons.

Hofesh Shechter Company are looking for the following types of musician: drums (drum kit, snare, lambeg, bodhran and more), strings (violas, cellos, double bass and violins) and electric guitar and electric bass.

With its massive slab of heavy rock riffs, booming drums, fast-cut cinematic lighting and committed, inspired dancing Political Mother: Derry-Londonderry Uncut’ will be one of the most memorable events to take place here 2013.

If you are interested in auditioning for a part in this performance (and any aspiring young musicians should be knocking down the door to be part of it) then details and application forms are downloadable from the LIFT festival website at liftfestival.com