What a difference a year makes as Culture Night returns to a changed Donegal

‘We are hoping to bring some of the previous atmosphere back’

What a difference a year makes as Culture Night returns to a changed Donegal

Inishowen Carnival Group in Letterkenny’s Town Park will be one of the highlights of Culture Night in Donegal

A year ago, the final preparations for Culture Night in Donegal were being carried out under the cloud of new Covid-19 restrictions being imposed on the county.
“Last September we were on the verge of going into Level 3 and we still had the possibility of doing some limited stuff outdoors and indoors,” Donegal County Council arts officer Traolach Ó Fionnáin recalls.
Events went ahead, but a week after Culture Night, Donegal was under Level-3 Covid-19 restrictions.
The situation has almost come full circle in 12 months. Changes are being made to this year’s programme for Culture Night on September 17 because restrictions may be lifted rather than imposed.
“Given the volatility of the situation around Covid, people are waiting until the last minute to consider what they can do and that’s where we are at the minute. It’ll be as close to the wire as is possible," Ó Fionnáin said.
Last year’s Culture Night in Donegal was 90% online and 10% live. This year will be close to the exact opposite as the country closes in on full reopening.

Thirteenth year

This is the thirteenth year of the event in Donegal and the sixteenth overall. It began in Temple Bar in Dublin as a way to open arts and cultural venues to the public for free to showcase what they do. Taking place on the third Friday of September, it has spread around the island, North and South, in the years since and to Irish communities in England. While in Donegal most of the events take place in Letterkenny, towns such as Lifford and Buncranara have also hosted events as well as the Gaeltacht in west Donegal and Tory.
‘Come Together Again’
This year's theme is Come Together Again, which is apt considering what the event had developed into.
“Culture Night had grown to be a really big social occasion - family groups coming together, particularly coming to the Town Park in Letterkenny, and going to the sculpture trail and the performances and then working their way around town to the other events that were going on. There was a real buzz around the place - people on the streets meeting each other and talking about what they had seen.”
But last year was different and the showcase event in the Town Park was cancelled.
“It was very different on the streets. Covid was coming around again and people were resigned to the fact we were going to be locked down again.”
The spontaneous, relaxed sociability which has made Culture Night so appealing across the country will not necessarily return this year in the same way.
Restrictions mean venue capacities are reduced and attendance must be booked in advance.
“There are a lot of restrictions and protocols around everything that you do. That sort of ambient casual nature of putting on an event - you can’t do that anymore. Everything has to be very strictly controlled and there is very little room for anything beyond the actual event itself. But even within that, we are hoping to bring some of the previous atmosphere back.”

Regular venues

Indoor events are back though with regular venues such as the Regional Cultural Centre, An Grianán Theatre, The County Museum and the Central Library in use again.
The Town Park will host Inishowen Carnival Group, postponed from last year, who are bringing The Alchemist which will feature large scale props, illuminated inflatable sculptures, geometric light sculptures, and live performance.
Other highlights include Donegal County Museum’s official opening of the new exhibition, Colmcille - Man and Myths, and screenings of four lockdown comedies by Mockingbird Theatre at the Regional Cultural Centre.
Outside Letterkenny, Artlink Fort Dunree will be hosting afternoon tea and acoustic music.

Donegal County Council arts officer Traolach Ó Fionnáin: ‘There will be a mixture of people who are really keen to go back to theatres and venues and those who are less inclined’

“We are still talking about very small scale in terms of the amount of people we can allow in An Grianán Theatre or the Regional Cultural Centre," Ó Fionnáin said.
“It’s like everything about Covid now - you have to plan in advance every move you make.”
It has also proved difficult to use some of the non-arts venues for this year’s Culture Night.
“That cuts down on what you can do.”

Learning curve

Yet the event will be part of the learning curve of providing events in the future, he said.
“What shape that takes is anyone’s guess.”
There will be a lot of activity in the arts in the coming months once restrictions ease as Covid has created a backlog of events that were created before and during the pandemic.
“Once the regulations are relaxed there is going to be a lot of work and opportunities out there to see work and to go and enjoy things.”
Ó Fionnáin believes there will be some hesitancy among the public about returning to arts venues.
“There will be a mixture of people who are really keen to go back to theatres and venues and those who are less inclined.”
“There is a big enthusiasm out there for audiences to get back. Those early adapters, as they call them, will be straight back in there as soon as doors open. No question about it.”

Culture Night on September 17 is presented by Donegal County Council’s cultural division, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, and the Arts Council.
Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, events on the Culture Night programme are subject to change or cancellation and pre-booking is essential for certain events.
Full listings for venues and online links are available online at

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