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Walter Macken Centenary 1915-2015

May 4, 2015

Well – it was Walter’s big day yesterday. And if it got a mention on RTÉ, I missed it. Last year I wrote an article in NUI Galway student newspaper, SIN, and here on the blog.  In it, I suggested that in the months to come, Galway might think about celebrating one of its famous writers. The article got quite a bit of support. As the new year came in, I thought I should try to get an article into a local Galway paper. I got the push I needed: a conversation with Anne McCabe of An Taibhdhearc Theatre spurred me into action. Anne told me about An Taibhdhearc plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Macken’s birth. She also told me about a commemoration committee from the west end of Galway city, where the writer grew up.

Plaque at Macken's birthplace, St Joseph's Ave. Photo c. Karen McDonnell

Plaque at Macken’s birthplace, St Joseph’s Ave.
Photo c. Karen McDonnell

I went to St Joseph’s Avenue and spoke to Deirdre Kennedy about plans for a street party in honour of Walter. The local businesses funded a stage for the day, and musicians and singers associated with the Crane Bar were going to participate. Both of Macken’s sons – Walter and Ultan – would be there on the day. The residents had received a grant towards the event, but most of the sponsorship has been local. Ideally though,they would like to paint a mural on the gable end of the terrace or – in common with Ultan Macken – they would love to see a statue of Macken somewhere in Galway city.  (There’s always the option of public/private cooperation in terms of funding.) I wrote my article, phoned and then emailed it to the Connacht Tribune.

Later, I thought about the fact that The Silent People is set mainly in north Co Clare, where I live. I wrote another article and sent it to the Clare Champion. They published it in their 1 May edition.

Clare Champion Walter Macken article

I couldn’t be at St Joseph’s Avenue yesterday. But the Galway Advertiser was there and posted photos on Facebook:

Tom and Des Kenny will have Macken articles in the Galway Advertiser and Books Ireland.

Getting Ready for Walter's birthday party.  Photo C. Galway Advertiser

Getting Ready for Walter’s birthday party.
Photo C. Galway Advertiser

It’s such a shame that the opening festivities did not appear to be even listed in the Connacht Tribune, considering that Walter Macken’s wife was from the family which owned the paper – and wrote for the paper herself. There didn’t appear to be any mention of the centenary in last Friday’s issue (unless there’s something in the City Tribune?) . Even if they do a spread next week, they have ignored this weekend’s events.

It seems to me that most of ‘official’ Galway has opted out. Nothing about a new plaque to replace the old one in St Joseph’s Avenue. Even less than nothing about calls for a statue of Walter Macken in the city of his birth. Galway is aiming to be City of Culture 2020. The city might mark the Macken centenary in some official way!

However – and this is important – though events were launched in An Taibhdhearc by Tom Kenny last Thursday, and the street party happened yesterday, there is more to come. An Taibhdhearc is hosting  lectures on 12,14, and 15 May. Ultan Macken will speak about his father on the 12th. That will be followed by a screening of a 1988 RTÉ documentary about Macken.  At 10.30am on 13 May, there will be a screening of the The Flight of the Doves – a film of one of Macken’s children’s books. Paul in the Bell, Book and Candle bookshop will be displaying Macken memorabilia. He also has quite a few out of print books. Don’t forget, you can buy Macken’s work online.  Also, Ultan Macken’s book about his father, Dreams on Paper, is available in paperback and online.

I’m definitely going to some of these events and, having missed the fun in St Joseph’s Avenue, I hope to get to ‘Street to Stage’  at 8pm on the 15th. It’s a film of yesterday’s celebrations and – if the residents of the St Joseph’s Avenue squeeze up in the seats – I’d love to be in their company.

Why don’t you join us?


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