My Weekend: I've always had a grá for the arts and culture

Conall Ó Riain, Cork Midsummer Festival Communications & Development Manager, says it is a privilege to work with the artists
My Weekend: I've always had a grá for the arts and culture
Conall Ó Riain, Cork Midsummer Festival Communications & Development Manager. Picture: Jed Niezgoda

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I grew up in Cork, up in Montenotte, and then moved around — college in Galway, bar work in Vancouver, teaching Irish in Boston, then working for an arts centre in Dublin. However, like most Corkonians, I couldn’t resist coming home eventually, and now live in the city centre with my boyfriend Kev, a musician and composer.

Right now I’m working for Cork Midsummer Festival, managing all things communications and marketing — basically making sure everyone in the city knows what’s happening as part of the festival! I’ve always had a grá for the arts and culture, and the festival is an incredible way to be part of it.

We work with an amazing line-up of artists each year, from home and away, and this year will be no different — running until June 23, it will feature artists from all over the world (and of course, Cork!). It’s a real privilege to work with artists and getting to support the work they produce even in some small way.

Cork has an amazing artistic community of makers, venues, and partners, which we get to showcase each Midsummer, alongside our international visitors.

What is your ideal way to spend a Friday night?

Friday nights for me normally start with a show in The Everyman or a gig in Plugd, but if I’m working on a particular project at the time, I might be making sure everything is up and running smoothly with the event.

Either way, once that is done I usually move on to spending time around a table with friends — whether that is in the pub with a drink, or in someone’s house over dinner, probably ‘debating’ some trivial matter that gets less and less trivial as the evening progresses!

For a quieter Friday, it might be a long walk down The Marina then the couch at home with beers and a book, or an episode of whatever boxset I’m watching at the time.

Lie ins or up with the lark.. which is it for you?

Lie ins! No question. With the way I work, and my schedule, there’s lots of late, late evenings, so any chance to catch up on sleep, or just take it easy, is welcome. Even if I’m working, I’ll usually make coffee, and then go back to bed with my laptop to start some work, answering emails, to kind of ease in to the day.

Does work creep into your weekend at all?

It can depend on what I’m working on at the time, and how close to an event it is. Right now I’ll be working all the hours with the festival that is well underway with performances happening throughout this weekend and next. However, in general I try and switch off for at least part of the weekend — hard to do sometimes, but turning off notifications on my phone was a great start!

If money was no object where would you head to on a weekend city break? And who would you bring with you?

I was in Havana last year and would go back again in a heartbeat. There’s an amazing history and culture to the place, of course, but the people were some of friendliest, warmest I’ve ever met, who had endless stories over beers about their lives in the city, and how much it’s changed over the years. My father, who was with me, was there about 20 years ago too which made for interesting conversations, but this time I’d take my other half so I could show him the sights.

Closer to home, is there some place you like to head to recharge the batteries?

I head to west Kerry as often as I can, to a place just outside Ballyferriter on the Dingle peninsula. I spent most summers there until I left home, just rambling the hills or playing on the beach, so going back there instantly relaxes me. It’s also one of the most spectacular parts of the world, and walking around the headland from Casadh na Gráige over to Dunquin, looking out at the Blaskets while the sun goes down is soothing for the soul.

Do you like to catch up with family/friends at the weekend?

As much as I can! Sometimes with work, particularly in the summer months, it can be difficult to line up free time with my family or friends, so I can go a long time without a proper catch-up. When I do have free weekends, normally the first thing I do is see who’s around, and plan for a load of coffees / pints / walks with them. If we can manage to find the time, I try to book in a weekend away with friends a couple times a year too.

Do you get to indulge in any hobbies? Even as a spectator?

Even though I often end up spending a lot of my time at shows or events for work, I spend most of my free time trying to see even more. Getting to see everything that’s on in the festival is a big bonus! This year in particular I’m looking forward to seeing Conflicted Theatre’s take on Iphigenia in Splott by Gary Owen. It is about a young woman who’s been left behind by society, a victim of other people’s ambition, and who rages against the hand she’s been dealt as a result of the actions of people she’ll never meet. Conflicted make amazing work, so it’s definitely not to be missed.

Entertain or be entertained? If it’s the latter do you have a signature dish?

I’d definitely prefer to be entertained. I’m not the worst cook by any means, but just don’t enjoy it the way other people seem to! My extended family was putting together a ‘family cook book’ a few years ago to gather together recipes from all the family. I was travelling at the time, so they put in a ‘guess’ at what they thought mine would be…. ‘Pour cereal. Add milk. Repeat’. Harsh but probably fair! Maybe because of this, I’m really excited for La Cocina Pública / The Public Kitchen — a Chilean company in Cork for the festival, and will be holding performance and dining events at St. John’s Central College, using stories, recipes and performances from Cork’s South Parish residents.

We have so many places to eat out in Cork — where are your go to spots for coffee/ lunch/ special meal?

We’re definitely spoiled for choice in Cork, but a particular favourite at the moment is Bobo Café at the Glucksman, on the grounds of UCC. It’s the perfect spot for coffee or a great brunch of a Sunday morning, and there’s often some really interesting performance or event taking place there too. Our festival artist-in-residence Doireann Ní Ghríofa is working with composer Linda Buckley on a gorgeous piece that will take place in The Glucksman basement this Sunday.

Sunday night comes around too fast.. how do you normally spend it?

If it’s a regular weekend, Sunday normally wraps up with a swim or a walk, and maybe some work prep for the week if it’s going to be busy, but this Sunday with Cork Midsummer Festival in full swing, I’m going to catch Ray Scannell’s A Bluffer’s Guide To Suburbia at the Granary. He’s an amazing writer and performer, I’ve loved his other shows, Mimic and DEEP. This looks set to be just as good — a black comedy with songs and live music. After that I’ll be heading to A Different Wolf in Cork Opera House. Junk Ensemble make imaginative, moving dance and this time they’re making a dance-opera, with an 80-person choir, all about ideas of fear and ‘the wolf at the door.’

What time does your alarm clock go off on Monday morning?

Normally the alarm clock goes off around 8am or 8.30am, but without fail I hit snooze at least three times! This week will be a bit different though with a busy week ahead — some shows will be continuing on after our first weekend, like Corcadorca’s production of The Small Things by Enda Walsh, and we’ll be getting ready for some really exciting new events too, like Sō Percussion at Cork Opera House. They’re an ensemble based in Brooklyn who perform gorgeous pieces for percussion quartet (they even used an amplified cactus once!). With all of this and a whole lot more happening in the week ahead, the alarm clock might have to be set a bit earlier on Monday.

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