WITH more than 300 free events taking place across the city from April 4-10, Cork’s 17th Lifelong Learning Festival really does have something for everyone.
Established in 2004, the festival has grown in size and popularity, becoming a firm favourite on the Cork cultural and arts calendar. With the motto ‘Investigate, Participate, Celebrate’, this year’s festival will feature workshops, classes, performances, tours and much more.
One of the key aspects of the festival is the opportunity for members of the public, regardless of age, interest, or abilities, to ‘give it a go’ and learn something new through workshops, demonstrations, classes, walks, talks and lectures.
According to festival coordinator Siubhán McCarthy, there is a real sense of excitement this year to be finally back in person after the enforced hiatus due to the Covid-19 restrictions of the past couple of years.
“It really feels like we are back this year,” she told The Echo, “we had a Covid pause is the way I see it, like a lot of things, but this year we are back with 341 in-person events and 40 online events, and it’s all free.
“The variety on offer is huge too, from learning how to read your payslips to history, music, exercise... there really is something for everyone.”
Among the myriad of events at this year’s festival, one that might interest technology buffs is Experience Virtual Reality (VR) taking place at UCC from April 5-7, from 12pm to 4pm daily in the the Digital Environment Lounge at the Boole Library. Organiser Stephanie Chen said the idea behind the event is to enable people to explore what the latest in VR technology has to offer.
“A lot of the technology is still relatively expensive,” said Stephanie, “so this is a good way for people to be able to come and see for themselves what it’s all about and try it out.”
Attendees can book an hour-long slot via https://libcal.ucc.ie/calendar/librarytraining and will then be able to try out UCC’s specially designed VR lounge.
“It’s a good opportunity to be able to open the space up and let people try out a range of VR apps. VR has a wide range of uses in education, for example you can learn all about the Chernobyl disaster and explore the site virtually or you can learn about the human body, all through an immersive VR environment.”
Stephanie says VR can help people learn who may have difficulties with more traditional forms of education.
“It’s very visual and interactive so it can suit people who maybe are more comfortable with learning visually.”
It can also allow people to try out activities or go places that would not be an option in the real world.
“You can try a surgery simulation, for example, where you are the surgeon, or you can go on a space walk, there are lots of different possibilities.”
A more down to earth but no less fascinating event that will be part of this year’s festival are free guided historical walking tours from well-known local historian Kieran McCarthy.
He will be conducting two tours as part of the festival: Cork South Docklands on Saturday, April 9, from 2pm, and Fitzgeralds Park and the Mardyke on Sunday, April 10, from 2pm, bookings for both walks via email@example.com.
“These will be the first public tours I’ve done in two years,” said Kieran, “so I’m really looking forward to it. They are two very different parts of the city with a lot of interesting history.
"There is a lot of interest in the Docklands now with all the development plans, but it’s an area with a very varied history with the docks themselves and Fords and the old racecourse and so much more.
“Likewise, Fitzgerald’s Park, a former marsh, and then the site of Cork Exhibition and the Mardyke walk.”
Kieran says that the tours will appeal to anyone who is interested in the historical development of the city.
Another highlight of this year’s programme is the International Learning Cities Conference on Thursday, April 7, in the Triskel Christchurch Arts Centre, which will feature guest speakers from Learning Cities in the USA, Europe, the UK and across the island of Ireland.
Siubhán McCarthy says that the emphasis of the festival is about inclusivity and making learning as accessible as possible.
“I think a lot of the events this year are really about having fun again,” she said.
“It’s been a difficult couple of years for a lot of people and I think there is real appetite from a lot of the event hosts this year to show we are back and we are about having fun.
“If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that people really appreciate these sorts of opportunities, and it’s great to be able to present such a varied programme.”
She concluded: “None of it would be possible without all of our event hosts. It’s a really great way for communities to come together and showcase what they are all about.”
All events are hosted by festival friends and allies, including community organisations, private businesses, universities, schools or colleges. The free printed festival programmes are available from Cork City Hall, in all Cork City libraries, from host venues and online at corklearningfestival.ie.