Féile an Phobail – the West Belfast Festival – has grown into an enormous community festival. It’s quite unlike some of the other eighty or so festivals that Belfast hosts each year. There’s a feeling of by the people, for the people about it. It’s as much about talking and listening as it is about the high art and music, subjects important to the community rather than too many highfalutin imported ideals.
There are too many highlights in the 84 page festival programme (link to large PDF) to name them all, but here goes with a (long) short list of picks between Thursday 28 July and Sunday 7 August.
Thursday 28 July at 5pm. Danny Morrison will be in conversation with the BBC’s Stephen Walker about his recently published book ‘Hide and Seek’ telling the story of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, the Vatican-based Irish priest who saved the lives of thousands of Allied soldiers and jews during WWII. Falls Library. Free.
Thursday 28 July at 6pm. Kabosh theatre company present ‘Wonderwall’. Bulldozers are lined up awaiting the decision of the people on whether the ‘wall’ should stay or come down. “A new play exploring the value of boundaries in our city, raising important issues surrounding difference, sectarianism, and just where do you get the best gravy chips – the Falls or the Shankill?” Suitable for 14 years+ and 25 minutes long. North Howard Street Interface. Free.
Thursday 28 July at 7.30pm. Panel discussion in which families of prisoners describe the conditions inside Maghaberry Prison and outline the prisoners’ demand for political status. St Mary’s University College. Free.
Thursday 28 July at 8pm. ‘Solicitors’ is a play by JP Conaghan about two people in a local magistrates court. One awaiting a verdict, the other awaiting vindication; one with a history of offences; the other with a clean record. Deception, first impressions and “how doing the right thing can damage your reputation”. Comic new writing. An Cultúrlann. £7.
Friday 29 July, 12.30-2pm. A diverse panel of leading women “consider the achievements for women in their struggle for equality, and the barriers still to be overcome”. Panellists include PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie, Sinn Féin Minister Martina Anderson MLA and Susan McKay (CEO of Natioanl Women’s Council of Ireland). St Marty’s University College. Free.
Friday 29 July at 1pm. Darach MacDonald talks about what he learned writing his book ‘Blood & Thunder’ about the history, culture and motivation of the Castlederg Young Loyalists Flute Band. Free.
Friday 29 July at 3pm. ‘The Laughter of Our Children’ features a panel who will discuss the legacy of the hunger strike on today’s young republicans who grew up with a peace process and the distant memory of the conflict. Panellists include councillors Niall Ó Donnghaile (Lord Mayor), Tierna Cunningham and Charlene O’Hara. Felons Club. 3pm.
Saturday 30 July at noon. Fifteen year old Samuel Scott was the first person in the Belfast shipyard to die during the building of the Titanic in 1910. Until now he has lain in Belfast Cemetery in an unmarked grace. Councillor and grave-historian Tom Hartley will be joined by Sammy Douglas MLA who will unveil a plinth to mark the teenager’s grave and will speak about the shipbuilding in the east of the city. Author Nicola Pierce will read from her novel ‘Spirit of the Titanic’ inspired by the story of Samuel Scott. City Cemetery. Free.
Sunday 31 July at 7.30pm. Belfast Community Gospel Choir (conducted by Marie Lacey) will be performing in Clonard monastery. £10.
Monday 1 August at noon. Amnesty International is hosting a discussion about Human Rights and Journalism looking at Bloody Sunday, Smithwick Inquiry and the risks journalists take reporting the stories that might otherwise remain untold. Participants include Eamonn McCann, Rebecca Black (The News Letter), Kevin Cooper (photographic journalist). St Mary’s University College. Free.
Monday 1 August at 3.30pm. Panel discussion about A Truth Commission, looking at issues around transitional justice, acknowledgement and recognition as well as the Police Ombudsman and PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET). St Mary’s University College. Free.
Monday 1 and Tuesday 2 August at 8pm. ‘Rebellion’ is a play written and directed by Kieron Magee that tells the story of Mary Ann McCracken and her brother Henry Joy after he becomes involved in the Presbyterian-led United Irishmen movement in 1791. O’Donnell’s GAC, Whiterock Road. £5.
Tuesday 2 August at 1pm. Prisoners Past of Prisoners for the Future looks at the controversy that was raised when former political prisoner Mary McArdle was appointed as a ministerial special adviser and asks about the balance of rights and treatment of suffering families and former prisoners. Report authors and academics Peter Shirlow and Ruth Jamieson speak about their findings. St Mary’s University College. Free.
Tuesday 2 August at 3pm. Author and Irish Times commentator Fintan O’Toole speaks about ‘After the Celtic Tiger: Lessons of an Economic Disaster’ in St Mary’s University College. Free.
Tuesday 2 and Wednesday 3 August at 8pm. ‘No Hope Here’ is a farce written by local author Vivian Brennan and performed by Belvoir Players. It’s the story of Rab Devlin who misuses Housing Executive Improvement Grants and then hatches a plan to claim intimidation to avoid detection and having to pay the grants back. Except on the cusp of ceasefire, the Loyalists, Republicans and the RUC all want to be seen to protect him and frustrate his plans. St Mary’s University College, Assembly Hall. £7.
Wednesday 3 August at 1.30pm-4pm. West Belfast Youth Talks Back panel discussion will be chained by Fionola Meredith and will focus on the subject ‘How rife is sectarianism in our society?’ Panel will include Niall Ó Donnghaile (councillor and Lord Mayor), Darwin Templeton (editor, The News Letter), Hugh Jordan (journalists, The Sunday World), Frankie Gallagher (Ulster Political and Research Group). St Louise’s Comprehensive College. Free.
Wednesday 3 August at 7.30pm-9pm. BBC’s Ireland correspondent Mark Simpson will chair this year’s West Belfast Talks Back featuring panellists Mary Lou McDonald (TD, vice president of Sinn Féin), Jim Wells (MLA, DUP) and others. Warm-up by Ian Paisley impersonator John McBlain. St Louise’s Comprehensive College. Free.
Wednesday 3 August at 8pm. Pianist and conductor Barry Douglas and the Camerata Ireland chamber orchestra along with soprano Celine Byrne and singer/songwriter Ursula Burns. St Peters Cathedral. £12.
Thursday 4 August at 7pm. Showing of film ‘When They Are All Free’, a “warts and all account of 50 years of Amnesty International”. St Mary’s University College. Free.
Friday 5 August at 3pm. Come along and hear the Grand Organ of St Peter’s Cathedral being played by music director Nigel McClintock. Bring some music and try it for yourself. Free.
Saturday 6 August. Installation artist Raymond Watson will lead a mass community participation effort to erect 10,000 colourful bunting flags in a (potentially Guinness World Record breaking) line one and a half miles long from Springfield Road to the Shankill Road.
Saturday 6 August at 1pm. Former Fianna Fail Lord Mayor of Drogheda and historian Sean Collins will give a Walking Tour of East Belfast Murals. Assembly at The Base on the Albertbridge Road. Free.
Sunday 7 August at 7pm. Jesuit priest Father Peter McVerry will speak about his work over the last 30 years with Dublin’s young homeless in a lecture entitled ‘Social Justice – Role and Limitations of State and Church’. St Oliver Plunkett Church, Lenadoon. Free.
On Fridays 29 July and 5 August (3pm-6pm) and Saturdays 30 July and 6 August (2pm-5pm) you can enjoy Traditional Irish music from session musicians from Andersontown School of Music as you settle back into your seat on various Metro buses.
Thursday 28-Sunday 31 July. Trad sessions in Kellys Cellars, Maddens Bar, The Garrick Bar and The Rock Bar. Times vary. Free, but will be raising money for Trócaire projects worldwide.
The first ever tours of Belfast City Hall conducted in Irish will take place at 2.30pm on Monday 1, Wednesday 3 and Friday 5 August. Free.
Monday 1 -Saturday 6 August at 11am and Sunday 7 August at 2pm. Members of the Irish Republican ex-prisoner community will take people on the Falls Road Political Walking Tour visiting sites of political, historical and cultural importance, including Milltown Cemetery and finishing off with a free pint of Guinness in the Felon’s Club. Assemble at Divis Tower, Falls Road. £8 (adult), £5 (child).