Visitors step back in time for lesson in city's historyAugust 24, 2012 - 7:00am
The chances are that most of us who visit a foreign city will opt for a guided tour of our destination to find out more about its history and culture.
It’s something we rarely do at home. But a swashbuckling new initiative, spearheaded by Fáilte Ireland and Galway City’s Latin Quarter, is offering visitors and locals alike a fresh take on the city’s medieval history and some of its most famous landmarks.
Tribes Alive! is written by Páraic Breathnach and directed by Rod Goodall, whose creative partnership stretches back to the 1980s when they were both leading lights in Macnas Theatre Company. The 60-minute walking tour will be given by four local actors who will recreate – in a lively manner – some of the more colourful events from Galway’s past.
“There will be drumming and duels and fish throwing and some issues being left unresolved in true historical fashion,” says the author, who designed and sourced the props for the piece as well as writing it.
“The tour is a real history in terms of days and dates and references – and then I interpret the facts using different characters,” Páraic explains.
The performance tour begins and ends at the city’s Museum, with the story of how Galway got its name kick-starting this unusual history lesson.
“I did a similar event for Cúirt a few years ago – it was a literary history of Galway and it got a great response,” says Páraic of the background to this project.
Participants will be divided into groups, representing families from the city’s 14 famous medieval merchant tribes. Galway had its own coins in medieval times, so they will also be given special money for the duration of the event. This will be used to pay tolls and to buy drink in Blake’s Tower at the bottom of Quay Street, which will be used as both a prison and a bar during the dramatic tour.
“We give a sense of this being a powerful city, at the crossing of the river into Connacht and also an international sea port,” says Páraic of Galway’s role in medieval times.
Some of the characters who will step from the pages of history include Humanity Dick Martin, born in 1754, who founded the Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. There is the famous United Irishman, Theobald Wolfe Tone who was executed for his role in the 1798 rising; the 13th century Richard de Burgo, otherwise known as The Red Earl; and the 15th century explorer Christopher Columbus. No history of Galway would be complete without a Claddagh fishwife, according to the author, and in this instance, his creation is arrested for trying to sell fish to tourists.
Each scene in the tour is about three or four minutes long, explains Páraic – when writing the piece he used research carried out by Bord Fáilte’s on the mechanics of staging a history tour.
That research provided him with techniques for building moments of excitement, giving trails of information and allowing time for people to communicate with the actors.
Before putting pen to paper, Páraic did some background historical work on the events he wanted to recreate.
“I knew all the stories but there was a lot of research on dates and details and the language of the time.
“There are bilingual elements in it, and there are bits of French and Spanish of course,” says Páraic, referring to Galway’s historic trading links with France and Spain, which were at their peak during the Middle Ages.
The city was a wealthy one during this period, and at the 14th century Hall of the Red Earl (behind the Quays Bar) people will be given information on the type of menu that would have been served at a medieval feast, including eel soup.
“The first municipal building in Galway was the Hall of the Red Earl,” says Páraic, explaining that it was used for administration, justice and collecting taxes as well as holding banquets. Today, in a nice twist, it still retains one of those functions, serving as home to the city’s Custom House.
HIsctoric events the performers will re-enact include a duel involving Richard Martin (1754-1834) parliamentarian and founder of the RSPCA, whose fondness for duelling earned him the nickname Trigger. Richard Martin also founded Galway’s first theatre, at Kirwan’s Lane in 1783, where Wolfe Tone was performing when he was arrested for his role in the 1798 Rebellion.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.