I almost wish that there was another full week left in the ‘run up’ to Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling final. Although the anticipation for some is, I’m sure, reaching unbearable levels, the colour and festivity it is providing around the city and county is delightful.
Spuds and strawberries on the Cork Road and the N25 have been replaced with people selling billowing flags, scarves and all manner of paraphernalia in blue and white. Dividing issues such as race, class and creed seem to have been laid down as everyone gathers under the Deise banner.
The flags erected by the City Council on the Cork Road and the Dunmore Road are superb and it’s great to see so many from the business and retail community putting up signs and banners of support, but the individual response is really where it’s at. There’s an amazing creativity and fun in the shrines evident all over the place. From the simple statement line of blue and white bunting to the grander expressions of painted houses, cars, tyres, dressed up teddies and mannequins, you are left in no doubt about what’s happening on Sunday.
Some are cute, others fancy, while more are witty and raise a smile such as the ‘Beware of the Underdog’ signs. Outside one house near Leamybrien on the N25 there is a tyre painted in blue and white with the words ‘Roll on the Decies’. In Dungarvan there are two caravans parked, possibly illegally, on the side of the road but nonetheless the inhabitants have hand-painted a little sign wishing the lads well and nailed it to a tree alongside them. Also a picture in one of the papers last week showed a black family decked out in the colours, smiling happily with their Waterford neighbours.
All these are just lovely signs of unity. At work on Monday morning I was informed that Friday is blue and white day and it would be better to fall in with this once-off sartorial code than turn up in any other colour. I love it all and now is as good an opportunity as any to say ‘Thank You’ to the hurlers, Davy Fitzgerald and all involved, even before the match takes place. Win, lose or draw on Sunday no one can ever take away the fun, the joy and the general festive feeling in the lead-up. I know there is a goal, but regardless of the outcome the journey has been tremendous and we should tuck that away in our memory banks.
In the midst of the hurling frenzy there is also The Waterford Fringe Festival with its annual pot pouri of art exhibitions, drama, comedy and family fun days out. This wonderful arts mix, which always combines international, national and local artists, inevitably makes Waterford a focal point of arts excellence for the month of September. Some of you may remember the ‘Pigs on Parade’ throughout the city a few years ago. This year, along with all the indoor events there is, once again, an outdoor installation of artwork by Gottfried Helnwein. We may never have heard of him before now, but he is a renowned international artist and his work has appeared in many major cities around the globe.
If you haven’t seen the pieces yet, you may have heard about them. Helnwein’s original artworks have been blown up on massive canvasses that have been erected at various points in the City. Amongst the billowing flags and signs of support for the hurlers these images appear and this is where the divide arises; some of the images are challenging and already there have been calls to have them removed.
My own personal interest in art has always been about the talent behind it. These images are not, as they appear at first glance, blown up photographs, but are actual paintings. The original pieces were all painted by hand and the technique is nothing short of breathtaking. When you see one for the first time before jumping to conclusions about the content and arranging a Lynch mob for Gottfried Helnwein and Festival Manager Liam Rellis, stand back and think about the natural gift necessary to paint like this. It is awe inspiring. Admittedly the content of some of the pieces is quite graphic. A bandaged child holds a deadly weapon in various poses or a child lies with a pool of blood coming from the head; brutal and sad pictures that invade our little lives and lovely thoughts about winning the All-Ireland.
The festival organisers were not to know that Waterford would be in an All-Ireland Final at the same time as this art event was taking place but I believe this collision is quite timely. While we indulge our fantasy of bringing the Liam McCarthy back to Waterford (which is a good thing) there are real children in this world forced to hold and use real guns. There are also children lying in pools of blood; innocence and life stolen needlessly by a greedy, violent world. Believe me, no matter how graphic a painting is, the real thing is a lot more disturbing.
This exhibition challenges us to think about the dark side of this planet and while some may have a ‘nimby’ (not in my back yard) attitude towards it, it is also a great opportunity to remind ourselves and our children to be very grateful that we live where we do and enjoy the lives we have. One of the objections I heard was the fear that it would trouble children. In light of popular and violent video games and other media, Mr. Helnwein’s paintings are quite tame. It also affords an opportunity to talk to children about violence, the reality of it and why it’s so wrong.
Everyone will have their own opinion which they are very entitled to, but removing it and killing the debate is futile. Congratulations to the Waterford Fringe Festival. Sometimes we need something like this to provoke us into thinking about things that don’t necessarily impact our immediate world. Just because we don’t see it everyday, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
While we don’t want our All Ireland reverie to be interrupted by the demands of difficult art, it also puts it greatly into perspective. We may win on Sunday or we may lose. If the latter is the case there will be much mourning. But if loss is on the cards, as you drive back through the city on Sunday night the arresting sight of a child in a pool of blood might just jolt you into realising how fortunate we really are. The trip to Croker has been fantastic, remember that, and there’s always next year. For children in war zones or living under oppressive regimes there often isn’t even a tomorrow.
Best of luck to the lads on Sunday it’s definitely going to be a day out to remember. Also make sure you check out all the other Fringe Festival events. With so much happening there are no excuses for griping or complaining even if like me, you don’t have a ticket for Croke Park on Sunday!