21 Years of Macnas
December 6th, 2007
The definition of the Irish word Macnas in the dictionary is "The frolic-like behaviour of a young calf let out to grass for the first time after being kept in all winter; Joyful abandonment; Dalliance; Wantonness". Rarely in the history of theatre can a group have been so aptly named.
Macnas was founded in 1986 by Ollie Jennings who was the director of The Galway Arts Festival at the time; Padraic Breathnach, a native speaker from Conamara who had worked with An Taibhdhearc and Druid and was the first director of the Galway Arts Centre; Tom Conroy, a graduate of NCAD, a lighting designer with Druid and visual arts organiser with the Arts Festival; Pete Sammon, a street performer who had worked with Travellers groups and in Community Arts.
Part of their manifesto read "We interpret the word 'Community' in the broad popular sense. We are interested in the pastimes, the games and the rituals of our community in the West. We wish to create dynamic visual spectacles, using and exploring those popular forms of communal entertainment. Our spectacles will be created in the community in large outdoor family spaces. We hope to make fun on a grand scale and between ourselves".
That is exactly what they have been doing for the last 21 years. The words improvisation, spectacle, flexibility, creativity, original material, imagination, collaboration across disciplines, colour, music and movement, hypnotic drumming and above all, fun apply to Macnas.
Their first 'gig' involved 19 people manipulating a 70-foot dragon at the Ballinasloe Horse Fair. On St. Stephen's Day that year a group of traditionally dressed mummers played in Westside and St. Francis' Old Folks Home, and on New Year's Eve 1986, Macnas had a parade around Bowling Green and St. Nicholas' Church, involving children from Woodquay National School. You could describe these events as 'the minor match'.
In 1987, they made a huge impact at the Connacht Football Final in Castlebar when they staged 'The Big Game'. This involved making large papier-m�ch� heads of the famous Galway 3-in-a-row team of the sixties, and having them play a 10 minute game which included a 'bishop' throwing in the ball, irate mothers attacking the referee and all kinds of mayhem. It was probably too sacrilegious for some of the dyed-in-the-wool GAA diehards, but for most of the huge crowd that day, it was novel, hilarious and memorable. Macnas were up and flying.
Their next project would introduce them to an even larger audience when they made a giant figure of Gulliver "from pipes, ropes and fabrics, hydrodare piping, a thick plastic water pipe that was cut up and wired together using brush handles, ropes and string; the head was made from bamboo and chickenwire". Gulliver was assembled and tested on Grattan Road beach before mysteriously appearing early one morning on Sandymount Strand in Dublin. They also made a second Gulliver, an inflatable which was paraded around the streets of Dublin, and later, as you can see in our photograph, around the streets of Galway.
These events as well as all of their major productions are recorded in a new book with text by Terry Dineen and lots of wonderful photographs entitled "Macnas, Joyful Abandonment". A real celebration, it will be in the shops early next week, and is very highly recommended. It will relive many of the wonderful excitements and celebrations that Macnas have given us, a must for every Galwegian's library.
The Galway Archaeological and Historical Society are hosting a lecture on Monday next, December 10th in the Harbour Hotel at 8pm.The title is "Irish Women in the Workplace, 1880 to date" and it will be given by Ms Sally Anne Kinehan. All are welcome.
The Old Galway Society's December lecture will take the form of a slide show and a fun quiz, and will take place in the Mercy School, Newtownsmyth on Thursday next, 13th at 7.30 pm. It will be followed by a Christmas party to which all members are invited.
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