Kennedy Center hosts slew of cultural events to honor Irish independence

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Kennedy Center hosts slew of cultural events to honor Irish independence
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By Jordan Wright (Photo/Pet Redmond)

“Ireland 100: Celebrating a Century of Irish Arts and Culture” is an international festival that will feature more than 50 performances with the participation of more than 500 artists in venues throughout the Kennedy Center.

The three-week festival runs through June 5 and features Fiona Shaw as its artist in residence.

A film narrated by Liam Neeson was the kick-off event for Ireland’s celebratory year of its independence from British rule. Produced by the University of Notre Dame, the documentary
“1916: The Rebellion” tells the story of the Easter Rising and the hard fought quest for Irish independence, and was hosted at the Kennedy Center by Irish Ambassador Anne Anderson.

The venue will now be your go-to venue for dozens of events surrounding the celebration of Irish culture.

This extraordinary schedule of events highlights Ireland’s rich cultural legacy and its major contribution to the fields of theatre, literature, music and dance.

There will be more than 30 drama, music and dance groups, visual and theatrical installations and JFK Centennial events. Staged readings of six new entries in the “Tiny Plays for the Ireland 2 and America” literature series and culinary events will also be featured.

Taking place in the living memorial to President John F. Kennedy, the first sitting president to visit Ireland, the festival is also part of a yearlong celebration marking the centennial of Kennedy’s birth.

The festival launched Tuesday with an opening performance directed and hosted by Fiona Shaw, one of the most acclaimed Irish actors and directors of our time, also known for her appearances in five of the Harry Potter movies.

The multidisciplinary event features the National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Irish conductor David Brophy as well as a host of Irish acts that will appear in performances throughout the festival, offering a glimpse at the gamut of Irish arts. As the festival’s artist in residence, Shaw will also present a master class, a panel discussion with guest artists and the premiere of her work “Blowing the Heart Open.”

Ireland 100 also opens with three art installations in the Kennedy Center’s public spaces. The Ogham Wall, an architectural construct by Grafton Architects and Graphic Relief that is inspired by the Irish Ogham alphabet, will be on display in the Hall of Nations.

Meanwhile, the Hall of States will host two exhibits: William Close’s “The Earth Harp,” a large-scale installation designed specifically to fill this space and which will feature live musical demonstrations; and the “Egan Harp,” a portable harp from 1820 by Irish harp-maker John Egan, on loan from The O’Brien Collection. All three exhibits will be open to the public throughout the festival.

Newly announced programs include screenings of three documentary films chronicling President Kennedy’s visit to Ireland in 1963; a performance showcase and unveiling of a special installation honoring the 99th anniversary of JFK’s birth on May 29; free performances on the Millennium Stage; a literary series designed by Maureen Kennelly of Poetry Ireland and Paul Muldoon, which features more than 20 Irish and American writers and musicians; and culinary events like a free cooking demonstration and lecture by Irish chef and Alexandria restaurateur Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve, as well as tasting events showcasing Irish whiskey, beer and cheese.

Notable performances include Abbey Theater’s “The Plough and the Stars;” the U.S. debut of “Tiny Plays for Ireland 2 and America,” performed by the Irish theater company Fishamble and directed by Jim Culleton; the U.S. premiere of “A Girl’s Bedroom,” the second in a series of theatrical installations by Enda Walsh in collaboration with the Galway International Arts Festival; and the D.C. debut of The Gloaming, a contemporary Irish music supergroup comprised of vocalist Iarla Ó Lionáird, pianist Thomas Bartlett, hardanger player Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, violinist/fiddler Martin Hayes, and guitarist Dennis Cahill.

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