Olga Barry, who will take over as festival director of Kilkenny Arts Festival in September
What's your idea of a perfect day, or perfect weekend out in Kilkenny?
I got really lucky this year and was able to rent a place just behind St. Canice’s Cathedral. Walking along the Cathedral Close every day gives me a buzz, but on the weekends when the organ is in full flight, filling the whole neighbourhood I find myself beaming and feeling really priviledged to live in such a stunning and historic city. Then a stroll through town up to the Castle Park - I love that Kilkenny has a large city centre park, it’s an incredible amenity, with the Butler Gallery as an added bonus. Kilkenny is riddled with fabulous eateries so I like to eat out a lot and then find myself in one of my favourite drinking spots, usually either O’Riada’s or Cleere’s. Like lots of the great pubs in Kilkenny, it’s the people and warmth of welcome that makes them special.
Who has made the greatest contribution to Kilkenny in your lifetime - and why?
It would have to be Brian Cody. As a Cork woman, I say this in full admiration and no small amount of jealousy! I adore hurling, and the championship can truly make a great Irish summer. Hurling is so much more than sport. To me, hurling is an art, and Brian Cody is like the best director or conductor the country has ever seen. His contribution to Kilkenny is enormous, his contribution to the art of hurling is universal.
What's your first Kilkenny memory?
I first came to Kilkenny when I was music student to see friends perform with the Irish Youth Choir at the festival, with what was then the ‘Festival Baroque Orchestra’ with Maya Homburger and Malcolm Proud - which is now the world class Camerata Kilkenny. What struck me then was the International quality and flavour of the festival programme – it has always been global and outward looking. So, ironically enough, the festival that brought me back to Kilkenny in 2014 was also my first experience and memory of Kilkenny nearly 25 years ago.
What's your favourite part of the county - and why?
I’ll have to be honest and say I haven’t seen enough of the county yet and I’m looking forward to discovering more! But I fell head over heels in love with Kilfane Glen and Thomastown when we put on a show there a couple of years ago with the fabulous aerialists Loosysmokes who are back with us this year to premiere a new show at the Castle Park. I find it to be one of the most tranquil and peaceful places I’ve ever been.
What do you think gives Kilkenny it's unique identity?
The cityscape and the people. Since I’ve been working with the festival I know so many people who’ve come for the festival, fallen in love with the place and now come back for weekends in the Autumn and Spring. Without exception they say it’s for the beauty, the hospitality, the great restaurants and pubs, and most particularly the genuine warmth of Kilkenny people.
Do you have a favourite local writer or author?
I couldn’t say I have a favourite but unsurprisingly, I find myself reading Hubert Butler every year. What an extraordinary man with a legacy to match. I’m also currently reading Thomas Kilroy’s The Big Chapel, which is a gripping read and will be Kilkenny County Library Service’s ‘One County One Book’ for the next year.
What's the biggest challenge facing the county today?
I think it would have to be the Brewery site. It’s an enormous challenge for the city.It’s also a massive opportunity. It has the potential to define Kilkenny City long into the future. Getting it right is so important.
If you had the power to change one thing in, or about Kilkenny, what would it be?
More accommodation! It’s an major challenge every year for the festival and our visiting audiences.