Galway 2020

Galway Ceremony 2020, Tuam - @declancolohanphotography
Galway 2020

A truly immersive fire-lit celebration to mark Galway’s year as European Capital of Culture 2020


Wonder Works were approached by Artichoke, the Creative Directors for the Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture with a challenging brief; to produce a spectacular outdoor Opening Ceremony on the blustery West Coast of Ireland and to link the county of Galway and the city together with a Fire Tour across 6 towns.

Wonder Works were responsible for the full production including creative development, volunteer recruitment, design work, and all creative and technical elements. Managing the whole project meant that they were able to implement a more sustainable way of working. From designing scenery that could be recycled responsibly or reused, to sourcing on-site kit locally, we were able to reduce waste as well as our carbon footprint, without compromising on quality. You can read more about this in our case study on SiPA (Sustainability in Production Alliance).

Creative Producer Phillipa Lowe, Technical Producer Rebekah Hanbury, Show Director Steve Boyd, Musical Director David Munro, Technical Director Dave Williams and their supporting teams worked tirelessly to deliver a truly memorable fire tour. Helen Marriage, Artistic Director / CEO at Artichoke said:

“Wonder Works captured the hearts of all who were involved in the project. Flamboyant performers were recruited alongside bemused first-timers to form the huge community cast; suppliers and contractors were engaged to help create a lavish ceremony, the likes of which had never been seen in Ireland before.”

Galway 2020’s year of events followed the Celtic Calendar and our initial ideas centred around Imbolc (the festival of spring) which encapsulates renewal and a light of fire emerging from the darkness of winter. The countryside has always fed the city of Galway, either through the provision of turf, wool, food & livestock and the city & countryside worked as one. To celebrate this connection, we devised a concept of seven fire spheres which would tell each town’s story. The chosen towns were Clifden, An Spidéal, Tuam, Ballinasloe, Portumna, Athenry & Galway.

We commissioned local artist Jacqueline Pyle to design each fire sphere. Pyle spent time in Ireland, drawing, documenting and speaking to those who lived in the towns to gather tales and memories. Crafted from steel, each sphere reflects the positives, the celebrations and the affectionate memories of the towns with silhouettes of landscape and people. Every town has a river and each sphere illustrates the river along it’s base. As the spheres are placed together, the rivers create a unique flow of water that unites the towns. Along the flow of water, a verse line from a selection of existing poetry describes the land, sea or town beside it. The designs were then transposed onto the giant spheres, constructed from 2m steel dishes and painstakingly crafted by hand by the “Fire Pit Company” in Cambridgeshire.

The Fire Festival began in Clifden on Sunday 02 February, opening with a local youth band NØÖV, and followed by a procession of community cast who engulfed the streets in a cacophony of sound and flame. Native Clifden poet Brendan Flynn recited The Clifden Road to hundreds of people, making way for the lighting of the sphere. The ceremony finished with a spectacular white & gold fireworks display, closing the night with the band, Rofi James. 

Ceremonies continued on consecutive nights in An Spidéal, Tuam, Ballinasloe, Portumna and Athenry. Unfortunately the grand finale in Galway had to be cancelled due to the extreme weather caused by Storm Ciara, however the feedback from both client and community was exceptionally positive. Helen Marriage, Artistic Director / CEO at Artichoke said:

“Throughout the process, Wonder Works worked calmly and with immense good humour to solve the many problems this challenging situation threw up. The whole team was open, professional and enormously creative, flexing each time a changing set of circumstances arose. Nothing was too daunting; every obstacle could be overcome whether financial, logistical or creative. Artichoke learnt a lot from the experience of working with this extraordinary company. We had the best time and can’t wait to do it all over again.”

Galway 2020 – The story of the spheres.