Tribute to Patrick Galvin

I met Patrick Galvin when I first came to Cork in 1994 at a story telling session during the Cork Folk Festival. He was reading a number of short stories from his book ‘Song for a Poor Boy’ which, based on his childhood memories, are set in Cork in the 1930’s.

What struck me instantly was the way in which Patrick Galvin was able to give an account of a section of local and national history and its social reality in a way that was at the time personal and humorous as well as critical and insightful. When I started living and working in Ireland as an artist I became increasingly aware of how valuable his account was as it made a much needed contribution towards collective identity. I decided to work with Patrick Galvin in 1996 on an adaptation of his stories for a series of animated films and in the many years that followed in which I tried to get funding for this project I became friends with both Patrick Galvin and his wife Mary Johnson. I also attended Patrick Galvin’s many readings in which he would, often on a black stage, take his audience away into the quirky world of a past that, although seen through the eyes of a child, was poetic as well as witty and never lacked social criticism.

We eventually got funding in 2003 for ‘Aunt Bridget’, a story about a woman who had the courage to live as an artist and storyteller in disregard for the conventions of her time. I can now see that Patrick Galvin’s life had a lot in common with that of his aunt. A truly free and creative spirit, he said what needed to be said in spite of conventions, expectations and political opinions. Aunt Bridget, as Patrick Galvin tells us, was able to paint the sky in different colours and when she died ‘the sky turned pink over Cork and stayed like that for a very long time’. The weekend that Patrick Galvin died a strange wind went through the city, the kind of wind that carries change. An era seems to have come to an end while the general public did not take much notice of this occurrence. Whatever lies ahead of us, may the free spirit of Patrick Galvin and of his Aunt Bridget continue to be our inspiration.

Stefanie Dinkelbach, May 2011