Galway’s paper boat sets sail at last

Join a cast of over 100 performers on Saturday April 23 in St. Nicholas’ Church, Galway for the world premiere of Paper Boat - a community opera for Galway.

Paper Boat weaves together history, mythology and current events to tell a story of human endurance, inspired by the diverse communities who engage with the cultural and spiritual hub that is St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, Galway.

It is the first opera collaboration between writer Jessica Traynor, who wrote the libretto, and composer Elaine Agnew, whose music creates a magic canvas for the story.

The journey to this world premiere performance is almost as dramatic as the opera itself! The project has weathered numerous reschedulings and creative re-shapings since its initial commissioning by Music for Galway, as part of their innovative SOUNDSCAPES programme for Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture.

But, together with production partners Irish National Opera, the crew has proved their mettle and pulled together to bring the opera to life as an unmissable concert performance in St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church on 23rd April, 5pm.

St. Nicholas’ Church itself is central to Paper Boat’s story. Mark Duley, organist and choirmaster at St. Nicholas’, conceived the opera as a celebration of the church's 700th anniversary. He was inspired by the community operas of Benjamin Britten, in which a core of professional performers is augmented by singers and musicians drawn from the wider community.

With Galway’s rich community musical tapestry, Paper Boat’s composer Elaine Agnew was spoilt for choice. For her first foray into composing opera, she has included musicians & singers from across the city and county in the musical forces, and was inspired by her collaboration with librettist Jessica Traynor.

“Creating my first opera Paper Boatwith writer Jessica Traynor has been THE most exhilarating creative experience of my life” says Elaine. “Her amazing words have been an inspiring catalyst for my collaborations with Katharina Baker(Coole Music & Arts ), Katharine MacMághnuis (Athenry Music School ), Michael Dooley (St. Patrick’s Brass Band ) and others, as I developed the opera’s score”.

Elaine adds “Early on in the project, Mark Duley and myself worked with local primary schools to develop the music for the youth chorus. It’s been brilliant to involve so many Galwegians in the creation of this opera!”

Paper Boat tells the story of three strangers who arrive at the doors of St. Nicholas’, all seeking sanctuary. Four professional singers Gemma ní Bhriain, Bríd ní Gruagáin, Brendan Collins & Rory Dunne, joined by chorus (Collegium ), youth chorus and 36 piece orchestra, bring the characters and tribes of Galway to life.

The story unfolds dramatically, with Jessica Traynor’s gripping libretto and Elaine Agnew’s engaging music moving the action towards the opera’s rousing finale “A Galway Blessing”, set to the well known anthemic melody The West’s Awake. Under the baton of Galway conductor Sinead Hayes, the whole audience will be invited to join in for the emotional finale of this extraordinary journey!

But if you can’t make the live performance in Galway, you can still be a part of it all! Together with RTÉ lyric fm, Mark Duley and composer Elaine Agnew are inviting choirs and singing groups from all over the country to record their own version of “A Galway Blessing - the Paper Boat Anthem”. Choirs can submit their recorded performances to RTÉ lyric fm, who will broadcast selected recordings in the days and weeks leading up to the world premiere of Paper Boat on April 23.

Conductor Sinead Hayes is excited at the idea of the wider community getting involved “We have brought so many Galway performers together for this brilliant project, including local professional musicians from ConTempo Quartet, Matthew & Peter Berrill and others. It’s going to be fantastic to share that special Galway spirit with the whole country in a nationwide singalong!”

The world premiere performance on Saturday 23 April will be filmed and recorded for future development.

The same day also sees the launch of I Claim Sanctuary, a site-specific sound installation for St. Nicholas’ by artist Philip Fogarty, commissioned in conjunction with Paper Boat. Weaving sounds from past, present and future, the I Claim Sanctuary installation will be available to experience until the end of June 2022.

Executive Director of Music for Galway Anna Lardi says “Paper Boat has had to navigate some very stormy seas, but after nearly two years, we are delighted to be making landfall!”

Anna continues,”Thanks to the whole team, and also to our partners, Irish National Opera, and to the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Mediafor allowing this project, which was meant to be presented as part of the Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture year, the space and time to become a reality!”

The unmissable world premiere performance of Paper Boat - A Community Opera for Galway takes place on Saturday April 23 in St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, Galway at 5pm.

Tickets are available from and are already selling fast.


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