The Friary bar plays host to a new festival that appreciates all things alternative on Leeside. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with venue chief Mike D’arcy
SINCE reopening under new management late last year, the Friary bar on the North Mall (or Shandon St, depending on which way one looks) has become an unlikely sanctuary for all manner of oddball music nights, exhibitions, quizzes, and games.
Under the watchful eye of veteran DJ and Kickback nightclub promoter Mike D’arcy, the venue has carved its own niche.
D’arcy explains how his stewardship came about: “Well, I was just back from a worldwide tour of Spain, and I came back to see friends and family for a couple of weeks and see to a few loose ends, which I still haven’t attended to. Then a friend asked me to do a bit of promo and DJing for him, and once I had finished ruining his business, someone took pity on me and offered me a few hours in the Friary.”
Speciality music nights for genres from ska to post-punk, art and photography exhibitions, and screenings have all helped the Friary slowly notch up a loyal clientele, to say nothing of the weekly table quiz that packs the place out on Wednesdays. D’arcy is of the reckoning that the venue’s eclectic nature is its main strength.
“I think that we do stuff that no one else does. And the upstairs room is great for exhibitions, little get-togethers, tastings, and so on. Thankfully, some people seem to like it, mainly because there are loads of people around who are far more talented and interesting than me. My main job is to say, ‘Yeah, we’ll do it’. Then I go back to bed.”
This openness and community spirit gave rise to the Friary Cork Festival, a week-long celebration of Cork culture and the people and sounds therein. Encompassing multiple media, as well as food and drink tastings, the festival has been a while on the Kickback impresario’s back-burner.
“In truth it’s only six days, but I thought no one would notice. Thanks a lot, Evening Echo. The idea is something that I’ve often thought about. Appreciating local things around you, and giving people who may have only recently arrived in the city an idea of some of the great stuff that the city has produced, and is doing now.”
Happening during the festival for only the second time since the bar’s new stewardship will be live music, including artists like Sillk, M.Sea, and Whispering Pines.
How does D’arcy figure live tunes will do in the Friary’s mad, two-tiered space and cosy surrounds?
“They will be great there. I’m confident in all the acts and events. These are good musicians, artists, food producers, distillers, brewers. As long as I don’t lose the keys, we’ll be fine,” says he, ominously.
In for some grá during the course of the festival will be vintage clothing and record shop Records & Relics, one of the centrepieces of Cork’s cultural community at present. D’Arcy is enthusiastic about their presence and what the duo behind the store bring to proceedings.
“Colin and Eilís are fantastic, and Records & Relics is a great shop to visit. They have energy and charm. They’re cornerstones of alternative Cork. I love the idea of being able to actually try on and play with their vintage stuff.”
Among the Friary’s more recent nights have been screenings, including silent film bills, and cult classic The Big Lebowski. So it stands to reason that Cork’s film community have been pulled in to assist with the effort.
“Peter from Deja View is a star and made this easy. The talented Ger Browne, Emmet O’Brien, and Ross Carey are showing recent work. And also thanks to Alice Gasqui. Yes, we’re going to do lots of (very) non-mainstream films in the future. If there is a community of Kazakhstani sheep-shearers in Cork making movies, make sure they contact us.”
Some of the venue’s biggest successes have come from hosting photography and art exhibitions, and not only does it figure into the festival, but talk of the atmosphere they create opens up wider discussions.
“Artem and Sophia have put together really interesting photographic work for this festival. And they’re so young. For the future, lots more exhibitions are planned. I live for giving away free wine at exhibition openings! Actually, I remember (during the boom) right-wing politicians asking ‘Boston or Berlin?’ I think Cork should choose to be Berlin. Alternative and fun. I’m actually going there next month. Hello, Jacqueline and company.”
So, just past the eight-month mark for the Friary since rebrand, what’s next for the space after this festivals?
“Well, we’ve done a deal with our financiers and soon we will be opening five more branches in Cork, 10 in Dublin, a mega Friary in Dubai, and we’ve been involved with Elon Musk to put the first Irish bar in space. In other news, we hope to survive our festival without disaster. And in the future, I would like to keep trying to present interesting things, but in a fun and unpretentious way. Finally, if the US Republican Party feel the need for a new candidate for president, I’m available for a small fee.”
The Friary Cork Festival begins on June 30 and runs until July 4. All events are free. For more information, check The Friary on Facebook or @the_friary_bar on Twitter.