The Black Gate is the newest and most exciting enterprise in town. Created by Peadar King and Eamonn Day Lavelle, it exists in the building once occupied by the Gaf Youth Café on Francis Street – a fitting home for this ambitious and community minded new venture. In only five weeks the Inishbofin duo have managed to completely transform an unused and unloved space into a warm and stylish home for the arts in Galway. I met with Peadar to find out more about this welcome addition to Galway’s social and cultural scene.
“We’re best friends since we were kids. The Black Gate actually was a place half way between our houses where we used to meet on the way to school – three roads converged – all sorts of people used to meet there on the way home from the pub or even just walking along the street they would stop and chat – it was our first meeting spot – it made sense to tie it in to a personal experience.”
Spread over four levels, the self-described “cultural centre” includes a coffee and wine bar, a library room that also functions as a fully equipped space for talks and presentations, a downstairs venue and a creative office space.
It makes for an impressive first visit. Wooden floors, book lined walls, bespoke furniture and everything finished to a beautiful standard – this is a place that exudes quality and appreciation of good design. Talking to Peadar, it is clear that quality is at the heart of The Black Gate’s mission. With a background in music and film-making, Peadar was, and is, the driving force behind the much admired Inish Festival which takes place every year on the June bank holiday weekend out in Inishbofin. It is a festival dedicated to a high level of performance, art and conversation and one which commits itself to giving the best possible technical and logistical support to its participants and the best possible experience to its attendees. The Black Gate, then, can be seen as an extension of this ethos – bringing a new level of quality and expectation to the local arts scene and raising the bar for performance and atmosphere in Galway.
Atmosphere, belonging and respect are integral to The Black Gate experience. “People who come here will feel looked after” says Peadar, “and that’s the point – it’s really important for people to have somewhere they feel at home – this is a business but there’s no reason in the world why customers, clients and artists can’t feel that respect from people who work in a place – when you do show that respect it comes back to you. If people are coming here regularly they will feel part of the place, and they will feel invested in the place.”
Sitting in the library room, it is easy to imagine coming here for coffee and perusing one of the books or interest magazines on subscription, draining a bottle of wine of an evening to the sounds of Portherhead or getting slightly buzzed at a weekend show in the downstairs venue. It is a classy joint and the kind of place that will easily win the loyalty and custom of anyone looking for a little more from a trip into town – an oasis of culture in the concrete and faux marble desert of Galway’s city centre.
Yet there is more to The Black Gate than just a trendy new place to get sozzled and see quality gigs. The addition of a “creative office space” upstairs, where freelance graphic designers, film editors and all manner of similar but diverse disciplines can interact, collaborate and potentially function as a group, particularly within the context of a cultural centre, is an exciting prospect. Added to this, the full audiovisual capacity of the library room allows films to be screened, talks to be given and workshops run. Considering the quality of programming at the Inish Festival, one can well imagine that The Black Gate will, in time, become the model for a forward thinking cultural venue in Galway. In the short term however, like any new business, it needs the support of the community – in particular those of us with a (ahem) proclivity for cultural activities. Personally, I can’t recommend it enough but I’ll leave the last words to Peadar…
“We just want this space to really find its identity and for it to establish itself in the minds of people around here – I think people who know me from around Galway will know that we’re very sincere about wanting to do this for the place. I want to make a living out of this but at the same time my motivations have never really been about money. I’m sure though that this is the right way to go about giving the arts a different standing in Galway and Ireland in the future.”