Volunteering: Chicken soup for the soul or for the CV?


On June 25th I arrived at the Irish Museum of Modern Art for a 4-hour shift as an invigilator, and I stayed for eight hours. This was for a video installation as part of Two Suitcases (a project from Helium Arts and Health and CanTeen Ireland). The project sits somewhere beautifully between the realms of arts and youth engagement, which means it’s right up my alley. I’ve met a few people in my life who have chastised me for giving my time freely to things like this. I might as well explain why I do.

I was a quiet kid. I had more imaginary friends than I could count, and I didn’t socialise well until I was maybe ten or eleven years old. I spent secondary school struggling with peer pressure and feeling like an outsider in a new town. In 4th year, I had a truly inspirational theatre/poetry recital mentor, and I finally started to break out of my shell. In 2009, a family member moved to Kilkenny City invited me to stay for a week or two so that I could volunteer for Kilkenny Arts Festival. I was sixteen, and I had no idea how much my life was about to change.

The first year there, I was asked what my interests were and I said I liked photography. Hey presto, I was helping the festival photographer Colm Hogan to carry gear and cover the events. I am uncertain how much of a help I actually was – I’m actually pretty sure I was a hindrance – but I loved it. On top of that, I asked if I could do at least one event every day, and I tried to go see as many other events as I could. My teenage eyes were opened to theatre, poetry, dance, music, visual art, street performance and, above all, the incredible power of teamwork.

For the next few years, I aimed to work at least two events per day of each festival period and helping out in the office when I could. I delivered festival brochures, punched holes in volunteer name tags, brought people to their seats, gave directions in a city I had quickly grown to know and love, and sat for hours on end in the castle to guard over a sound installation with automatically programmed record players. I was treated like an adult, by the most fantastic and capable team, and truly felt respected as a worthwhile cog in the machine.

In the meantime, I also managed the band that won the Irish Youth Music Awards, worked with the Dunamaise Arts Centre and photographed Michael D, photographed a weekend-long festival, and volunteered with the Darklight Film Festival in my first year as a student in Dublin. I worked at the Cat Laugh’s Comedy Festival. I worked at Dublin Biennial 2014. I worked with GAZE Film Festival. I met the phenomenal team behind Once in Dublin and had the dream opportunity of interning with them last summer (paid – achieved solely because of my extensive volunteer experience). During my time in college, I filled my spare time with extra-curriculars, working with UCD’s LGBTQ+ Society and spending two phenomenal years with the visual arts society, UCD Drawsoc (incidentally, how I learned about Helium Arts and Health in the first place).


Image: © Ross Costigan.

In 2013, the team in Kilkenny trusted me enough to put me in charge of other volunteers, and offered me a position as Venue Manager with Architects of Air. I was one of the youngest to be given this responsibility, I think largely because I’d proven in the previous four years that I was unhinged enough to work 12-hour days, and that I was trust-worthy. I took on the challenge with immense pride and buckets of nerves, and did my best to encourage the volunteers working with me.

I threw myself into everything I did and, every single time, I learned something new. There is no end to what you can figure out if you give yourself a chance and let somebody else give you a chance too. Volunteering is about so much more than filling out your CV. It’s about finding something that you love and helping to make it happen – whether that’s a comic convention, science conference, film festival, theatre production, pride parade or otherwise. When people are interested in something, they will congregate to celebrate it, and that celebration will invariably need a team to organise it.

So much of arts and cultural programming in this country would be completely impossible without the work of volunteers. The community understands the hard graft required to carry out such work, and of all the things I’ve done I have never experienced as much gratitude as I have when working with arts organisations. That’s my area, but I’m certain that other spheres work the same way.


Image source: GIAF.ie.

Galway International Arts Festival are currently looking for volunteers, as are Kilkenny Arts Festival. You can also keep an eye out on volunteering opportunities all over the country if you sign up to www.volunteer.ie.

If you’re volunteering for something purely to fill up your CV, make sure you make the most of it. At the end of the day, it’s your time that you’re giving away for free; don’t waste it for the sake of an extra line of text on an application.

Ask if you can help. See if there’s an extra step you can take to make somebody else have a better day (they’ll be more willing to do the same for you). Smile, make small talk, learn about the people and organisations you work with. Listen to people’s stories.

You will be the better for it. You will feel a greater sense of accomplishment for your actions.

There is no end to what you can do. You might surprise yourself.


Helium Arts and Health (CHY19236) gives a creative voice to children and teenagers in hospitals and healthcare settings through participatory arts programmes. Email info@helium.ie to find out more about volunteering, and you can donate directly to them by clicking here.

CanTeen Ireland is a nationwide support group for young people between the ages of 12 and 25 years who have or have had cancer. You can find out about volunteering with CanTeen and/or donating by clicking here.



Sure where would you be going?


[IMAGE]: Front entrance of The Abbey Theatre, Lower Abbey Street, Dublin. Photo: © Grace Miller. 

Sure where would you be going?

Where to find Irish-language programming: a sample of cultural centres in County Dublin in 2016. Written in part fulfillment of UCD IS30240: Creating and Publishing Digital Media (hence all the footnotes!)
By Grace Miller

Irish is the first official language of Ireland [1], long since neglected and beaten into submission, that has been flowering quietly for the past century while naysayers have read its obituary notices. I’m an Irish speaker and teacher, and I’m an arts, culture and sociolinguistics enthusiast.

My favourite tools of language-learning include experiencing literature, music, cinema and theatre in the target language. My story is about figuring out where to go for some good old fashioned Irish-language events in Dublin, looking at some of the main cultural centres across the county. These centres are as follows, all of them in the city centre except where otherwise stated:

  • Axis Arts Centre (Ballymun)
  • Project Arts Centre
  • Rua Red (Tallaght)
  • Smock Alley
  • The Abbey Theatre/Peacock Stage
  • The Ark
  • The Gaiety Theatre
  • The Gate Theatre
  • The Pavilion Theatre (Dún Laoghaire)

The locations of each of those venues can be seen with this interactive Google Map:

According to the venues’ websites, there have been about 1,500 events listed for 2016 so far. Information about some events that will take place is not yet available, as autumn/winter scheduling has not yet been announced in most instances.

Screen shot 2016-04-28 at 14.39.46

[IMAGE]: Column graph indicating the number of single events taking place in 2016 in a sample of cultural centres in County Dublin. Chart made using infogr.am. Data source: websites of individual centres.

Of those 1,500 cultural events in my sample of cultural centres, a total of 12 include Irish. It’s not even worth making a graph. What’s worse is that 5 of those are the same show: Maloney’s Dream/Brionglóid Maloney as performed and toured by Branar: Téatar do Pháistí, and 3 others all took place at Rua Red for Seachtain na Gaeilge.

An Filleadh was the first Irish-language drama to be performed on the main stage in The Abbey for 25 years [2]. The playwright, Alan Titley, was commissioned to write the play by Conradh na Gaeilge (not by The Abbey). The actors were students of Gaelcholáiste an Phiarsaigh in Rathfarnham and (to my knowledge) the only payment received by the cast and crew was that they would have the opportunity [3] to perform the play on The Abbey stage on Easter Monday 2016. This year, The Abbey Theatre is receiving €5,800,000 in Arts Council funding, not including other grants that may be received or profits from ticket and merchandise sales. They’re receiving €5.8m and besides adding an Irish translation of their annual report, almost none of it is being used to promote the Irish language.

Screen shot 2016-04-29 at 22.15.29

[IMAGE]: Radial graph illustrating the difference in the amount of Arts Council funding received by The Abbey Theatre and each of the other cultural centres in the sample. Interactive graph can be seen here. Created by the author using infogr.am.

A single 1-hour performance of An Filleadh took place, in the midst of RTÉ’s Easter Weekend festivities and Seachtain na Gaeilge, on the back of protests against the complete absence of Irish in The Abbey’s 2016 programme (which was buoyed by the #WakingTheFeminists movement). If the intersection of these events was the deciding factor in the conception of this once-off event, I hope that doesn’t mean we have to wait another 50 years to see the likes of it again.

Not included in the first graph above are instances of Irish language events that took place as part of RTÉ’s Reflecting the Rising on Easter Monday 2016, as these took place over multiple venues. They also took place in the context of RTÉ’s agreement to increase their use of the Irish language. Out of 306 events that took place during that weekend, 22 included the Irish language, or about 7% of the total programme.

As I mentioned in my presentation, I’m not including other languages here because my main study area is in Irish. There also isn’t any other language that 41.4% [4] of the population can speak (in some capacity). Either way, the programming of the sample cultural centres is glaringly English-oriented.

County Dublin is home to 439 primary schools and 106 secondary schools, with over 135,000 total students enrolled in primary education for 2015/16 [5], and a further 52,268 students enrolled in secondary level education [6]. While a number of students [7] in each school probably have an exemption from Irish, this is a huge pool of people who form a rapt audience for the Irish language considering it is compulsory at primary and secondary level. [8] [9]

There are also various third-level institutions in which Irish is taught officially or promoted by Cumainn Ghaelacha or Irish Clubs, and countless other humans who have learned Irish in school throughout the years but who may no longer be in full time education. Dublin is home to over one million people, about a quarter of the population of the entire country – and yet finding Irish-language programming is a needle-in-haystack situation.

Screen shot 2016-04-29 at 22.37.23

[IMAGE]: Graphic depicting the number of students enrolled in primary and secondary education in Dublin County in 2015/16. Data collected by the Department of Education and Skills. Graphic created using Infogr.am.

There seems to be a huge untapped audience here. Are programmers afraid of Irish-language events?

I hope not, because the public is there for such events. Axis Ballymun have commissioned a bilingual theatre piece in conjunction with the National Association for Youth Drama, as well as staging an adaptation of the Irish myth of Granuaile. The annual Féile IMRAM, an Irish-language literary and music festival, takes place across Dublin and is receiving €60,000 from the Arts Council this year. There is also the monthly multilingual spoken-word event Reic at the Generator Hostel (which has taken place at the Irish Writer’s Centre too). Reic is the brainchild and continuing project of Ciara Ní Éanacháin (@MiseCiara) and consistently draws a crowd in Dublin City.

Maybe these cultural centres have so much going on that they don’t see a space for Irish in their programming. It’s surely not all about funding if smaller, community-based groups like Axis Ballymun and Rua Red are punching above their weight to include Irish in their schedules.

I think the others are afraid of the big bad Irish wolfhound. There must be a way to tap into the pool of Irish speakers and learners, if such a distinction can be made. I think there’s enough money there, and I think it’s about time for our cultural centres to reach out and take some risks.


[1] Government of the Republic of Ireland (1937). Constitution of Ireland: Article 8. Dublin: The Stationery Office. p 8-9. Available at https://www.constitution.ie/Documents/Bhunreacht_na_hEireann_web.pdf (28 April 2016)
[2] Ó Coimín, M. ‘Dráma Gaeilge le bheith ar phríomhstáitse Amharclann na Mainistreach Luan Cásca’. Tuairisc. http://tuairisc.ie/drama-gaeilge-le-bheith-ar-phriomhstaitse-amharclann-na-mainistreach-luan-casca/ (12 April 2016)
[3] Source in Irish: “Is onóir ollmhór [dóibh] go mbeidh an deis acu…”
Trans. (my own): “It is a great honour for [them] that they will have the chance…”
[4] Central Statistics Office. ‘Population Aged Three Years and Over and Percentage of Irish Speakers by Sex, Age Group, Statistical Indicator and Census Year’. CSO.ie. Available via http://www.cso.ie/px/pxeirestat/Statire/SelectVarVal/saveselections.asp# (15 April 2016)
[5] Department of Education and Skills, National School Annual Census. ‘Data on Individual Schools’. Latest Available Primary Schools Lists. Education.ie. http://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Statistics/Data-on-Individual-Schools/Data-on-Individual-Schools.html
[6] Department of Education and Skills, National School Annual Census. ‘Data on Individual Schools’. Latest Available Post Primary Schools Lists. Education.ie. http://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Statistics/Data-on-Individual-Schools/Data-on-Individual-Schools.html
[7] O’Brien, C. ‘Rising number of students exempt from studying Irish’. The Irish Times. 25 April 2016. http://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/rising-number-of-students-exempt-from-studying-irish-1.2623211 (25 April 2016)
[8] Junior Certificate: Junior Certificate Subjects. Citizens Information. 17 February 2016. Available at http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/education/state_examinations/junior_certificate_programme.html (20 April 2016)
[9] Established Leaving Certificate: Leaving Certificate Subjects. Citizens Information. 16 February 2016. Available at http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/education/state_examinations/established_leaving_certificate.html (20 April 2016)

Week 8 / Seachtain 8

Screen shot 2016-04-02 at 17.31.33

[IMAGE]: Screen-grab of 9 thumbnail images from OneDrive, to which I uploaded videos from my phone so I could download and re-use them when I got to my computer. 

The topic of this week’s lecture was video editing. The lecturer gave a brief introduction to some entry level video editing software, apps and websites. These included iMovie and Windows Movie Maker, Vine, and YouTube and WeVideo. These are not professional video editing suites, but do have a useful amount of features for everyday editing. The basis of shooting video is very similar to the techniques used in static photography, and a lot of the theory overlaps between the two.

Here is the video I created using YouTube editor. I looked for some music that would suit it but decided to let the ocean do the talking instead! I used the 8mm filter to give it a vintage/hipster feel, and added two annotations as well. A word of warning for anyone used to using iMovie who starts to use YouTube editor: do not hit backspace when you have a clip selected. It won’t delete the clip. Instead, you’ll go back a page and lose any unpublished progress.

Read more / Lean ar aghaidh

Week 7 / Seachtain 7


[IMAGE]: Photo in a small kitchen. Open oven on the left (door opens downwards) and a dishwasher and wine rack on the right. There are 12 triangles of light across the image, created with a DIY lightbox. Source: author’s own image. 

This week’s topics are digital photography and photo editing. There’s a lot involved in photography and, depending on the equipment you’re using, there are a lot of things you might need to know in order to get what you want from your image(s).

To begin with, there are three things that are going to decide how your basic image looks:

Read more / Lean ar aghaidh

Week 6 / Seachtain 6

Analysis and visualisation of social network data: 

Handle Cloud

[IMAGE]: Jumble of lots of Twitter usernames in white text on a black background with coloured lines between them. One username is in black, with a white box: wtfeminists. Source: Netlytic.

In today’s lecture, we learned about data visualisation and got a taste of collecting tweets and using that data to create infographics. To begin, we saw a few examples, like the visualisation of social media activity around elections in IndiaNew Year’s Eve in 2014, and homophobic (and racist and ableist) tweets in the USA.

Read more / Lean ar aghaidh

Week 5 / Seachtain 5


[IMAGE]: Large group of people outside Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, holding a very long banner that says #WakingTheFeminists on it, in all capital letters. Source: The Irish Times

Back in the olden days, media content used to be created by specific content-creators (like journalists, photographers, newscasters etc.) but now we have a huge community of independent content creators, like anyone with a social media account or a smartphone. This allows for the rapid spread of information, but it also has its downfalls; such content may not be reliable, may be posted with incomplete information, or may be stolen or repurposed from someone else.

As our lecturer pointed out, it’s not that there are more wars or natural disasters happening nowadays – it’s just that we have access to more voices and stories from around the world, so we’re more likely to hear about what’s going on in other parts of the world.

Read more / Lean ar aghaidh

Week 4 / Seachtain 4

This week’s topics were sound recording and podcasting!


[IMAGE]: Musician/artist/Twitterer Amanda Palmer, on a stage and standing on a green crate, with arms outstretched and holding a white flower in her right hand. Image source: NPR

I’ve never actively followed any regular podcasts, but actually thinking about it I realise that there are quite a few that have resonated with me over the years. The main one I’d associate with would be TED Talks. The above image is taken from one of my favourite TED Talks, by Amanda Palmer (which you can listen to or watch here). I also really enjoyed this particular podcast that came out this week on NPR. There’s definitely something off about the sound on the presenter’s mic in this one – like she’s talking into a steel bucket. Seemingly Neko was given a better mic during the interview.

Read more / Lean ar aghaidh