First Thought Talks explores the big issues and challenges of today as part of GIAF 2024

11 June 2024

Presented in association with Education Partner, University of Galway, The First Thought Talks series is the Festival’s hugely popular thought leadership platform that interrogates the world around us, exploring the big issues and challenges of today.

An intriguing series of interviews, in-depth conversations, debates and discussions will feature leading Irish and international voices - academics, artists, historians, activists, authors, journalists, musicians and more. Topics include Trump Again??!! A conversation between political reporter Marion McKeone and award-winning journalist Fintan O’Toole, to Better Off Dead? in which actor and activist Liz Carr explores the topic of assisted dying with Christian O’Reilly. Journalists Elaine Burke and Adrian Weckler will explore the rise of AI in The Rise of the Machines, Colm Tóibín will discuss his writing process with Elaine Feeny, academic and author Pankaj Mishra will discuss his acclaimed essay The Shoah after Gaza, and Chair of the Irish Climate Change Advisory Council Maria Donnelly will be in conversation with Sheila Malone, plus many more.

First Thought Talks are recorded and published on GIAF's Youtube Channel in early Autumn.

Explore First Thought Talks yourself:

Better Off Dead? | Liz Carr in conversation with Christian O’Reilly

When: 18 July, 2pm

Actor and activist Liz Carr, who stars in Unspeakable Conversations at this year’s Festival, and has recently made a documentary Better Off Dead? for the BBC on assisted suicide, discusses challenging the assumptions behind these actions and shining a light on the many grey areas in this often one sided debate. In a society where disabled people are often told they’re ‘better off dead’ than disabled, Liz asks: “Should we really be giving more power to end that group of people’s lives?” She is joined in conversation by playwright Christian O’Reilly.

Venue: O’Donoghue Theatre, University of Galway. Tickets: €10 (SOLD OUT)

Imagining Empathy | Patricia Piccinini in conversation with Paul Fahy

When: 18 July, 12pm

On the occasion of Patricia Piccinini’s multisensory exhibition We Travel Together for Galway International Arts Festival, the celebrated Australian artist discusses her meticulous and collaborative studio practice, the themes and the role of narrative in her work. She is joined in conversation by GIAF’s Artistic Director Paul Fahy.

Venue: Festival Gallery

Now that we have to do everything, what are we going to do? | Jim Livesey, Florian Schneider and Zoe Romano in conversation with Caroline Loughnane.

When: 18 July, 4pm

This is the first event of the PACESETTERS collaboration, an EU Horizon Europe initiative, in which Jim Livesey, University of Galway, Florian Schneider, Trondheim Academy of Fine Art and craftivist Zoe Romano examine the question: “If the way we live now cannot be sustained, then how are we going to live?” - moderated by Caroline Loughnane, University of Galway. This talk explores climate transition, and the nature of the world we will live in after this transition takes place.

Venue: Human Biology Building, University of Galway

The Return of Eilis Lacey | Colm Tóibín in conversation with Elaine Feeney

When: 18 July, 6pm

Colm Tóibín’s new novel, Long Island, reunites us with the heroine of Brooklyn, 20 years after we bade her farewell. An explosive revelation propels Eilis from her American home back to Enniscorthy and unfinished emotional business. Complication ensues, expertly described and explored by one of our greatest fiction writers. Colm will be in conversation with poet and novelist Elaine Feeney, University of Galway. They will discuss the processes which led to his many novels.

Venue: The Human Biology Building, University of Galway. Tickets: €10

Vinyl Hours

When: 19, 26 July, 6pm

Vinyl Hours is a series of talks with Festival artists in conversation with music maestro Tiernan Henry. Spend an hour on an aural journey of treasured musical memories with special guests, who reveal their go-to playlists, the soundtrack to their lives and explore what exactly it stirs within them; fun, heartbreak and revolution. Playlists available on Spotify, followed by Festival First Thought Podcasts. Guests include Mickey Bradley from The Undertones on Friday 19 July and Gavin James on Friday 26 July. Further guests will be announced on Friday 21 June.

Venue: O’Donoghue Theatre, University of Galway

Marina Magic | Marina Carr in conversation with Catriona Crowe

When: 20 July, 2pm

Marina Carr is one of Ireland’s greatest living playwrights, with a string of magnificent productions behind her. She is in Galway at the Festival for Decadent Theatre’s production of her new play, The Map of Argentina. Join her and Catriona Crowe for a discussion of her work, and her treatment of women and men, children, sexuality, abuse, myth, folklore, the Greeks, mischievous spirits and fun.

Venue: Human Biology Building, University of Galway. Tickets €10

The Revelation of Ireland | Diarmaid Ferriter in conversation with Professor Gearóid O’Tuathaigh

When: 20 July, 12pm

The Transformation of Ireland by Diarmaid Ferriter, published in 2004, was the first survey history of twentieth century Ireland in many years. Now, 20 years later, comes the sequel, The Revelation of Ireland, bringing us exciting new research and insights for 1995 – 2020, a deep dive into a turbulent and exciting period. Join Diarmaid and Professor Gearóid O’Tuathaigh, University of Galway, for a fascinating discussion of our recent history.

Venue: The Human Biology Building, University of Galway. Tickets €10

The Rise of the Machines | Elaine Burke and Adrian Weckler in conversation

When: 20 July, 10:30am

Is Geoffrey Hinton, inventor of AI, right when he foresees machines becoming more intelligent than us? What would that mean? And are the benefits of AI in health and education enough to make such a risk worthwhile? Join Elaine Burke of For Tech’s Sake and Adrian Weckler, Technology Editor at Independent Newspapers to find out. They will either reassure or frighten us further.

Venue: The Human Biology Building, University of Galway. Tickets €10

Trump Again??!! | Marion McKeone in conversation with Fintan O’Toole

When: 20 July, 6pm

Marion McKeone, doyenne of reporters on US politics for the Sunday Business Post, and Fintan O’Toole, recipient of the 2024 Robert B Silvers award for journalism, will converse on the American election of 2024, the crucial choice facing the US electorate, and the potential consequences of that choice.

Venue: The Human Biology Building, University of Galway. Tickets €10

Whither a United Ireland? | Pat Leahy, Professor John Garry and Malachi O’Doherty in conversation with Dearbhail McDonald

When: 20 July, 4pm

The ARINS Project [Analysing and Researching Ireland North and South] has opened up discussion on the possibilities, drawbacks, parameters, advantages and disadvantages of a united Ireland, as well as exposing complicated public opinion on the subject.

Join Pat Leahy, Political Editor of The Irish Times, and Professor John Garry of Queen’s University, both involved in the ARINS Project, and Malachi O’Doherty, author of Can Ireland Be One? with moderator Dearbhail McDonald, journalist and broadcaster, for a non-rhetorical discussion of this most complicated issue.

Venue: Human Biology Building, University of Galway. Tickets €10

Left is Not Woke | Susan Neiman in conversation with Fintan O’Toole

When: 21 July, 12pm

Susan Neiman, philosopher, Director of the Einstein Forum at Potsdam, and author of Left is Not Woke, has ruffled many feathers with her short but brilliant book, in which she contends that the contemporary left has been distracted away from universalist principles of solidarity, equality and social justice by identity and tribal politics. She will discuss her book with Fintan O’Toole.

Venue: The Human Biology Building, University of Galway. Tickets €10

Resilience | Brendan Kelly in conversation with Catriona Crowe

When: 21 July, 10:30am

Brendan Kelly is Ireland’s favourite psychiatrist and admired author of many books on the history of mental illness and treatment in Ireland.

In his new book Resilience, inspired by our collective experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, he discusses the quality of resilience, our need for it, why it is important and our capacity for it. He will also talk about his book on Grangegorman Mental Hospital, Asylum.

Venue: The Human Biology Building, University of Galway. Tickets €10

Stephen Averill | My Life in 12 Sleeves

When: 21 July, 6pm

Averill is one of Ireland’s most garlanded pop-culture designers, and the man who has overseen every U2 album cover — from Boy to Songs of Innocence — as well as the band’s associated single releases and merchandising. My Life In 12 Sleeves explores his relationship his love of graphic design, photography and art with music as seen through an album sleeve.

Venue: O’Donoghue Theatre, University of Galway. Tickets €15

90 Seconds to Midnight | Patricia Lewis in conversation with Ray Murphy

When: 27 July, 10:30am

Until the recent release of the film Oppenheimer, and Vladimir Putin’s evil threats since he invaded Ukraine, most of us had forgotten about nuclear war and its capacity to destroy the planet, a worthy rival to climate change.

Patricia Lewis, Director of the International Security Programme at Chatham House will tell us how close we actually are to nuclear catastrophe. She will be in conversation with Ray Murphy, Professor at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, University of Galway.

Venue: O’Donoghue Theatre, University of Galway. Tickets: €10

Caledonian Road | Andrew O’Hagan in conversation with Mike McCormack

When: 27 July, 12pm

Andrew O’Hagan, much-awarded novelist, non-fiction writer and journalist, brings us his seventh novel, Caledonian Road. A portrait of London in the post-Brexit, long Tory era, it matches Dickens’s portraits of a great but troubled city. Andrew will be in conversation with Mike McCormack, himself a superb novelist [Solar Bones] and Director of the MA in Writing, University of Galway. They will discuss the processes which underlie his work

Venue: O’Donoghue Theatre, University of Galway. Tickets €10

The Importance of International Human Rights Law | Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh in conversation with Donncha O’Connell

When: 27 July, 5:30pm

Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh, a barrister with Matrix Chambers, London, became internationally known to a wide audience when she presented part of South Africa’s recent case alleging genocide by Israel in the Gaza Strip.

In the light of the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, human rights law has become hugely important as a means of addressing these human tragedies and providing hope for a better future. Blinne will be in conversation with Donncha O’Connell, Professor of Law at University of Galway and a respected human rights law expert.

Venue: The Human Biology Building, University of Galway. Tickets €10

The Shoah after Gaza | Pankaj Mishra in conversation with Andrew O’Hagan

When: 27 July, 4pm

Pankaj Mishra, author of several influential studies of Western and non-western ideologies and development, including Age of Anger: A History of the Present, recently delivered an extraordinary lecture on the history of western uses of the Holocaust to justify various behaviours of the Israeli state for the London Review of Books. He will be in conversation with novelist and journalist Andrew O’Hagan.

Venue: The Human Biology Building, University of Galway. Tickets €10

What’s on the Telly? | Patrick Freyne, Ann Marie Hourihane and Dr. Roddy Flynn in conversation with Mei-Ling McNamara

When: 27 July, 2pm

Over the last year, we have heard a great deal about RTÉ’s governance and financial troubles, but very little about programming which is the lifeblood of any broadcasting enterprise.

Join Patrick Freyne, TV critic for The Irish Times, Ann Marie Hourihane, TV critic for the Irish Independent, and Dr. Roddy Flynn, of the School of Communications at DCU, with moderator Mei-Ling McNamara Lecturer in Journalism, University of Galway, to hear some ideas about content for our beleaguered national broadcaster.

Venue: O’Donoghue Theatre, University of Galway. Tickets: €10

Is Ireland too late to deal with Climate Change? | Marie Donnelly in conversation with Sheila Malone

When: 28 July, 11am

Marie Donnelly is Chair of the Irish Climate Change Advisory Council, tasked with giving advice to policy-makers about Ireland’s just transition to a sustainable climate neutral and resilient society. She will be interviewed by Sheila Malone, Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Galway, with expertise in sustainable tourism.

Venue: O’Donoghue Theatre, University of Galway. Tickets: €10

The Eclipse of Peasant Life | Patrick Joyce in conversation with Patrick Freyne

When: 28 July, 12:30pm

Patrick Joyce, renowned social historian, explores the demise of peasant life in Europe, as well as his own family background in Galway, in his haunting new book, Remembering Peasants: A Personal History of a Vanished World. He will be interviewed by Patrick Freyne, who writes about culture for The Irish Times.

Venue: O’Donoghue Theatre, University of Galway. Tickets: €10

Galway International Arts Festival would also like to acknowledge the support of its principal funding agencies The Arts Council and Fáilte Ireland; Galway City Council; its Drinks Partner Heineken; and Education Partner University of Galway.